Internet, you absolutely tire me out sometimes. And there’s no better example of that then the discussion surrounding the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Technically, the film has only been released in America for five days, but I’m already exhausted by the pure amount of conversation around it. The thousands of tweets, the hundreds of think pieces, the almost uncountable numbers of long, drawn out comments filling up all the message boards — it’s exhausting, even for a film that has so much to talk about (like The Last Jedi undebatably does.) And for someone like me, who both A) writes about movies online and B) likes to have things stew in my brain for a while before putting hypothetical pen to hypothetical paper, it creates this feeling that my thoughts on the film are coming out wildly late compared to the rest of the world, and that, at this point, absolutely nothing I write about the film has not already been expressed a hundreds of times by dozens of other more talented, more deadline driven writers than me.
Let me once again remind you that it has only been seven days. But in internet time, that might as well be a month.
But, hey, talk surrounding The Last Jedi has really yet to abate, once again proving just how divisive and loaded the finished product turned out to be. I already laid out my initial thoughts on the film in last week’s timely piece but, since then, I’ve had a lot of time to further reflect (and, to be quite honest, grapple with) my ultimate feelings on the film. I also got the chance to see the movie a second time, which really does refine my overall thought process, for both better and worse.
Because, seeing The Last Jedi again, I was certainly taken in more with the experience. I generally like the movie, and even did at the time I initially wrote about how disappointed I was in what it ultimately was. But, make no mistake: I still remain somewhat disappointed in what we got with The Last Jedi. Because, as much as I can now appreciate it is a good movie…it has failed to really convince me of its ultimate greatness.
And that dichotomy ultimately struck out a great deal watching the movie a second time. Finding so much more to enjoy, the things I didn’t like became all the more glaring. And the more and more I thought about it, the more I realized that my problems with the film stem from one essential truth: as good as the concepts were in The Last Jedi (and make no mistake, pretty much all of them were), I feel like Rian Johnson didn’t take things far enough to really push the film into the all-time great echelon…even just amongst Star Wars films. Unlike what the internet tries to tell me, my issues with The Last Jedi don’t stem from a place of being afraid of change — my favorite moments of the film, really, are based around the idea of “playing around” and doing something different with the concept of Star Wars. But, time and time again, I was left with the feeling like The Last Jedi was still pulling its punches, especially in regards to what everyone was telling me otherwise.
Which is an interesting point when it comes to this film: inevitably, there was going to be a lot of hype from others sitting in my head as I watched the movie. Which, for what it’s worth, is no fault of The Last Jedi itself — you can’t really blame a film for the hype around it. That being said, having all the pre-release buzz about how The Last Jedi changes Star Wars and does things that are unpredictable and controversial certainly peppered my initial reactions. In a perfect world I would be able to avoid all this pre-release conversation and hyperbole that Film Twitter unleashes upon my brain…but a perfect world this isn’t. So, going into The Last Jedi, I was really expecting a movie that would change everything I expected from this new trilogy of films.
Suffice to say, The Last Jedi did not, and I’m baffled by both the insistence that it A) it does and that B) the reason I didn’t love the movie is because I’m afraid of said change. It’s a narrative being toiled about all over (though, again, mostly through Twitter) from the people who unabashedly love the film, and it simply has to stop. In fact, all the assumptions made by either side about why or why not someone might love the film needs to be given the kibosh. But, since I already made that point clear on the social media network that thrived on such discourse, I’ll let the Twitter thread below speak for itself:
"Oh fans don't like to embrace change," or "The critics were bought out by going to the premiere," or "if you liked/disliked X Star Wars thing you will like/dislike The Last Jedi," etc. STOP IT. Reductionist reasoning to explain whole swaths of people is irritating.
— Matthew Legarreta (@mattlegarreta) December 18, 2017
It reminds me a lot of the post election deluge of "How did Hilary lost/how did Trump win?" And I get it: we are humans, and we like to rationalize things. But thinking you have definitively figured out the origins of someone's opinion is deeply, deeply silly.
