Like pretty much everybody around here, I’m a self-professed movie fan. To a lesser extent, I’m willing to additionally self-identify as a genre fan and a few other sub-categories of “fan.” So there’s a sort of vested interest in staying current with the mix of accidental art and tedious product that winds up at the local multiplex each week.
Or at least I used to feel that way. Because I gotta admit something. The more I get out and go to these things — particularly the big, pop- and nerd-culture touchstones — the more one question at the back of my mind gets louder and louder:
Do I really HAVE to see all these things?
Nerds rule the world — especially when it comes to entertainment. This is blindingly obvious to all the mothers in the world by now, but I mention it because it has a specific impact on the KIND of entertainment being made, and how audiences are learning to watch it. See, being a nerd carries with it some level of investment in the fiction of these universes. Speaking broadly, they like to dig deep, looking for Easter eggs and credit cookies and all sorts of hidden alliterative devices. Continuity matters. Worldbuilding matters.
Simultaneously — or possibly as a result — movie studios’ traffic more and more in franchises and brand recognition, often in lieu of… well, artistic talent of some sort. To use the easy example, you go to a Marvel movie because it’s a Marvel movie, not because of any actor or director not named Robert Downey, Jr.
So you have a greater dependency on repeat business across multiple movies within ever-expanding franchises, combined with an audience that really loves feeling the “interconnectedness” of a world. The pressure’s on to make them feel of a piece and to reward those who are bothering to pay attention. Now with the adventures of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) or the JBCU (Jason Bourne Cinematic Universe) or any similar CU, skipping a movie feels akin to missing an episode of a TV show. What if this is the one where they find an infinity stone?
“Maybe this is the one where Thanos finally does anything at all!”
Obviously I have a bit of an axe to grind with this. Here it is: I don’t like feeling obligated to see a movie. Yet, I do feel that way, for a couple of reasons. On one hand it simply feels EXPECTED that I will attend and care about each of these things, and on the other I have feel an increasingly fuzzy personal drive to stay current.
To be fair, it’s not just big pop stuff, either. There’s a similar sort of pressure to see all the hot new TV shows of the new season, or to make time in the dead of winter to catch all the Oscar nominees*. More movies are made and released now than ever; I assume the same goes for TV shows.
But the difference with nerd/pop culture franchises and something like the Oscar nominees is that in the latter there’s at least the pretense that their relative quality (the movies’) is the reason to check them out. Whereas with something like the MCU or JBCU or SCU (Spider-man Cinematic Universe) it’s just because… because they’re a thing, basically. An exceptional movie is more of a bonus.
And even then sometimes nobody notices.
But I’m starting to feel like I don’t really owe (for instance) “Spider-man” anything. He’s… you know, not real. Sure, certain Spider-man stories seem to really touch on something that I’ve found personally moving. But a Spider-man story tends to be exactly as good as the talent involved manages to make it, and not one… um, quality-ounce** more.
That some movie has a guy dressed like Spider-man, and some characters inspired by a comic run that it bears a superficial resemblence toward, does not confer some sort of concrete appeal. There doesn’t appear to be a transitive property of good source material, on the whole.
But I still feel this sense of obligation when (again, for instance) a new Spider-man comes out. I don’t always give in –negative reviews kept me far away this time — but that twinge of guilt is there. And, given the content of this piece, I’m apparently a bit defensive about it.
So here’s my question: Does anybody else feel this way? Do y’all see some of these movies out of obligation from time to time, or am I just overthinking things?
*With Best Picture now comprising ten movies instead of five.
**We really need a unit for empirically measuring the quality of a fictional story.