Last time, Michael discussed the seeming inverse relationship between the weather and the quality of summer movies. Then there was the ultimate failure to launch, called the Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. The subtitle alone seemed to imply further adventures in the future that would require distinction from this, but now that path seems most unlikely. Jerry Bruckheimer had rolled the dice and entered into that most dangerous of terrains — the video game movie — in the pursuit of a second great swash-buckling franchise. Unfortunately for him, lightning did not strike twice. He apparently failed to understand the success of Pirates of the Carribean. We have all been to or have heard of Disney World; its position in American pop culture, along with the related franchises and movies owned by Disney, is ubiquitous. Combined with an engaging plot, big name stars, and the clever use of easily identifiable imagery from the namesake ride, Pirates enamoured audiences of all ages: its appeal was indisputably universal. The stigma that exists for video game movies was as yet non-existent for ones based on famous Disney rides (until the release later that year of the Haunted Mansion, starring Eddie Murphy), because no one had ever really thought of doing it. Why exactly Mr. Bruckheimer thought he could sacrifice one for the other, especially as regards a franchise that even amongst gamers is not the most popular, is so baffling and so illogical that it is difficult to even comprehend. If the Prince ever makes back his king’s ransom of a budget — an estimated $200 million — that will be a sure sign that either God or the Devil is on Bruckheimer’s side. Either way, his luck would be entirely supernatural.
Similarily, just as Bruckheimer sought a second grand slam franchise, so too did New York City’s favourite girls look for further riches; and like the thieves in various incarnations of the Aladdin tale, perhaps they thought they would find gold amidst the desert sands. Whether I speak alone or as a representative of many is unclear to myself, but something was vaguely offensive about the storyline to Sex and the City 2. Notwithstanding the gross misrepresentation of Muslim culture I understand is on display in the movie, the fact that Sarah Jessica Parker goes on a relatively care-free shopping excursion, in a part of the world wherein American soldiers are killed daily over crucial struggles in sovereignty both religious and national, seems innocuous in the very least, and completely offensive in the most. We must also consider that while the Prince of Persia is commendable only as an attempt at kick-starting a new film series, this new Sex romp is, for all intents and purposes, a meaningless, extraneous chapter to a story that ended on television years ago; the movie has neither a purpose nor, clearly, a desire even amongst its fans for its very existence.
With the exception of that last movie, the grand reasons why this summer has had such stale outings remain a mystery. Weak storytelling is an insufficient explanation; I, in fact, defy you to find me one major franchise that does not have either a bad sequel or a mediocre first movie. People, so far as I can tell, will pay money for the worst movies, if they somehow think it will be worth their time and money. So, why then is this summer any different? How did we go from a summer of record openings to one of record failings? In a city such as ours, whose fame has been established by, among other things, its film culture, its film festivals, and its film industry, the notion of movies as entertainment is, with hockey and rock music, part and parcel to the Torontonian lifestyle, and indeed, to the Torontonian experience of culture as we know it. Understanding why a year of film can be so underwhelming is not a debate amongst the most dedicated fans, but rather, a kind of cosmopolitan crisis.
To this end, I have isolated four reasons to explain why this summer is so lackluster, and I think you will find — as I have — that they are interrelated in various ways. The first reason is that summer movies and the season in general, from at least the beginning of the 2000s, have been defined by the explosion of popular interest in comic book stories. Spurred on by rabid fanboy excitement across the internet, setting up hype and advertising for these movies has always been easy. The franchises have a built-in fanbase that on one level or another will guarantee at least financial success. No introductions are required; nor would there be the awkward stage of developing new series. Yet for the people who do not fall into this sub-culture, the comic book movies nonetheless appeal for a variety of different reasons. Consider, for instance, the possibility that the trend as a whole has been capitalized upon in a time of heightened national awareness. When Spiderman came out in 2002, the terror of 9/11 was fresh in the minds of average Americans all over. The war they now faced was so different from anything they had ever been called upon to confront, for neither had the enemy a distinctive nation to call home, nor an ideology that was accessible to most Western nations. Superhero movies, by their very nature, idealize and conceptualize characters, and make ideas into individuals: if a superhero defeats an enemy, he likewise defeats what that enemy represents. There is a very clear sense of good and evil in Spiderman’s world that is sadly lacking in our own. The greys which colour our war on terror do not apply to a fight against a man who calls himself “The Green Goblin”.
In all this, Marvel Comics has set itself up as the premier company for summer movie franchises, being both the source of, and, in recent years, the financier of those big-name properties. Without their movies, the summer blockbusters as we have come to know them are also absent — and this is precisely what is happening. As the storyline to Iron Man 2 made abundantly clear, Marvel is gearing up its most succesful franchises for a major convergence in the upcoming Avengers movie, due out in 2012. Until then, we have Thor in 2011 to anticipate. Other than that, I expect that the sacrifices made in this summer will be vindicated in two years.
Check back next Wednesday for more in Michael Hyer’s journey through summer movies. Click here to see all posts in this fascinating series.