Tom Jolliffe on that fateful day when you start to outgrow things…
Getting older is inevitable. It’s a sad fact of life. Petrol prices are going through the roof, along with everything else. I’m paying a mortgage and all the unexpected joys (read costs) that come with having a home (always resting on that knowledge of being in a fortunate position). I like fewer films that come out, fewer music, football (read soccer) isn’t the same as it used to be, lacking the blood and thunder, the mavericks, and at least for my club, actual trophies. Music, in many a great beer-based debate with a friend, apparently died some time in the mid 90’s. I make noises when I bend down. No I’m not 72, just 40, but increasingly finding myself getting to the stage where some things just don’t have the appeal they once did. I wistfully long to be transported back to the 1980s or 90s where I could save up a couple of grand and buy a house. I can do the same today, but that’s if I want to buy a Freddo.
Right now there’s a comic book film out in the world (The Batman) which is raking in loads of money and salvaging cinema distribution in the process, in much the same way as another comic book film (Spider-Man Something Home) did a few months prior. One appeals to me while the other doesn’t. Maybe it’s because, as close as you might describe it, Batman is the ‘mature’ comic book hero. He’s dark, brooding, miserable, and the only difference between the layperson and Wayne is the limitless bank account he inherited. Peter Parker by contrast is the all American teen hero going through all the high school rigmaroles people my age have long since repressed. There’s also another reason The Batman is more appealing. It’s following the path of a detective story, and I like neo-noirs and procedurals.
It dawned on me the other day perusing my Blu-ray cupboard (you might have thought I was still running films off VHS, but no) that there are a lot of crime thrillers and cops and robber chases within my collection. Manhunter, Chinatown, Memories of Murder, Drive, Cure and Se7en to name a few. Dark dingy films that delve into the detritus. No flying, no superpowers, no lengthy sequences pummelling you with CGI. Okay, so The Batman may have CGI sequences, but the notion of Detective Batman was interesting to me. I never read comics, but I oft go back to the crime solving antics of Adam West, albeit condensed to the lithe episodes they were within. Apparently Batman acting like a detective is quite a big thing for comic book fans, going back to one of the many variations and adaptations of the character throughout its DC lore. Something about the Christopher Nolan films for example also felt auteur. They were less about committee meeting movie making. It didn’t have to get wrung through the Disney system to assimilate focus groups, market studies and all other kind of modern hashtag considerations. The point is, Spider-Man does tickle nostalgia for the older viewer to some extent (if you were into him from the beginning), but the predominant audience target is the under 25’s (with perhaps a bigger leaning on young teens within that). A film like The Batman seems more all encompassing.
These two are wildly successful of course, right down to critical reception, box office numbers and fan opinion. They’re also two of the biggest profile comic book characters ever. Marvel and DC films have both been accused, usually by boomer era filmmakers, of being unimaginative. All the imagination goes into the CGI sequences, and even those often become interchangeable tropes (the light beam firing into the sky for example, or relentless Cityscape destruction). There’s a tried and tested formula, in Marvel more so, with the storylines. It comes to a point for some who may want more than a disposable item, that we’re being fed the same thing in different box art. As I’ve said before, on the subject of disposable entertainment, this is the way audiences probably want it now. They’ll see the guy in the red costume with his simple arcs and then a few months down the line watch the guy in the blue suit playing out the same arcs and world ending MacGuffin. I can involve myself with Bats a bit more. I can watch yet another bloody film about Spider-Man, because there’s enough Saturday morning cartoon nostalgia in me to do so, but I’m certainly no longer compelled to watch on the big screen. When it comes to watch Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, Candy Floss Man or the Porkins Star Wars spinoff (some of these may not, YET, exist) or anything second/third tier, I’ve lost all interest. It’s the same movie that we saw with a top tier hero usually.
Yes… it’s happened; I’m too old for this shit. It doesn’t relate to a greater maturity than fans who still dig these, particularly as flaws aside, most are still very good escapism (and boy is that needed). It’s just thematically my tastes have changed. I’ve moved on to an extent, and only the visual mark of an auteur, or wilful creative spark would bring me to going out of my way to watch. Matt Reeves as an example, gave grit, character and compelling storytelling to films about talking Apes. So he’s very gifted in that regard, and visually his Batman looks very striking and markedly different from say a cinematographic consistency that MCU films have. Taika Waititi as an example, broke that visual mould with Thor: Ragnarok, while imbuing his quirky humour and style upon the picture. He still ticked the things he needed to tick, and inevitably, the films finale felt all too similar to every other Marvel finale. It remains one of my favourite MCU films because it’s a directors film more than perhaps any of them (see also the grounded portions of Black Panther too).
