Anghus Houvouras with the year in disappointment…
Normally this column is a vapid deep dive into the dumpster fire of pop culture confections unable to deliver on lofty expectations. This year feels different. There’s been a tangible shift in the polarity of the entertainment industry. Columnists like myself are no stranger to the concept of separation between the entertainment industry and the artistic end product. 2017 has provided so many disappointments where deconstructing the end product feels almost impossible without examining the periphery.
2017 has been a particularly disappointing year expanding beyond the world of simple entertainment musings. It’s been a year where the very institutions that provide our movies and television shows have been exposed as enabling, abusive instruments producing toxic levels of harassment and abuse as a by-product. It’s been difficult to take the end products of our pop-culture too seriously when we’ve spent so much time peering behind the curtain and seeing the ugliness that takes place behind the scenes.
The laundry list of men engaged in sexual abuse and harassment grows longer each day. The high-profile accused like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are balanced by low-rent creepers like Tim League from the Alamo Drafthouse and Harry Knowles from Aint It Cool News. It seems like men in every corner of the entertainment industry have been trying to use their celebrity and power as leverage to get laid. While none of these accusations seem all that surprising, it’s certainly disappointing to discover that an artist you respect or admire is capable of being disgusting. The rumors and stories have circulated for years, but now it seems like people are finally willing to listen. This conversation is nothing new. There are film fans out there who wonder why Woody Allen and Roman Polanski are still able to find collaborators after being accused of heinous acts of sexual misconduct against women.
What’s most disappointing is not that this abhorrent behavior exists, but that the system exists to protect the abusers and silence the victims. We’ve learned some ugly truths about ourselves this year: that there is a level of deviant behavior that people are comfortable with to protect their own interests, whether it be financial in nature or sycophantic. Even the film fan is somewhat complicit in these tragedies as we continue endless ‘art vs artist’ discussions which allows us to justify watching movies and shows from artists who engage in abusive behavior because we don’t want to deal with moral complexities when it interferes with our escapism.
All of that is rather disappointing.
Justice League is a mess so profound that I’m not sure it could have been designed in advance. When you begin to reverse-engineer this Frankenstein of a feature film, you find so many terrible choices and poorly rendered decisions that a cause of death is almost impossible to identify. The truth is the DC Extended Universe has many murderers. The producers who rushed into a shared cinematic scenario without a roadmap. Studio double downs on directors even after audiences recoiled from their vision. A lack of commitment to a vision that not everybody bought into. Bringing in a writer and director to completely change the tone of the finished film and infuse it with cringe worthy dialogue. Executives maintaining a release date because it impacted their bonuses. Laughable special effects. Incoherent storytelling.
It’s hard to believe that a modern blockbuster could be this terrible. And yet, Justice League is disappointing in a way that I previously considered impossible. Justice League is the patient zero of disappointment. The end product of rushed, short-term thinking and studio tinkering that feels like the antithesis of everything Marvel Studios has been working on for the past 10 years. In an effort to be more like Marvel, Warner Bros. has exposed their lack of vision and inability to deliver something marketable.
With all the toys in the DC toy box, this was the best they could do? This is what they thought audiences wanted? How did anyone watch this absolute disaster and think that this is the kind of movie people wanted? They somehow managed to disappoint and underwhelm fans of the characters, general ticket buying audiences and fans of where Zack Snyder was taking the story.
Like Justice League, Alien: Covenant is a failure based on mitigation. Prometheus was a polarizing mess so 20th Century Fox decided they needed to rush past Ridley Scott’s Engineer origin story in favor of more traditional Xenomorph action. Scott took the worst parts of Prometheus and combined them with the most boring aspects of an Alien movie. We got a cast of characters who are too stupid to live and eventually let a Xenomorph loose in a spaceship to be hunted down by a tank-top wearing hero who ONCE AGAIN had to blow a hatch and use decompression to suck the Alien out into space.
I spent most of Covenant either rolling my eyes or laughing. Ridley Scott has decided to spend the third act of his career making forgettable, terribly plotted movies. Alien: Covenant is terrible on several levels. I can forgive stupidity in a movie and I can look past the predictability of a franchise that hasn’t been interesting since Ripley did a reverse swan dive into a pool of molten lead.
Marvel’s Iron Fist, The Defenders and Inhumans
Marvel Studios continues to be the gold standard for blockbuster feature films. Everything they touched this year turned to platinum. Their television output started out strong with Daredevil and Jessica Jones, but has waded into mediocrity with Luke Cage and has taken a drastic nosedive in 2017. Iron Fist was their first unmitigated disaster. Questionable casting, bad writing, anemic plotting and a super-whiny Danny Rand left audiences wondering how such a good story could be adapted so terribly. That same question came up when Inhumans debuted on IMAX screens in September. Inhumans was a terribly produced mess that served as a salient example of what happens when good concepts are brought to life at cut-rate prices.
For me, the real disappointment was Marvel’s The Defenders. The show should have been a showcase of everything right about the Netflix Marvel shows (Great characters, good action), but cramming all of them together seemed to expose their faults. After an episode or two of being thrilled by seeing these characters occupy the same space, the show devolved into an overblown, half-baked story about The Hand with uninteresting villains and lackluster thrills.
I was watching the final episode of the second season of Stranger Things, which has a similar plot to the final episode of Defenders. The heroes have to descend in an elevator to try to close a portal to prevent evil from entering our world. This is something that a show based on comic book heroes should nail, and yet there was more drama & tension in the single stoic shots of Stranger Things than the poorly shot and hyperactive editing of Marvel’s super team shenanigans.
Instead of the home run Defenders should have been, we ended up taking a fastball to the forehead. And that, my friends, is disappointing.
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