Superheroes postsThursday June 07, 2018
‘Not a Recipe for Artistic Renewal’: The IP taking over Hollywood
“People who are nothing like us rescuing a world that is nothing like ours...”
I'm going to miss the print New Yorker when it goes. This is the online hed/sub for Stephen Metcalf's piece on what has happened to Hollywood and the movie-star system in the age of the superhero film. It's straightforward. It's a straight arrow:
How Superheroes Made Movie Stars Expendable
The Hollywood overhauls that got us from Bogart to Batman.
Here it is in print:
How superheroes killed the movie star.
How perfect is that? Succinct, clever, resonant. It's both The Thing's longtime catchphrase and what superheroes—though not the Fantastic Four, interestingly—have made of traditional movie stars. Because it's open-ended, it also makes you wonder what else is getting clobbered? What other parts of our lives? The online headline is specific and designed to get clicks. It's actually part of the problem the article is delineating.
I was actually dismissive of the piece before I read it. I was like “No shit, Sherlock, we were all writing about this 10 years ago.” The early going didn't help much. Metcalf calls it a “startling fact” that the biggest movie in China in 2005, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” pulled in just $12 mil vs. nearly $400 million for last year's “Fast and Furious” sequel. Startling ... unless you read me. More, “Fast & Furious” was only the second-biggest hit in China last year. The biggest, “Wolf Warrior II,” grossed half a billion dollars more.
But then, in reviewing four books (The Big Picture“ by Ben Fritz; You‘re Only as Good as Your Next One” by Mike Medavoy; “Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency” by James Andrew Miller; and “Representing Talent” by Violaine Roussel), Metcalf gives a great overview of the various stages of the star system, and who held power in Hollywood during those stages: from Thalberg to U.S. v. Paramount to the rise of the super-agent. Who could force the cut-rate on whom? It used to be studios on the theaters: If you want this A picture you need to pick up these three B pictures. Then it became the agencies over the studios: If you want this A star, you need to hire these three B- or C-list clients.
Now the hot hand is the intellectual property—divorced from the star. The power is in the copyright. And the powerless? Those without IP, as “The Big Picture” makes apparent. Also maybe us. “Today,” Metcalf writes, “the major franchises are commercially invulnerable because they offer up proprietary universes that their legions of fans are desperate to reënter on almost any terms.” This, too, will fade, though, because everything does. We can't be desperate forever.
Metcalf closes well.
The quality of film acting has never been higher, and there is still a craft in scriptwriting and directing that makes one regularly bow in awe. But a minimal standard of human relatability is not being met, on a routine basis, in the medium's most dominant genre. People who are nothing like us rescuing a world that is nothing like ours is not a recipe for artistic renewal. ...
The benchmark for a good movie was once coherence, and this meant more than a competently executed three-act script. It meant the unity of story with character, of character with star persona. The whole shebang was given life by a highly improbable marriage between our narcissism and our idealism. In this model, the movie theatre was a special kind of institution, where a primitive instinct for action and drama came together with a desire to banish our residual cruelty, if for no other reason than that it wouldn't play.
Hollywood was always called a dream factory. One wonders what kind of world we might create if we all woke up.
Feel-Good Photo of the Day
Gal Gadot at the San Diego Comic-Con with a young fan:
These movies matter pic.twitter.com/V5Sz7lFwiE— Scott Derrickson (@scottderrickson) July 22, 2017
Remember the 1970s “Wonder Woman” theme song? “All of the world is waiting for you.” Certainly half of it.
Related: This weekend, Gadot's “Wonder Woman” passed “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” to become the highest-grossing movie of the summer.
From the DVD of the 1941 movie serial “The Green Hornet Strikes Again!” The reference is to the radio serial of 1936 to 1950:
Clint Eastwood should have done more with this aspect of Hoover in his biopic. Or maybe it could be its own movie? “J. Edgar in Hollywood.” OK, HBO movie.
Rotten Tomatoes Ranks the DC Superhero Movies
“Ranks” is key there, since only two movies (“The Dark Knight,” “Superman”) are above 90% and half of them are rotten, and that's a generous reading by RT and critics. I mean, “Swamp Thing” is fresh? Because of Adrienne Barbeau? C'mon, boys, grow up.
Here's their list with RT numbers and any thoughts I might have. (Links go to my reviews.)
- The Dark Knight (94%): My No. 2.