— Matthew Legarreta (@mattlegarreta) December 18, 2017
But, being Twitter, I could of course not delve into the actual meat of this argument, and explore the fact that my disappointments with The Last Jedi stem from something no one else (except a few other detractors like myself) seem to see: hidden beneath the admittedly beautiful gloss and fast-paced, roller coaster ride atmosphere, The Last Jedi is a movie that wants to have its cake and eat it too. It’s a Star Wars film that wants people to know that it’s BOLD and DIFFERENT and doesn’t think ANYTHING IS SACRED…but then spends the entire denouement putting things back into place, rather than moving things forward. On the surface of the movie are bold decisions, ones that could leave all our characters in fascinating places before the final installment. But it doesn’t take long before The Last Jedi renegs on all its ballsiest developments, returning things to the status quo and abandoning potential plotlines that, frankly, would have been far more exciting than what we actually got.
I’m being vague, though, so let’s go ahead and dive into the nitty-gritty (with SPOILERS attached, obviously.) Probably the most keen example of the “change” that everyone keeps talking about is in regards to the light side vs. dark side debate, and how both Rey and Kylo go about it. Personally, though I liked the plotline, it didn’t feel particularly fresh for this universe: arguments over the light side and dark side are stock material for Star Wars at this point, and it’s just slightly starting to get old. I for one can only take so many conversations about how close someone is to going to the dark, or how someone can turn the other to their side, or what have you. So much of The Last Jedi delves into the light side/dark side issue in a way that I personally didn’t find very different to what we have seen before from this franchise but, to be fair, it didn’t have to be. The only reason I expected something more was because people were telling me TO expect something more and, once again, I can’t really blame the film for that.
But what I CAN blame the film for is flirting with something different, before rejecting it completely. In what might be the highlight of the entire movie, Kylo ends up killing Supreme Leader Snoke, in a clear nod to Vader killing the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi. We all expect it to go into a similar, predictable manner from here (with Kylo joining forces with Rey, him getting redemption, etc)…until it doesn’t. Instead, Kylo used Snoke’s death as a power grab of sorts, and tries to bring Rey onto his side by speaking of how harmful living in the past is, and how they both need to push the galaxy forward, and so and so on.
This is a really interesting beat for the film and, as much as it would hurt to see Rey join forces with Kylo, would make for a fascinating conclusion to the sequel. If Rey choose to actually join Ben, if they dismissed the forces of both The First Order AND the Resistance, and truly set out on their own path, that would have been interesting. That would have been new, and different. But, instead, Rey denies Kylo’s request (as all heroes must do,) manages to escape unscathed, and embraces her destiny as a true Jedi. Kylo, meanwhile, becomes the ultimate force of evil, leading The First Order (THE BAD GUYS) against The Resistance (THE GOOD GUYS.) So, basically, we are back to where we started from…we just now know that (hopefully) the issue of Kylo’s potential return to the light has been put to rest.
And, really, it’s the 100%, black-and-white view on morality that kind of irks me by the end of the film. Because there’s plenty within The Last Jedi that leads viewers to think it might go against such a firm grasp of good and evil. From Benecio del Toro’s whole speech about the arms dealers who sold to both the Resistance AND First Order (and his final line, which seems to echo a sense of pure exhaustion from the endless back-and-forth between the two groups, something I wish the film delved far heavier into) to the reveal that Luke pushed Ben to turn to the dark side due to his premptive actions, it seems the entire goal of The Last Jedi was to upend what we think about this universe, and present us with a Star Wars story we’ve never seen before. But the only problem is that the movie doesn’t do that — in fact, all it does by the end is reinforce what we all thought to be clear from the get-go: First Order BAD, Resistance GOOD. And, once again, there was so many opportunities presented in the film itself for that NOT to be the case.
