January 29, 2017
I don’t get to the movie theater much, maybe once a year. So movies are a home affair, on variety of screen sizes, and generally a matter of compromise. As I was, temporarily, a bachelor this weekend, I was able to skip compromise and select whatever I wanted. Accordingly I caught up on a few genre films. I have some thoughts on what I watched.
The first in the lineup was “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” My history with Star Wars is checkered. I saw the first one in the theater at the age of eight, probably ideal. The film had an impact, as did the second two, though to a lesser degree. I’d say Brian Daley’s Han Solo books made a greater impression than Empire and Jedi. The first short story I recall writing was the imaginatively titled “Han Solo and The Boy.” (After writing it I felt somewhat guilty, realizing somehow it was a larcenous endeavor, so I went back and changed all the names.) I saw the films a few times again over the years, but seldom. The affection was more a matter of fond memories than anything else. Watching them again years later I found the dialog hokey and much of it rather absurd. The later trilogy sapped most of the remaining goodwill — though not all: I fulfilled the hopes of my early short story writing effort by scripting a comic book short story for “Star Wars Tales.” It was nothing more than a two-page gag, but it was published Star Wars work.
So, I approached “The Force Awakens” with less enthusiasm than perhaps I should have. I think I might have enjoyed it more if I’d seen it in the theater with an audience and fed off of the collective experience. But instead I watched it alone, my critical authorial faculties engaged. I should highlight the positives: seeing old, familiar characters again. That was nice. But the rest came across as an absurdly high-budget fan film. See, what made the first Star Wars film work was its unabashed embrace of bygone films, of the old cliff-hanger serials, 40’s and 50’s westerns. Two-fisted good guy against malevolent bad guys. The same kind of story telling that made “Indiana Jones” work. The problem with “The Force Awakens” is that it attempts to be a piece of modern story telling. And that just doesn’t work. At least, it didn’t for me. Obviously I’m in a distinct minority. That’s fine. I’m glad the rest of you enjoyed it. My experience should not in the least detract from the pleasure you derived from the movie.
I followed Star Wars with “Star Trek Beyond.” Now, I’m willing to admit this is in many ways a lesser film. Yet, perhaps because I went in with low expectations, I had a good time. It is silly, the story makes no sense, and it seems to waste the story telling possibilities offered by having a starship. But I think what made it work is the characters. There is pleasure in seeing Kirk, Spock, Scotty, and Bones interact, even if it is Faux-Kirk, Faux-Spock, etc. Credit to the acting (less so to Faux-Spock, but they can’t all be winners.) Would I watch it again? No. But it proved a fine accompaniment for lying on the couch with a couple of beers.
Last up came “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Again I went in with low expectations. The movie was savaged by critics. And it is glum, dour, and occasionally plodding. It is also plethoric and overwrought. But it worked. As a mishmash of The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman storylines (and I guess a few others — I don’t really keep up on comics anymore and never read much DC to begin with) it worked as spectacle and as a comparison piece to “Captain America: Civil War” with its questions of how the people of a nation would respond if unfettered gods lived, walked, and wreaked the odd bit of carnage and major property damage among them.
My take, anyway. Yours might vary. And probably does.