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Maybe It’s Us (Why Is Recent Movies and TV So Disappointing)

Are my expectations too high? Is it wrong to have high expectations of media? They can make magic… so why aren’t they?

Why does it feel like everything anticipated in the last year/year and a half has been a disappointment? Why are they filling the void with Space Jam 2 and Trolls 3 and Five Nights at Freddy’s and another Saw movie and another Fast and Furious movie and Blue Beetle and Shazam 2 and another Indiana Jones and Disney live-action remakes and, of course, anything from Marvel.

MOVIES

Avatar 2 was more of the same, another bloated military rah-rah explosions and gunsfest. Lightyear puts its message before the story. The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which I’ve covered before, was basic. Haunted Mansion – mediocre. Guardians of the Galaxy 3 was lukewarm, nerfed by the events in Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame. The Flash was completely hit and miss. A good performance by Ezra Miller marred by his criminal record, cheap nostalgia, and special effects that ranged from fantastic to god-awful uncanny valley babies in microwaves. If you’re going to throw a million billion dollars at a movie, why aren’t you trying to get all of it right?

Killers of the Flower Moon–Martin Scorsese was trying to make his own Schindler’s List. You can tell because of the A) director cameo at the end B) it’s about the genocide of a downtrodden race C) it focuses on the villains D) it’s way longer than it needs to be. But all it is is three hours of Leonardo diCaprio making this face and acting like an idiot.

Barbie was pretty good, but the problem was, by the time I saw it, social media had spoiled everything for me (particularly when Barbie asks about death and the Mojo Dojo Casa House trend. So it ended up having less of an impact on me than it should have.

I just watched Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny and while it was good, it wasn’t great. It didn’t do anything new or interesting. It was an Indiana Jones movie. But that content was popular in the 1980s. It’s now 2023. And you’re using an actor that’s eighty years old.

Is it that creative talent is so widely distributed that nothing can be good anymore? Everything just peters out to average like no one cares? We have so many avenues these days — cable, network, streaming, theatrically-released movies, direct-to-video movies.

TV/Streaming

Do I even have to give examples? Nothing looks interesting to me–Elite, Suits, Succession, The Curse, Bridgerton, House of the Dragon (quit watching midway through), Euphoria. I tried Barry because I love Bill Hader, but just something about the dark humor didn’t click with me. I tried The Bear, but everyone in that show is a huge asshole. It lost me when the big brother fired his gun into the air and got no consequences. The Crown, The Dropout, White Lotus, The Last of Us. It feels like TV shows are about nothing but bad guys.

Ahsoka I was deeply disappointed with. It was like AI wrote it. So many story threads left hanging. What are Baylan Skoll and Shin Hati’s ultimate goals? Why did I have to look their names up? Who’s that guy in all black who fights Ahsoka at the shipyard? They just start battling. Then eventually she kills him, but you never find out if he/she/it had a name. Was it a Sith? Was it even human? I shouldn’t have to go to Wookiepedia to figure out what’s going on. Oh, and apparently you can be stabbed with a lightsaber and live now, no problem. And Ahsoka’s character is dull as dishwater. She’s another emotionless Jedi master, dishing out instructions and parables. Not only is this boring, it contradicts the personality established in the Clone Wars. She’s supposed to be a brash, cocky, feisty, kind-hearted kid. She turned her back on the Jedi after the council falsely accused her of murder and now she’s acting just like them?

Loki was half-disappointing. I didn’t like the first three episodes because they felt like more Marvel homework. I mean, you could really cut the first episode and make no difference. The last half of the episodes made it so popular. And why were those episodes popular? Because unlike every other piece of Marvel shit show, they take time from chase scenes and special effects and setting up future movies to build an emotional connection from the main character to his wants and needs. There was a sacrifice. People cared about each other. Redemption was sought. That’s why it got such high praise.

The only thing that really baked my cookie and gave me some joy was Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse. Everything else is dull and overadvertized. I’ve seen so many commercials for Good Burger 2 and The Curse and Colin from Accounts that I now actively hate those shows and I haven’t even seen them.

