George Chrysostomou on audiences gravitating towards genre subversions…
This month marks the release of Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the sequel to the surprise hit Kingsman: The Secret Service and it is of course just as genre bending as its predecessor. The franchise clearly plays off of some of the silliness of the Bond movies, with their own versions of Q and M, high-tech if not slightly unbelievable gadgets, egotistical villains spouting monologues about grand world domination plans and of course, the classic suited look of the MI6 Spy, complete with beautiful car and in this case, umbrella! Of course, the original pokes fun at the James Bond movies, at one point asking for a martini that is “Gin, not vodka, obviously. Stirred for 10 seconds while glancing at an unopened bottle of vermouth.” Audiences were captivated by this fun take on the classic genre and with the sequel projected to do well at the box office, it’s clear these same cinemagoers are net yet bored of the fresh take on a very steady genre.
Of course, this isn’t the only genre that comedies have recently played off. The superhero genre for instance has already been around for long enough to have its own rules turned upside down to tell a new story, satirising and somewhat parodying the tropes of the traditional versions of these films. Both Deadpool and The LEGO Batman Movie do this in different ways, poking fun at the seriousness of these heroic clashes and instead having fun in the genre. Of course, the contrast between these two films could not be bigger. One is a live action, R-rated, Marvel hit, that held nothing back, breaking the fourth wall like no other character could and acting as a straight up comedy (although some say it’s a rom-com). The other is a DC and LEGO pairing, animated and made primarily for families, with the humour still played as a parody of the traditional Dark Knight but with more of a focus on effective storytelling and not totally existing as a parody. Again, both of these films were huge successes with different target groups and will launch very likely successful sequels in the future, which continue with the same tone that people seem to be lapping up.
Edgar Wright has done this for years, taking well-known genres and tipping them on their head. Perhaps the most prominent example of this is the first film of the cornetto trilogy, Shaun of the Dead, a play on the zombie film. The first of the zom-rom-com genre, this cult classic takes every trope of zombie films and pays homage to them but in an entirely new way, producing a both hilarious and touching piece about family and killing drones of the undead. Wright continues his work with different genres in Hot Fuzz his take on a buddy-cop action comedy adventure, set in a tiny English village, which quickly turns sour when its citizens are a lot more sinister than they seem, working together to have a ‘perfect’ village by eliminating all threats too it. The Worlds End continues on these subversions, with the sci-fi genre having a turn at Wright’s genius film-making with the feeling of returning home and being alienated from what you once knew so well, being due to the fact that aliens had indeed taken over. Whilst we’re talking of the sci-fi genre, even Seth MacFarlane’s Star Trek spoof, The Orville, debuted to very strong ratings despite the critical panning it had received.
So there are clearly many examples of these genre subverting films and TV shows. But, why are audiences turning to these types of cinematic experiences in their droves? Well the answer may be more complex than you’d expect. The obvious answer would be that audiences are getting bored, perhaps even disenfranchised, from the traditional versions of these films. This may be true in some cases but is a dangerous generalisation to make. I personally couldn’t even bring myself to watch Spectre as I’ve become bored of Bond films that feel thematically the same every time (although I will always sing the praises of Skyfall). In general however, this is not the case as these franchises still remain profitable. It is hard to imagine a Marvel film ever becoming a flop for instance and even though DC’s attempts at their own cinematic universe have been lacklustre, people are still funding them in some form. Of course, every now and again a film will be punished for being the same thing, with 2017’s The Mummy being a prime example of a rehash of an old movie that was also a remake of an older movie, which was no more entertaining and perhaps a bit more boring and confusing. But audiences don’t punish every film like this – Transformers has taken years to drop in profits and audiences in general still turn up to genre films that have been done over and over.
Now the argument for the likes of a Marvel film for instance is that it is a genre all to itself, with each Marvel film feeling very different tonally, thus keeping things fresh. This is a valid argument to make although not every casual movie-goer would make this distinction. So boredom may be one element that is turning people to these types of genre changing cinematic pieces, but what perhaps is the main reason that so many of these takes on classic film categories have received the success and praise that they do? Well there is one main reason; quality of production and execution. The examples on this list are all quality pieces which are both entertaining, enjoyable, and play upon the subversions in a very clever way. They are intelligent films and shows at their core and are successful because they are a breath of fresh air, but fortunately, also because they are high quality pieces. The first Kingsman is fantastically made, whilst Edgar Wright is perhaps one of the best directors alive today. Deadpool and The LEGO Batman Movie were made with the love and humour they deserve becoming fitting parodies of the super-genre. Audiences keep turning out for these simply because, they are different and good.