“It’s depressing to see people defiantly proud of liking things that are stupid, that are shoddily constructed, that are not meant to be even quickly pondered or thought about once leaving the theater.”
I wrote those words almost a year ago, decrying the profound shitiness of Mission Impossible 3, a movie whose non-existent plot and characters most people excused because the action scenes were supposedly good (they weren’t. JJ Abrams directed a number of derivative and dull action scenes, mostly framed poorly). It’s hard to take comfort in the fact that MI3 didn’t make back its ludicrous 150 million dollar budget domestically – it still managed to make 135 million, while United 93, which was in theaters at the same time, only made it to 31 million and Thank You For Smoking crawled to 24 million. Adding those movies you still end up with about a third of what MI3 made, but with an infinitely larger amount of quality.
We’re back in the summer silly season, and I was contemplated writing another screed to be called ‘Let’s Get Retarded’ about the movie audience’s desire to throw away what little bits of intelligence their weekly viewings of The Ghost Whisperer and Dancing With the Stars have left them and to bathe in the warm month’s offerings of banal and mindless nonsense like so many pigs in shit. But then I began to see something weird… people were complaining about Spider-Man 3’s story.
Last week I defended that beleaguered and, frankly, massively flawed, movie by tackling some of the most inane complaints lobbed against it, especially the cries against the dance scene, which I think is one of the highlights of 2007. But I couldn’t defend the big problems with the movie’s script, which crams in too many characters and concepts before dropping the ball in a messy, contrived third act. Not to mention the script’s over-reliance on coincidence, which has to be one of the first things they teach you not to do in any screenwriting school. Spider-Man 3’s structure is fucked up indeed, and it’s impossible to defend it with any sort of honesty.
In the week since I wrote the editorial I have kept an eye on the Internet’s continued gang banging of the film, and I have been happy to see people easing off the dance scene and other, lighter aspects, that I think are the film’s principal strengths. Instead they’ve been focusing on the story and the script, and I can say that makes me incredibly happy. Even though I like Spider-Man 3 more than I dislike it, I appreciate the critiques these people are making because they’re simply good, and often smart, critiques.
When I wrote that ‘Woe is Summer Movies’ piece last year, I imagined a future where the YouTube and phone video generation would flock to movies that were nothing more than compilations of stunts and FX (see Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, where a movie showing nothing but a farting butt is a big hit, and where the most popular show on television has nothing more than a guy taking shots to the nuts. It’s called Ow, My Balls!). I have to admit that I feel the pull of hysteria when it comes to a whole cohort raised on nothing but clips and blipverts and webshows that last two or three minutes – I know that my attention span is, without a doubt, heavily impaired by video games and MTV (this isn’t an idle claim – I used to be able to concentrate much better when I was a kid, before I had 500 channels and the internet and video games (which I sometimes partake of all at once, mind you)), so what’s the fate of these kids whose cognitive patterns might be closer to that of a goldfish on crystal meth?
But then there was the Spidey complaints. Now, I harbor the suspicion in my heart of hearts that the story complaints actually are covering for complaints about the relative dearth of action scenes (it seems almost a given that Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End will have at least double the action of Spidey 3), but I’m going to accept them for the time being as evidence of a moviegoing populace that has not been completely Stepfordized by the studios, that maybe there is an occasional demand for quality over spectacle.
By the way, all of this coalesced this afternoon when I was reading a Pauline Kael essay from 1963 (the same year The Amazing Spider-Man #1 hit newsstands). In it she complains about how audiences have become inured to movies that made no sense, and she blamed television. Fourty four years later, narrative movies are still with us and TV has become possibly even more complex and demanding of attention (in some cases – see Lost and The Wire, for example) than most movies. Maybe I should try to have a little bit more faith in the crowds hitting the theaters every weekend.