On Deadpool’s February release

When a movie is released in February, that means the studio executives think it won’t be very good. They’ve seen the movie, so they usually know more about its quality than we do.

Here’s a list of the top 200 February releases by opening weekend domestic box office. Most of them are pretty dreadful.

But sometimes the studio executives are wrong, and a movie they expect to suck will be good/embraced by audiences. The studios are most likely to underestimate a movie when it’s an unusual movie that doesn’t fit into a neat bucket and the studios don’t quite know what to make of it. Examples are The Lego Movie, Coraline, Kingsman, Warm Bodies, and (while this wasn’t my cup of tea) Passion of the Christ.

On the other hand, when a conventional movie is released in February, the studio is almost certainly correct it their belief that it is going to suck. For example, Daredevil, Constantine, Shutter Island, Friday the 13th remake from 2009, Norbit, 50 First Dates, Scream 3, Identity Thief, The Wolfman, Percy Jackson, Jumper, Die Hard 5, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Ghost Rider, Ghost Rider 2, The Monuments Man, RoboCop remake, The Pink Panther Remake, Jupiter Ascending, Dante’s Peak, Shanghai Noon 2: Shanghai Knights, Collateral Damage, Sphere, Hall Pass, and 832 different Tyler Perry movies.

Anyway, I think that Deadpool certainly fits into the “unusual” category. So that’s a reason to be hopeful about it despite its February release. And it’s at 83% on Rotten Tomatoes, and Deadline has a highly positive review. So I’m looking forward to it.

The Personas of the Current Saturday Night Live Cast

My wife and I were recently discussing Saturday Night Live, and she was explaining why she disliked the late 90s/early aughts era cast centered around Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, and Jimmy Fallon. She felt that they were just so incredibly smug. They had the attitude that the show was lucky to have them, and the audience was lucky to be able to watch them, and they weren’t shy to make you aware of that.

I felt like that was accurate. I wasn’t a fan of that era of the show either. (Though I do love the Celebrity Jeopardy skits.)

But it got me thinking about the personas/attitudes of the current cast. SNL frequently has skits where cast members appear as themselves, and also a lot of light characters where the underlying personality of the performer shines through. For most of them I couldn’t say whether these are their genuine personalities or are carefully crafted personas. If they’re phony personas, they’re consistent enough to be believable. (Except for Kyle Mooney.)

Here is how I would describe the on-stage personas of the current cast:

Vanessa Bayer: She comes across as insecure and ditzy, but manages to use that as a source of comedy.

Beck Bennett: He’s as smug as the late 90s/early aughts cast, without the talent to back it up. (In my opinion, he’s among the least funny of the current cast. Only Kyle Mooney is worse.)

Aidy Bryant: Like Vanessa Bayer, she’s insecure, but instead of being ditzy she’s more indignant about the way the world mistreats her.

Colin Jost: He’s like the overly eager smart kid who has been invited to dinner with his professors and is trying to impress them.

Taran Killam: He can’t believe he’s actually on Saturday Night Live, and is simultaneously thrilled and nervous about it.

Kate McKinnon: She always seems to be in character of whatever she’s playing, and doesn’t really have a persona of her own.

Kyle Mooney: He tries to play the socially awkward nerd, but does a bad job of it, so it seems horribly disingenuous. It’s like he’s playing the socially awkward nerd in an amateur musical. I always feel like at any moment, he could instantly cease his nervousness, say something pithy, wink directly at the camera, and then burst into song. As a real-life socially awkward nerd, I find this obviously fake portrayal to be condescending and grating, and think Mooney is actively anti-funny. Like, he sucks the humor out of any sketch that might otherwise have been good without his presence.

Bobby Moynihan: He always seems like he’s getting away with something, isn’t sure how long it could last, and is terrified that at any moment someone could yell, “Hey, you’re not supposed to be on Saturday Night Live!” and then drag him off the stage.

Jay Pharoah: Like Kate McKinnon, only plays characters and doesn’t have a persona of his own.

Cecily Strong: She shows up as herself, but when she does she’s kind of bland and doesn’t really have her own persona.

Kenan Thompson: Like Killam and Moynihan, he can’t believe he’s on Saturday Night Live, but he finds it ridiculous and amusing that they’re letting him be there. (Even though he’s been on the show for like half his life.)

