You may have guessed that I’m a fan of comics, anime and video games, all the hallmarks of a die-hard nerd. What you also may have noticed is that – cue record scratch – I complain about them a lot. I often have more to say about what was done wrong versus what was done right. And that might seem like a hindrance, keeping me from basking in the ephemeral post-credits glow of movie or TV or video game magic, but it’s all from a place of love. Being mean or tearing something down is never something I do for the fun of it. It’s about holding storytellers to the high standard that I know they are more than capable of reaching. Nothing gets carte blanche unless I actually don’t care enough to speak critically about. It may be a cruel kind of love, but it’s still love.
This also, I think, explains a lot about me, but that’s a whole other post.
Oddly, my critical response seems to take people by surprise. As a nerd, I am EXPECTED to give carte blanche. There’s a new Star Wars or Marvel movie? I am expected to see it (ideally the day it opens) and love it, quality notwithstanding. Many people seem to think that an admitted love of a property, especially a nerdy one, implies some sort of all-acceptance of everything related to it. But a sticker implying this is from the makers of X and Y doesn’t automatically instill confidence in me. A piece of storytelling needs at least one hook in me before I will even consider allowing it onto my radar. Hell, even brand new Dragon Ball episodes, which I previously mentioned, aren’t high on my list because of the impossible standards I have for the show. Yes, I always wanted an expansion of the lore, but though this is a fun one, it’s just not good enough. And if something isn’t good enough, I refuse to waste my precious hours of freedom on it.
I believe it’s everyone’s responsibility to do the best they can in their work, pushing to always grow and improve. And for what it’s worth, I hold Unlife, as well as my other work, to similar standards. Sometimes that means getting notes pointing to holes you didn’t see or hoped no one would notice. And sometimes it means being the one giving those notes. And that can feel uncomfortable, or even wrong. But when the alternative is blanket trust and passive acceptance, especially when it’s something I love so much… I just don’t see the point. As an audience, we have power. We vote with our voices and our wallets to determine what gets made next. The only reason there’s a Justice League movie in development is because, regardless of the awful things we say about Zack Snyder and his universe, audiences have continued to financially support his efforts. And if people are happy with that quality of movie, go for it. Enjoy. But I can’t and I won’t merely because I was told it stars a character whose name I’m familiar with.
Like a great many people, I have a busy life and limited free time, and I try to devote that time to things of value. Writing Unlife and this blog are on the list, but so are my wife, friends, family, video games and a whole truckload of others. And to reduce my time with them to make space for things I don’t believe in or that frustrate me, simply because they carry the Marvel logo …
It’s easier to be a consumer who just accepts what they’re given, but if there’s a hair in my dish, dammit, I’m going to say something.
And that’s a shame because I can’t deny that it has actively ruined some potentially good experiences. Most recently, I saw Arrival, a clever film about aliens, language, and time. There’s a lot to enjoy here: the film is technically sound, with great writing, directing, acting, and production value. And yet, its lack of artistry held me back from being able to fully engage. A small example is the literal language of the aliens: it sounded like the guttural “monster” cries I have heard in 1,000 other films. Yes, their written language was clever and called the themes of the story into play in excellent fashion. But when the sound design came so close to tonally similar marvels like Under the Skin or Interstellar, and yet fell so short of the haunting, evocative qualities of the other two movies, it kept me from fully engaging. Still a great movie, but for me…
Is that too much? To ask for more? To demand to be blown away? Is setting my sights so high a detriment to me, or an advantage in that it allows me to keep pushing? The thing is, 20 years ago, this wouldn’t be an issue. Hell, were I still a child I would have loved both Batman v Superman and the cartoonishly bad X-Men Apocalypse. Because when I was a child I did accept things; “I got what I got”. Fuck, I even loved the reviled Mortal Kombat Annihilation, not because it was a good movie, but because the bright colors and characters I loved were brought to life. And back then, that was a thrill.
But today I’m an adult, and times change, and the mere image of something I love isn’t enough. Maybe it’s oversaturation, or the fact that I have engaged in this medium for so long that I can’t see it through a child’s eyes anymore. I have grown up.
Is it so wrong to ask that my media adjusts accordingly?