Take, for instance, the entire subplot with Poe Dameron. I was digging the storyline throughout the first half, and thought the moment that Poe ended up committing mutiny on Vice Admiral Holdo was, once again, pushing things back into the whole subversive nature of the movie that I was promised. I mean, how ballsy would it have been if Holdo actually WAS evil? What a bold statement it would be if the hierarchy of the Resistance was just as crooked as The First Order, and a civil war of sorts broke out within the group, spurred on by the power vacuum of Leia’s (narratively more interesting) death? What if this film left us with a disillusioned look at the Resistance, and only our core group of main characters (Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose, Leia, etc.) left to fight both sides? Wouldn’t that create not just the ultimate downer ending for the sequel, but also reinforce the film’s themes of throwing the past away? After all, the Resistance is just Rebellion 2.0, and to turn our understanding of “The Good Guys” completely on its face would truly be ballsy.
But, instead, Holdo turns out to totally be a hero, Poe was being an idiot, and should have totally trusted his superior officer despite giving him literally zero reasons to do so other than the fact that, currently, she was the one in charge. Even more frustrating, Poe’s mutiny was treated with little more than a slap on the wrist, with both Leia and Holdo immediately afterward complimenting the former Commander, as though his little bout of treason was just a funny little character quirk they all kind of like (“That’s our Poe!”)
It is here where the failure to truly embrace change also backfires on The Last Jedi. Next to the whole “forget the past” mantra at the center of the film, another major theme in The Last Jedi is the idea of embracing failure, learning from it, and finding ways to move forward despite the setbacks it presents. That’s an admirable theme, if it wasn’t for two main problems: 1) seeing our main characters continue to make stupid mistake after stupid mistake is frustrating to watch and 2) the characters never actually face any consequences for the mistakes that they make, which leaves me scratching my head about the reason to have the lesson in the first place.
When Rey stupidly turned herself into Kylo Ren and Snoke, based on a single force vision that she could turn him, did she suffer at all for being wrong? Not really, no. Sure, her lightsaber broke in half, but I imagine that will just give her the opportunity to turn into a double bladed one for the next movie (which, admittedly, will be pretty sweet to see.) And she gets a little cut, which kind of sucks. But, after the whole throne room scuffle, Rey literally just walks away, escaping off camera and disappearing for like 20 minutes of the film (this happens to a lot of characters in The Last Jedi, unfortunately.) When she returns, she is joviality shooting shit on the falcon, making wisecracks and overall enjoying her day.
Forget the fact that we have no idea how she ended up rendezvousing with Chewie and the Falcon again (was he just circling around in the back or something, just waiting for her? Where exactly did he go during the entirety of that throne room confrontation? How did she find him again using Snoke’s escape pod? The film knows this entire chain of events is messy so, like most things it deems messy, chooses to completely ignore it instead.) My bigger issue is the fact that Rey made a stupid decision, and she never once has to come to terms with her failure. Nor does Poe with his mutiny attempt, or even Finn with his attempted suicide run towards the end of the movie (sure, Rose gets injured, but it probably would have had far more impact if his actions actually killed her.)
This comes in stark contrast to The Empire Strikes Back (probably the closest analog to The Last Jedi), a movie which also had many of its main characters fail in what they were trying to do. But when Han’s trust in his friend ends up backfiring, he gets captured and frozen in carbonite, potentially never to be seen from again. When Luke makes his own stupid, arrogant choice and goes to fight Vadar, he ends up getting his entire arm chopped off. Empire is so brilliant because it perfectly ramps up the tension for all our main character, making the grasp of the Empire envelop them like a tightening noose. After such a heroic victory in A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back is true to its title, which I would argue made for a very brave and, more importantly, very satisfying sequel. The Last Jedi, by comparison, only goes halfway on both of those things.
I’ve already gone long bagging on a film that I (once again, feel like I should reiterate) mostly liked, but one more final note before we conclude things. If you’ve read this article to this point (somehow), there might be one prime argument you will try and use to refute me: I keep judging the movie based on what I wanted to see, rather than what The Last Jedi actually is. This is another very common bit of fansplaining that I’ve heard people use to detract from the detractors (what a time for discussion that we live in, folks!), and it’s one I have thought about quite a bit. Are my issues with the film solely that it didn’t go the way I wanted?