Sasheer Zamata: Doesn’t show up enough to have her own persona.

Michael Che: He feels like he just doesn’t care and is phoning it in. Like he’s giving a presentation at a job he knows he’s about to quit. He doesn’t want to be a dick about it and is still going through the motions, but in his heart he’s checked out.

Pete Davidson: He shifts back and forth between being terrified that someone will figure out that he’s high on pot while on national live TV, and realizing that everyone already knows he’s high yet somehow he’s totally getting away with being on SNL while high as balls.

Leslie Jones: She’s an odd one because she has two entirely distinct personas. When she’s doing commentary on Weekend Update, she’s high-energy, fun-loving, and amuses herself by making people uncomfortable. (Especially Jost.) Outside of update, she’s angry and won’t take anyone’s nonsense. I have no idea if one or both of these personas are an affectation, or if they represent different sides of her genuine personality.

Jon Rudnitsky: Hasn’t been on enough to establish a persona.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with these descriptions?

Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Spoilers)

As I predicted, The Force Awakens was reasonably entertaining, but nothing special. A dumb-but-fun action movie that is an enjoyable way to spend a couple hours, but would be easily forgettable if it didn’t have the Star Wars name.

I try to look at The Force Awakens as being in the same category of Oz the Great and Powerful; more or less a work of fan fiction. If there are any nuances or character beats that add to your appreciation of the original, then you can incorporate those into your view of the work. But anything that detracts from your feelings on the original can be ignored.

If at the end of Return of the Jedi there had been a title card saying, “And then 30 years later, some other stuff happened,” that wouldn’t change how much you liked the original trilogy. So you should try to treat TFA as being the same thing.

Good Stuff

Looking at TFA as its own movie apart from the legacy, there were some good pieces to it:

– I really liked the characters of Rey and Finn. They were well-established, interesting, had clear goals and character growth. These are characters that you could build a great movie around. Creating compelling characters is the hardest and most important part of screenwriting, so we shouldn’t gloss over this. Lawrence Kasdan did a great job introducing characters worthy of Star Wars, even if the rest of movie wasn’t.

– BB-8 was totally dorbs. The animators/puppeteers did an incredible job of conveying emotion and character through movement, head-angle, and beeps. I think BB-8 is cuter and better at inspiring affection than R2-D2, which is some high praise.

– The action scenes were well-shot and visually interesting. They were exciting and clearly conveyed what was going on.

Contrast this to the prequels, where the action consisted of characters running in arbitrary directions like smurfs fleeing Gargamel, and then there’s some variety of meaningless glowing light, and everyone either cheers or is sad.

The action scenes in TFA also had clear stakes. You knew who were the good guys and the bad guys, what each side was trying to accomplish, and what would be the consequences if they succeeded or failed. Whereas with the prequels, you’re watching battle-droids fight clone-troopers, and thinking to yourself, “Uh, which army of unlimited faceless interchangeable sort-of-but-not-quite sentient slaves who have been programmed to kill and are secretly being manipulated by an evil mastermind as part of his eeeevil plan that makes no god-damned sense am I supposed to root for?” (Or when battle-droids fight Gungans, and you think “I know the Gungans are supposed to be the good guys, but they’re so annoying that I kind of want them to die.”)

Unfortunately while the individual scenes had clear stakes, the overall plot did not. But I’ll discuss that in the Bad Stuff section.

– This isn’t so much praise as a lack of a complaint, but I didn’t mind the presence of old Leia anywhere near as much as I was expecting to. For years I’ve been arguing including her in the movie was a terrible idea, because nobody wants to see Princess Leia old and fat and ravaged by decades of heavy drug use. But the way they actually used her in the movie was fine. It makes sense for old Leia to be the wise leader, a minor character showing up in a couple of scenes to dispense sage advice and send the main characters off on their adventures.

Had they limited Han to this role as well, with him and Leia running the resistance and squabbling but clearly still loving each other, that would have been fine. But alas, they didn’t. Which brings me to the problems.

Bad Stuff

First off, I need to make clear that this is the sort of movie where the more you think about it, the more problems you will find. So you really *shouldn’t* think too hard about it, because it will only detract from your enjoyment. (Unless you’re the sort of person who takes pleasure in picking something apart. Which, as I explained in my last essay, is much more common after The Phantom Menace.)

