Open Forum Friday: Do Modern Blockbusters Take Themselves Too Seriously?

If it’s true that the average person goes to the movies primarily to be entertained, you really have to wonder how some of the biggest blockbusters from the past few years have managed to make so much money. Many of today’s blockbusters feel more like work than fun. Michael Bay’s Transformers films are an obvious target, often criticized for being too long and overly dull, while Christopher Nolan’s films have also contributed to the tendency to keep everything grim and grounded in reality. Marvel’s The Avengers is a recent exception to the rule, being that it is a bright, colourful comic book movie chock full of humour, and audiences clearly responded to that fact.

The release of Len Wiseman’s Total Recall remake this weekend makes for an interesting comparison in terms of what blockbusters used to be and what they are now. The 1990 film may not have been entirely believable, but it provided plenty of escapism and imaginative imagery. By contrast, the new Total Recall trades in quippy one-liners and absurd practical effects for slick CG and angry scowls. The same topic came up earlier this summer with regards to Battleship, Snow White and the Huntsman and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. What do you think? Are today’s popcorn movies aiming too high in terms of depth and artistry or is that actually a good thing? Do too many writers put plot before personality? Why aren’t we having as much fun at the movies anymore? Give us your thoughts here on Open Forum Friday.

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  • bard

    Yes, but almost all movies take themselves too seriously, it’s not just blockbusters.

  • patrik

    I think they probably do. They’re certainly not as much fun as they used to be, for the most part. We’re not gonna see something like “The Last Action Hero” anytime soon..

  • Bob

    Most of us are probably too cynical and jaded to enjoy much else. The group think that happens on the net also doesn’t help, with nitpicking films to death a cherished hobby. We get what we deserve.

  • http://www.onthescreenreviews.com Tippi

    That’s why I’m looking forward to Soldiers of Fortune! It looks like good old fashioned campy action movie ridiculousness.

  • James

    This might be the most tedious fanboy complaint. Right along with the typical “this wasn’t like the book”. There is just no way to please these people, so why bother asking these questions? A year goes and they turn on the movies they actually love because something else is fresh in their mind. One week they want artful blockbusters like Rises, and the next they only want fluff like Avengers. And the next week they want both. And the next week they want more Rises.

    BARF.

    I’ve given up on the internet fanboys/bloggers a long time ago. And so should you dear reader of this post.

  • http://www.onthescreenreviews.com Tippi

    @James then why are you even here? People create blogs and write movie reviews because they love movies; they love to discuss and analyze them and think about how they could be better.

    A little nostalgia for your favorite movies of yesteryear is not a “tedious fanboy complaint.” You really think action movies weren’t adversely affected by the overuse of Matrix slow-mo? By the shaky cam? Fads come and go in movies, and some of us are hoping that the “super-serious and meaningful action movie” is on its way out.

  • Gerry

    I liked the anti the American patriot act subtext of The Dark Knight but I’ve watched Batman Begins many more times. It may be sillier and campier but it’s more comic book and, for me, more entertaining.

    I’ll willingly overlook shittiness in movies if they entertain me. Transformers was a turd too far however, and brings me back to Hitchcock again (and again), i.e. the 3 things that make a great film are the script the script and the script.

    I like serious blockbusters if they are well written. Mind you, I can’t think of many examples.

    Monsters was an ultra low budget film but for me was a blockbuster in spirit. Serious but, for me, a great film.

  • Frank

    We? Don’t lump everyone else in with your kind of thinking, Sean. You didn’t have fun with Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises? They we’re both fun in their own way. I mean, it’s like Bob said above, you have to look at yourself in the mirror when you’re looking at this issue, because it is people that demanded movies to be more grim and serious that made studious and filmmakers take a more a grim and serious approach to films they produce. But the question you should be asking yourself is, why are you even going to the movies in the first place if you’re not having any fun? Seems like the rest of us are still enjoying ourselves.

    @James, you’re 100% right.

  • Crowey

    Frank. I had fun with the Avengers this year, and I had fun with the Dark Knight few years ago, especially with TDK on Bluray. The Dark Knight had the perfect balance with dark and grim & comic book craziness, but I just didn’t see that with TDKR. Cops stuck underground for 5months and people uprising cos Bane told them so? Didn’t get it & didn’t care, I honestly almost fell asleep when Gotham was threatened. The Avengers had the comic book madness what TDKR tried to do, but TDKR failed miserably. Bad ending to a Great trilogy. TDK is still my favourite comic book movie, and the IMAX shots in it just have no comparison. The opening IMAX shots on the Chicago heist … PFEAUTIFUL Wally!

  • https://www.thebarbariancomic.blogspot.com Scott

    Simple. It’s easier to pull off drama. And, it seems like PEOPLE take themselves way too seriously these days.

  • bullet3

    I don’t think it’s as simple as you say Sean.

    I’ve been trying to pinpoint this lately, and it’s not that movies have gotten too serious, it’s that they’ve gotten way too ridiculous without acknowledging the craziness, so there’s this bizarre disparity in tone.

    Realistically speaking, the action in the recent Total Recall remake is far more “ridiculous” and over-the-top than the original. You’ve got hover cars, and people just constantly jumping across chasms and moving platforms and shit. By comparison, the original is mostly just gunfights in narrow hallways. But at the same time as the action has gotten ridiculously over-blown, the movies try to avoid any cheesiness or humour and pretend like they’re just telling a very serious and important story.