It’s an interesting question, and I certainly feel there are people who hate the film (you know, the ones giving it like 0% on Rotten Tomatoes and the like) primarily for this reason. Clearly, I too have put a lot of thought into the future of this trilogy after Star Wars: The Force Awakens (a movie I still really love, by the way), and did indeed spend a lot of time dreaming about where the future of the series would go after such a strong reintroduction. There were plotlines that I created in my head, potential developments and twists in the story I was hoping to see happen. None of them were of the “DUH SNOKE IS DARTH PLAGUEIS” variety, but they were certainly still predictions, and could probably be pushed into the category of fan theories.
But here’s the thing: that was not a thing I do exclusively for Star Wars. I do that for damn near EVERYTHING I watch, because I’m a geek and a writer and I like to tell dumb stories in my head sometimes. And though I often create the plots of movie sequels wholesale just to entertain myself, that very rarely prevents me from enjoying the actual, final film on its own terms. Take another sequel to a blockbuster film I loved: War for the Planet of the Apes.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is probably my favorite blockbuster of the past decade and, after its big cliffhanger ending, I dreamed plenty about what would come in its follow-up. But not a single one of my predictions could prepare me for War for the Planet of the Apes, which ended up being a weird, atmospheric character study masquerading as a summer blockbuster, with only the bare minimum of action and adventure you would expect from something titled War for the Planet of the Apes. It was 100% not the movie I was hoping for, or the one I created in my head. But, taken on its own terms, it was FANTASTIC, and ultimately, I loved that it wasn’t the film I initially made thought it would be. It was, plain and simple, better.
I do not feel similar about The Last Jedi. To reiterate a point I’ve made countless times in this article, it’s not the fact that The Last Jedi went in directions I didn’t expect, or even necessarily want. It’s the fact the fact that the path there was filled to the brim with plot contrivances, missed character beats, and extremely rushed plotting. You can only get so far with a film based solely on the ideas that it’s tackling: like all things, execution is key. And, with a good amount of The Last Jedi, I found the execution to be lacking. Even worse, at the end of the day, I found myself in an odd place: I don’t care about what happens next. The only reason I (and millions of others) created the fan theories we did and “geeked out” about what the rest of the trilogy could contain was because the conclusion of The Force Awakens got us EXCITED. The possibilities were wide open after that film, and I was so eager to see how the story would build with its sequel. But this feels like less of a ramp-up for the conclusion of the trilogy, and more like a wrap-up to it. After this one, I have literally no idea what is to come in Star Wars: Episode IX. And, far worse? I have no desire to try and figure it out.
Also published on Medium.
Feel Free To Take The Rest of The Day Off, The John Wick: Chapter 3 Trailer Is Here
The national holiday known as John Wick Trailer Day begins…now.
I love movie trailers. I know for some they find the mere act of watching a movie trailer a “spoiler” for what is to come in the final film, and look, I get it. Sometimes, there are moments and things I see in a trailer that, when I watch the full movie, I wish I could have taken back seeing. But, for me, there’s something so magical about the trailer watching experience that I can’t throw away the art form entirely. And though you might bristle at my definition of trailer making as an “art form”…eh, you’re wrong. There is a beauty to a well produced, well edited trailer, and the best ones are examples of the power that come with the form. Yes, they’re marketing, and yes, they’re sometimes scattershot, thrown together bores. But the good ones? Watching those come hand in hand with watching movies, at least from my perspective.
All of which is a long preamble to me saying that, on Youtube, I have a private little playlist of trailers for movies, TV, and video games that I absolutely LOVE. Trailers that I return to again and again and again, just because the craft that went into them is so staggering. One of those trailers is this first one for John Wick: Chapter 2, which was my first indication that “Woah, this one is going to be something special.” And it very much was! But even outside the general kickassery of that sequel, the trailer was and is absolutely delightful. So coming into today’s big release of the John Wick: Chapter 3 trailer, I had some very high hopes. Would — and could — this trailer manage to match the quantified hype levels™ that the Chapter 2 teaser put out?