I could keep pointing out flaws all day, but because I don’t want to think too much about it, I’ll focus on a handful of the most glaring issues.

– The biggest problem is that there so many parallels to Episode 4, to the point that it became obvious, glaring, and annoying. You always knew exactly what was going to happen next because you’ve seen this story before. I won’t bother laying out all the similarities, because you’ve probably already thought about them yourself. (And if you haven’t, I suggest that you don’t, because it will just irritate you.)

If I wanted a greatly inferior blatant rehash of Star Wars, I could watch Eragon. I never actually watched Eragon, but I read enough of the book to realize some kid had written down the plot of A New Hope, did a find-replace to change “spaceship” to “dragon,” and hoped nobody would notice. JJ Abrams/Lawrence Kasdan did pretty much the same thing, only without bothering to change anything. This would have been a much better movie if it had its own plot.

– Having old Han in the Obi-Wan role was a huge mistake. Han is supposed to be a swashbuckling seat-of-his-pants devil-may-care cowboy. Not a grumpy old man. And his presence was additionally problematic in that he ended up being the one to drive the plot, with the main characters Rey and Finn relegated to spectators whenever Han was around. The movie would have been so much better if Rey and Finn had been free to make their own decisions, figuring things out for themselves, and moving the story forward on their own.

– Too many wildly implausible coincidences that ended up being hugely important to the plot. I won’t take the time to list them because that would just annoy you. But I will point out a couple of the most egregious: That in the huge vastness of the galaxy, Han and Chewie just happen to stumble across the Millennium Falcon at the very moment that Rey and Finn desperately need their help. And that in the entire vastness of the galaxy, the Mos Eisley Maz Kanata Cantina that they go to for help happens to randomly be where Luke’s lightsaber is hidden.

– The MacGuffin of the Rebellion and First Order both trying to find Luke just didn’t work at all. The movie never established why that was important to either side, so the audience didn’t know what was at stake or why we should care. And there’s no way this even *could* make sense. If the wise space wizard who is interconnected to all things decides it’s best for the galaxy for him to go into hiding, why would the heroes assume he’s wrong and try to find him? Or if he was hiding because he felt bad about himself and not because he believed it was best for the galaxy, that’s much worse. That turns Luke into a pathetic whiny bitch who is willing to let the galaxy burn because he wants to go off and pout. That’s totally inconsistent with Luke’s character in the original trilogy, and would retroactively ruin the good movies if you considered this to be part of the same series. (Which is why I don’t consider TFA that way.)

In practice, because this MacGuffin had zero emotional stakes, the plot ended up getting wrapped around the Death Star 3: This Time It’s Slightly Bigger And Has Longer Range. But we’ve already seen the heroes take on the Death Star twice before, so yawn. Return of the Jedi avoided being repetitive by focusing on the emotional struggle of Luke and Vader trying to turn each other. And the external visual action surrounding the second Death Star was very different from the first Death Star. It was about Han & Leia’s commando raid on Endor, while the space battle was relegated to supporting characters. But in The Force Awakens, we saw all the same stuff happen as had happened in Episode 4, and, well, we had seen that before.

– An untrained former storm trooper who wasn’t even very good at storm troopering holding his own in a lightsaber battle against a sith lord? Come on. If a random schmo is just as good at lightsabering as a master of the Force who has years of practice, what the hell is the point of the Force? And if we as the audience know that, why should we be scared of Kylo Ren?

– It’s just plain annoying that there are characters named Rey and Ren. “Don’t have characters with confusingly similar names” is one of those things they teach you in the first few weeks of an introductory screenwriting class.

Conclusion

The Force Awakens is an entertaining mindless movie if you don’t consider it to be part of the original Star Wars trilogy that you know and love. If you enjoyed the JJ Abrams’ version of Star Trek or the Michael Bay Transformers, You’ll probably like Episode VII. Just don’t think too hard about it.

How The Phantom Menace Destroyed a Generation

I think now is a good time to reflect upon how fundamentally weird it is that after this weekend, Star Wars will never be the same.

Imagine a devout Christian learning that an additional testament to the bible has just been discovered. They don’t know if this newer testament will be good or bad, whether it will be in keeping with what spoke to them regarding the previous testament, whether it will be full of excellent moral guidance or a disillusioning disappointment. But the one thing they know for sure is that a significant part of their identity will change.

