18 May 2012

The Road to a Blockbuster: The Dictator and Battleship try to Avenge

In this, the last Summer in History, we've already seen a sureproven Blockbuster. The Avengers (2012) has set the bar awfully high for any other film to challenge it. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) or The Dark Knight Rises (2012) may come close, but everyone else is playing an awfully tough game of catch-up. Opening today are two films that are trying awfully awfully hard to become the next big thing - The Dictator (2012) and Battleship (2012).

Sacha Baron Cohen seems poised to nail a final stake in all the good acclaim he's been riding since Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006). The key with that film was the wit and irony it had along with the immaturity and gross-out humour. Brüno (2009), arguably starring a funnier character than Borat, lacked the solid narrative of Borat (yes, somehow this is true) and thus the gags were hollow. The Dictator seems like an interesting, controversial premise with a lot of potential. It lies at the apex of bad taste, and reviews so far haven't been all that terrible. That said, it seems almost out of date coming after a year where we saw the deaths of Kim Jong Il, Osama bin Laden, and the movie's most obvious inspiration, Momar Gaddafi.

But we've never really cared about the quality of a film. The bottom line makes Hollywood go round, and will this film be palatable enough to engage a wide audience and ensure a mark on comedy for years to come? Will we look forward to late Saturday night unedited airings on Comedy Central around 2015? Those are the questions we want to get after - Will this thing be a Blockbuster?

I don't really think so. The film has reeked of desperation for weeks and it seems ill-timed to become a classic. With this kind of thing to be really shocking and funny it inherently needs to be an excellently constructed film. Instead, the plot seems well-worn, insipid, and uninspired. The key to attract audiences should be the opposite. Baron Cohen has committed to the character for sure, but the film has been pushed on audiences rather than offered for them to accept it. The buzz period has been long and arduous and when the anticipation transitioned from mysterious weird photos and a general irrelevance to actual joke and plot revelations hype cooled rather than fired up. This is not ideal. After the same jokes have been played over and over again (you can think of them immediately - Admiral General Aladeen shooting his way to win a track race, throwing garbage at a cab, and then appearing to want to bomb the Statue of Liberty in a helicopter), it seems like all the funny is drained out. All in all, the best thing may be the Soundtrack - although once you understand the postmodern joke of it all, there's not much more to that, either.

We've also got Battleship this weekend. Finally! This is perhaps one of the more insane films of all time. From the first trailer line, "From the Hasbro company that brought you Transformers" we all started preparing for the ridiculous. This is a movie, yes from the same company as Transformers, that appears to completely rip-off that franchise, particularly Dark of the Moon (2011).

I want Rihanna to star in Avengers 2 as Moon Knight.
I've never seen a movie make so much out of nothing before. Sure, it's a difficult hurdle to get over the fact that it's an entire film based on this, but they've ramped up the crazy here like few mainstream flicks before it. Why are there aliens attacking from the sea? I guess the planet is mostly ocean, it should make sense, really. This is truly a landmark Blockbuster, though, if it succeeds it will prove that the incredible stupidity of a franchise like Transformers is wholly transferable to any Summer Tentpole. This is a dangerous idea. In all likelihood though, this will cave to The Avengers, and that kind of big filmmaking will win the day. Hopefully.

Battleship has tried to hard to be a Blockbuster. It's been advertised for months and months and forced itself into everyone's minds in part due to how absolutely terrible it looks. Now, making old 80s cartoons like Transformers and G.I. Joe into really cool thrill-ride action films works because there's always been that potential there. The realistic depiction of the robot-on-robot fighting in Transformers (2007) is kind of how we all pictured it when we mashed our toys together. This doesn't really work with Battleship. You can't make this board game suddenly cool with pegs and grids and be dark, edgy, and cool. That's retarded.

Still, there had better be some kind of "You sunk my battleship" line. Otherwise, what's the point, really? It seems like a film that is going for it all - excessive stupidity, meaningless stakes, an incoherent plot, and a complete disregard for convention, class, or authenticity. With this we may hope for a truly postmodern Blockbuster - one that doesn't care about its product at all and exists only as a conduit for studios to take an audiences' money while giving them nothing in return. That is kind of exciting. Still, the stupidity of both of these movies will hold them back while there is still something like The Avengers available to audiences to experience.

Both The Dictator and Battleship open today - go check 'em out and see if I'm right.

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