Anthony Stokes on when fan service goes wrong…
I have a love-hate relationship with geek culture. I see aspects of the culture I hate (the Ben Affleck Batman vs. Superman backlash) and aspects I love. Every now and then I find myself getting worked up over a story or an article and I stop myself immediately and try to remind myself it’s just entertainment. But one specific aspect that irks me one minute and makes me blush the next is fan service. There are directors who understand what it’s like to be a fan and like to throw their fanbase a bone every once in a while – Edgar Wright and Joss Whedon for example. Then there are others that abuse this and instead of giving fans what they way they end up pushing their core fan base away. Personally I think fan service should be kept to small nods so as to not confuse new viewers. But sometimes fan service is just regurgitation, showing audiences what they’ve already seen or even giving them too much of what they wanted and ruining it, leading to diminishing returns. Here are my worst examples of Fan Service…
Web Shooters in The Amazing Spider-Man
Sony was in real trouble when it was time to reboot Spider-Man. Sam Raimi’s first two movies of the trilogy are regarded as two of the best superhero movies ever made. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man had covered a lot of ground and used a lot of the iconic imagery, characters, and villains from the comics, leaving me scratching my head as to what was left to mine from the material. Sony’s solution was to simply take whatever elements Raimi left alone or pushed to the side and move them to the forefront. Raimi used Mary-Jane, Webb used Gwen Stacy. Raimi never mentioned Peter’s parents, Webb made it a subplot. Now, I get the feeling that Peter’s parents will play a bigger part in the sequels so I’ll let it slide that their subplot essentially goes nowhere, but the worst offender was the synthetic web shooters. Now the reasons people say they’re better is “That’s how it was in the comics”, “It’s more faithful to the comics” and “It’s more realistic and it’s like the comics”.
Although I should argue that no movie featuring a giant lizard man attacking the city should strive for any real sense of realism, it’s pretty clear synthetic web shooters were only put in there to appease the fans. And honestly it’s not any closer to the comics then the organic web shooters. In the comics Peter invented them, they ran out, and he made attempts to sell the formula so he could get rich off his invention. In the movie he stole them, they never run out, and he doesn’t think people might be interested in this crazy technology, SO WHY ARE THEY THERE? They don’t serve the story or a purpose until the final fight with the Lizard where they conveniently get crushed, which to be fair doesn’t mean they’re completely useless, but that’s why this is very first on the list.
Avengers references in Iron Man 2
It’s hard what to place what went wrong with Iron Man 2. There are no glaring flaws – it’s just one of those cases of a thousand cuts of death. One particular issue is the amount of references to The Avengers. The first Iron Man was an excellent movie with a great character who had a fantastic arc and even though the villain was a tad under developed it stands alone as its own movie. In Iron Man 2 everything feels under developed and nothing has a presence. It’s the definition of a popcorn movie, where after you see it you wonder where all the screen time went. There’s not enough of anybody – even Tony Stark felt like he got cut short. The problem is the references to The Avengers, the characters from The Avengers, and the plot points that had to be made to fit in the references, all gum up the movie.
Now, I understand that there was some set up necessary, and holy sh*t did it pay off, but there was a way to go about it. Hawkeye’s cameo in Thor was short and sweet, and set up just enough without distracting from the story. Black Widow and Nick Fury should’ve had a few really memorable short scenes in Iron Man 2. Marvel obviously knew they messed up when they went out of their way to make sure there were minimal references to The Avengers in Iron Man 3. Smart move Marvel, smart move.
Rehash Overload in Star Trek Into Darkness (MAJOR SPOILERS)
The Star Trek reboot was everything I want out of a reboot. Take something old and redo it, playing with expectations to deliver a brand new experience. Now a lot of Trek purists complain that Star Trek is just Star Wars rather than true Star Trek, and to those people I would say “Don’t watch the movie” – they aren’t for you, they’re for new fans who will hopefully get into Star Trek through the movies. For me personally I was immediately interested in The Original Series / movies and plan on catching up with them all as soon as possible, which would not have happened without the movie that “ruined” the franchise. Given how well J.J. Abrams handled pleasing old and new fans alike, surely he could improve on the very few short comings of Star Trek 2009 with Star Trek Into Darkness.