The same is true for Star Wars. People may dismiss it as some silly movies, but that drastically understates its importance. Movies are our culture, our mythology. They reflect our ways of viewing the world, but that causality goes both ways. The shared experience we have of the movies we watch frames and informs on how we relate to each other and the world at large.

And in this respect, no movie franchise is more important than Star Wars. We see the world through the lens that Star Wars gave us. We see the light side and the dark side; the Evil Empire and the connection between all living things; oppressive soulless dictators that can only be brought down by idealistic scrappy heroes and dashing rogues with a heart of gold; an amazing adventure that awaits from us if we can escape our boring everyday life and circumstances.

To quote from Imaginationland, my favorite episode of South Park, “Haven’t Luke Skywalker and Santa Claus affected your lives more than most real people in this room? … They’ve changed my life – changed the way I act on the earth. Doesn’t that make them kind of real? They might be imaginary but, but they’re more important than most of us here. And they’re all gonna be around here long after we’re dead. So, in a way, those things are more realer than any of us.”

And this weekend, this fundamental aspect of our culture and how we see the world is going to change.

This isn’t the first time we faced a change like this. When The Phantom Menace came out, it had an enormous impact on the culture and on ourselves, and not for the better. Nobody noticed the impact at the time. Everyone saw it as merely a disappointing movie, not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. But looking back, we can see how this bad movie changed our view of the world.

Think back to what the world was like between the releases of Return of the Jedi and Phantom Menace, from 1983 – 1999: (Or for you younger people, let me tell you.)

In the 80s, the US was locked in an existential struggle with the Soviet Union. This fit perfectly into the framework provided by Star Wars. We were the scrappy freedom-loving good-hearted individualists, while the Soviets were the dour oppressive monsters bent on universal domination. Ronald Reagan even called the Soviets the Evil Empire. But there was also hope and a sense of wonder. The world was getting better and everyone was getting happier, and we all had faith that we would prevail in this struggle.

Then Communism fell; the Empire was defeated. And we got to reap the rewards. The world was more or less at peace. Technology was accelerating at a pace never before seen in the history of the world. We had hundreds of cable channels. Video games transitioned from being kids’ toys to an entirely new form of entertainment for everyone. E-mail removed physical location as a qualification for friendship, as we could instantly correspond with anyone in the world. Amazon changed the way we bought stuff, removing from our lives the hassle of going to physical stores and trying to find what we want. Ubiquitous cell phones added another layer of convenience and awesomeness. The dot-com boom made millionaires out of anyone who glanced in the general direction of the internet.

Things were wonderful. There was optimism and hope, and the belief that everything was only going to get better.

And to top it off, we were getting new Star Wars. To those of us who came of age during this period, new Star Wars was the most amazing thing of all. The holy grail, the new book in our bible. Something we had been dreaming of since we were kids.

I remember sitting in the theater, just as the movie was about to begin, and my roommate turned to me and said, “Our whole lives have led up to this.” He was being a bit facetious and over-the-top, but in another sense this was true. Ever since we could remember, we had been anticipating and wondering what new Star Wars would be like. And it was finally happening.

Then we got this thing we had always dreamed of, and it turned out to be terrible.

That moment changed everything. The optimism and hope of the 90s gave way to the dour cynicism of the 2000s. We realized that nothing would ever be as good as we had hoped. The things people loved were all awful. The world was a cold and unforgiving place that didn’t care about your hopes and dreams. There’s was no wonder, no joy, nothing to be delighted in. The best we could do was seek out the worst of things and take ironic amusement in how bad they were. We devoted our time to tearing things down, eking out a tiny bit of comfort in our ability to point out flaws in the things that didn’t meet our standards. Since nothing ever met our standards, this meant tearing down the entire world.

Of course there were other things going on the world that contributed to this shift in outlook. The dot-com crash brought down the economy due to all those bad ideas that were making people rich in the 90s. The debacle of the 2000 election, where both sides were absolutely convinced the other was trying to steal the election, made us forget that people can disagree with us on politics without being evil. The prevalence of arguments on the internet made us forget that those people who disagree are human at all. And of course there was 9/11, the Iraq war, and the rise of Islamic terrorism.

