Now it’s starting to feel like summer. The big releases are backed up like planes over LaGuardia during the holidays. Fortunes and reputations will be made or lost in the coming weeks. Some expected hits will stumble, some underdogs will soar, and somebody somewhere will bemoan the state of modern filmmaking like they’ve done every year since Star Wars came out. Yeah, there’s a lot of mindless, mainstream junk being made these days. We’re also more acutely aware of that junk though. Great cinematic years like 1939 stand out because we remember the great stuff. But Wikipedia lists 138 films being released that year. You’re going to tell me every single one was some unassailable classic of sparkling artistic merit? Remember, we’re talking about an industry that churned out seven films about a talking mule back in the 1950s. Hollywood has always been about appealing to the masses, with the occasional artistic oasis popping up (most likely made possible by the money earned by appealing to the masses). Does that mean we should tolerate the junk? No, but it’s not the end of the world either.
And that, kids, is what we call a segue, because already released this week is This is the End, the new comedy that plops a bunch of comedic actors playing themselves into the apocalypse. Part of me imagines Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg writing the script with the actors’ names as placeholders, fully meaning to go back and give them character names, and then deciding to say, “Ah, screw it,” and leaving them as is. It’s an attitude that seems in keeping with the slacker/stoner vibe of the trailers I’ve seen. I know a lot of people who have seen this and loved it, but I’m kind of on the fence. There are a lot of actors in this for whom a little goes a long way for me, even when they’re playing characters. Two hours of them being themselves — albeit likely heightened, comedic versions — gives me more than a little pause. This is the End opened on Wednesday, as sure a sign that a Wednesday opening isn’t a big deal anymore as you’re likely to see. Likely, they were trying to get in a few days of good box office before this week’s other wide release swooped in to take over everything.
Because that’s pretty much what Man of Steel is going to do. Even if it’s not much better than Superman Returns — and believe me, Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan could have phoned this in and probably made a better film than Superman Returns — it’s going to open huge, mostly on the strength of the Snyder/Nolan combo and a series of trailers that have nicely ramped up from first exploring the character side of things to bringing the spectacle and then some. Superman being, well, super is what Superman Returns sorely lacked, and Man of Steel definitely looks to deliver on that count. But the critical reaction has been all over the place. I’ve seen gushing raves side-by-side with lukewarm C grades from the likes of Entertainment Weekly and The A.V. Club. But Superman movies always inspire a lot of hope in people (maybe except Superman III and IV, because I don’t know anyone who was looking forward to those). It’s part of the nature of the character, this iconic expression of truth and justice that people seem instinctively drawn to. So it’ll open big, no doubt. Whether it’s got legs — or capes, as the case may be — depends on whether the raves or the Cs are right.
Either way, Hollywood is doomed and we’ll all be looking at cave paintings this time next year.