One of the first things to pop up when typing “risk taker” into google is “Risk Takers in History.” The results that come up are unanimously and unambiguously positive.
There’s no list on google’s first page that reads “Dumbest risks attempted by bozos who thought they were smart.” We all want to see the biggest ballers get the biggest stacks of cash. It’s easy to laud these people as geniuses in hindsight. We love risk takers.
Yet risk taking is less common and more punishing than at any point in modern history. Start-up businesses and entrepreneurship are at a 40 year low. It’s a country where people are very unlikely leave home, even if they think their city is declining. It’s a culture that is dominated by superhero movies largely because they are a known quantity: a light humorous tone, fun for the whole family and usually competent film-making.
So for all the lip service we pay risk takers, we rarely take them ourselves or reward others for doing it. It’s no wonder Hollywood, video games and any other storytelling medium you can think of is currently obsessed with sequels, reboots, spin-offs and so on.
But movies more than any other medium are forced by audience trends to be risk averse. A TV show can take a risk and be no worse for ware because it operates in a medium where fluctuating quality between episodes or even seasons is accepted and even expected. The worst mistakes can be undone two episodes later. A movie doesn’t get this luxury. It’s easy to complain about how the hero always gets the girl, but it’s a lot harder as a creator to make a story where the hero doesn’t get the girl knowing that it’s going to alienate a certain portion of the audience right off the bat. There’s also a deeper fear even for those directors unworried about profit. It’s fundamentally simple but often forgotten.
A risk inherently carries he possibility of backfiring.
Cue Spiderman 3.
Spiderman 3 got bad reviews and even worse fan reception. It made a lot of money purely off the hype and goodwill built from the previous two films, which is probably the only reason so many risks got green-lit to begin with. So why talk about it?
For its numerous flaws, I think there was still a lot to like in this movie. I just want to focus on one scene. The brief background is that small time thug Flint Marko (soon to be Sandman) gets atomized into nothingness in a sand pit while trying to escape prison. The movie establishes that he’s motivated by trying to save his dying daughter’s life (I think it does it quite well, but that’s beside the point). Now behold:
Seriously! Watch it! I don’t care if you usually don’t watch the videos in articles. It’s three minutes long and it’s spectacular.
It’s watching the genesis of life itself. The spark of life that’s the shifting of microscopic pebbles gradually takes form into a humanoid creature. The humanoid creature slowly remembers its name is Flint Marko and its purpose in life is to safe his daughter’s life. This incredibly deep sequence of events is communicated without words. You find yourself cheering for him to reassemble and succeed as the sand dome resembles a gladiator pit. Then the evil villain theme plays as he retakes his human form and you remember he’s the bad guy.
Can a bad movie take you on an emotional roller coaster like that? Isn’t the point of a movie to make you feel feelings and forget about real life? This scene succeeds more at both those things than every movie I’ve seen in 2017.
All but one that is.
It’s already made 500 million dollars. All the critics love it. See guys, this is why we should take risks! “Kill your darlings” as the great William Faulkner once said.
But for all the excitement, there’s a massive turd in the punch bowl.
The IMBD reviews say it’s because the movie is saturated with pro-kid/pro-Disney funnies. Miles Surrey says the backlash is because it violently murders the online culture of discussing wild fan theories and trying to predict what happens next. I think these are both partially true. They’re smaller symptoms of a larger cause.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi takes tons of risks. Most of them pay off spectacularly, but some of them flop. Without getting into spoiler territory here, I’ll say that many of the cited flaws are valid. The casino world sequence really should have been significantly trimmed down and streamlined (if not cut entirely). Some of the humor is out of place and pandering. The opening dialogue in particular is egregiously awful.
I don’t care! Star Wars: The Last Jedi made me feel feelings. It made me forget I was watching a movie. It did the things movies are supposed to do and it did them spectacularly. Every scene with Kylo Ren and Rey were absolutely electrifying. I’ll remember this movie twenty years from now if I never watch it again.
Spiderman 3 is a complicated movie to look at. It has incredible highs but its a deeply flawed and bloated experience that gave us this atrocity.
I’m not sure how I can even compare it to a movie like The Avengers, a movie that I liked a lot but didn’t feel emotionally invested in beyond a few laughs and an appreciation for great acting, witty dialogue, and fun CGI heavy action sequences.
The Last Jedi is a lot easier to come to terms with. It’s flaws are far less egregious. Bottom line: it’s a fantastic movie. Captain America: Civil War was the point in which I lost all interest in Marvel movies. It promised large stakes and real consequences and instead it was afraid of real emotions and cheesiness. It undercut all the moments that were supposed to be emotional with cheap laughs. From that point on, Marvel movies were permanently relegated from an essential theater experience to something I begrudgingly check in on illegal streaming sights so I can feel updated on pop culture.
The beauty of franchises is that the safety of a guaranteed audience allows film makers to take risks with stories that need a big budget to be told properly. As long as Star Wars continues to take advantage of this, I’m in. As long as Star Wars continues to be bold, it’s must watch cinema.