10 February 2017

Never Ending Darkness! Fifty Shades of Wick and Batman

This weekend is all about black, and after a few terrible weeks at the Box Office, where we got a lot of ratshit movies that nevertheless have a lot of history that we probably could have dissected, from xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (2017) to Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2017), these are momentous continuations of pop culture. Of course, xXx really exists so singularly in 2002, and Resident Evil has churned out enough films since 2002 that they all really blur together. 2017 so far has mostly just been about Hidden Figures (2017), which came out late and out of no where in 2016 and another follow-up (sorta?) to an early-2000s film, Split (2017). I won't say which, because that end reveal is pretty nifty that it connects for some reason.
So many darker

This is the first weekend where we've got three high profile films launching and they're all sequels, of course. I'm most intrigued at how one seems to be getting much less hype than its original, and another is getting much much more. So, as we are wont, let's dig into the commercial, critical, and cultural potential of everything coming out this weekend, in order of my personal least to most want to see it:

First we have Fifty Shades Darker, the follow-up to 2015's Fifty Shades of Grey, which came out around the same time of year (Valentine's Day! awww) to little acclaim by either its supporters or critics, but a ton of cash. $85 million in fact. It dropped an absurd 73.9% by its second week, though, and although through its own way of mainstreaming sexual bondage fantasies, it's had a lot less staying power than one would think. Or maybe exactly as much, to be fair. The sequel promises uh...nothing new at all. Less intrigue, if anything. There's a certain novelty that's required with this stuff - and considering that nothing actually happens by the end of Fifty Shades of Grey, there's not really anywhere this story can go.

Now, I'm not really an expert on the horny housewife market, but interest seems pretty low this time around. The critical reaction isn't hard to guess - it's likely to be dismal. Even though there seems to be some undercurrent of this movie actually happening, its cultural effect also seems non-existent. I feel like we can all get through this weekend without checking in on this disaster. And disaster I would handily expect this to be. F's all around!

Let's quickly move on to John Wick: Chapter Two (2017), which is growing more and more fascinating to me. John Wick (2014) was a great flick, although not really the end all be all of action films its more die-hard supporters would make it out to be. It's more good by way of every other modern action film falling on its face hard. Still, that movie came and went pretty quick a few years back. It wasn't until everyone caught up on Netflix and DVD or whatever that we all realized what we missed out on. Keanu Reeves' stock has only risen (after a few years of making 47 Ronin [2013] and shit for some reason). The film purports to pick up from the exact moment John Wick left off, although it adds Neo's old buddy Morpheus Laurence Fishburne for reasons that seem more like a cheeky fun reunion than anything else. We're all on board.

I think this will still play to a pretty specific crowd - it is an R-rated action film after all. I will guarantee, though, that the action and stunts will be among the most steady and clear that we'll see all year. John Wick didn't necessarily catch on critically or commercially, because it rides its genre pretty hard, and supposedly Chapter Two digs deeper into the secret assassin world mythos that its predecessor flirted with, which ought to appease fans and alienate newbies. Unless it's handled with the same cavalier flair for story and focus on action that made Chapter One work so well, of course.

Culturally, John Wick has aged pretty well, and its slow burn has worked great wonders for its potential, and likely is a major reason why this film even exists. It's an interesting capper for Keanu's career, which has mostly been breezy surfer dudes. John Wick has proven to be one of his more signature characters, which after a long line of ageless action and genre films, is an impressive achievement. It's sort of a reminder that despite all the hate, we all actually really love Keanu. I know I do. It's as much wrapped up in his mythos as anything he's ever done, and so lives and dies on his credentials. I can see this not earning the huge bank some people out there might think it will, but if it's at all good, or at least full of thrillingly coherent action sequences like its predecessor, we could be talking about it for a while.
Do you think that the big screen interpretations of Polka Dot Man
and Crazy Quilt will be controversial?

Finally we have The LEGO Batman Movie (2017). Everyone will be seeing this this weekend, and there's a reason why it's also my number one pick for the weekend. Will Arnett's interpretation of Batman as delusional frat bro somehow takes the grimdark and turns it into camp, with both common Batman threads mixed in a delightful LEGO cocktail. This is a spin-off of 2014's similarly-released The LEGO Movie, which is still infinitely watchable, both for its surface humour and to unpack its complex metatext. Putting its break-out character, or at least its interpretation of a previously successful character, in his own film is a brilliant ploy to give the audience the same shit coated in something new.

That novelty ought to bring in the cash, allowing it to match or surpass the original's bank. It probably won't attract the hardcore Batman v. Superman (2016) fans, but little kid Batman fans haven't really had any great movie to jam out to in a while. Since those crappy Schumaker films, really. The LEGO DC brand is actually roaring, with plenty of sets, video games, and direct-to-streaming movies under its belt. LEGO Batman gets the professional directorial treatment, though, although it's surprisingly the first film made by Adam McKay after winning the Oscar for The Big Short (2015). His career has certainly taken its share of left turns, and this is actually some unproven subject matter for him to take on. I imagine that a director who follows the principles of quality like McKay does will put forth a strong effort.

The cultural key here is for LEGO Batman to differentiate itself from both the previous LEGO Movie and previous incarnations of Batman and to surpass all the great lines, Batman moments, and NO PARENTS lampshades of its predecessor. If it can fulfill all these expectations then it will do fine. Critically The LEGO Movie did fantastic, but it was largely ignored by end of the year awards. It's tough to predict whether LEGO Batman will do the same or be even more ostracized for its blatant commercial-ness. It is quite the specific brand, after all. I still think it does pretty well here.

What do you think? What will you be eye-jamming out to this weekend? No more football and we're a bit away from the only basketball that matters all year. Let's go to the movies!

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