Okay, once everyone’s sobered up from the Super Bowl mob mentality of a crowded theater intoxicated by anticipation and the surround of like-minded and enthusiastic people, prepared to respond to every fart and twitch of their beloved heroes, and salivate over every referential set piece, plot point, character arc, and action sequence like Pavlov’s dog, maybe we can finally talk honestly about this awful movie. There’s not one moment in this film that doesn’t feel like it was contrived by a board room of panderers working through a list of all the branding elements of the original Star Wars canon. In fact, rather than having an actual plot, the film is stretched out across these referential images and ideas. Of course so-and-so is someone’s father, son, daughter, etc., turned by the dark force or struggling to learn the light force, but this time it’s different because it’s Han Solo’s, or Luke’s, progeny; of course there has to be a seedy bar room full of ridiculous alien muppets, but this time is different because the silly band will play reggae; of course our hero will be stranded on a back water “desert” planet, but this time she’s yearning to stay there, not get away. Of course a scary evil dude pulls the strings of our Darth Vader surrogate, but this time instead of having creepy green skin, he’s a creepy giant! Of course there’s a death star-ish weapon with which to contend, but where before its destructive force could destroy entire planets, this time it could destroy, umm, entire planets! And of course there’s long sequences of “heroic” World War II style aerial dogfights, complete with good ol’ Americana tough-guy banter, but this time… oh, well that’s exactly the same too. There’s even a moment when the camera begins to slide along the outline of a large vessel, referencing that surprising, scale-shifting moment in the first film. Every image and so-called plot point in this ridiculous mess so derives its existence from the original that it quickly begins to feel pretty cheap. And let’s not forget that the original was so stupidly written, parsecs were referred to as a measurement of speed, not distance; planet ecosystems were so cartoonishly one dimensional you had to travel from planet to planet to experience a jungle, a desert, an arctic landscape.
Let’s face it. JJ Abrams has certainly never been solid when it comes to plot. Lost fell wildly apart of it’s on weight. In the Star Trek reboot Captain Kirk manages to run into Old Spock on an uninhabited planet precisely when he needs to with no real rational explanation—just as Han Solo enters stage left in an unexplained ship precisely when Rey needs him to. (Who knows, maybe Abrams just doesn’t realize how big the universe is…). He’s the quintessential plot fudger. A characteristic he certainly shares with George Lucas.
But for whatever reason, critics have been kind to this movie, and the herd instinct has kicked in full force with the fan base, to the point that it has become instant canon. In spite of the fact that there’s absolutely no logical reason for any laser saber fight in this movie—makes no rational sense. And the destructive force of the saber is wildly inconsistent, easily slicing through thick tree trunks one moment, able to inflict little more than a minor flesh wound and a puff of smoke the next. Also, please save me the absurd speech about groundbreaking race and gender statements in this film. While two of the best things in this movie might be the performances of John Boyega as the black storm trooper with an unexplained moral awakening, and Daisy Ridley as our token heroine, their presence doesn’t signify any serious cultural movement toward inclusion. I’m certainly glad they’re present in this otherwise milky white wonder bread world. But let’s face it, Rey’s presence isn’t far removed from Princess Leia in the 70’s. And I also found myself asking: why is it that the only black character in this world happens to be a storm trooper (moral awakening or no) when we have no idea regarding the common racial identity of all the other storm troopers? I’m sorry, rather than an inclusionary moment in cinematic history, I got the distinct whiff of more calculated pandering (however ironically self-deconstructing).
So why am I spending all this time talking about a film I so obviously couldn’t stand? Let me tell you why. It’s about Aqua Man.
When Mardi and I went to see Superman vs Batman in the theater, we actually sat through the credits to watch the interview with the film’s producer. As you may know, the primary purpose of SvB’s existence is apparently to advertise the dawning of the Justice League franchise. And that means Aqua Man. I’m personally excited. Aqua Man was one of my favorite childhood heroes, and Jason Momoa, in spite of not being blond, looks to be an excellent casting choice. But right on cue, when this character was revealed on the screen, a dude sitting behind us proclaimed indignantly, “But Aqua Man sucks!”
Well everyone is entitled to their opinion (at least until Trump or Clinton has improbably managed to win the presidential election and nip all that in the bud), and my soft spot for Aqua Man in no way implies I’m more or less insightful in these matters than anyone else. But it strikes me as a little emblematic of how these pop culture moments are interpreted. Aqua Man sucks because it’s fashionable these days to say so. Aqua Man, after all has become an on-going joke on The Big Bang Theory. We are, at the base of it, herding animals, always alert to appropriate the latest emblem of our membership to the social group (as Vonnegut often pointed out). So Aqua Man sucks, even though the average superhero-watching movie-goer probably never read an Aqua Man comic in his life. In the same way Superman vs Batman is the worst superhero film ever made, because that’s what the herd has proclaimed. And Star Wars. Star Wars is simply beyond reproach.
Spoiler alert: I was never a huge Star Wars fan. I was a huge Science Fiction fan, and as such, I didn’t hate Star Wars. The original movies, silly and flawed as they were, moved science fiction as a genre forward in cinema. But it’s also true that being a Star Wars fan (and a SF fan) at that time was NOT COOL. But today we have fashion nerds the way we have fashion hippies. It’s fashionable to posture oneself as a nerd. Star Wars is cool. Johnny Cash was a genius. Star Wars: The Herd Awakens is a brilliant masterpiece.
But Aqua Man sucks.