Friday, April 28, 2017

Guarding a Galaxy without the LOLs

The new Guardian of the Galaxy movie opened earlier this week around these parts, which was nice, (even if it would be a lot bloody nicer if we weren’t still waiting weeks to get John Wick Chapter Two and Get Out). The lovely wife and I went along on a lazy Tuesday afternoon, and had a terrific time.

It gets a bit bogged down, with daft family strife dragging down the cosmic splendor. But like the first film in this series, there are some dazzling colours, some neat character beats and, most importantly, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It gets a lot of mileage out of baby Groot’s giant eyes, and the stark literalism of Drax the Destroyer, and has arguably the best Stan Lee cameo yet.

There will be no further spoilers here, but rest assured, whenever the film is going for a reaction out of the audience, it is usually chasing the laughs, even during the biggest climactic moments of the movie.

This focus on one-liners, fake-outs and outright slapstick will undoubtedly appeal to a huge audience. The slightly unexpected success of the first Guardians of the Galaxy film was largely thanks to a sense of easy humour that was evident from the first teaser. There were plenty of film journalists writing it up as Marvel's riskiest move at the time, but I saw no risk in the cinema where I saw that first trailer.

Now, everybody knows what they're going to get from a new GotG film. There are the usual plot twists and turns, but you know the style, the mood and the vibe before you even step into the theatre.

These kinds of comfort film are extremely popular, and this is why the Fast & Furious and Transformers films still rack up boffo box office, without ever saying anything new. Those audiences know what they are going to get - giant incomprehensible metal things smashing each other, and robots in disguise.

But while that tone of levity and laughs will please most of the GotGv2 audience, it’s unlikely to be as popular with the hardcore nerds. Partly because there were two young dorks in Captain America and Batman tee-shirts sitting next to me who scoffed at every dumb joke in the movie, when everybody else was laughing. It would have been annoying as hell, except they kept doing it, and it became just as funny as anything else.

If there is one thing I've learned as a life-long dork, it's that this lot are not famous for their sense of humour, but that doesn't mean they can't be funny.

There is an extremely fine line between good-natured humour and outright silliness, and silliness is nerd kryptonite.

It's easy to see things from the geek perspective - many of us grow up fearing that other people aren’t taking our precious stupid shit as seriously as we do, and therefore, only the serious things matter and are important.

But most of us also grow out of this at some point - if somebody doesn't like the crap we're into, that's their fucking problem. But as the dork life has overtaken mainstream culture, this invariably leads to more and more damned souls moaning that we aren't treating their precious super-cliches and spaceships seriously enough.

And this invariably leads the nerd hive mind to the usual dumb consensus: if it ain't serious, it doesn't matter.

This has been going on for a while. For years, it was generally agreed that the worst Doctor Who, without question, was The Gunslingers, a First Doctor adventure where the TARDIS crew rough it up with events around the the OK Corral.

It wasn’t just because it stuck a dusty old western into the clean world of Doctor Who, it's because the whole story was light, with daft jokes and comic misunderstandings. It wasn't a serious, important story like The Dalek Masterplan or The Sensorites.

Then people actually got to see the episodes, years down the line, and many found that lighter touch genuinely charming, and the reputation has risen a little, although many hardcore fans will still scowl at the story's inability to show proper respect for a programme about a madman in a blue box that travels in time and space.

(Although it should be noted that other early Who stories with a lighter touch, such as The Romans and The Myth-Makers, generated generally fond feelings, so maybe it really was the genre pollution in this case.)

For the American equivalent, there is, as always, Batman.

Kids adore the sixties Batman TV show because it's silly and campy, adolescents despise it because it's silly and campy, and adults love it again because it's silly and campy. I know that's how it certainly worked for me.

Batman hasn't been silly or campy in any medium for a long time now, and has been a world of gritted teeth and rooftop angsting since the 1980s. Any attempts to lighten things up, such as the various Batman '66 comics, barely get any attention, while forthcoming stories are promising more darkness and more metal, because that's what the nerds demand. Batman used to dig the day, now he barely ever steps out of the shadows.

And it’s just so fucking childish. Only dumb kids think everything has to be grim and gritty all the time, and that anything else is barely worth discussing.

Because it's also so boring - who wants to watch a movie of absurd creatures scowling at each other until their grimaces fall off? Movie trailers that promise ultra-serious takes on the goofiest fuckin' concepts just make the film they're promoting look ultra-tedious.

And despite the perspective of many, that focus is not even realistic – life is full of humour.

British directors like Shane Meadows and Ben Wheatley (who both always have a place in this Tearoom), have justified putting scenes of dumb humour, and even slapstick, next to emotionally and physically harrowing bits of cinema, and have justified it by pointing that life is full of dumb wise-cracks and jokes and black humour, even in the most appalling circumstances.

That's how human beings work, take out the jokes, and you're left with people who would bore you to death in a five-minute conversation, let alone hold your attention for a 90-minute story.

The unimportance of anything with a sense of humour isn't just limited to geek culture - look at how many comedies are put forward for Best Picture at the Academy Awards every year.

Geeks like to think they have a good sense of humour about themselves because they liked the 1980s Justice League comics, but if that was really true, Evan Dorkin would be a goddamn multi-millionaire (he fuckin’ deserves to be). Instead, they're too busy trying to tell everybody about graphic novels, because they think calling them comic books sounds silly.

But if you're too busy scowling to laugh with the crowd, and too cool to play with others, like those two dorks in the cinema on Tuesday, you'll just end up on your own. That's no joke.

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