Honestly, no, not quite. But the first trailer for Chapter 2 didn’t show us a FREAKING KATANA MOTORCYCLE CHASE/FIGHT, so it rather evens out, don’t you think?
And not being as masterful as the first Chapter 2 trailer ≠ being bad. In fact, from a purely technical and academic level, this trailer would probably best be described as something that, fundamentally, “fucks to the max.” You got the aforementioned motorcycle chase, which indeed fucks hard. You got the much teased “Keanu on a horse” action, which indubitably fucks. You got John Wick murdering people with a book, which of course fucks, how could you even question such at thing. And you got Halle Berry and her attack dogs joining in on all the fun, which in this franchise of course, is murdering people. Sounds like Trailer Fucks Bingo, if you ask me.
And what the trailer does so well (and what I hope the film will do well too) is amp up the tension, to an insane degree. Ending the second film on that huge cliffhanger was a brilliant move, as seeing Wick prepare in the “one hour head start” he has to get the hell out of New York before literally every hitman around comes to assassinate him makes for a heck of a sequel pitch. And the trailer plays around with that deliciously, racketing up the tension in the first half to deliver the true fireworks in the second. Set to a remixed version of the crooner tune “The Impossible Dream” by Andy Williams, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the operatic, pulse pounding remix of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” used in the Chapter 2 trailer, but it still makes for an interesting, exciting contrast.
And everything else about this trailer is classic John Wick greatness, from the many, MANY creative kills (seriously, that book thing) to the surprisingly crisp, exciting photography brought to life by cinematographer Dan Laustsen. Lausten took an already pretty presentation from the original John Wick and made it flat our gorgeous, and that sense of visual beauty is all over this trailer. I love action movies that take the time to actually look good, and John Wick is one of the few franchises committed to having that kind of aesthetic. In addition to the mayhem, carnage, and wacky-ass world building, of course.
Anywho, this is a great trailer, but it does little to change my overall excitement for the film — after all, it’s hard to go much farther than “PUMP THIS SHIT IN MY VEINS NOW,” right?
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (yes, this one has a subtitle, to the annoyance of SEO managers everywhere) hits theaters on May 19. And even if the first trailer is a smidge below the one for John Wick: Chapter 2, the astounding first two posters released for the film more than make up for it. BRB, clearing wall space.
“John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is on the run for two reasons… he’s being hunted for a global $14 million dollar open contract on his life, and for breaking a central rule: taking a life on Continental Hotel grounds. The victim was a member of the High Table who ordered the open contract. John should have already been executed, except the Continental’s manager, Winston, has given him a one-hour grace period before he’s “Excommunicado” – membership revoked, banned from all services and cut off from other members. John uses the service industry to stay alive as he fights and kills his way out of New York City.”
Also published on Medium.
God Damn It, Sony is Back On That Ghostbusters 3 Shit Again
“I am so freaking tired writing about Ghostbusters sequels.” – Me, in the year like Two-Thousand-God-Damn-Twelve
I thought we were passed this, you guys. I really, truly did.
After nearly a decade of writing stuff about Ghostbusters 3, I thought the release of Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot (maybe subtitled Answer the Call? I don’t fucking know) signified the end of an era. All the in-fighting, fanboy hyperbole, acute sexism, accusations of sexism, controversies, cameo wrangling, and nostalgia baiting all led up to 2016’s Ghostbusters — and it all fizzled like a recently used Muon Trap. The reboot got mixed-positive reception from critics, but absolutely bombed at the box office, grossing a paltry $229 million worldwide off a budget of $144 million. After literally decades of build-up, I thought this was how the saga ended: a middling-to-bad reboot that would end up being forgotten to time, in a franchise that likely wouldn’t see the light of day for decades to come.
