24 June 2016

2nd-Day Chili

Contrary to popular belief, some things are better as leftovers. Chili is usually the first thing that comes to mind. A good chili is good no matter when you eat it, but it often becomes a great chili when you let it sit, undisturbed for a day or so, letting it settle, get infused with all the flavors.

But let’s be honest, the things that benefit from sitting untouched are pretty few and far between. Chili, wine, bourbon, these things get better with some age. But a soda goes flat, bread gets stale, and fruits rot.

The same thing happens with movies. When you let a story sit untouched for years, it’s probably best if you just leave it alone. By that point, your tale has gone past its prime, your story is likely well-remembered on the palette of your audience, and the world has moved on. There are numerous examples of this, but ZOOLANDER 2 is a recent example: wait too long, and you lose relevance.

Last night I went out with the family to see INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE. Without giving anything away, I would have to say the film isn’t exactly a good chili.

The film is set in real time, so it’s been 20 years since the events of the first movie. It seems, however, that very few lessons were learned along the way other than how to make things faster, and flashier. (Maybe the filmmakers’ real intention was to make it a parable about Hollywood itself?) The story is kinda stale, it’s a familiar flavor, something we’ve had before, enjoyed, but that didn’t hold up as leftovers. There’s nothing wrong with it, really, it’s just…’been there, done that’.

This isn’t really a review of the movie, but the film is a good stepping-off point for a discussion about a problem that’s been going on for a while: Sequels without real purpose. Yes, I do understand that the purpose is to make money for the studios. But that doesn’t mean you should just serve up the same thing year after year, and you really shouldn’t go back two decades and then deliver a lot of the same story.

Here, I’m a little hypocritical, now, and I can admit that. A lot of the arguments around the latest STAR WARS film is how much it rehashed earlier films. While this is a valid argument to a degree, that film delivered the story while introducing new characters. There are new characters in RESURGENCE, also, but the primary story still focuses on old faces we know well.

If you’re going to wait twenty years to make a sequel, I think you really need to deliver a story that’s new. Telling the same story with a new glossy coating just feels a bit lazy to me. The story-beats, the pacing, it all feels the same, and “same” should be a four-letter word with any sequel, but especially twenty years on. If you’re going to use the same characters, you have to take them someplace new. While it’s panned for the story (which I disagree with) and the visual effects (which I do agree with), INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is a good example of this. We get Dr. Jones and Marion Ravenwood back, but they’re in the jungle, not the desert. They deal with Russians and aliens, not Nazis and holy powers. It’s familiar, but new at the same time. Whether they succeeded or failed is more personal taste, but at least they tried.

With STAR WARS, it’s a mirror image: The story is similar, but it’s new faces going on the adventure. Some old friends join in the fun, but they’re not the main focus of the story. It’s a passing-the-torch tale, and it works because the older characters are more mentors, not taking the hero’s quest themselves.

RESURGENCE misses on these points. It tells an almost-identical story to the first and it does it primarily with characters we’ve seen on that path before. The predictability of the story is almost a given: the good guys have to triumph, so they can make another sequel, right? But there’s nothing new being brought to the table. The bad guys are bigger, the guns are flashier, but in the end, they’re the same bad guys, and the same heroes toeing the line. The few new characters that are present come off as more expository than anything, and the few storylines they try to introduce for them are either heavily rushed or have no pay-off.

Here’s how I see it: If you’re going to wait twenty years, you need to make it count. You need to let your audience feel it was worth the wait. You need to give them that second-day chili to savor. This movie feels more like the old heels from a loaf of bread. Yeah, they work to make a sandwich, but it’s bland and doesn’t stay with you like that hearty chili would.

And now I’m hungry.