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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Could (And Should) Redefine Its Entire Medium—But Will A Biased Audience Let It?

As pretty much everyone would agree, the newest Spider-Man movie is fantastic. But will it be enough to convince Hollywood—and audiences, for that matter—of the endless potential for animated storytelling?

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At the time of this writing, we stand a few weeks out from the domestic release of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.  And, in that time, it has become pretty clear to me a few things. First and foremost, the film is absolutely beloved by both the critical and fan community, to a point that is quite frankly unprecedented. In a world of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and pretty much any MCU movie, it’s becoming increasingly rare to see big blockbusters of this type get universal acclaim across the board. Usually there’s a contingent of critics and (usually) fans out there offering a dissenting opinion and very politely explaining why, no, your opinion is garbage. But the harshest thing I’ve seen lobbied at the film to this point is that it’s good, just not “that good.” Which is like the opposite of “damning with faint praise,” whatever that might be. “Heartening with mild criticism?” Eh, I don’t know, I’m not an etymologist. But my point is this: it’s become quite clear that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is already a most beloved motion picture.

And yet, even in the midst of all that praise and extremely positive reaction…I still can’t help but feel that this movie isn’t getting its proper due. That the discourse surrounding Spider-Verse, though rapturous, isn’t rapturous ENOUGH. Which, yeah, I get it: is a bit of looking a gift horse in the mouth. But here’s what you have to understand: I’ve seen this movie three times now, and every viewing has just served as a reminder of many things: 1) I goddamn love the thing to death 2) it’s doing things that put other comic-book superhero movies to shame 3) it’s pushing the medium of animation forward in ways that we’ve never seen before and 4) it should be a monster, monster hit. The fact that the later has yet to be fulfilled is, to me, a massive bummer, and just reflects something that has been on my mind for a while now: time and time again, American audiences refuse to give animation the respect it deserves. And until they do, the medium won’t be allowed to embrace the ridiculous highs it can…even when movies like Spider-Verse offer a tantalizing look at just what an animated film can truly be.

Which it absolutely does, by the way. In the three viewings I’ve had of the film thus far, I’ve only grown more and more impressed with what this movie is, and what it is doing. It’s a perfect combo of a movie feeling absolutely groundbreaking in the way it is presenting its story, while also telling that story in a way that is refined and perfected. It’s hilarious, exciting, exhilarating, breathtaking, inspiring — it’s what every superhero movie should aspire to be. It really is a masterful piece of work — undoubtedly one of my top films of the year (maybe even THE top film), and easily one of the best superhero movies ever made.

But it’s not just a fantastic movie — it’s a groundbreaking one. Because, I can guarantee you, there’s not a movie in the world at all like Into the Spider-Verse. The way that it’s animated is absolutely unreal, a beautiful facsimile of the comic book form, brought to life in a way that is nothing short of dazzling. Into the Spider-Verse could have easily just been a now standard, run-of-the-mill CGI toon. And I probably still would have liked the film a great deal (the bones of a great, creative story were there, no matter how the film presented its world.) But by going the extra mile, Into the Spider-Verse ended up creating something daring and bold, and it’s a risk I could only hope more animated (and hell, live-action) films will take. Because the way this movie moves and lives and breaths is going to inspire people, especially kids, to go out and make their own things…just like Spider-Man 2 did for me so long ago.

Yes, honestly, I could spend the next two or three thousands words of this just waxing unpoetically about how absolutely wonderful Into the Spider-Verse is — and it would take me a long time to run out of superlatives, let me tell you. But the film’s quality is far from in question here: like I’ve already iterated, everyone likes this movie. But when it comes to mainstream acceptance, especially in the form of the almighty dollar of box office performance, that’s when things get a whole lot dicier.

Now I want to be clear: Into the Spider-Verse is not a box office failure by any stretch of the imagination. With $135 million in the bank in less than a month of release, the film has already made back its entire budget just in the states alone. And like past Christmas releases such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, the film will likely have a long tail going into the first few weeks of 2019. With word of mouth as strong as it is, and with pretty much no other competition in the animation field until The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part in February, odds are that Spiderverse will still be making money for a good long while, at least enough to get it around the $200 million mark (hopefully.)

Yes, Spider-Verse will probably end up doing just fine for itself, in the grand scheme of things. But it should be doing more than “just fine.” The damn thing is good enough and well-crafted enough and crowd-pleasing enough to be a smash hit. Instead, it will probably just end up being a moderate one, saved by its relatively efficient budget. And all that I can think about when faced with that reality is, frankly, anger. Especially when faced with the box office results from Spider-Verse’s superhero brethren.

Which, if you haven’t heard, are all kicking an enormous pile of ass. Take, for instance, current King of the Ocean/Box Office Aquaman — that film opened with $67 million in its first weekend, nearly double Spider-Verse’s first weekend take of $35 million. Which, to reiterate, does not speak poorly on Spider-Verse’s part — a take like that was not just right in line with industry expectations, but even slightly outdid them. But why were expectations so low? And why is Aquaman, at nearly an hour longer, a week later, and a Metascore almost half as strong, doing double the business?

