Even dumb action movies should still be creatively directed and artistically inspired.
The recent failings of big-budget would-be blockbusters such as “Morbius,” “Moonfall” and “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” are the most recent signs of the creatively bankrupt, shamelessly manipulative and opportunistic depths that Hollywood culture has dragged the art of cinema down to over the last few decades.
Being born in 1992, I grew up during a crossroads in cinema. The creative, practical effects-driven blockbusters such as “Jaws,” “Star Wars,” “Alien” and “Terminator” were still all the rage. At the same time, new films like “Jurassic Park” and “The Matrix” were proving what CGI (Computer Generated Imaging) could do for modern cinema with spectacular success. I loved going to the movies as a kid.
Now, nearly thirty years later, I can count the number of times I went to the movies in the past three years on one hand. There are a few reasons why I have avoided the big screen, the first and foremost reason is CGI.
CGI began as a wonderful tool to tell stories in ways that couldn’t be told before. Films like “Jurassic Park” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy used plenty of CGI but only where it was necessary. CGI was merely one of many tools which made these films great. Creative practical effects, real sets, engaging performances, solid writing and world-building were combined with the spectacle of CGI to create exceptional films.
Nowadays, the spectacle of CGI monsters, explosions and digitally crafted environments have replaced every other aspect of moviemaking and stripped it of its magic. Films used to inspire wonder, people used to exclaim “How’d they do that?” when faced with a creatively executed scene. Now, we always know how they did it, they do it the same way in every film. The sense of magic and wonder is gone.
Without that sense of wonder, Hollywood is forced to increase the spectacle with each passing year. Like a drug addiction, the American moviegoer has been trained to need a constant ramping up of stimuli to compensate for the hollow and repetitive nature of the experience. Over-reliance on CGI effects to draw crowds has replaced the need for good writing and strong characters. What was once the modern Broadway Stage has been reduced to the modern gladiator arena.
The over-exploitation of Intellectual Property (IPs) is also a huge turnoff for me. The “Fantastic Beasts” series and “The Hobbit” trilogy are some of the worst examples, but Disney’s “Star Wars” trilogy is also worth a mention.
These films are the definition of corporate Hollywood beating a dead horse. These corporate committees who get their hands on a popular IP like “Harry Potter” or “Star Wars” don’t really give a damn about crafting a story, they only care about profiting off of someone else’s hard work and success.
This apathetic and greedy approach shows in the final result. One glance at IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes shows that these movies get middling responses at best, but by virtue of being attached to past success, they still make enough money to encourage these hacks to continue scraping the bottom of the bucket.
The actors who play in these movies are also a pretty good example of this trend in name profiteering. I began to notice this in high school when the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies were really popular. I began to notice how after the success of these films, the once-great Johnny Depp began playing the same Jack Sparrow-esque character in every one of his films.
Ever since that time, I have developed the opinion that modern films don’t really hire actors, they hire personalities. Just how different is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the “Jumanji” series from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the “Fast and the Furious” series? How different is Chris Pratt in “Jurassic World” from Chris Pratt in “Guardians of the Galaxy”?
I know there are probably a lot of Marvel fans on campus who will resent me saying this, but I think the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is the main reason Hollywood is in the poor state it is in today. There have been some Marvel movies I have enjoyed over the years.
“Guardians of the Galaxy”- a delightfully rare break from the MCU model – was a really fun, character-driven sci-fi adventure. “Infinity War” was undeniably ambitious and thoroughly entertaining. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” felt like a great James Bond film with a superhero twist.
Yet overall, I think the impact of the MCU has been largely negative. It has proven that sticking to the same playbook and never taking risks pays off. All the movies are consistently the same degree of competence, but they feel more like a product coming off of an assembly line rather than someone’s artistic vision.
Like a factory-made product, MCU films are cold and devoid of humanity. Any time there is even a hint of emotion, intrigue or suspense, Tony Stark has to bust out some quippy one-liner to remind us that he’s Robert Downey Jr., the sexy bad boy. The jokes are rarely even funny, and even though the MCU is a universe with hundreds of characters, they all make the exact same kind of joke.
I would personally enjoy these films a lot more if they would allow me to experience a real moment of emotional engagement without it being interrupted by some played-out, childish smart-alec comment every five minutes. Especially considering that often these jokes are made when the world is literally being torn apart by some sky beam or a cube of some kind. Nobody would be cracking dumb jokes in those circumstances.
I know many of these opinions may be subjective to my own taste. Yet I think many people agree that the current course of modern cinema has felt played out and tired. The only reason these movies get made is that people keep buying into the scam.
I like goofy, action schlock as much as the next person. The 1999 “The Mummy” is one of my favorite movies because of all the delightful schlock. Even if you are making a dumb, action movie, there are intelligent and creative ways to execute it. Some films are definitely intended to be simple entertainment. Yet, regardless, entertainment is an art form and we should stop supporting corporate committees at Disney or Sony who seem to ignore that fact.