Oh, but don’t underestimate the folks at Sony Pictures! Apparently it only took them two years to turnaround from the failure of 2016’s Ghostbusters, wipe their hands on their jeans, and get back to work on revitalizing the series. So in a move that I can’t imagine anyone in the year of our lord 2019 asked for, we’re getting another Ghostbusters movie, completely divorced from everything set up from the last one. So another reboot, essentially!
But, no, that would be inaccurate. Because this project will be a sequel of sorts…a sequel to the original two Ghostbusters, that is. In what should have been clear from the start, but inexplicably wasn’t for the team behind 2016’s reboot, these “thirty years later” revitalizations are incredibly popular nowadays. From The Force Awakens to Creed, every series that was once popular decades ago is now being revitalized, with a younger cast indeed “rebooting” the series, but the old guard sticking around to serve as a continuation, rather than a rehash, of what came before. It’s like having your cake and eating it too: the studio gets their “new” franchise off the back of an old one, but you respect and excite fans by showing more of what they loved the first time. It’s a win-win and, quite honestly, I think the quality of these legacyquels (as Matt Singer so brilliantly coined) has been better than the standard reboot/remakes we were getting for a while there.
By going this route, franchise films can at least make a statement about their own impact, or their place in the pop culture cannon, which is a lot more than standards reboots usually do. Those end up just saying the same exact story over again, trying to tap into the magic of seeing it for the first time, but absolutely failing to do so. You know, like how the 2016 Ghostbusters did. As much as one group might like to bitch and moan about how casting women ruined everything, it wasn’t the genitals of the cast that took down Ghostbusters, and it’s absolutely insane I have to write something like that in the first place. It was the uninspired, meandering, and ultimately forgettable way Ghostbusters tried to cash in on its predecessor’s clout that ultimately did it in.
But let’s make like Sony, and forget that whole movie ever even happened: a new Ghostbusters is coming, whether you like it or not. And if you think this is just in the planning stages, or something Sony rattled off as a potential project during an investor’s meeting, think again. Because, slightly burying the lede here (that you probably read everywhere else, so forgive me for assuming you already know) is the fact this project is coming from none other than Jason Reitman, the filmmaker behind Tully, Juno, and the like. He’s also the son of franchise director Ivan Reitman which, y’know, I’m sure is totally unrelated.
Anywho, he has been working on it in secret for a while now alongside Monster House writer Gil Kenan, and the project is already set to begin shooting by the end of the year for a Summer 2020 release. Still don’t believe me? Just take a look at the already released teaser for the film, reportedly done by Reitman himself, and brandishing the “Summer 2020” release in plain sight. This one’s coming folks, and coming fast.
Now just in case you needed reminding, this one DEFINITELY takes place in the original continuity — you hear that Elmer Bernstein score? Oh yeah, buddy, that’s OG shit right there. And on the surface, yeah, it’s pretty cool to ape that aesthetic. And Jason Reitman is a strong director, even if this one seems like a very strange fit for him (his films are funny, sure, but not out-and-out comedies: his sensibilities are more Sofia Coppola than Judd Apatow). But I just can’t get excited about this thing, not in a way I might have back in 2012 or whatever. After years and years of talk about further Ghostbuster films, only to get the subpar 2016 reboot, I’ve rather soured on this franchise. Unless the pitch is really strong, and the actors involved (all teenagers, from what’s been reported) are interesting, I just can’t get enthused about the prospects of Ghostbusters 3: Here We Fuckin’ Go Again.
Even worse will be the discourse around it, and the shit that stained the last one floating back up to the surface. Another round of talking about whether or not the original movie is good (it is.) Another round talking about whether Ghostbusters 2 is bad (it is, very.) Another round of needless appreciation for Paul Feig’s tepid reboot. Another round of MRA asshats whipping their dicks out and complaining about how only men can shoot imaginary beams out of imaginary packs while capturing imaginary beings in an imaginary story. Another round of well-meaning but overbearing people, in kind, giving more credit than necessary to a movie that frankly doesn’t deserve it. And another round of me whining about the discourse, whilst doing absolutely nothing to divorce myself from it.
It’s all just…so…tiring.