- Superman (93%): My number one. With a faster-than-a-speeding bullet
- Superman II (89%): Way too high. Please see the Donner cut.
- The Dark Knight Rises (87%): Too high.
- Batman Begins (84%): About right. Has problems, but it's not bloated the way “Rises” is bloated.
- Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (82%): Haven't seen it.
- Batman (1966) (80%): I'm so glad this is way up here. I'd probably have it higher but I'm shocked critics/fanboys love it as much as I do.
- Batman Returns (80%): Really? Have people seen this recently? It's absurd. You hardly see the title character for the first 45 minutes. It's all Penguin/Catwoman origin. Per Tim Burton, it's a movie of misfit toys.
- Superman Returns (76%): Has its faults but has charms, too. It's not made by louts, for one.
- Batman (1989) (72%): Higher. I know post-Nolan it looks chincey, but it remade supehero movies for a decade. Respect your elders, kids.
- Watchmen (65%): Blech. Dock it even more for abusing Leonard Cohen.
- Swamp Thing (64%): Adrienne Barbeau's cleavage ain't all that.
- Man of Steel (55%): I'm not exactly a Zack Snyder fan, but I'd have it higher for: 1) the reimagined origin; 2) the fear a superpowered alien would inspire; 3) Henry Cavill.
- Constantine (46%): Never seen it.
- Batman Forever (40%): About right.
- The Return of the Swamp Thing (33%): DC should be embarrassed that this is even on the list.
- Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (27%): Below both Swamp Things!! Take that, Zack.
- Green Lantern (26%): There are six DC movies worse than “Green Lantern”: ouch.
- Superman III (26%): This sucks but it's better than “Green Lantern.”
- Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (12%): This should be lower. Possibly basement. Look what they did to my boy. More than the “Death Wish” movies, Golan and Globus have this to answer at the pearly gates.
- Steel (12%): Never seen.
- Batman & Robin (11%): Ice to see you.
- Catwoman (9%): Never seen. Should I?
- Supergirl (7%): The list ends with the two girl/woman movies, and I'd like to think that's sexism, but... no.
RT put the list together because a new DC movie, “Suicide Squad,” DC's attempt to do a kind of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” is opening tonight. Even the early August release date is the same as “Guardians,” but (unlike “Guardians”) it's getting slaughtered by the critics. I'm no fan of the Post's Kyle Smith but he has a good line in his review:
The question isn't whether “Suicide Squad” is as good as “The Avengers,” but whether it's as bad as “Green Lantern.”
According to the consensus, nearly. It's at 29%, which puts it between “The Return of the Swamp Thing” and “Batman v Superman.” But that's bad enough for fanboys who are circulating an online petition urging that RT be shut down because it's mean to bad movies like “Suicide Squad.” Talk about shooting the messenger.
Moments v Scenes: Dusk of Zack
My nephew Jordy sent me this, and I think it's about the best critique of Zack Snyder's “Batman v. Superman,” not to mention Zack Snyder's entire career, that I've seen. Evan Puschak, the nerdwriter, gets at why Snyder's movies are so monumentally, fundamentally stupid: “his preoccupation, his obsession, with moments at the expense of scenes”:
Even better—and I was so caught up in all the other idiocies of BVS I didn't think to mention this in my review—Snyder has zero sense of place. The Daily Planet is meaningless. Ditto the Batcave. The Batcave! C'mon. Metropolis and Gotham City are interchangeable. I think it goes back to Snyder's love of green screens. There's literally no there there in his movies. Cf. my 2012 review of “The Spirit”:
Does anyone else get claustrophobic in these digital-background movies? “Sin City,” “300,” this? The world isn't the world. It's reduced to this small, awful space where these small, awful things happen, which the filmmakers pump full of their hyper-masculine, hyper-sexual hyper-meaning. The men beat each other to pulps, the women, smart and sexy, watch and calculate, and everyone thinks themselves the center of the world. Because they are. Because the world has been reduced to this.
Directors with a great sense of place? Think the Coens or John Sayles. Check out “A Serious Man.” For good or ill, we are products of place and upbringing. The character of the place leads to the character of the individual leads to the character of the story. Sndyer's movies die on the vine because green screen is not a place. “'Batman v Superman' runs for two and a half hours,” Puschak says, “with a heaping helping of big moments; and yet I don't quite feel like I've been ... anywhere.”