15 June 2018

Tag! You're Incredible!

As summer marches on we've got two more releases this week. One is a big mainstream comedy hoping to make a dent in a grossly under-served market this year. The other is a Pixar sequel that's all but guaranteed to be the cash grab that it is.

Now, one thing you may notice is that I don't actually get out to the theater all that often. I am both blessed and cursed by an innate ability for supreme cultural osmosis and rarely feel like I actually need to watch a big release unless it really catches my eye. A few years ago I'd go to the theater for anything. If you hadn't guessed, this competition for attention is something plaguing everyone around the country. It's probably worth exploring in a longer post but now is not the time for that.

This is all to say that these kinds of preview posts simultaneously act as a forecast and a review. I've gotten to the point where I can kind of tell how a film is going to do without seeing it. For instance, TAG (2018)'s cocky attitude doesn't really gel with its idiotic premise and it stars a lot of actors who are niche at best and unlikable at worst. My guess is that it does alright, probably around Blockers (2018) level, but how many of us are still loving Blockers a few months out? I did watch Blockers in theaters, although that was mostly because a human female woman wanted to see it with me.

I can also tell you that The Incredibles 2 (2018) will win this weekend, based on having virtually no competition either in its genre band or frankly, at all right now. It's got enough goodwill riding off of The Incredibles (2004) that it really doesn't even matter what the quality or content is. Since its 2004 debut the Incredibles brand has arguably grown even more than something like Finding Nemo (2003), and we just saw the result of putting that back in theaters with Finding Dory (2016). So, let's get into both of these.

Hawkeye is also good with towels.
TAG is about a thirty-year game of tag played between five friends once a year. It stars Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Burress, and Jon Hamm. That's a crew with an intermittent comedy range over the past ten years as well as an age discrepancy of twelve years between 35-year old Burress and 47-year old Hamm. And Jake Johnson is 40 somehow? How is that possible? Anyway, that should be a small thing, but it does bother me when they're all supposed to be kids growing up together. I couldn't believe that Girls Trip (2017) actually largely gets this right, with all actresses almost the same age (Tiff Haddish being slightly younger). Anyway, this is ultimately semantics.

Did Jeremy Renner give up Infinity War (2018) for this? Definitely not, but I kind of hope so. That'd be amazing. You can kind of see through the veil here as the infamous Tag game may end with Jerry getting married and quitting. There will probably be some man-child growth, friendship acceptance, all that crap. Standard comedy stuff. What matters is the juice in between, which the trailer doesn't really show that much. The intensity and no limits nature of the game is clearly communicated, as well as the real importance, which is friends finding ways to stay in each other's lives long after they run out of other excuses to do so. That's an important thing that I identify with as a dude in his 30s who doesn't really see friends much anymore. This thing could shoot for "okay" and perhaps that's just fine.

Isla Fisher and Rashida Jones round out the cast as wives and girlfriends and I can see wanting to just see a buddy comedy with these two. Anwyay, this ought to do okay. It's R-rated, which hasn't done especially great lately, but it could just take one great film to turn that tide. I see a Horrible Bosses (2011) level of cultural influence here.

Now the real meat of this weekend - The Incredibles 2. This is going to be heresy, but I actually never thought the original was that great. It just comes across as really corny to me, with all kinds of cheeky "aw shucks" cute moments that aren't quite my sensibility. This is of course some of the very reason it achieved mass popularity, particularly with parents and children. Yeah, I suppose that's the demographic, right?

This isn't to say it doesn't have some great moments. From the nebulous time period to the stunning and varied design to the true earning of a familial bond, there's a lot of greatness going on here. The real key to understanding this film is understanding the last few not-so-great years of Pixar. And to be fair, not-so-great for Pixar is comparing their recent output to one of the greatest commercial and critical hit streaks of movie history.

So, first, with director Brad Bird returning, I can't help but think again of Finding Dory, which brought back Andrew Stanton after he totally whiffed with John Carter (2012). Bird had a similar experience with Tomorrowland (2015). It's as if after both accomplished directors struck out to live action have recoiled to the safe and comfortable environments where they made their name. And for the record, I actually liked both Carter and Tomorrowland.

I'd like the idea of Elastigirl in a gritty superhero parody.
That sense of return to comfort has plagued Pixar in the past few years. They made the decision at some point, likely after the success of Toy Story 3 (2010) to just re-hash all their old crap instead of continually creating new worlds. And so we've gotten a lot of Cars movies, new Monsters movies, the aforementioned Dory, and now Incredibles. More importantly, none of these movies have been very good. How have we not also gotten A Bug's Life (1998) sequel? Is it because all these bugs are definitely dead? The handy thing with long-range animation sequels is that we don't see how painfully awful all the cast has aged. Thanks to the DVD age where kids continuous crave films to watch every day of their lives, they also largely know all these characters, even though the original film was put out years before these bastards were born. An Incredibles sequel also appeals to both last 90s / early 2000s-born kids for their own nostalgia along with everyone's parents who saw this and identified with the parent characters in this film. A true four quarters family film is rare, and this nails it.

Now, I can't totally be a bitch here because since 2010 Pixar has released three original films that count among the greatest that they've ever done. I often feel like I'm the only one who loved Brave (2012), but that movie was so different and sticky that I'll watch it forever. Inside Out (2015) had a more traditional Pixar structure, but hit its stakes so damn well. And just last week I saw COCO (2017) for the first time, which I was skeptical about since it didn't quite have a really splashy opening, but it's also flat-out amazing. They also made The Good Dinosaur (2015), which I admittedly haven't seen (no one else has). Does anyone know if The Good Dinosaur is good?

The very existence of this doubt is kind of revolutionary for Pixar. They actually made a movie that no one saw and could have sucked? That's unreal. The point is, that Pixar have proved themselves fallible in the past few years, which raises my suspicions about The Incredibles 2 more than is probably justified. I largely don't care too much about this flick and feel like it's in that Dory mode where it'll make a ton of cash but not really be driving much conversation two years later.

Maybe we can talk about the actual movie for a second. It looks like it could present some twists on gender roles, which I'm wondering if its 1950s twinge could make problematic or if we'll see some growth. Jokes about common core are the kind of lazy writing to appeal to hapless reactionary parents. It's all corny. Again, I'm not too into it. But people probably are, and that's fine.

What do you think? Will you see either of these crappy movies this weekend? Is Black Panther (2018) still int theaters crossing the $700 million mark this weekend? Leave a comment below!

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