Like Bill Murray in another, non-Ghostbusters movie (that actually is a lot better than Ghostbusters if you think about it), I can’t help but feel I am stuck in an endless loop writing about this thing. Ten years from now? I’ll be writing about Ghostbusters 3. Twenty years from now? Ghostbusters 3. Thirty years from now? I won’t be writing about anything, what with the collapse of all life on the planet and what not. But the last thing I write before I fight in the water wars, or engage in vehicular combat for gasoline, or — most likely — drown in the rising sea levels?
Fucking Ghostbusters 3, man.
Also published on Medium.
The Crushing, Existential Sadness of The Disappointing Glass Reviews
R.I.P. Shyamalanassaince: September 2015 – January 2019.
I am eternally fascinated by the career of M. Night Shyamalan. After bursting on the scene with The Sixth Sense nearly 20 years ago, the man went on to gain an incredibly rare status amongst his directing brethren: actual name recognition! He’s one of the few directors who many people outside Film Twitter can name — up there with Spielberg, Scorsese, and Tarantino. But unlike those other directors, Shyamalan’s brand can probably be described more as “infamous” than famous, especially in recent years. The man went from the New Spielberg to a laughing stock…literally.
And well his fall from grace is, in some accord, deserved (his movies post Signs are all dire to varying degrees), I still can’t help but feel pretty bad for the guy. He went from being a huge up-and-coming talent, the next big thing in the world of Hollywood, to an absolute joke amongst critics, audiences, and his peers. It’s the classic Hollywood rise-and-fall, played out in slow motion over a twenty year period. But right when all things seemed over for Shyamalan, and he delivered for the first time something Hollywood would not allow (a legitimate box office bomb in the form of After Earth), Shyamalan attempted what few failed artists can surmount: an honest-to-goodness comeback.
And it wasn’t a sudden comeback either: Shyamalan spent years revitalizing his public image, first doing so with the surprisingly solid The Visit back in 2015. It was a return to low-budget roots for the director, and its nature as a sort of pallet cleanser for the director was very much apparent. It was a movie he seemed obliged to make to get even an ounce of his creative juices flowing again, and it turned out to be a pretty fun little comedy/horror movie to boot.
After some decent television work developing and directing Wayward Pines, Shyamalan came roaring back to life with another low budget delight, 2017’s Split. It was a film that was thrilling, funny, well crafted, and genuinely exciting. Basically, it was something we hadn’t seen from the man in damn near 15 years, and audiences took notice. On the backing of a bravado post credit scene, linking the film to his previous cult classic Unbreakable, response to the movie was incredibly promising. And remember that whole thing about Shyamalan’s Hollywood clout running out because he made a bomb? Well, Split, off a $9 million budget, made $238 million — making it a massive, massive hit. A good movie AND a hugely successful one? Yup, Shyamalan was back, and as a huge fan of his first three features, I couldn’t have been happier for him.
Now we stand a mere five days away from the release of Glass, Shyamalan’s newest feature. As a sequel to his current hit Split, and one of his past hits, Unbreakable, it serves as pretty much a crescendo for the entire man’s career. One of those “everything has been leading up to this” moments those voiceover guys are always talking about in the commercial. Glass was — had to be — the thing that solidified the Shyamalanassaince.
…And he whiffed it. Goddamn it, he fucking whiffed it.
That’s at least according to the first reviews for the film, which were released Wednesday following the lift of the film’s press embargo. To say they were incredibly mixed is an understatement. Here’s just a sampling of some of the notable ones:
‘Glass’ Review: M. Night Shyamalan’s Grounded Superhero Movie Is the Biggest Disappointment of His Career
I don’t say this often because I’m not a character in an early 90’s sitcom, but…ouch-a-rooney. Those are not pretty reviews, and are a direct return back to the critical dragging that was unleashed upon films like Lady in the Water, The Happening, and The Last Airbender. And though it would be easy to cry “Well, the critics are wrong!” here (as people on the internet often do, bafflingly)…they weren’t wrong with those last three. They were all terrible. And with Shyamalan’s track record, I’m unfortunately going to have to take the critic’s side here: by all accounts, Glass is an excruciating disappointment. And, man…what a fucking bummer.
Of course, I have yet to see film myself (I’m not special like all those other film journalists), and I remain somewhat hopeful I’ll come out on the positive side of things. But, at this point, it’s undeniable that this whole thing has put a massive dent in the pent up anticipation for the film. Since Split, it’s been a solid two years of anticipation from Shyamalan apologists like myself: we finally got the sequel we spent a decade asking for and, even better, it came in a way that seemed unique, fresh, and necessary. It wasn’t just a last ditch effort for Shyamalan to gain some clout back from his former fans. He did the work, guys! But like a drug addict who was on the op-and-up, only to suffer an insurmountable relapse, Shyamalan has fallen once more. He was supposed to be our Timothee Chalamat — our Beautiful Boy. And now we’re all very, very sad Steve Carrell.
Because, on a personal note? This has massively curbed my enthusiasm for Glass which, up until this point, was pretty sky high. I really had faith in the movie — naively, I admit — and my hype was frankly off the charts for it. I’m currently in the process of writing up my list of most anticipated films of 2019 (yeah, yeah, I’m late, whatever), and let’s just say Glass had a very high ranking amongst that list. Emphasis on the had — as much as I want to see the film still, I just can’t get excited for it like I was before the negative reviews. And I doubt I’m the only one either; this really puts a damper on the pre-release hype, as you would expect.
On my planned path to MAXIMUM HYPE, I just got done re-watching Unbreakable in the lead up of Glass‘s release. And guess what? That movie still fucking rocks. It’s slow and contemplative and weird, but it manages to engross me with every single frame. And just seeing it again made me slightly more optimistic for Glass, if anything to see these characters again. But in the back of my mind, that voice was still being cautious: “it’s going to be a disappointment. It’s very bad, apparently. DON’T. GET. EXCITED.” That voice is probably right…but also a fucking buzzkill.
And the saddest thing of all, to me, is that it seemed no one really saw it coming. Usually when a film is going to be poorly received by critics, press releases are held very close to the film’s opening weekend. You don’t want bad word-of-mouth to sour the launch, so you cut off as many people from seeing it as you possibly can. And yet, Glass screened almost two weeks earlier for critics: usually, a sign that the people involved imagined that it would be, at the very least, tolerated. Hell, when I first saw Film Twitter commenting about the press screenings, I got exciting, thinking that Universal and Shyamalan probably imagined the film was going to get great reception, and wanted to ride that buzz into the film’s launch. I mean, you wouldn’t set up a series marathon across the country a week before the film’s domestic release if you didn’t have faith people would respond well to it…right?
That’s my thinking at least, which leads to a pretty depressing conclusion: the poor response is blindsiding everyone involved. They screened the movie early because, generally, they thought that people were going to end up liking it. The fact that a majority didn’t (and, even worse, some outright despised it) probably came as something of a sneak attack. And for a director whose probably experienced that experience MANY times in his career (for better or worse, Shyamalan seemed to buy into his own hype there pretty bad for a while), for it to happen to him again right on the cusp of his grand return is probably the harshest sting of all. Or in Simpson meme:
There’s a reason why so many movies are about underdogs: everybody loves them. To see a character rise up from the bottom and make it to the top is one of the most common — yet satisfying — forms of storytelling. Even more satisfying is the “comeback kid,” someone who manages to rise from the bottom, fall from the top, and rise up yet again. It’s inspiring to know that, despite our failures, we can still succeed — and we love to see that narrative play out. But this is no movie: this is real life, and things don’t always turn out as we want them to in real life. Rocky gets knocked out in the first round. The Slumdog Millionaire beefs it on Question #1. Daniel-San gets his ass handed to him instantly. And M. Night Shyamalan makes yet another bad movie. For as much as the characters in his movies might be Unbreakable, M. Night Shyamalan sure as hell isn’t.
Also published on Medium.
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