    Serious on it’s own isn’t the problem. For instance, Dark Knight Rises works and is entertaining because it embraces a serious tone, but more importantly, the action scenes play into this tone, as they are all fairly plausible, grounded, and done practically.

    The Avengers isn’t serious, and has crazy CGI action, but does it with a playful tone that winks at the craziness going on, so it feels right and works for the audience.

    Total Recall Remake on the other hand has crazy over-the-top CGI action mixed with a serious tone, and it’s this discontinuity between ridiculous action, and serious everything else, that’s the problem.

    The Transformers movies are another perfect example of this, where you have absolutely ludicrous robot action, followed by tearful meant to be serious slo-motion scenes of Shia Labouef in robot heaven and Megan Fox running in slow motion trying to save him, and it’s just completely insane and feels totally out of place.

  • cap

    To me a good movie is a good movie. I don’t care if it’s serious or playful, dark and heavy or light and funny. Some of the movies that Sean mentions aren’t bad because they’re serious. They’re bad because they have shitty stories and lack of compelling characters. I would agree that people go to the movies to be entertained, but as The Dark Knight proved, masses can be entertained and satisfied with something dark and gritty. It’s not ‘either or’ situation.

  • http://www.MosserCasting.com/PlanBFromOuterSpace PlanBFromOuterSpace

    It’s when the tone is inconsistent or just a plain mess that I even really start to notice or care if a movie’s taking itself TOO seriously or not. Someone mentioned the Transformers movies already, which would go from discussions about the end of the world or something RIGHT to robot dick jokes or midgets appearing for no other reason than someone thinks that midgets are funny to just look at. The mixture is unsuccessful and often takes me out of the film. There’s taking yourself too seriously, there’s NOT taking yourself too seriously, and there’s “Are you fucking serious?”.

  • Eleanor

    What about Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes? I loved the feeling of fun that was injected into the film, and I never felt like Holmes or Watson were taking themselves too seriously.

  • Edward Carchia

    It is interesting that not one comment reminds us that film can be a legitamite dramatic art form: comedy, tragedy or tragicomedy. What happened to films like ‘Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ ‘La Strada’ or the incomporable Ingrid Berman films? Don’t they have a place?

  • http://www.MosserCasting.com/PlanBFromOuterSpace PlanBFromOuterSpace

    @15

    This question was about blockbustery-type films, so no, those other films don’t really have a place, at least in this conversation. You really think it’s interesting that no one’s mentioned them? Okay…

  • MrYoungGun

    True, most of us go to the movies to be entertained. But I’m VERY entertained by dark, brooding, deliberate movies like the ones that Nolan tends to make. The pinnacle of movie-making to me is when a movie manages to wrap a character study up in the shell of a blockbuster, i.e. the latest round of Batman films. So no, I wouldn’t say they take themselves TOO seriously. Because the seriousness of the films is what’s appealing a lot of the times.

  • Steve Kasan

    slow news day???

    There is room to have serious blockbuster films, fun blockbuster films, films that does not itself too seriously and of course films that is fun and pokes fun at its genre, i.e., Last Action Hero.
    From all the reviews, and even being on set, the new TR is going for a more serious tone.
    Would you want it to be the same as Arnold’s even though that is EPIC!?!?!

    Just accept the film and what it is trying to do.

  • Bas

    I agree with Steve, with a remake or reboot give us something different. For the silly/childish/cartoony originals (like so many from the eighties), that often means the new version is serious/adult/gritty. Like any trend it collapses, when everybody jumps on the bandwagon. Snow White is actually the odd one out: that’s the rapping-granny principle at work.

    The bigger offense is new properties (like Pirates, Transformers and The Matrix) that start off as fun, action-filled adventures and with the sequels turn into incoherent, convoluted, boring messes of movies.

  • Matthew

    “The same topic came up earlier this summer with regards to Battleship, Snow White and the Huntsman and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. What do you think? Are today’s popcorn movies aiming too high in terms of depth and artistry or is that actually a good thing?”

    Is this a joke?

  • http://www.seandwyer.net Sean

    No joke. Not saying any of these movies achieve depth or artistry, but it does feel like some of them are aiming for it.

  • ejje

    @frank
    You can always be self-reflective in your viewing, but what I think the article is getting at is the role of the direction in your experience of the film. One can usually see when material is presented without it, without a self reflective scene or a joke at the expense of the material (meta even better).

    I think Red was a great example of this: it was the perfect balance between badass and ludicrous, good natured fun.

    @eleanor Guy Ritchie always manages to find the perfect balance between shock jocking and hilarious quick witted quips, which kept the film from ever having so much somber time in a row as to let you reflect on it as serious.

  • Victor Benavides

    I don’t wanna get into an argument with any of you, but I would like to say that I thoroughly enjoy movies with realism incorporated into them, i.e. movies today. I’m not a big fan of films that look so ridiculously unrealistic that you’re forced to use your imagination to pretend it’s something that could potentially be real. Especially when a Hollywood-paid movie brings in props and uses backgrounds with quality equivalent to that of a high school drama club. That’s when it becomes a waste of money in my opinion. Not that I lack imagination, but I would like to relax my mind while watching a movie, and utilize my imagination while reading books, because that’s what books are for–not movies. I’m not dissing old school film either, so please, all of you diehards, don’t crucify me for that, because I realize the technology we have today wasn’t around back then. And to add to my last statement, I actually enjoy old films every now and again, but would never choose them over today’s, with the exception of a few I guess. I will also throw out there that I do agree that having too much of a good thing (technical effects) can become it’s own adversary. Put simply, what I’m trying to say is Modern > Old School.

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