Wednesday, July 14, 2010

You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry!

This is old news by now, especially in our high-speed world where a pin drops and the other side of the world can here about it in nano-seconds, but as it's official that Edward Norton will not be returning as The Incredible Hulk for the eagerly awaited Avengers film, it's also a disheartening view of modern filmmaking at its ugliest and most unseemly.  I've heard murmurs online that Joaquin Phoenix is being courted as his replacement-- that might be entertaining is a bizarro universe (wait that's DC Comics, I forget.)  Marvel Studios weighed in on the decision not to re-hire Norton in an inappropriately worded statement:

We have made the decision to not bring Ed Norton back to portray the title role of Bruce Banner in the Avengers. Our decision is definitely not one based on monetary factors, but instead rooted in the need for an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members. The Avengers demands players who thrive working as part of an ensemble, as evidenced by Robert, Chris H, Chris E, Sam, Scarlett, and all of our talented casts. We are looking to announce a name actor who fulfills these requirements, and is passionate about the iconic role in the coming weeks.

Basically, Norton is not a team player, but we already kind of knew that.  He's an extremely gifted performer, but his reputation has always preceded him and played him as a difficult, creatively controlling actor.  Surely Marvel Studios was already aware of that.  But what's more unsettling is not only a sort of lack of respect for the abundant fans awaiting The Avengers (the film without a shred of film in the can already has a release date: May 4, 2012), but also it's the latest in the new-Hollywood way of counting their chickens before they've hatched.

I do feel a bit like a broken record since I've said this soooo many times before, but shouldn't sequels and franchises feel earned and not taken as a given.  That's been the story of the summer so far.  Iron Man 2 spent a great deal of exposition time advertising The Avengers, Robin Hood built up a slow, boring start just to leave everyone hanging for part two, Shrek Forever After and Sex & the City 2 did little but diminish fan love for the originals, The Last Airbender (arguably the worst film of 2010, and Razzie Award hopeful) introduced the best villian thirty seconds before it was over.  Let's all collectively calm down and take a deep breath, and ponder on the notion that watching a film should be its own reward, and that continuations to stories should be respected and revered as only possibilities after the general public has seen and appreciated something.  And shouldn't all films, even big budget "fun movies" also aspire to some sort of art (silly can be artful too!) not just an expensive commercial.  Movies cost a lot to make, but also cost a lot to see-- Hollywood needs to remember this and not take it's audience for granted, even if in the case of The Avengers, where there's a huge built in one.

What's happened, it didn't always seen this hopeless in the land of large scale filmmaking.  Well it always kind of did, but the fruits of these labors seemed to do a better job of shielding the bloodbaths.  I personally blame two hugely successful franchises, one brilliant and one shoddy.  The first one is The Lord of the Rings, which director Peter Jackson shot concurrently in a bold, risky experiment that netted three of the most successful motion pictures in history, and at long last became the most respected fantasy, "fun" effects movie ever.  That was a risk that was rightfully rewarded based on the quality and scope.  But I think it's important to know that it was a risk, and also an anomaly-- what if the first film had sucked, and tanked awfully-- in less skilled and protective hands (like the Jackson who made The Lovely Bones), it surely would have.

The second culprit was The Matrix, I believe.  The first film was a surprise, and an original.  While I'm not really a fan, I believe there was something there, and something unique.  It caught an audience that adored it, and therefore had earned a sequel, but that's where the problems began.  The first film works so well because it was sculpted as a stand alone film, there was never an intention or intimation of a franchise in the making, and unfortunately the second two films (shot concurrently) felt tacked on and like a slap in the face.  At the time it came out, I thought The Matrix Reloaded was the a beautiful piece of crap-- the effects were incredible, but the story became facile and ultimately pointless.  The third film made the entire series feel like a bad drug trip; I felt the need for rehabilitation quickly.

But both those films changed the idea of how to make movies in the 21st century for the bad I believe.  Just because Peter Jackson accomplished something golden, and The Matrix had awesome effects shots doesn't mean that it works for everything.  Sequels should be earned, not expected, and the shortcomings of Iron Man 2, as well as the Norton snub make me think that first off, The Avengers isn't necessarily going to be pulled off, at least not without a pre-production blood bath (and heaven forbid, possibly a delay from it's release date), and may like everything before be a cheat.  Are these films just going to coast along until the third part conclusion.  I know that sounds cynical, but is not also true.

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