VIDEO GAMES

I’m having trouble finding fun video games too. We’ve had some pretty big disappointments recently — Cyberpunk 2077, Forspoken, Gollum, Starfield, and that’s just the recent releases. I’m talking about games I played.

I tried Hollow Knight, but it’s boring, colorless, and too hard. I hate games that kill you and make you repeat sections.

I tried Grim Fandango after finishing the Double Fine Psychonauts 2 documentary, but it was basically just a movie you occasionally click on. And the puzzles in it make no sense–they give you no chance to figure them out without using a walkthrough. The Witness is just a bunch of puzzles I could do on my iPhone, and it gives you no story or motivation to accept its challenge.

The God of War reboot had a fantastic story, but the combat SUCKED. It went from fixed-camera button-mashing action to over-the-shoulder sluggish Dark Souls-like combat. Why did they change it?

Hi-Fi Rush was beautiful, but the platforming and brutal timing games got to me. I would love to watch a TV show of Hi-Fi Rush, but not have to play it.

Marvel’s Midnight Suns was too long, like a mobile game upgraded to an AAA budget.

I reached a soft lock on Tunic because I am just not strong enough to get past a certain point unless I become a “pro gamer”, and there appears to be no way to get more health or strength.

I just know GTA6 is going to go the same way as Starfield and Cyberpunk 2077. It’s going to be full of bugs and predictable content. It’s going to have a ton of microtransactions and DLC, because that’s the only way Rockstar will be able to recoup its cost for spending billions on a product that costs $70. You can tell because of all the hype surrounding just the announcement of a trailer. The trailer announcement! Can you all not see the pattern?

CONCLUSION

But here’s my question–am I just being too critical? Is it me? I know I’m a critical person, being a writer, but am I expecting too much out of media these days? Is it unreasonable to ask for more “Across the Spiderverse”s?

But maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m expecting too much out of movies. I’m looking back and remembering all the wheat, but forgetting the chaff that came with it. Because the cream rises to the top–the good stuff sticks in our mind and the bad or mediocre stuff falls out like so much Algebra homework. Just look at all the movies that came out in 1983. There’s like two that we still talk about. Now we’re even more flooded with media. And commercials make it all seem like it’s “must see or your FOMO will be triggered.”

I know it takes a lot of work to make any movie or TV show or video game. Years and years of time, millions and millions of dollars. Lots of hands are getting in there, adding ingredients, taking them out. Neil Gaiman said it’s a miracle that anything gets made these days, so he never believes they’re making a movie from his works until he’s in the theater. But it feels like there are too many hands concerned about making sure they recoup the costs, so they neutralize the flavor and make something bland. A work that’s got to appeal to the maximum amount of audience, so it ends up pleasing no one.

That’s what I feel is wrong with all these works. There’s no auteurs anymore. The closest we have nowadays are Christopher Nolan (who made a biopic this year), James Gunn (who now works for DC), and Zack Snyder (and I don’t need to tell you the controversy about him). We need works where a single person’s vision gets through. Not a committee. That’s what I think went wrong with Ahsoka. There’s no visionary behind Star Wars anymore. Now it’s just a company churning out “content”.

I feel like no one is taking chances anymore. No one is making anything new. They’re trying to appeal to the most general of audiences so nothing risks alienation. Remember when the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer premiered and everyone was like WTF is this? A talking raccoon in space? And then it turned out to be the best thing released in a decade? We need more of that. We need more studios willing to take risks, take losses on bold and different works.

Where are the new stories? I know this is a broken record, but everything is based on something pre-existing work. I don’t mind that but do something different with it, at least. Make a new story. Do something great with what you got. Don’t be afraid to beat that IP up a little. It can take it–it’s survived long enough and been strong enough to make it to adaptation status. I’m just ranting at this point, but I’m frustrated, goddammit. I’m a story connoisseur–this is how I nourish my soul. And right now all I’m getting is Campbell’s soup. Yeah, it’s filling, but it’s not a good meal.

God, no wonder YouTube is winning the media wars.

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at http://www.ericjuneaubooks.com where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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