The content of Phantom Menace gave us a negative framework that we used to view these events. Political leaders were not merely misguided, but were cynically and intentionally creating wars out of nothing in order to further their own rise to power. The so-called wise people were misguided fools who served as tools for the evil leaders’ ends. Success was not the result of hard work, diligence, or merit. Instead, annoying buffoons like Jar Jar and young Anakin bumbled their way through a series of ridiculous situations and prevailed out of dumb luck. Where we had all been confident we would triumph over the Soviet Union, nobody had any hope of winning against Islamic terrorism, or even a way to conceptualize what victory would mean. Any efforts to improve things were inevitably doomed to not only fail but actively make things worse, playing right into the hands of the evil people’s evil conspiracy. Just like the struggle between the droids/clones/Trade Federation/separatists, we see the world as depressing incoherent nonsense.

Art reflects life, but we view life through the context that art provides.

Phantom Menace also changed the way we relate to movies. We don’t want to be hurt again, so we won’t allow ourselves to love and connect to movies in the same way. For our generation, there will never again be anything like Star Wars. And it’s questionable whether any generation will have something like that in the foreseeable future. Harry Potter is huge and beloved, mostly by people who were too young to be disillusioned by The Phantom Menace. But as big as Harry Potter is, it doesn’t have anywhere near the cultural, emotional, and mythological impact of Star Wars.

Think of the hatred people have for George Lucas. He created this thing that we love, but then it took on a life of its own, and became much bigger than him. Star Wars was part of our culture, our mythology, and our souls. With Phantom Menace, Lucas reached into our souls, grabbed a piece of our identity, and crushed it. People can’t forgive that, despite the fact that he is the one that gave us the gift of the original Star Wars in the first place.

And now, once again, Star Wars is going to change. And this is going to be a different sort of change than happened in 1999. We’ll get new characters, worlds, stories, and outlooks, and early reviews indicate that these will be a vast improvement over the disaster of the prequels. But the more important change is that there’s going to be a new Star Wars movie every year.

My fear is that this is going to make Star Wars stop being special, and turn it into something more like James Bond. A new Bond movie has come out every few years for half a century. Some are better than others, and some people find them entertaining while others don’t. But they aren’t part of our culture and mythology; not in the same way as Star Wars.

If I were to ask what happens in Return of the Jedi, you could tell me. Even if you aren’t a Star Wars fan, and even if you haven’t seen the movie. There are all sorts of videos of people who have never seen the Star Wars movies describing them. While we laugh at the minor details they get wrong, everyone knows the overall gist. By contrast, if I were to ask you to describe, say, Die Another Day, you probably couldn’t. Hell, I’m a movie expert and a Bond fan, and *I* don’t remember what happened in that movie. Nor do I care enough to look it up, which is kind of the point.

There are far more James Bond movies than Star Wars movies. This makes them common, and gives us a lot less reason to care. And I fear that the same will be true of Star Wars movies once there’s a new one every year.

In a sense, this is the last time we’ll get new Star Wars as a cultural force. Instead, we’ll get yearly additions to the Star Wars franchise, and that is a very different thing.

Perhaps this is for the best. We can’t undo the damage of The Phantom Menace. It may be that all we can hope for is to end the relationship we have with Star Wars entirely. If someone breaks your heart, you can only really move on once you stop caring about them.

I’ll still be seeing The Force Awakens this weekend, and expect to see each new movie as it comes out. I am hoping to enjoy it. But I’m assuming that at best I will enjoy it on the level of a reasonably entertaining movie. It won’t be creating new mythology, and it won’t be adding a new chapter to the book that is written in our souls. That book is finished and closed, never to be opened again. This is the way things are, and we have to accept it.

I opened this essay by comparing new Star Wars to a freshly discovered testament to the Bible. And that analogy is apt in a different way: To a devout Christian, the notion of an additional testament is absurd. The bible is the bible, the revealed word of god, and it’s not going to change.

So this weekend, let’s all enjoy a (hopefully) fun romp of a movie, while saying goodbye to the connection we hold in our hearts for the original trilogy. We may not be ready to let go, and we may prefer it was otherwise, but we don’t have any choice in the matter.

And hey, there’s a new Harry Potter movie coming out next year.

Xena: Warrior Princess Reboot

This is the first I’ve heard of the Xena reboot. Normally I’m skeptical of this sort of thing, but I think this could actually work out.