My changing tastes and growing indifference on the most mainstream selections go beyond film as well. I’m loath to even call it TV now, as it’s now really ‘streaming content’ but Disney+ is a service I took on for a year and increasingly feels like I’ll not be moving onto a second. Disney has long been associated with children. With entertainment aimed at younger folk. It’s not a big revelation, but much of what Disney are putting out, isn’t aimed at me, and be it their movies, shows or whatever, my scrolling interests usually rest on warming doses of nostalgia for films, often similar to their modern day counterparts as far as themes, maturity level and stories. I can watch Willow, in no small part due to its ability to transport me back to the feeling of first watching it. If I watched it afresh now, first time, would it be as timeless? As engaging? Perhaps not, although saying that, there are less ‘moments to overlook/forgive’ as there are in many of the childhood (flawed) classics I watched.
You do overlook things when you’re younger. You don’t desire more social relevance, depth or character development. You want black and white depictions of good/evil. Simplicity is palatable. So those generations watching these films and shows are going with the same mindset I did at 10 years old. “I just wanna have some fun.” I’ll still maintain blockbusters were far better in the 80s and 90s as they are now (with the occasional twisted edge). They’re better at assimilating the adults into the experience, at speaking about things, and also, they were made with more directorial power. An era of Steven Spielberg in his creative pomp with both hands on the wheel compared to an era where Lord and Miller or Edgar Wright are sacked from Disney projects because their films were becoming too Lord/Miller/Wright for executive tastes.
Such is the nature of disposable entertainment and relentless customer hunger that films and shows are being churned at breakneck pace, lifting from a select few wells of inspiration usually too. There’s the Marvel well, the Disney back catalogue well (leading to reboots), the Star Wars well, and then existing IP that can also be rebooted. Star Wars is the biggest indicator that something I once loved and looked forward to is now boring. The Original Trilogy is still wonderful, because the first two, as well as striking that nostalgic chord, set and perfected a blockbuster blueprint that studios still emulate (the surface values at least). Star Wars is an affectionate copy of Kurosawa/Ford era Samurai and Westerns. The Force Awakens as an example, was a copy of a copy of a copy. Pretty soon those hidden watermarks (we’ll call them interesting characters, charm, charisma) are lost from the original document.
So I was there, watching The Book of Boba Fett, one of innumerable modern era Star Wars projects being released by Disney. Much has been said about the show, and some of its issues, but apart from anything else, it seemed to be at ease with being entirely passable, and little else more. It also pandered, threw in pleasing asides for kids, but never really took its protagonist into interesting places. Content which doesn’t care about its own protagonists is increasing, and it’s something that doesn’t appeal to me outside a grindhouse scenario. There’s a certain charm to the 90 minute trashy B movie that’s lithely simple, engagingly imperfect (in its best forms) or laughably terrible, that you don’t perhaps get in mega budget content, or films which are unnecessarily long given the intellectual lightness of their material. The Obi-Wan Kenobi trailer left me cold, given a general antipathy that outweighs nostalgia for Ewan McGregor era Star Wars. The Mandalorian did strike the right notes though, because beneath the crowd pleasing Grogu and nostalgic callbacks, it was also engaging thanks to a protagonist who was alluringly enigmatic. Sure it’s light entertainment, but it was focused, and less guilty of filler episodes than many similar shows.
So in the words of the great Murtaugh, played by the great Danny Glover… Disney, I’ve got to tell you… “I’m too old for this shit.” For the most part anyway (kudos on Only Murders in the Building and Get Back). Nostalgia still strokes me, but I get most of this by simply re-watching the stuff I had a coming of age affinity with. I don’t need to see another reboot. I generally have to seek beyond the multiplexes to find more enticing cinema, than what is generally filling multiplexes. Honestly though, I think given I’m still an immature man-child, it’s not simply a matter of maturity either, or just outgrowing (which is undoubtedly a big part) but it might also be the unimaginative production line overkill of many of these things. It’s less a tap on the shoulder and more a relentless steel toe cap right up the starfish.
Have you lost the love of some films? Grown out of anything? Let us know on our social channels @flickeringmyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021/2022, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.