Spoilers for The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Book Thief, Avengers Assemble, Edge of Tomorrow, Frozen, How To Train Your Dragon 2… Basically if it’s a summer blockbuster you haven’t seen, it may be spoiled ahead.
Last summer I went to watch Captain America: The Winter Soldier at the cinema with my friends. Not convinced by the first Captain America film I didn’t hold high hopes for this one either, but I went to see it nonetheless, at least in part because of the great reviews it was getting. And it was good. Oh, it was so entertaining! When Nick Fury was shot – and then dead – I kept thinking, “Oh my God, no. They can’t kill him. They can’t.”
Turns out, they couldn’t. And this ended up putting a sour note on the whole film.
I’m so tired of going to the cinema and seeing people die, only to know that they’ll be alive again, you just have to give it half an hour or so. To be fair to The Winter Soldier, I had started to think that Fury was actually dead, so while my disappointment at seeing him alive was higher I wasn’t completely apathetic to the trick yet – it did elicit some emotion rather than boredom. With Guardians of the Galaxy, however, it was so obvious that Root was going to reappear that it just irritated me. What was even the point? His death had caused such emotion turmoil (on screen) only for all that action to be rendered essentially hollow by the end where he’s dancing (admittedly, humourously) on the table. Even Avengers Assemble, which I had thought had actually done the impossible for second there and killed off Agent Coulson, lost it’s emotional weight somewhat when he turns out to be alive in the Agents of Shield TV series.
Marvel isn’t alone. Summer blockbuster Edge of Tomorrow had me hooked until the end where – you guessed it – everyone’s alive and well. Even darker movies such as The Dark Knight Rises had deaths-that-weren’t-really-deaths.
I didn’t mind it so much for TDKR (though that film had many other problems for me) but in Edge of Tomorrow, The Winter Soldier, it all felt like cheating. Why was it that Harry Potter had such an emotional impact? JK Rowling wasn’t afraid of killing off main characters who we loved and cared about. The book The Book Thief hurt you, but the deaths resulted in a novel that stayed with you long after you read the last page. The same for Star Wars – what sort of films would they be if Obi Wan Knobi had lived? And The Dark Knight. After Rachel died I had exactly the same mental shock that I had at seeing Nick Fury ‘die’ – the “They can’t kill her” moment. Glued to my seat, I sat,repeating, “They can’t kill her, she must be alive.” They could, and she wasn’t, and the film was all the better for it.
Even children’s films feel braver than Hollywood at the moment. In the past you had The Lion King and Bambi, but even recently there were the deaths of Elsa and Anna’s parents in Frozen and Hiccup’s dad in How to Train Your Dragon 2. Why is it that movie producers think that children can accept death and adults can’t? Or that adults will be okay with having their emotions toyed with, feeling the sense of loss only for the emotion to be considered void? I understand that children won’t go to see a film because Gerard Butler is voicing Stoick in the same way that an adult may see The Avengers because they like Samuel L. Jackson, but there has got to be a better way to play with emotions than just killing off characters only to bring them back to life again.
It feels as if Hollywood is stuck in a rut. They don’t want to alienate anyone, make anyone too sad. Instead they look scared – they avoid going to the dark place that is killing off a character, and it results in far less memorable films than would otherwise be possible. Imagine an ending to Edge of Tomorrow where all the characters died. Yes, it would be depressing, but it would also be different and so much more memorable. Instead, we got the standard Hollywood ending. Yes, the film was good, but it wasn’t great, and that ending was a main problem in that for me.
I’m wary to see the new Avengers film because I think a character will die only to be resurrected. I hope I’m wrong – I want an actual emotional element to a film, not a half-done, manipulating set of scenes – but I don’t think I am. We’ll see, I guess. I’ll see the movie anyway, so I suppose I’m just fueling the situation, aren’t I?