I was talking to a four-year-old boy today and he told me how excited he was when he got to wear his Captain America costume. He put it on, helmet and all, and paraded around the room, and I wondered whether it would make any difference in how much he loved Cap if I tried to convince him of the narrative, aesthetic, and ideological shortcomings of the Marvel movies. Probably not.
A lot of the people who make movies nowadays grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, watching movies like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Raiders especially comes up time and time again in interviews with screenwriters and directors (American ones, anyway) as the one film that cemented their enduring love of movies. A lot of them make movies in an attempt to get back to those magic moments in their childhood, like when Luke learns how to use the force or Indy swings across a pit and grabs his hat just before the huge stone door slams shut.
Now, Raiders of the Lost Ark is incredibly well made. It’s fun, popcorn entertainment, but it’s also practically a handbook for how to shoot a movie, especially one with a lot of action. With Raiders as the standard, a lot of people bemoan the present state of blockbuster movies. In terms of elegant filmmaking, The Avengers doesn’t really measure up to Raiders or even Star Wars, *but that didn’t stop *The Avengers from winning critical praise and breaking box office records, not to mention giving four-year-olds cool action heroes to dress up as. By those accounts, it’s a good movie.
Kids who grew up on Lucas and Spielberg were inspired to make their own movies. What about today’s kids, growing up on a steady diet of Marvel movies? Will they look to Avengers: Age of Ultron for craft and inspiration? Maybe. Probably. Would they be wrong? For all I know, to those kids, Raiders might seem slow, cliched, and overdramatic. Their inspiration may have to come from the movies they grew up on. They may actually see things in those movies that those of us with an older taste don’t.
All that to say, I think we should be careful when it comes to judging art of our own time. Criticism is ok, but let’s talk more about the craft itself and whether it worked for a particular story. Being married to one particular style of filmmaking and judging everything else by that standard can be risky.
A few random thoughts: I might be wrong, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Guardians of the Galaxy turned out to be more of a cult classic than most of the films in the Marvel canon. There’s an exuberance and creativity there that a lot of them don’t have. Also, Chistopher Nolan is one filmmaker currently making blockbusters that are unique and compelling in their craft. He’s already inspired filmmakers around the world, and he probably will continue to do so for many years. Last thing: Isn’t it great when you see a movie that’s fun, exciting, and technically great, and you can recommend it as a family/group movie without a lot of hemming and hawwing? I wish there were more movies like that. Somebody should inspire some kid to make one of those.