Pictured: A “live-action” superhero movie, I guess.

This isn’t even an indictment on Aquaman, not really — I haven’t seen the film yet. Frankly, both times I planned to do it, I balked and just watched Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse again. But that’s all besides the point: audiences are flocking to Aquaman in droves, and will continue to do so as the film marches to a $300 million+ domestic cume (and frankly insane $1 billion internationally.)

And even amongst the fellow Sony Spider-Man productions, Into the Spider-Verse pales (slightly) in comparison. Fellow Spider-Man Cinematic Universe (eh, not sure I love that, chief) entry Venom ended up racking a total of $213 million domestically, something Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse will have to work really hard to match. Even the $204 million of infamous The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will take some work to get to, and that movie destroyed an entire series, mind you.

Once again: perspective. Into the Spider-Verse cost significantly less than TAS2, and had a lot less to lose as essentially just an experimental spin-off movie. And that spin-off effect in and of itself can’t be ignored here either: like fellow Holiday surprise Bumblebee, it’s the latest entry in a movie franchise not starving without its fair share of films. And, in both cases, the studios have to be blamed for flooding the market with similar products, to the point that the diamonds have no opportunity to shine in the ruff — they’re left to just sink in it. Hell, maybe movies like Aquaman and Venom succeeded to the extent they did just because they were (slightly) new concepts, and offered a first glimpse at a character who had never received their own feature length movie before. That is certainly a huge factor in this entire thing.

But it’s not the only one. Because if people paid attention at all to anyone who had seen the film, they would know Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse isn’t just boilerplate Spider-Man, leftover bits of spider-gunk scrapped off the husk of a bloated franchise. Despite being the seventh movie in fifteen years about the character of Spider-Man, Into the Spider-Verse ends up feeling like the freshest, most unique superhero film we’ve seen in ages. So if audiences were simply flocking to the new (which, c’mon, we know is not the case), then Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse would have already reached $200 million by now.

So the question, again, becomes clear: why isn’t Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse a gigantic hit? Why is a film that is getting so much praise, staring one of the most popular pop culture figures of our time, slowly chugging along to a ceiling of $200 million? I’ll stop beating around the bush, and just say it: because it’s animated. And for so many audience members, prime targets for Into the Spider-Verse, that makes it a lesser superhero movie.

I shall provide you with an example close to home: my own mother. I was home over the holidays and, being me, was going to force my family to see some kind of movie. By that point, I had already seen Into the Spider-Verse twice, dragging different people along both times. But I was still not content: I still wanted to see the film and, more importantly, share it with my mother.
She is, after all, a big superhero fan: she watches all the MCU movies, all the Netflix/Marvel stuff, and even superhero things I don’t touch (namely, the DC/CW series.) I knew that she would end up loving this one, so I dragged her to the nearest cineplex in my hometown, nearly an hour away (living in the sticks as a movie buff rocks, y’all). And when I say dragged, I mean dragged — she really had little interest in the film, and was much more eager to see–you guessed it–Aquaman. And sure, shirtless Jason Momoa had a part in that desire, as it secretly does for everyone in the world. But still: she was firmly in the camp on “waiting” for Spider-Man, and seeing Aquaman.

Frankly, I didn’t care.

I took her to see Into the Spider-Verse and — surprise, surprise — she liked it a lot. Had a grand ol’ time. You know, just like everybody else who gets the chance to see the film. After the film, I asked her about her thoughts, especially in light of her initial reluctance. Her response. “Well, I didn’t know it would be like that.”

I’m still somewhat unsure what my mom meant by that descriptor, although I can fill in the gap a little bit to get to the gist of it: she had a very standard idea of what an animated movie is, and what this animated movie would be, and thus wasn’t interested in watching “the Spider-Man cartoon.” Because the cartoon is for children. And well it’s fun to watch children’s cartoons every once in a while, they can’t compare to REAL movies.

Which, sadly, is simply code for live-action.

Now my mother is not a foolish person, and overall has strong taste in pop culture. But like many in her generation, she can’t shake off her animation bias: the art form is Disney, and Looney Tunes, and Saturday morning cartoons. And that’s the full extent of it. So when a movie like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse comes out and dares to be something different, it takes her a while to really adapt to it. And she’s not the only one, apparently. A large majority of the population underestimates and undervalues a good piece of animation, which is why the medium is so often just treated as the newest vessel to release the latest Disney or Illumination family pic. That’s what people expect, and that’s what they get.

And let me be clear: I have no problem with those movies existing! I love Disney and Pixar and the like. And it’s not like Into the Spider-Verse is some grim-dark, adults-only affair: Into the Spider-Verse is a GREAT family movie, and inspired by the best cartoons of old (lot of Looney Tunes style stapstick here, and all of it works marvelously.) But the movie is still something of an odd beast amongst most animated studio releases, and well I very much consider that a “pro” in the film’s favor, many others simply can’t see past their perception of what an animated film is in order to truly embrace it.

