Blockbuster Season: A Review

When I was a kid I anticipated summer with the fervor that the pope awaits the second coming. A large portion of that excitement came from the movies that were released in the summer months. Movies that felt magical and grand in scale. Movies that I could jump into and fall in love with new worlds and new characters.

As I have grown up, however, this movie season has become more a point of pain than pleasure. I watch throngs of people flood out of theaters after seeing the latest shoot em up, or the newest installment in some over hyped trilogy, and I think to myself, what are these people digesting as they walk out of experiencing these movies?

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE superheroes. I LOVE dystopian society flicks. I LOVE a good car chase. But what I love more than all of those things combined is depth. Depth of character, depth of story, depth of technique. I want a meal of steak and potatoes and I would argue that blockbusters serve ice cream for dinner. It might be what we want, but it’s not what we need.

Blockbusters satisfy a craving. They are a quick fix for a consumer-centric society.

Now, the complicated part is that blockbusters CAN have all of these attributes of depth and quality. The problem is that as audience members, we don’t demand them and because we don’t demand them, we don’t see them even when they are there. We want a quick fix, so we watch movies like they are satisfying our cravings and not challenging us.

The Avengers is one of my favorite movies ever. That fact about my movie taste completely discredits my opinions to many movie snobs because it was a blockbuster film with a huge budget and well known actors. I’d like to push back on that idea and say that 99% of what you “get” out of a movie depends on the way you watch it. I’m going to say it again for the people in the back: What you get out of a movie completely depends on the way you watch it. I saw that movie and witnessed some of the best writing and directing I have ever seen (Joss Whedon is a storytelling wizard and a personal hero of mine). Yes it was a badass action movie about superheroes and norse mythology and aliens, but it was also high quality film making and you don’t need to be a film critic to see that.

The problem with blockbusters is that there are often nuggets of valuable social commentary imbedded within, but because of the context in which these films are released filmmakers often bury these values just below the surface so most viewers leave the theater saying “wow that was so cool. I wonder what the weather is going to be like tomorrow”. For example, Wonder Woman was a good movie. But it was not the feminist manifesto that it could have been because it had to be diluted enough so that any audience member who didn’t want to be challenged in their sexist beliefs would still be comfortable spending their money to see it, and then telling their friends to do the same. Now, is this the fault of the filmmakers? In part, yes, but I vote we stop pointing fingers and take responsibility as consumers.

Now let’s talk about some of the contextual pressures that Blockbuster films face. Finances play a huge role in blockbuster filmmaking. The success of a film is often calibrated by the amount of money it makes in its first weekend. Can you think of any other art form with that kind of limitation? When you’re dealing with budgets upwards of 150 million dollars, money can become a key factor in the way a movie is made, marketed, and deemed valuable. And I think that’s shitty. (I could also ramble on about how it probably can’t even be considered art if it’s catalyst is financial gain for the creators, but I’ll spare you that… for now.)

Another contextual factor is the season. Who see’s movies in the summertime? Families, teens out of school, kids, young people seeking air conditioned spaces to make out in! (don’t pretend you didn’t do it). Movies released in the summer months have a larger potential audience, so they are motivated by a more diverse consumer base. Instead of these months inspiring a multitude of movies that discuss diverse topics and stories, somehow it’s created three months of vanilla movies that could mean anything to anyone.

I want to inspire a movement away from this type of film experience. Let’s use our favorite method of storytelling to expand our view of the world, and of art. Let’s free filmmakers by attending more specific, rich, probing films and not just the latest trendy flick. Just like the movement away from fast food, and fast fashion, I would like to take a step away from fast-films. I believe that this kind of art is unhealthy for an ill-informed consumer. I want to see films that need digesting. I want to be slapped across the face, or caressed into tears, or tickled into submission. I’m not saying we should reject simple stories, just simple storytelling. Easier said than done? Absolutely. But I’m up for the challenge. Are you?