Insisting that fans should love everything a series does, of course, is ridiculous, and, when put into practice, a reminder that “fan” derives from “fanatic.” But that kind of fanboy dogma has been reversed so hard that it’s now tricky to say anything positive about the prequels without sounding like either one of those fanatics without a critical eye, or an apologist willfully turning that eye blind. It will become trickier still if The Force Awakens is as good as everyone hopes it will be; there’s a tendency, in both fandom and criticism, to see highly anticipated sequels or revivals as correctives, to finally fix what bothered “everyone” about the last sequel or revival. But movies are, again, not a binary: J.J. Abrams can make a fresh, revitalized Star Wars (maybe even with good dialogue!) without invalidating the serial-style craft and CG painting of the prequel trilogy, just as the heavy use of computer animation in the prequels doesn’t destroy the more tactile moments in the original trilogy. Yoda can be a perfectly crafted and fascinatingly lifelike puppet performance in The Empire Strikes Back, and he can leap into a kickass whirling-dervish lightsaber duel during the extended climax of Attack Of The Clones. (In another instance of watching the movies being more fun than turning backlash into a meme, this moment drew cheers the first time I saw the movie, back in 2002. Unless my theater was a total anomaly, the prevailing sentiment was not “ugh, CG!”)
Those first Star Wars movies feel personal to a lot of viewers, but that feeling comes from the memories associated with them more than the movies themselves. At their core, they’re big, crowd-pleasing space operas with a vast, inventive playground of planets, aliens, and spaceships. The fact that they inspired a toy-manufacturing boom doesn’t feel entirely mercenary because those toys were a natural outgrowth of a series with half-glimpsed, single-scene characters bustling around all of that hero’s-journey power-of-myth stuff. I don’t watch Star Wars movies for the music of human speech; I watch them to marvel at crazy water-planets, laugh at R2-D2’s antics, and wonder what Captain Typho does in his downtime. That’s what I love about the prequels: Their imagination is vast, yet interactive; beautiful, yet recognizably human.
What’s more troubling is that “Ant-Man” shows that even with the strongest brand in comicbook movies behind it, audiences won’t show up to see just any costumed vigilante. Marvel may have felt emboldened by the success of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which took marginal figures and fashioned them into film stars, but James Gunn’s pop culture-infused direction helped elevate that material. There simply wasn’t enough to distinguish “Ant-Man” from the onslaught of origin stories and superhero films.
Standing out from the pack will only get harder. In the coming years, Marvel is delving deeper into the comicbook archive, backing movies based on more obscure heroes like Black Panther and Doctor Strange.
At the same time, the studios it licenses its characters to, such as Fox and Sony, plan to raid the recesses of the X-Men and Spider-Man universes to produce movies based on niche figures like Deadpool and Venom. That’s to say nothing of DC Comics, which is about to embark on its own ambitious cavalcade of superhero movies with the 2016 releases of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad.” All these movies will beget an endless array of spinoffs, prequels and crossover films, testing enthusiasm for the genre. It’s a slate that has the Comic-Con crowd in a state of euphoria, but the rest of the public, not versed in the fruits of Stan Lee’s off-days, may need convincing.
One of the most impressive things about Universal’s year is that in an era dominated by costumed avengers, the studio achieved record-breaking results without having a major superhero franchise to its name. In fact, Universal, perhaps not by choice, has largely ceded the comicbook moviemaking to Disney and Warner Bros., which boast the Marvel and DC Comics libraries, respectively.
“The fact that Universal has done this outside of superhero movies is a unique accomplishment, because at some point superheroes will fade into the sunset and Hollywood will need to find another cash cow,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations.
Universal’s successes show that there are alternatives out there for studios not looking to raid the outer recesses of the graphic novel and comicbook world in the hopes of competing. Yes, there are a lot of sequels on Universal’s dance card, with follow-ups to the “Fast & Furious,” “Pitch Perfect” and “Jurassic Park” franchises among its biggest grossers, but these are organically produced, homegrown series.
NBC Sports’ Championship Season coverage takes center stage this Sunday with numerous high-profile events airing on NBC and NBCSN, including Game 5 of the NHL Eastern Conference Final between Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Rangers; the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix; Premier League’s “Championship Sunday;” the first round of the 2015 French Open; and the Senior PGA Championship.
“Championship Season” consists of high-profile events from May through July, and continues with the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, the 147th Belmont Stakes featuring Triple Crown contender American Pharoah, The Men’s and Women’s French Open Finals, and the 2015 Tour de France.
After six seasons, when the producers of most TV sitcoms are feeling lucky just to simply still have a place on the schedule for their shows, the biggest question facing “Modern Family” is whether room will need to be made on the mantle for a sixth straight Emmy for outstanding comedy series.
“I feel very good about what we did this season,” co-creator Steven Levitan told Variety Monday at a For Your Consideration event on the 20th Century Fox lot, where fans – and, importantly, Television Academy voters – assembled to watch the sixth-season finale and listen to members of the cast and creative team discuss the most recent crop of episodes, which all agreed felt as fresh and funny as the high-water mark seasons that preceded them.