This issue just becomes even more disheartening when you consider what qualifies as a “live-action” film nowadays: honestly, most of the big ones contain just as much animation as they do live-action. Just because it’s seated in the term of “CGI,” and often looks photo real, mass audiences give it a pass. Even without seeing the damn thing, I’m willing to bet a majority of Aquaman was animated inside a computer, just like Into the Spider-Verse was. But only one of the films get the “cartoon” moniker, and the baggage that comes with it.

That term in and of itself causes such a disrespect to the incredible stories that animated films and TV can accomplish, a disrespect that leads to a needless live-action adaptation of one of modern animation’s best — inherently animated — tales. Or the needless “live-action” adaptation of a film that, full-stop, can’t be made in real life. Or the needless live-action adaption of an animated classic outgrossing the original, adjusted for inflation, by a healthy sum. All of these examples just go to show the depressing fact that, for most animated things that aren’t Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks (or in their style, ala Illumination or previous Sony Animation joints), audiences are hesitant to embrace them.

“Ah yes, a REAL Lion King, what for adults! Now THIS is a movie I can embrace!” — Some Idiot, Probably

It’s gotten to the point that animation fans like myself have to coach there praise in unnecessary qualifiers, using the now-standard phrasing format: “it’s not just a good [blank] movie, it’s a good movie PERIOD.” [blank] can be any of the mistreated genre films — horror, romantic comedy, musical, or in this case, animation. But the sentiment always remains the same: for movies outside of what audiences see as a standard “movie,” the quality has to be emphasized outside of its genre. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse isn’t just a good animated movie — it’s a good movie, period!” That whole song and dance is frankly tiring, and obfuscates the real truth of the matter: the medium of Into the Spider-Verse isn’t some albatross of quality. And Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse isn’t just good for an animated movie: it’s good because it is an animated movie, and takes advantage of the form in ways that a live-action film simply could not. From impressive, elaborate background gags to frenetic, exciting action sequences, the style of Into the Spider-Verse relies heavily on what the animated form can bring to the table, and it’s so wonderful to see a piece of pop culture that truly embraces the technique to its fullest…while also featuring an approachable, crowd-pleasing, and emotionally riveting story.

If Into the Spider-Verse shows us anything, it’s this: animation, when in the right hands, is one of the most capable forms of film-making there is. And if Hollywood truly embraced the nature of the art form, both in its 2D and 3D forms (or in Into the Spider-Verse’s case, a crazy hodgepodge of both), who knows what kinds of blockbusters could be made. But the only way Hollywood will take a chance on these huge animation experiments is if they do well and, unfortunately, the taint of failures like Titan A.E., Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within, and Beowulf are hard to shake off. Which is exactly why it’s so important to support films like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and see them perform just as well as there live-action counterpart. If we want the world of non Disney/Dreamworks/Illumination animation to evolve from its niche, they have to not just be proven as financially safe bets, but as financially strong bets.

For what it’s worth, I’m sensing a sea change here, especially with younger people. The term “adult animation” is no longer this weird Fritz the Cat level curiosity that weirdos probably masturbate to (well, it’s mostly not that.) And as things like video games and anime grow in popularity, the realization that we don’t need real things to make “real” art (and, in fact, can often do better without the limitations that reality presents us) might finally set in, at least with some. And when that happens, it will be films like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse paving the way for young artists to push the medium forward in the way it always could. But they have to get made first, and then once they are made, they have to be seen, by as many people as humanely possible. Step 1 has already been achieved for Spider-Verse’s case. And now this is my way of contributing to Step 2.

Please, if you haven’t, go see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Chances are you will love it, and the film’s success means a whole lot to the future of animated films as a whole. And don’t you want to be on the right side of history on that one? Quite honestly, I don’t think I can create a more compelling argument here than what Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse does in one of its most memorable scenes, in which scene-stealer Spider-Ham pointedly responds to an attempted insult by the Scorpion. Quoth the Spider:

“What are you, some kind of silly cartoon?”

“…You got a problem with cartoons?”

Well…do you, America?


Also published on Medium.

Matthew Legarreta is the Editor and Owner of Freshly Popped Culture. A big ol' ball of movie, TV, and video game loving flesh, Matthew has been writing about pop culture for nearly a decade. Matthew also loves writing about himself in the third person, because it makes him feel important (or something.)

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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.

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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.

John Wick: Chapter 3 Trailer

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 3Parabellum (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.

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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

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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.

Ghostbusters 3

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.

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The Crushing, Existential Sadness of The Disappointing Glass Reviews

R.I.P. Shyamalanassaince: September 2015 – January 2019.

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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.

Glass Reviews

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

Glass’ tries and fails to shatter the comic book movie formula

M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass is half-empty and deeply unsatisfying

M. Night Shyamalan’s Long-Awaited ‘Glass’ Is A Bewildering Misfire

‘GLASS’ REVIEW: M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN BREAKS HIS CLEVEREST FRANCHISE

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.

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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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