You know where this is going – he did not. As a matter of fact, not only did he ruin what made Star Trek so great in being original and a throwback at the same time, he put the franchise in a corner by eliminating death. And for the first two-thirds, even when introducing Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan, it still felt like they had an original take on the story. Khan turned out to be a reluctant ally which was incredibly interesting. I can put aside that in The Wrath of Khan, Khan had a backstory with Kirk and the crew, because hey – maybe this is that backstory, they didn’t kill him and they can always use him again. What I can’t forgive is the fact that the third act stops being Star Trek Into Darkness and completely turns into a Wrath of Khan remake. Having old Spock come back, having current Spock repeat the famous line from TWOK, and having Kirk sacrifice himself for the crew, all sparked a moment of excitement from me, but immediately after I felt a sense of anger. I felt insulted; even as someone who has never even seen Wrath of Khan, I knew which moments were taken straight from it. And I loved the first two thirds of Star Trek Into Darkness. Hell, up until Spock yells “Khan!”, I still loved the movie. It’s just one of those things where I’ll just turn it off when it gets to that point and watch something else. Every director has that movie where it opens your eyes to all the criticisms you’ve heard about them but you didn’t see before. This is J.J. Abrams and I hope he leaves this whole nostalgia recreation gimmick far, far away from Star Wars: Episode VII.
I’m going to just come out and say this is the part where this article becomes very biased. I hate these movies with a passion. They embody everything that’s wrong with American action cinema today. Sylvester Stallone wrote Rocky and directed Rambo. He’s obviously a talented guy, along with this cast of actors who aren’t great, but can perform if given good material. So what do they do? They make incredibly lazy films that only function as fan service. If you took away this cast and replaced them with unknowns or even real life mercenaries or marines, you’d have Battleship or Act of Valor. The action is horrible. You’d think that with a veteran action star and director along with a cast of people who can do physical combat the action scenes would stand out. They’re shot too close or just plain boring. And I know there’s this whole excuse of “It’s bad on purpose”. No I’m sorry, I’m not expecting The Godfather, but these movies fail on every level. If it’s supposed to be a bad movie, it should at least be entertaining or over the top. Bruce Willis got dropped from the cast of The Expendables 3 and without seemingly any re-writes they replaced him with Harrison Ford. And now Stallone used his evil powers to get Kelsey Grammer. Both of these great actors will likely be reduced to really bad, self-referential and extremely unmemorable cameos, spouting off iconic lines that don’t make sense in the context of the movie. This is just flatline filmmaking at its laziest. I’m genuinely glad each and every actor in here is getting a pay check, except for Willis who has been getting plenty of those lately, but it’s time for everyone involved to move on to better things and let this franchise die.
Star Wars: The Prequel Trilogy
I’d hate to beat a dead horse, but it bears mentioning what ruined the greatest film franchise of all time, which was supposed to be for the fans. Some, including myself (much to the disdain of a lot of fans, I’m sure), would argue that the series was in fact ruined by Return of the Jedi. Return of the Jedi was a weak movie in my opinion, but the prequels are a whole different story. Never have I seen a trilogy of movies so fundamentally broken. Non-sensical plot, poor character motivations, boring spectacle, plot holes and dumb moments, and incredibly unfunny moments all make these movies difficult to sit through, and easily the worst trilogy ever until Transformers came along and took that spot.
The worst part of the Prequels is that, aside from the obvious paycheck, they were made for the fans. The primary allure was seeing stuff that sounded so cool in concept, but lacked execution. From what I can tell the problem is too much re-hash. It’s naive to think that the original Star Wars trilogy and even Indiana Jones to an extent are original by any stretch, and even though these are prequels which are forced to call in elements from the originals, everything from framing to iconic images are thrown up on screen, but none are as cool as the first time. If I’m worried about J.J. Abrams directing Star Wars: Episode VII at all, it’s because this is a guy whose career is about nostalgia and fan service. So I hope it’s more Star Trek 2009 then Star Trek Into Darkness.
Anthony Stokes is a blogger and independent filmmaker.