12 June 2013

The Road to a Blockbuster: Superstoners

Usually this is a Friday thing, but since This is the End (2013) is dropping today (Wednesday), and anyone who's anyone is catching Man of Steel (2013) midnight on Thursday, we thought we'd jump the gun a little bit here. We've been assessing the critical, commercial, and cultural potential for all the big movies of Summer for the past couple weeks. That last point is what we're really interested in, though - what kind of cultural effect will these things have? Will these comedies become the next Ghostbusters (1984) or Nothing but Trouble (1991)? Are we looking at Superman (1978), The Quest for Peace (1987) or Returns (2006)? That's the big question - will we care about these flicks years on down the line? Let's take a look:

Are you telling me that James Franco
didn't suck any dicks last night?
This is the End, by all rights, appears to be a spectacularly funny film. It's a true Apatovian Ensemble that seeks to permanently etch its R-rated Stoner Niche on to our culture. In many ways this seems like their crowning moment - after establishing their improving buddy genre with The 40-Year Old Virgin (2005), the crew has turned to pot and hasn't looked back, delivering us, as an ensemble, varying hits and misses through Knocked Up (2007), Pineapple Express (2008), Get Him to the Greek (2010), and Your Highness (2011). Along the way, it seems like everyone has set their own path with their own little franchises. James Franco is by far the most mainstream, and has done everything from hosting the Oscars terribly to Oz the Great and Powerful (2013). Seth Rogen is also a major movie star, but he seems to rather toy with his stardom in fits of apathy and instead makes crazy dark comedies like Observe and Report (2009) and Funny People (2009). Jay Baruchel has How to Train Your Dragons, Jonah Hill has 21 Jump Streets, Craig Robinson is coming off The Office and Hot Tub Time Machine (2010), and finally, Danny McBride has Eastbound & Down to his name. Everyone is starting to pull in different directions and this virtually serves as a literally cataclysmic means of bringing everyone together for their most insane romp yet. It's a sheer cavalcade of riotous insanity.

It's also the fourth damn apocalyptic comedy of the year, the others being It's a Disaster (2012), Rapture-Palooza (2013), and The World's End (2013). Whereas all of these features have their pedigrees, it ought to come down to a duel between This is the End and the finale to the Cornetto Trilogy, The World's End to become the definitive 2013 End of Days Ensemble Disaster Comedy. That's such a specific genre for there to be four different movies coming out in in such a short time span.

Really, This is the End has had one of the best marketing campaigns of recent memory, from their fake Pineapple Express 2 trailer or their 420 video, not to mention the incredible character posters (scrolling down to Jonah is the best), everything has been done right. It feels as if this is just a casual movie made by a group of friends, and the marketing genuinely reflects that, which is extremely appealing. It doesn't seem like we're being advertised to, which is an incredibly powerful technique. The only real issue is if they saved any good jokes for the actual movie.

Now, who can save us from the end of days? How about Superman? The Man of Iron may have kicked off the Summer in high-flying fashion, but the Man of Steel is a heavy favorite for the biggest film of the year. Still, I have some trepidations.

Superman tends to get a bad rap for some reason. Whether it's his extraordinary array of powers, or his idealism that may have been lost in another time, he tends to come off as unrelatable. To some extent he's similar to Captain America, who was crafted at a similar time. The Cap'n, though, gets away with that image from being frozen for seventy years. Still, every single facet of Superman and his iconography are inherent iconic and Man of Steel looks to make up for every mistake that Superman Returns made. The only problem with this line of thinking, though, is that Superman Returns didn't make a ton of mistakes. Sure it's a methodical, slow moving movie where Superman doesn't fight, but rather lifts three increasingly heavy objects, but this is what Superman is supposed to be. He's a protector and savior - he's someone who goes around accomplishing feats in a Herculean sense. Bryan Singer also delivered a film where Superman didn't need to throw a punch - the intellectual battle between him and Luthor, after all, is always far more interesting than any action sequence.

The problem with Returns, though, is that it was always heavily reliant on the mythos crafted by Richard Donner. There is nothing wrong with the Donner films, for the most part, but Singer seemed to be more tied up in the past rather than creating anything interesting to move forward with, at least in terms of tone or plot. The most forward-moving thing he did with Returns is saddle Lois with a kid (Superman's) and a genuinely great dude, which is really a far worse enemy for Kal-El than Zod could ever be. If Lois has been played by an actress more competent that Kate Bosworth, this may have been a more proper sticking point.

So, in essence, all the feel-goodery of Returns was lost somewhere in the wake of Nolan being given a "Do-Whatever-the-Fuck-I-Want" Card by Warner Bros / DC, which then turned to pushing all the properties he handles into "dark" or "tortured" territory. While this worked for Batman, I am wholly unconvinced this can work for Superman. What's more, though, is that I don't believe anyone cares whether or not it would work for the character. Despite fans being up in arms at Superman's Bastard Son in Returns, a complete shift of tone and character from what we've seen so far from Man of Steel doesn't seem to arise their ire.

I don't really think Man of Steel is going to work. I said it. We can compare the marketing campaign with the homegrown efforts from This is the End - Man of Steel has been everywhere. There are some clever bits by Gillette, but in addition to that, this may be one of the most heavily cross-promoted films of all time. Take a look. It all hinges on the relatively unproven Henry Cavill, who you can imagine is trying desperately hard not to become 2013's version of Taylor Kitsch. Selling this movie is selling the character, the hero himself - almost no attention has been paid to Hank's creds. And rightly so.

There is also an incredible degree of self-seriousness here. Snyder has spoken at length to how "seriously" he interpreted the character, how "grounded" the story is, and how important Superman is, especially compared to all these B-level (Marvel) wannabes. It's such a load of horseshit. You're still making a a movie about a dude who flies around in tights. Ease up, chief. Those Marvel movies worked because they have some awareness of how stupid their world is and they relish it.

Come, son of Jor-el!
In addition to Supes himself, though, this is another Summer Film whose marketing appeal is heavily reliant on its villain. Michael Shannon is a perfect Zod, and much of the film seems to center around their conflict. Iron Man 3 (2013) was also like that. And Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). With a little bait and switch in both of them, the heavily hyped up villain fell pretty flat. Can you imagine if it turned out that Zod was an actor played by Trevor Slattery. That's what held Iron Man 3 back from being a truly great, widely accepted Summer film (for sure it had an incredible box office, but what a terrible buzz that spread after watching it - and it was probably the sharpest written superhero movie of all time).

So, in 2023, what will we think of these flicks. I imagine This is the End will be a damn fine capper to the Stoner Exploits of the Apatow Crew, and probably the last great film they make together. After all, they can't keep catching lightning in a bottle, which is evident from other misfired team-ups of late like The Watch (2012). There's also just no way to top it. Literally, this is the end, folks.

As for Man of Steel, its best scenario is fitting into its current franchise the same way that Furious 6 (2013) did (it's also the sixth entry, by the way) - as debatably either the best or second-beast of all time. The fact that it's only real competition is 35 years old, though, is another story. This is a crowded summer for sure, but it does seem like every other franchise has backed away from this one, which leaves it tons of time to grow, unlike Star Trek Into Darkness, which was pretty overshadowed, and The Hangover: Part III (2013), which got eviscerated on a weekend its second installment dominated on two years ago. Can we get psyched for another super-brooder from the auteur that brought us Sucker Punch (2011)?

I still just want to see the Burton / Cage version.

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