At the heart of superhero stories are our modern myths, a way of how contemporary society deals with the real world through easily recognizable pop icons. It’s not about things like continuity or consistency or “rules” or even sacredness so much as the tradition of interpretation and re-telling. Comics writer Alan Moore once had a saying, “This is an imaginary story… aren’t they all?” And that cuts right into what Zack Snyder has done with his messy yet endlessly audacious superhero opera, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
There comes a time when people ask, “Is this art or is this porn?” Depending on who you are talking to the answer can change and the definitions change. Art is about making you think and feel something and porn is supposed to be about pandering to you, but isn’t that just another way form of artistic engagement? Magic Mike XXL, the sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s (Traffic, Erin Brokovich, Ocean’s Eleven) underrated drama Magic Mike is probably the biggest mainstream film to argue such a case. The original film used the indulgent setup of the world of male “adult-entertainers” (strippers) for a downbeat fall-from-grace versus re-invention saga. Magic Mike XXL, on the other hand is a straight-up road comedy that’s far less concerned with the surely-true seediness that grips the adult entertainment industry, and instead focuses on the most constructive side of what “male entertainers” and the like offer. In switching genres and the mission statement, the film becomes a surprisingly layered spectacle that is at once pure unadulterated indulgence (for the crowd who loves physically gifted half-naked men showing off), and at the same time a nuanced look right into the heart of woman-loving sex positivity. All the while the movie still functions as a rather earnest and frank portrait of male friendship in a way that Entourage forgot how to do rather quickly. We live in a world where “bros before hos” is antiquated at best and “#NotAllMen” is a thing, Magic Mike XXL dares to boldly position a present or future where us guys can still be guys (frat humor, party shenanigans, obsessed w/ food, sports and picking up chicks/getting laid etc) while still treating everybody with pure and sincere kindness and respect. It’s a smart “bro comedy” designed to be a safe space for the titillation of its intended audience (primarily women).
Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is one of the landmarks in populist blockbuster films. Like every child in the 90’s I watched that movie both in VHS and revival screenings. It was an adventure about a theme park populated with genetically re-engineered dinosaurs (brought to life with excellent movie special effects) and the concept alone was enough to thrill me as a child and even today fill me with child-like wonder; but I know that the craft behind Spielberg’s 1993 film was ultimately what makes it so effective even 20+ years after the fact. Nowadays, almost anything that can be imagined will be brought to life on screen, spectacle and imaginative concepts aren’t enough to carry a movie along anymore and modern audiences have become increasingly jaded and cynical with every passing summer movie blockbuster season. Couple that cynicism with Hollywood’s predilection for sequels, franchise-building and recycling old intellectual properties and the landscape for big-budget blockbusters are mostly embarrassing time-fillers of diminishing spectacle. To this, there was a golden opportunity for the fourth sequel in a 20-year old franchise that diminished with each successive feature. The opportunity was two-fold: they could skillfully bring back an aging-yet-respected franchise to a public increasingly obsessed w/ nostalgia OR they could respond in kind to the current state of blockbusters. Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World attempts to do both but fails to bring back any respectability to the Jurassic franchise yet it somehow, against all odds, succeeds as a self-loathing takedown of blockbuster filmmaking. This isn’t a review per se but rather a defense of summer 2015s biggest (it’s hit record-breaking billion $ marks) yet possibly most critically misunderstood movie in a long time.