i do not want to “get nuts”

The sight of Michael Keaton back in the batsuit in the trailers for The Flash is an instant ticket seller for, I guess, millions of people. It would be unserious to describe it as bleak, there are many things much worse in our world than an elderly actor taking an easy paycheque, an act as old as Hollywood itself.

Maybe not bleak, but the image could be described as dispiritingly absurd. Presenting the dispassionate repetition of a line from a 35-year-old children’s movie by a green screened septuagenarian as an exciting must-see moment, and that presentation being vindicated and embraced by an adoring fanbase, is a shot and chaser of tragedy and farce so rapid that would make Marx’s beard fly off. When I saw Willem Dafoe rotely repeat that he was something of a scientist himself in Spider-Man: No Way Home, I found it to be awfully delivered, empty fanservice; I should have known better than I was looking into the future of blockbuster cinema.

The Keaton-focused Flash trailer was unveiled at this year’s CinemaCon as a turbo-charged nostalgia bump for Warner Bros to distract and defuse the various controversies around the film’s star Ezra Miller (hey it really was bleak after all). CinemaCon is an industry event, a trade show for distributors and an opportunity for present, network and provide reassurances for shareholders; you’re going to make even more money than ever before, every year, forever.

As CinemaCon has grown, red carpet appearances by big names, exclusive reveals and first looks have become a bigger part of the experience. To reassure shareholders is to confirm to them that your next film, and indeed your next films for the next 10 years, are all being made “for the fans”. Studio presidents and producers are celebrated like the star players signed to bring the big trophy home, investor calls are nerd blog news, nothing is too inside baseball in the world of the blockbuster. It’s all baseball, all the time, the mega corps have built it and the fans will come.

What are shareholders after all, if not the fanbase of Capitalism, and what is modern capitalism, if not encouraging fans to invest in something with no value?

If it can be recognised, it can be converted into nostalgia. Andrew Garfield or Ewan McGregor, stars of unpopular parts of big franchises, return and it’s cast as redemption. Ancient actors of films that have been dormant for decades like Keaton or Harrison Ford can take easy pay for awful dreck, and rather than it being seen as sad or mocked as mercenary, it’s a beautiful reward for loyalty, a loving nod to the fan’s childhood, a childhood that will never and should never end.

That’s the other thing that shareholders and fanbases share, the desire for the never-ending upside, the belief that returns can never diminish. As cultural currency, nostalgia can be reproduced endlessly and unchecked without issue, like the Weimar Papiermark.

There was a time in living memory when a name briefly seen on a computer screen counted as a treat for those in-the-know, now entire studio strategies are reworked to cave to whims, reddit threads drive storytelling. The original Batman movie actor can’t just do a cute cameo telling today’s hero “go get em kid”, the whole movie is built around him, or rather the memory of him. The fans have been thrown so many bones they now sit atop a throne of them, kings crushing and recasting the skull of Yorick.

If 71-year-old Keaton proves unwilling, unable or unsuccessful in being the Batman that you remember, that’s okay, because a CGI stand-in, digitally de-aged and AI-voiced, can step in and be a badass, just like Luke Skywalker, who will never disappoint you or do anything that you don’t want ever again.

Even the dead can continue to service the fans. Joe Russo, one half of the Avengers directing brotherhood who seemingly have devoted their latter-day careers to destroying culture as we know it, spoke effusively to Collider about the endless possibilities of artificial intelligence, like, for example, ghoulish masturbation.

‘So potentially, what you could do with it is obviously use it to engineer storytelling and change storytelling. So you have a constantly evolving story, either in a game or in a movie, or a TV show. You could walk into your house and save the AI on your streaming platform. “Hey, I want a movie starring my photoreal avatar and Marilyn Monroe’s photoreal avatar. I want it to be a rom-com because I’ve had a rough day,” and it renders a very competent story with dialogue that mimics your voice. It mimics your voice, and suddenly now you have a rom-com starring you that’s 90 minutes long. So you can curate your story specifically to you.’

Joe Russo, director, writer, producer, husk

Awful, empty ideas presented as not only inevitable, but desirable. The good ship Commodifying Marilyn Monroe Even In Death has long since sailed, hit an iceberg and sunk, but Russo suggests that there are still more depths in which to plunge. The things that live down there are ugly and lack vision. Just as apps, self-checkout machines and QR codes help corporations to reduce staff, increase profits, and pass the workload onto you, the witless, artless, aimless future that Russo eagerly envisions is one where the viewer serves themselves. The current customer base is increasingly keen to do so. What about the beauty of discovery, what about the liberation of surprise, what is this eagerness to push the rock uphill forever, especially when his movies are all shite anwyay?

In the epic and underrated content The Myth of Sisyphus, philosopher Albert Camus pondered the inherent absurdity of the human condition. We crave order, significance, and recognition, but are faced only with the disordered, cold, empty universe (the DCEU). He believed that freedom, and any meaning in life, was found in recognition of absurdity.

Does that mean we shrug off hollow fan bait with an ironic “lol lmao”? Does that mean embracing indie distribution and original ideas until they themselves become an identifiable brand? Do we reject all modern releases and retreat into the comfort of the films we enjoyed before, an even more severe nostalgia for an age of cinema with plenty of its own sins, many much more literal? Depending on your own philosophy, the response may vary for the metacognitive meaningless of the movies.

Camus, for the uninitiated, was sort of like the Joker of his day. Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight? Do you ever want to do anything else?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *