Note: I know it is a very frightful time right now for finding The Last Jedi spoilers sprinkled throughout the internet, but don’t worry: though this article will delve into full spoilers for The Force Awakens and the rest of the previously released Star Wars films, no plot details or other potentially spoiler-y bits of information from The Last Jedi will be revealed. Any assumptions or predictions made about Rey’s potential character development in the next few movies are simply that: predictions. Like Jon Snow, I know nothing about how this particular story will actually pan out. With that long but necessary disclaimer out of the way, let’s get right into it.
When I think back to middle school and the time in which I was taught the basic fundamentals of storytelling in a substantial way, I am left with one rather distinct memory, one that I return to time and time again as both a consumer of storytelling and a creator of it.
It was a run-of-the-mill English class right at the start of the school day — that dreaded time of consciousness where you were technically awake, but your brain had yet to get the memo. The class featured both the students eager to learn what the teacher was trying to teach, and those who would prefer to simply stare at the clock in hopes that they could somehow move time backwards and return to their nice, warm beds. Judging by the fact that I am spending my free time writing a long, meandering piece about character development, you can probably guess which category I belonged to.
In any case, my teacher was valiantly trying to teach a crowd of New Mexican public school attending seventh graders (49th in the nation, woohoo!) the tenets of characterization in literature and, seeing the glazed over eyes of many in the crowd, pulled out an age old tactic: the pop culture stand-in. Rather than explaining the contrast between the static and dynamic characters of the short story from the literature book that none of us (not even the indoor kids like myself) read, my teacher decided to illustrate his point by breaking down the characters of a hit blockbuster film that he assumed we all saw. Off the top of his head, he chose Pixar’s Cars, which was the style at the time.
Opening the floor to the class, he asked them to explain what made main car-guy Lightning McQueen a dynamic character, one who changed and developed throughout his story. Most of the students explained that Lightning was dynamic because he started off the movie as the best racer, and ended it by no longer being the best racer. Our teacher listened to their comments, but pushed them to explore deeper. According to him, all those developments were just plot points, merely skin-deep readings of what happened through the course of the film.
To explore characterization further, he wanted us to examine how the Lightning McQueen character behaved, how his attitude towards others and himself was, and how he changed throughout the course of the film. He explained to us that Lightning began the film as arrogant and self-centered and, through his experiences interacting with the people (err…cars) of Radiator Springs, he grew into a more kind and thoughtful person. Lightning McQueen was a dynamic character not because his status changed in the film, but because his world view did. Because he grew as a person not through an external conflict, but an internal one. As my teacher continued to explain, Lighting’s story fell into the first category of conflicts in literature: man vs. self.
Now, obviously, Cars is not a paragon of complex character development, nor should it be — it’s a kid’s movie, and not even one of Pixar’s more thoughtful ones at that (for the record, I hadn’t even seen Cars yet at the time of this lesson, and was mostly wondering throughout the demonstration why we weren’t talking about Monster House instead. I really liked Monster House.)
And if you’re reading this, I imagine you were taught the same principles of characterization that I was back in school, and probably understand them quite well. I am certainly the last person in the world who should feel obligated to teach the fundamentals of storytelling to the public at large, because I’m far from an expert at them. But I like to think I know a good character when I see one, and can adequately explain why to boot.
So when I see people bashing Rey of Star Wars: The Force Awakens for being a poor character and, most pointedly, a “Mary Sue,” sometimes I wonder if we could all use another trip to middle school English class, to learn a thing or two about what really makes a well-developed character.
Because characters in fiction are more than just their base collection of skills, a simple list of the things they can and can’t do assembled on some spreadsheet of power rankings. In my mind, what makes a well developed, “good” character is that they have character flaws (be it emotional or physical or mental or pretty much any other combination of “-als), and they fought to overcome it throughout the course of a story (or many stories, as the case may be.) And, when it comes to Rey, she ABSOLUTELY fits that bill. In fact, her emotional arc and character development is stronger than pretty much any other Star Wars character I can think of.
Which, admittedly, isn’t a tall order. It’s true that most Star Wars characters don’t have the strongest arcs, and those that do have them are rather simplistic (character does A, regrets A, decides to do B.) There’s nothing wrong with simplistic, especially within crowdpleasing blockbuster movies, but it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Star Wars puts spectacle and fun ahead of in-depth character retrospection. But in all the defenses I’ve read or heard about how Rey isn’t a Mary Sue character, almost all of them resort to a straw man fallacy of sorts — they jump to explaining the character of Luke Skywalker, and how amazing his abilities were, and how no one seemed to particularly mind back then.
And, hey: that’s a fair point, and does seem to reinforce the underlying strain of sexism that can seem to be a factor in critiques about Rey’s character. While not all of the Mary Sue complains are borne from this inherent misogyny, it seems a large faction of them stem from the same thought process I’ve seen banded about a whole lot now: that writers and directors only chose to make a character a certain gender or race for “virtue points,” and purposely made them vanilla and perfect to further impress all their fellow SJW’s (or whatever the new silly parlance is.)
Not only do I think the thinking behind that is misguided and flush with bias, but that it makes many people warp their view on any character who might not be a straight white male. They chose to focus on the fact that she is super strong in the force, and defeated Kylo Ren, and a good pilot, and a whole bunch of other admittedly positive traits. Just looking at those surface abilities, sure, she does seem like an all-powerful, wish fulfillment character. But, to quote my sixth grade English teacher…explore deeper. Because Rey ISN’T a perfect character. In fact, the girl is actually pretty messed up. But that’s what also makes her so damn great: seeing her overcome her mental and psychological issues works as the backbone for a satisfying — and still very much developing — character arc.
Rey throughout all of The Force Awakens has one primary goal: to return to Jakku, and reunite with her parents. At the beginning of the story, from the moment she rescues BB-8 and becomes enveloped in an adventure she had absolutely nothing to do with, all she could express was how, after the next stop, she was taking off. A little like her brief mentor Han Solo (who, at the time, probably had the best Star Wars character arc by almost default), Rey didn’t want to be involved in any of this. Sure, she got excited by the possibility of being in a dog-fight, and meeting her heroes, and helping the Resistance…but the entire time, there was a very vocal part of her that also couldn’t wait to get out of there, and return to her life of scavenging through derelicts and eating disgusting insta-bread (if you can really even call it bread.) Luke Skywalker, she wasn’t: while that kid dreamed about overcoming his farmboy heritage and becoming a hot shot Rebellion pilot, Rey was hesitant to do anything outside of the immediate radius of her derelict home on Jakku.
And when the call to adventure literally shouted out to here through the lightsaber at Maz Kanata’s castle, she didn’t heed it instantly and become the badass hero who saves everyone, defeats Kylo Ren, creates all porgs, and saves the day: instead, she got the hell out of dodge, overcome by her emotions and feelings that, even with all these things happening around her and all the signs that she could be meant for something more, she was not supposed to get involved. Unlike Han Solo’s departure in A New Hope, her decision to leave wasn’t based on selfishness or self-preservation or not wanting to be blown up by a giant, planet destroying beam — it was born out of self-doubt, and the fear that she simply wasn’t good enough to take on the mantle so swiftly thrust upon her. This conflict created a standard, but still effective, reluctant hero archetype.
But, like all good characters, it’s the cause of her mental setbacks that makes her an interesting character, not the setbacks themselves. And in the scene just before Rey flees from the rest of the group, we get her character motivation clear as day: crippling, very much unhealthy, abandonment issues. You know, the kind of abandonment issues that only perfect, wish-fulfillment based Mary Sue characters get. After all, don’t we all dream of being a character in our favorite properties who suffers from low self-esteem and a crippling lack of self-worth?
Anyways, let’s return to the point. In the scene where Rey touches Anakin’s lightsaber and goes through a whole montage of events, we see our first and only glimpse into Rey’s childhood — the moment she is dropped off on Jakku as a child, left in the (assumingly not great) care of Unkar Plutt, screaming into the sky in a vain attempt to get the attention of those that abandoned her. And while we can only guess how her life unfolded after that based on how we are introduced to her in The Force Awakens, it wouldn’t be a jump to think that her time on Jakku wasn’t pleasant.
Rey spends her days digging through trash looking for anything of value and, most depressing of all, returns home to a life of loneliness, eating that once again awful-looking bread and dreaming that her parents will return and whisk her back to a life full of love and fulfillment. And since she can’t find it within herself to abandon said dream, (the only one she’s ever had since she was a young child) she refuses to move on with her life. She has to believe that her parents will return and save her, because that’s the only thing that she allows herself to believe. After all, she was left there for a reason — surely they will return in time, right? The alternative is a life knowing that she was simply discarded, thrown away, to never be found again. And no one wants to live life thinking that.
But the theme of being thrown away is a powerful one for Rey, and the point in which I get completely college-level essay all over this assignment. Because Rey’s choice of occupation (if you want to call it that) isn’t simply a coincidence — it’s a pretty simple metaphor for her character arc in The Force Awakens. She is a scavenger, literally scouring thorough garbage in order to find the things of value it might contain. The things that were thrown away or left behind by people, but that can ultimately still can serve a purpose somehow.
You see where I am going with this, right?
Rey believes herself to be a discarded thing of little worth, but as The Force Awakens shows, the opposite is true. She’s one of the valuable objects — a diamond in the rough. She’s powerful in the force and has a variety of skills, yes, but more importantly, she’s a kind and compassionate person who can be a force (ugh, really, no pun intended) for good in the universe…if she only can gain the willpower to push forward with her life and take control of her own destiny. In fact, that part of Rey’s characterization is one of the reasons I am desperately hoping that her parents turn out to be of little importance in the grander scale of things, and that her abandonment doesn’t have some big complex conspiracy at the center. For me, the “mystery” of why Rey was abandoned on Jakku is pretty much an afterthought — in fact, I would be totally fine with us never finding out the root cause. Rey being a character of no real importance, who determined her own path and forged her own destiny outside of her lower status, is an infinitely more satisfying story and character arc than her turning out to be Ponda Baba’s grandaughter or whatever.
But even with that unlikely to happen, I still feel we are left with a pretty compelling picture of who Rey is as a character, and what internal struggles she had to go through to end up where she was by the end of The Force Awakens. And, look, I’ll even meet you Mary Sue truthers halfway — maybe you’re not wrong. Maybe Rey is super powerful, and maybe all her abilities do make her something of a wish-fulfillment character. But A) there’s nothing wrong with having a character others wish they could be and B) if that’s the case, then maybe deciding whether or not a character is a Mary Sue is just a stupid way of judging a character’s worth.
Because, if Rey IS a Mary Sue in terms of skills and powers, that’s still ignoring the second half of the equation here. In fact, maybe Rey being a Mary Sue is part of the plan after all — maybe she IS the most powerful Jedi ever, who will beat Snoke with two hands tied behind her back, restart the Jedi, convince Captain Phasma to take her damn helmet off, and push Finn and Poe into finally becoming the couple we all want them to be. Sure, Rey might be capable of all that. But Rey’s internal struggles cripple her in a way that no Wookie bowcaster or lightsaber swing can: until she can overcome her self-doubt, it doesn’t matter how powerful she is on paper — she still has a lot of development to do until she becomes an all-and-out hero.
And while you might roll your eyes about the conclusions I’m making in this piece and how stereotypical and boring Rey’s internal struggle might be…you do realize this is LITERALLY EVERY SINGLE HERO’S JOURNEY EVER, right? Batman isn’t interesting because he trained and became a ninja — he’s interesting because he suffered a trauma when he was young, and copes with it by doing something that may or may not be healthy for him. Spider-Man is a character I love to watch not because he’s fighting a bunch of powerful foes, but because he’s doing it as a young kid juggling the troubles of teenage life, and what responsibilities he owes to the world he occupies.
Or, to go to one of my favorite versions of the heroes journey in recent years, Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender wasn’t a dynamic character because he only knew air-bending at the beginning of the series but, by the end, he knew all the elements. He was dynamic because he doubted his ability to be a hero at the beginning of the story but, through episode upon episode of character growth, embraced his destiny in time to (spoiler alert) save the world. Sounds familiar, huh?
And Avatar: The Last Airbender is an interesting comparison here because, in my mind, judging Rey on if she’s a successful character based on The Force Awakens alone is like evaluating the entire character arc of Aang based on the end of the pilot episode. By the conclusion of The Force Awakens, Rey’s journey has literally just begun. She was able to overcome her arrested development in the first film, but her self-doubt still seems to very much be at the forefront of The Last Jedi, if the trailers are any indication.
Which might make my proclamation in the headline a bit contradictory: I can’t say that Rey has the best character arc overall in the Star Wars franchise, because we have yet to see it completely take shape. But is it one hell of an introduction to her, one that does an excellent job of explaining her motives and exploring her psychological struggles, perfectly setting up what I hope will be a powerful emotional journey for our main character?
I just wrote like three thousand words about it, so what do you think? At the very least, I know one thing for sure: I can’t wait to see what happens with the character next. And shouldn’t that be the entire point?
Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens in theaters this Friday. But I doubt you needed me to tell you that, nerd.
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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