This past weekend I watched the most entertaining movie of the year so far, and it wasn't a comic book movie. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is an amazing film, but it is also proof that this type of movie has no place during the highly coveted blockbuster season anymore. In fact, the blockbuster brand is another casualty of the craze that is the comic book genre.
The term "blockbuster" has now been diluted to the point that it has lost its meaning. Before, the term was perceived as something new — a cultural phenomenon, a fast-paced exciting entertainment — it didn't have a defined genre. Audiences interacted with such films, talked about them afterwards, and went back to see them again just for the thrill. It became an event of sorts, and even low budget films were given the chance of achieving the prestigious label. Now, if a low budget film does great, it is just considered a "sleeper hit."
Blockbusters nowadays can be compared with the newest piece of technology available to consumers; for example: the newest smartphone or the next generation gaming console. The moment they are unveiled to the public, we are already speculating about their successor and start building the anticipation for the next best thing. It is temporary enjoyment and instant gratification. We do not allow either the piece of equipment or ourselves the chance to enjoy what we have at the moment, making it a hollow achievement. And films in general, unfortunately, have reached that point.
An example of how now movies will rely solely on name, rather than its merits as a film would be Beauty and the Beast. The movie is not bad per se, but it doesn't matter since anything with Disney attached to it will be seen by the general public. The problem here is that, even if it ended up being a mediocre and hollow movie, it made a killing at the box office, and that was considered a triumph for the film. Whereas Cinderella, another Disney property, was a superior and a better film overall, its box office classifies it as an above average film. This is what the blockbuster has become — authorizing high-budgeted productions and relying extensively on massive advertising blitzes leading up to their theatrical release. Once that's done, we all move on to the next.
But why is this happening now? Well, the movie industry can not ignore anymore the power and influence that the comic book film has brought, and all genres are now either playing catch up, trying to compete directly with them or are simply getting out of the way, finding a new market or space where they can be noticed without the shadow that comic book films cast over them.
The Comic Book Film: The New King Of Summer
The "summer film" or "popcorn movie" was defined by films like Jaws and Star Wars, which had a big part in changing the culture of how we watch movies, giving birth to what we know today as the blockbuster season. The season started as early as the end of May/beginning of June, and now we have blockbuster movies screening at the beginning of March (i.e. Logan) running all the way in to November (i.e. Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League).
Did you notice that all those movies are comic book related? Like it or not, we are witnessing another change in the culture on how we watch movies — the comic book film is now the stick with which studios, fans and critics measure and compare other movies. Right off the bat, King Arthur was considered a flop because its budget and earnings were measured by blockbuster movie standards.
Now, don't get me wrong, I love comic book films and I will watch anything that Marvel or DC decides to throw at me, but film studios need to accept the fact that they can't compete (at this moment) with the genre. Comic book films can only compete with each other. For example, Universal's Dark Universe, although a great idea, will be judged based on what Marvel Studios created with the Avengers. Or Alien: Covenant; movies like this were once the indisputable king of the summer, and even though it just beat Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 at the box office, its merits of being a good sci-fi movie is irrelevant. Instead, you hear things like: "Yeah, I liked it, but it wasn't as good as Guardians of the Galaxy."
The Alien franchise might need to shift to a season more suitable to its themes — September or October — where the horror genre still reigns supreme. I know the summer season means big money, but even movies outside the comic book genre are having difficulties finding an audience and profitable returns.
I mean, even a behemoth like Star Wars had to, literally, take over Christmas to be uncontested. Even studios like Pixar, that used to cruise through this season with ease, now have a real contender in the comic book movies.
Going back to King Arthur, I appreciate this film since I have read books that range from the the fall of Atlantis, the birth of Merlin, the rise of the Pendragons and, ultimately, what we know about Arthur and the sword Excalibur. Obviously, the film took some liberties with the source material, but that's why it is called a legend. Director #GuyRitchie, using his style, adapted a tale that has been told in numerous ways and gave it a fresh, innovative and fun twist.
The cinematography is gorgeous, the elements of dark fantasy are on full display, and the soundtrack is superb. #CharlieHunnam is the best version of Arthur I have seen yet and he portrayed the character as I always imagined it while reading the books. The dialogue has Guy Ritchie's stamp all over it, and that made it even better. This type of movie requires to invest yourself in the lore from which the movie takes its inspiration.
Then again, as of right now, nobody cares about Uther Pendragon and we are more focused on what new armor Tony Stark will bring to Infinity War.
No movie is perfect, and King Arthur is not the exception but, ironically, the film's biggest mistake is that it pushes itself on trying to be a blockbuster movie and that ultimately hampers the feel of the movie. Can we blame it, though? After all, this is apparently the blockbuster season, isn't it? This movie, 10 years ago, would have been one of the best and most talked-about films of the year. Today, after two weeks, this movie is sadly just an after thought.
Does This Mean The Time Of The Blockbuster Has Passed?
The comic book genre will reign supreme for (at least) another decade or so, and movies like King Arthur will have to find a different way to stand out over the crowded landscape of movies. One thing is for sure: anyone that dares to challenge the king of the summer for its crown, will be mercilessly vanquished. However, movies from other genres shouldn't see this as a defeat or impossible task. They must make a conscious choice to grow in ability and take advantage of the opportunity the comic book film has given them. No one is expecting anything from them and there is no pressure to rush the final product. They can always strive for more without compromising integrity. King Arthur gave me hope that filmmakers are aware of this, and that they are ready to stay in the fight.
The comic book film currently finds itself in the right place at the right time — a time when people see entertainment as they see fast food or the newest trend: it may make you feel good in the moment, but it’s not necessarily fulfilling or all that memorable. We want it all, and we want it now. Comic book movies have gained more strength thanks to social media — the perfect conduit for their distribution. Comic book movies have found a a way to get bad publicity or bad reviews and still turn that into great profit.
As of now, the comic book film is like Arthur's uncle, Vortigern, the absolute ruler of the kingdom. To stay on top, just like Vortigern, it had to paid the price. What is that price? Lately, we have seen an increase in quantity and not quality. Right now, these movies are finding ways to remain relevant, but just as any kingdom has its subjects, we will demand more and more from our ruler. The "blockbuster crown" belongs to the comic book film, and until the rest of the genres, just like Arthur, find a way to control Excalibur and find again the formula that made them once great, only then, the blockbuster season will reclaim its crown, and will return to its rightful place.
Until that day comes, long live the king.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the summer blockbuster?