When you’re young it’s not cool to like blockbusters. It’s not really uncool either. They’re just a fact of life. Cinema and blockbusters are one and the same. Star Wars, Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park: we all grew up watching them on the big screen, and the crowd-pleasing spectacle they deliver in spades became the definition of film itself.
Then, you realise there’s more. You outgrow the kids’ films that are the only dish on the menu – compulsory blockbusters one and all – and you try something new. Like all teenagers, you rebel.
Suddenly the sombre dramatics of “dark” blockbusters become an open target; the kind of thing you watch at a friend’s birthday and spend half the film taking the piss out of. After all, what right do they have to be so sincere about their emotions? So noble and heroic. There’s no middle ground when you’re a teenager – you either embrace that kind of broad, crowd-pleasing filmmaking or you reject it outright.
And there’s a lot to reject. Most blockbusters are, quite simply, stupid. They feature the kind of heroes who shoot first and ask questions later. Their scripts are full of disposable popcorn dross about Unobtainium and Matrices of Leadership. They believe there’s only one way to deliver action, and that’s loud, fast, and indecipherable.
For me, that rejection of the trashiest blockbusters came around the same time I got properly into film. I’d found a better way: films that treated their audience with respect and didn’t feel so desperate to impress. They took their time and didn’t always give you all the answers. With these new horizons before my eyes, those big blockbusters just felt childish. It made perfect sense. They were literally all you were expected to watch growing up, so when you’d finished doing that, surely you were done with blockbusters too?
One day you realise: you don’t have to hate these films. They might be terrible, but you don’t have to hate them. You’re not impressing anybody. Transformers, Fast and Furious, Avatar? All mediocre at best, but at the end of the day, who really cares? Maybe instead of sneering, it’s OK to switch off your brain and accept the overblown, idiotic spectacle.
It’s a phenomenon that the late, great Roger Ebert, patron saint of critics, explained better than I ever could:
“There’s a learning process that moviegoers go through. They begin in childhood without sophistication or much taste, and for example, like Gamera more than Air Force One because flying turtles are obviously more entertaining than United States presidents. Then they grow older and develop ‘taste’ and prefer Air Force One, which is better made and has big stars and a more plausible plot. (Isn’t it more believable, after all, that a president could single-handedly wipe out a planeload of terrorists than that a giant turtle could spit gobs of flame?) Then, if they continue to grow older and wiser, they complete the circle and return to Gamera again, realizing that while both movies are preposterous, the turtle movie has the charm of utter goofiness – and, in an age of flawless special effects, it is somehow more fun to watch flawed ones.”
Once you stop caring about how bad some blockbusters can be, there is so much to enjoy. I spent most of the last decade sneering at the Fast and Furious series for its hammy acting and ludicrous action. I stayed away from it like its stupidity was contagious. I mean, in one film Vin Diesel jumps a car through two skyscrapers in a row! It’s ridiculous!
Two months ago I watched Fast Five, Furious 6 and Furious Seven for an article. I haven’t laughed so much in months. And not in the way I once would have, mocking its broad strokes and idiotic script. I laughed at the sheer fun of it all. Cars defying gravity and logic like some fantastical dream. I mean, in one film Vin Diesel jumps a car through two skyscrapers in a row! It’s ridiculous!
This is not a plea for absolution. Plenty of blockbusters have countless flaws, from stupid, sexist scripts to bad acting, bad CGI or just good old-fashioned bad taste. They should be called out as such. Really, it’s more of a plea for acceptance.
Films should be judged on how much they become the film they’re trying to be. Not the one you want them to be. Blockbusters might not be the most intelligent, or mannered, or meaningful films around, but that’s not their goal. They just want to sit you down in the dark with a few hundred other people, turn off the lights and show you a good time. Is that too much to ask?
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