Fan Boys: The Phantom Menace

Fan Boys: The Phantom Menace

People tend not to have a great sense of scale, which isn’t the best quality when we’re so prone to making grand proclamations about entire populations of people. For example, a common refrain since the 2016 US presidential election has been variations on “we now live in a country where nearly half the people voted for Trump”. Now and then someone will point out that, with 60 percent turnout, it was more like a quarter. But that’s still not right. It was 46.1 percent (vote share) of 60.2 percent (turnout) of 71.6 percent (eligibility) of the US population in 2016, or just under 20 percent. This isn’t to minimise the horror of the election result or Trump’s presidency in any way. Every evil thing, every atrocity, that has occurred in the past two years still happened, and, if anything, it just makes it more fucked-up that it didn’t even take a majority to happen.

That’s why it bothers me when I hear this “we now live in a country…” thing, whether about Trump or Brexit or any of the other awful election results of the past several years. If your main political opponents actually comprise less than 20 percent of the country, but you react as if it was half, you can’t possibly be responding in the most effective way. Accuracy matters, especially with something as high-stake as the fate of democracy, and it’s frustrating to constantly see well-intentioned people be so sloppy with reality. Not that low stakes should let people off the hook: standards of research and fact-checking in entertainment journalism are in the gutter and it drives me up the wall. And while it’s obviously not as significant as the rising tide of fascism (though it’s often presented as comorbid with it), when it comes to misrepresenting the scale of a social problem, there’s little critics and journalists have fucked up more than their coverage of “fan boys” and their allegedly toxic effects on society.

Normally, I find articles like this difficult to write, because it requires me to cite specific examples of bad writing and I don’t enjoy going off on other writers, for the most part. But this one will be super easy, because, for once, I can shit on the writing of someone whose writing I already constantly shit on.

This is a callout post. For myself.

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Some Unspoken Thing: In Praise of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Some Unspoken Thing: In Praise of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

For at least a decade, we’ve lived through a pretty unprecedented boom in superhero films. Disney releases three Marvel Cinematic Universe films a year, Warner Brothers is trying desperately to make the limping DC universe hold together, Fox has the X-Men, and that’s not counting failed experiments like Fantastic Four or Sony’s Spider-Man universe, which, as far as I understand, they’re attempting to still do, but without Spider-Man. Superheroes aren’t suddenly popular out of nowhere or anything, but the sheer glut of superhero movies being produced now makes the progenitors of the superhero boom – like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy or Sam Raimi’s Spiderman – look modest by comparison.

It’s no secret that I’ve been critical of the superhero boom. I would support a ten-year ban on producing superhero films if such a thing were possible. But that isn’t out of snobbiness, or even out of a dislike of superhero films. I think Spiderman 2 is a masterpiece. I saw The Dark Knight Rises in the cinema twice and think anyone who criticises its many plotholes is a pedantic killjoy. I think Logan had one of the best screenplays of last year. But the superhero boom is a feature of a much bigger problem: a trend in blockbuster filmmaking, and popular cinema in general, away from the thoughtful, interesting and weird and towards bland, hollow pleasures. It started with superheroes, and now it’s creeping all over the place, from Star Wars to the Universal monsters.

Superhero films tend to get a disproportionate amount of praise because they’ve spent a decade wearing us down, calibrating our expectations to just the right frequencies. I hate the word “overrated,” but I don’t think there’s a better word to explain the phenomenon of every Marvel release apparently being one of the best films ever made, if Rotten Tomatoes scores are anything to go by (and they aren’t). I really liked Wonder Woman, even if it had third act problems, but when people started talking about it as one of the best films of the year and it being “snubbed” by the Oscars, I felt like I was going insane. So I’ve never felt the need to speak up for a superhero film, really.

But then there’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

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Video Game Movies and Why They Suck

Video Game Movies and Why They Suck

It is a truth universally acknowledged that no one has ever made a good movie based on a video game, since the genre came into being with 1993’s Super Mario Bros. I don’t usually care for such truths, but that’s one I’m happy to accept, by and large. I would possibly carve out an exception for some of the Pokémon movies, though I haven’t watched any of them in a long time, and there are, of course, some good movies about video games or inspired by their aesthetic: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Wreck-It Ralph, Tron, etc. But as far as film adaptations of video games, it’s been one failure after another, with only occasional spells of mediocrity to shake things up.

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Break the Studios, Save the Movies

Break the Studios, Save the Movies

Hollywood is in a prolonged state of crisis. Everybody knows this. Studios pump out a seemingly endless supply of sequels, spin-offs, remakes, reboots, and films otherwise based on any and all previously existing intellectual property, all of which invariably cost upwards of 100 million dollars. We call them tentpole films, because they’re supposed to be sure-fire bets that can make enough money to finance smaller, riskier projects across the studio’s slate, like tentpoles upholding a tent. The problem is that there is no tent. There’s just masses and masses of poles, sticking upright in a field, and we’re all so used to getting wet that we’re more likely to ask for the poles to be more interesting than ask for some tarp.

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Speed Racer Is Not An Art Film

Speed Racer Is Not An Art Film

The air crackles with potential. A change is coming. I see it on the horizon. Hope is home to roost at last. The tide is about to turn. I know the signs. People in Film Twitter ask some question – What film would you make everyone else in the world watch? What film would you take into the bunker with you if the bombs fall? – and ever more people give the same answer as me.

Speed Racer.

But it’s not just Speed Racer – it’s everything that writer-director team Lilly and Lana Wachowski do. People who never mentioned Sense8 in their life outed themselves as viewers in their hundreds when it was cancelled. The Matrix was never out, but it’s back in, and even the sequels are getting more appreciative second looks. I see gifs of Jupiter Ascending used in non-ironic contexts, and all of a sudden people remember that Bound exists. When my favourite film magazine took suggestions for future issues, I scream-tweeted “WACHOWSKIS ISSUE PLEASE” and six people liked it, only one of whom co-runs this blog. I knew it would happen, but I didn’t realise it would happen this soon.

The Wachowskis are on the verge of a critical rehabilitation.

Please don’t fuck it up by calling Speed Racer an art film.

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