The original show had a fun camp factor that is sorely lacking from today’s media landscape. At least, it did until it went off the rails in its later seasons, as the show started taking itself seriously, tried to take a darker tone, and collapsed under the weight of its own mythology.

Hiring Javier Grillo-Marxuach is a good sign. His show The Middleman  is possibly my all-time favorite obscure show you’ve never heard of, and is exactly the right tone that would make Xena work.

So I’m looking forward to this.

Survivor – The Best Show on TV

Are any of you still watching Survivor?

For those of you thinking, “What, that show from 15 years ago? That’s still on?” you should definitely give it another chance. I think it’s the best show currently on TV, and it’s coming to the exciting conclusion of it’s all-time best season.

The thing about Survivor is that it’s constantly evolving. Contestants figure out winning strategies, other contestants figure out strategies to beat those, and the producers come up with ways to shake up the game and force the contestants into entirely new strategies.

If you care at all about psychology, strategy, game theory, or behavioral economics, you definitely need to be watching. There are all sorts of open questions in these fields that would be impractical to study in a lab. But CBS has been kind enough to spend millions of dollars running an ongoing experiment for us.

The first season started off being about personalities rather than strategy. Contestants voted to get rid of the people they didn’t like. Then someone figured out that if he got four people to vote as a bloc while everyone else was voting for whomever, they could control the game. Thus the concept of alliances was born, which laid the foundation of the game for the next 15 years.

The next several seasons were all about alliances. Whoever formed the bigger alliance and kept it faithful would eliminate all the other players, until they were the only ones left, at which point whichever sub-alliance was biggest would take over. This made the show predictable and boring, and you all stopped watching.

The producers recognized this was boring, and figured out ways to shake it up. They started having people swap tribes early on, to keep them from maintaining an alliance. Would people stick with an alliance from their original tribe, or stick with their new tribe, or pull in some of each? They also introduced a bunch of smaller features to add new twists and wrinkles to strategy. Hidden immunity idols, returning players, special advantages, Redemption Island, Exile Island, rewards that involve picking a handful of people to be physically separated from everyone else, a Final Three instead of a Final Two, etc.

Partly in response to these shakeups, and partly out of the idea that in order to win you need a strategy better than everyone else’s, contestants evolved. Instead of sticking with an alliance until they were the only ones left and then scrambling for a suballiance, contestants started thinking, “If I wait until there’s a few people left outside of my alliance, I can recruit them to knock off the strongest people in my alliance but outside of my suballiance. The target will never see it coming, and the people who are out of the alliance entirely will be thrilled to go along with me because it means they aren’t the ones getting voted out.” This became known as a blindside.

That become the norm, at which point strategy evolved again, as the smarter contestants said “I better pull off that coup earlier, so I can do it before someone else does it to me.” So alliance infighting kept happening earlier and earlier.

This season we’ve reached a point where the intra-alliance battles spark up before the alliance can even form. In other words, there aren’t alliances at all. The entire concept of an alliance has been replaced by temporary voting blocs, which last for at most one vote, and often don’t even last that long. A bloc will form, and then people will change their mind and form a different bloc a few hours later.

Another evolution of strategy is that contestants used to have the attitude of “I’m in my alliance and sticking with it, so if someone outside my alliance tries to talk to me, I’ll just tell them to buzz off.” But then they figured out that they want to preserve their options for a coup, or make sure they’re on the right side of things if someone else tries for a coup, so it’s much better to talk to everyone and be open to whatever they propose. Also you never know who has a secret hidden immunity idol, so it’s better to keep someone comfortable even if you’re planning to vote them off immediately. So now whenever anyone proposes a plan, everyone they’re talking to will generally say, “Yes, I will definitely go along with that,” regardless of if that’s a complete lie. Combine this with the demise of alliances, and it creates a wonderful chaos. Nobody, including the viewer, knows who is really in whose voting bloc, and none of the contestants have any certainty of what’s going to happen at any vote.

And all of this plays out in the pressure cooker of physical deprivation, having to deal with the elements and lack of food, while performing in incredibly demanding physical challenges.

It used to be that you could predict what would happen 4-5 episodes in advance. Now you can’t predict 4-5 minutes in advance.

The show has become completely brilliant, and I highly recommend you watch it. Also, let me know if you’re interested in joining my discussion list for the show.

