when movies become rituals

February 12, 2016

I’ve been noodling around with this idea for awhile.  Especially two months after The Force Awakens, and watching how the fanfic, the memes, the theories, and the love show no sign of slowing down.  Especially after grappling with my own difficulties in figuring out how to approach reviewing the movie.  How can I possibly separate my love of the world and judge the movie simply as a movie?  And now, there’s an amazing fever pitch surrounding the release of Deadpool.  All the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies of the last couple of years have had this immense hype and love around them, and as I mentioned in my review of Ant-Man, I’ve pretty much given up approaching these movies with any kind of objective detachment.  Moreover, the movies don’t actually care about being considered as movies.  They don’t really stand alone.  They’re chock full of inside jokes and easter eggs.  They have a laser focus on their audience, and in giving that audience what it wants:  a really good time in the worlds that they love.

Star Wars, the MCU, Harry Potter, maybe a couple of others but those are the ones that stand out for me:  these aren’t really movies anymore.  They’re communities.  The movies have become the periodic rituals that these communities celebrate.

There are lots of media fandoms and fannish communities.  The phenomenon’s been going on since at least the first Star Trek conventions in the early 70’s.  And in most cases the communities persist even if no more movies or episodes are forthcoming. (Captain Power is 25+ years gone but there’s still a small group of us who can’t stop talking about it.)

But this is something else.  Something different.  Something spawned and fueled by the internet, huge and pervasive.  These franchises seem to have reached a tipping point where these aren’t just movies that we’re excited to see.  They’re events.  The anticipation is part of the experience.  We’re not just looking for entertainment, we’re looking for new information to add to what we know, to fuel more fan theories and musings that will go on long after the film is out of theaters.  It helps that so far these movies have generally been good by most standards.  But I’d argue:  they don’t stand alone, really.  They wouldn’t exist without the fervent devotion of these tremendous communities.

And it’s a feedback loop:  the communities support the movies; the movies fuel the communities.  That loop generates power.

There’s more thinking to be done with this idea, but for me it’s helping provide a framework for why my critical approaches to Star Wars and the MCU have been changing, becoming different than my approach to other movies.  I love these worlds and characters, I consider myself part of the communities that are bound by them, and that changes my thinking about them.

Must ponder some more.


2 Responses to “when movies become rituals”

  1. Carbonman Says:

    There’s a certain amount of faith engendered with Marvel movies, faith that the next one will be as entertaining and/or amazing as the previous 1, 2 or more. The same thing happened with the Nolan Batman series, and on the negative side, Fantastic Four.
    There’s a tempered faith in the Batman V Superman. Batman is a character that fans rely on to be entertaining and fulfill expectations, with Superman being less reliable.
    The movies have far outstripped the comics in terms of fan familiarity and storytelling. Comics and graphic novels were at one time wonderful in their ability to stir the movie in our heads. Now it’s a case of walking into a theater and having it beamed directly into our eyes with much less mental construction on our parts. Movie FX and CGI are so good these days that it’s almost believable to think we’re seeing reality captured on film or digital files.
    Seeing the Star Wars series or X-Men, The Avengers and their interlinked sequels gives people something safe and social to talk and argue about that is different than the fractous conversations that arise surrounding politics or news.

  2. […] will see us through to health. (Carrie Vaughn had an interesting blog post this week about how the MCU movies have far outgrown the boundaries of what one normally understands as a movie experience, and lends some credence to […]

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