The Daniel Craig James Bond Movies

I think Daniel Craig is an excellent action movie actor, but I am very happy to hear that he is moving on from James Bond. (And not at all surprised to learn that he hates the character and hates playing the character.) I think that he, along with Paul Haggis’s writing and Sam Mendes’s directing, have absolutely destroyed the James Bond franchise, to the point that the only hope to save the franchise is a complete reboot, and a new actor playing bond is a necessary piece to that.

James Bond is supposed to be a wish fulfillment fantasy. That’s both its inspiration and its appeal.

Ian Fleming worked as a secretary in a spy agency during World War II, where he got to watch other men go out on amazing adventures, but was never allowed in the field himself because he knew too many secrets to risk his capture. He desperately wanted to be one of those spies, and after the war channelled that frustrated desire into a character that could wildly surpass the real-life escapades he witnessed with every crazy scheme he could dream up. Everything from crippling an arms dealer through his luck in gambling, to recovering stolen nuclear weapons, to fighting a giant squid. (Yes, James Bond fought a giant squid in one of the books.

The fantasy of James Bond is that he kicks all the ass, plays with all the awesome toys, beds all the women, saves the world like it’s no big deal, and has a great time doing it. The most important factor about James Bond is that he has to freaking love being James Bond, so the audience can buy in to the wish fulfillment fantasy. Without that, there’s no point at all to the story or character. It’s just an arbitrary generic action movie with random things exploding and no emotional connection to the audience.

I understand that James Bond isn’t for everyone. Many people find his character, and particularly his relations with women, to be unrelatable, misogynistic, or gross. That’s fine. People have different tastes, you like what you like, and if you don’t care for James Bond I’m not going to try to convince you to change your mind. You are free to not watch the movies or read the books.

But here’s the thing: If you have complete contempt for the idea of James Bond, you probably shouldn’t be making James Bond movies. That’s a rather obvious point that Daniel Craig, Paul Haggis, and Sam Mendes seem to have missed. They should have simply said “I think James Bond is stupid, I don’t want anything to do with it, so instead I’m going to spend my time and energy making a movie I actually care about.” Instead, they decided to spend nine years, four movies, and hundreds of millions of dollars to create a deconstructivist takedown of the Bond mythos meant to subvert and destroy the franchise.

In the Daniel Craig movies, Bond’s an idiot screw-up who keeps making things worse. He’s constantly getting tortured and seeing the people he cares about killed due to his own incompetence. Instead of bedding all the women, he gets sexually dominated by men. And in the biggest inversion of what makes Bond Bond, it is clear that he loathes being James Bond and sees it as a horriffic burden.

There’s another serious problem with the Daniel Craig Bond movies: James Bond books and movies have always been, for lack of a better word, kind of dumb. (See the note above about Bond fighting a giant squid.) The villains have wild crazy schemes that don’t make a lick of sense, everyone acts bizarrely, Bond does ridiculously stupid things that would get him killed in the real world, somehow comes out of 100% fatal situations without a scratch, has unprotected sex with every beautiful woman on Earth with zero consequences, and always saves the day no matter how unlikely. But this is okay. A movie can get away with being dumb as long as it’s fun. You ignore the stupid stuff and come along for the ride.

But when a dumb movie takes itself seriously, it’s just painful. Cinemasins has an excellent rundown of just how insanely stupid/nonsensical/impossible Silva’s plan is in Skyfall. Now, we wouldn’t have cared about how ridiculous this was if we saw it in a Pierce Brosnan Bond movie, especially if it led to a car chase involving a tank. And we didn’t care about the stupidity of the end sequence in Skyfall when we saw it in the silly comedy Home Alone. But when this absurdity happened in a pretentious movie, I was rolling my eyes hard enough that you could have hooked a generator to my face and powered the projector.

Now, I understand that the Pierce Brosnan bond movies went too far in the other direction. The invisible car in Die Another Day was so silly that a reboot was the only way to recover from that. But the Craig movies way overshot this, to the point that they weren’t even recognizable as James Bond movies at all, and were just dripping with contempt for their own story, characters, and audience.

So I’m hoping the next reboot will get back to what makes James Bond the James Bond we grew up loving. We shall see.

What makes movies great and how they can be better

%d bloggers like this: