I Think I’m Done With Internet Fan Communities

I think I’m done with internet fan communities.

This year, I’ve seen two pop culture goliaths – the release of Avengers: Endgame and the end of Game Of Thrones – absolutely swamped by ill feeling both before and after their release.

About a week before the release of Avengers: Endgame, a version of the story was leaked on to the website 4Chan, then migrated its way onto Reddit, where it was devoured by a waiting community. The leak turned out to be correct; I’d been following the commentary, but I went back and read the leaks after seeing – and loving – the movie. But I was one of the lucky ones.

By the time Endgame hit theatres, Reddit was chock-full of anonymous posters who spat pure hatred about the story, based only on the leaked information. It was alarming how many people were willing to pass judgment based on a sparse text description of a three hour film. It tainted the fan community online as fans began to expect the worst. It made no sense. But it passed.

This past couple of weeks has also been challenging as a fan of Game Of Thrones.

While I do think there are legitimate criticisms of how the show ended, it felt like the fan communities online turned into an echo chamber, with words like “bad writing” and “destroyed character arc” resonating around and around.

Take the sub-reddit /r/FreeFolk, a spin-off from the main Game Of Thrones sub-reddit that allows posting of spoilers, swearing, and so on. Before the final season began, /r/FreeFolk was a hilarious collection of memes and commentary on the show – the community there was made up of true fans who really loved the show.

But several things happened seemingly at once (spoilers ahead). First, the Night King was killed earlier in the season than most fans were expecting, and by a character most people were not expecting. Fans were surprised, sure, and some a little disappointed that the assumed major villain was gone with so much time left. But most were optimistic about the episodes to come.

Then, at some point in the week that followed, a number of elaborate (and accurate) spoilers leaked that laid out what was going to happen for the remainder of the season. Fans visited /r/FreeFolk in droves to despair at what they perceived as a betrayal of the characters and the show – remember, all without actually seeing the episodes in question.

The fourth episode came and went, proving the leaks were accurate, and the community went into meltdown. One fan created a petition to rewrite the show which now has around 1.3 million signatures. Everything was suddenly negative. It began to bleed into other sub-reddits about the show. The tone seemed to change on all social media. And by the time a coffee cup was spotted in a couple of frames, the internet had decided what it thought.

I unsubscribed from /r/FreeFolk and /r/GameOfThrones ahead of Episode 5.

If I were to guess, I’d say both of these negative backlashes – the Thrones one ongoing; the Endgame one doused out of existence by how good the film is – came from the same place: a false impression of where ownership of art resides.

The truth is, I think, that art doesn’t belong to the consumer; it belongs to the creator. Blockbuster films and global television hits are still art. And the fans don’t own it.

Creators of mass-marketed pop culture like to say “this was for the fans” but it isn’t. Not really. I’m sure the reaction of fans is a consideration. But we didn’t watch the fans’ version of Endgame; we watched Marvel Studios’ version. We didn’t watch the fans version of Game Of Thrones’ finale; we watched David Benioff and DB Weiss’ version.

As consumers, we can pass judgment. We can dislike the pop culture we’re consuming. These waves of negativity turned foul when those perpetuating it began to see their opinions as objectively correct, and dissenting opinions as objectively wrong. That isn’t opinion. That is arrogance.

These are far from the only examples. You only need to go back as far as 2017’s Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi to find another large-scale toxic and misguided backlash.

Nobody has the right to tell you what you can and cannot enjoy.

If you thought Game Of Thrones had the best ending ever, I’m happy that you enjoyed it, even if I disagree. And if that kind of respectfulness can’t exist in online fan communities, then I’m going to have to withdraw from them.

I like what I like. I’m not going to allow my experience to be tainted by sheer arrogance.

MOVIE REVIEW Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Fair warning: considerable spoilers follow – read after watching.

Just over a week ago, one of my favourite video essayists, Patrick (H) Willems, posted a video titled “Jurassic Park’s Sequel Problem”, in which he outlines why he thinks there hasn’t yet been a great Jurassic Park sequel – or at least one that lives up to the original 1993 film, and the first in the franchise.

“In the first movie, the characters go to the island not knowing what’s there but being confident that everything is safe and reliable since, y’know, it’s a giant, professionally run theme park,” says Willems. “But then everything goes to hell and we realise what a bad idea it is and everyone gets the fuck out of there.”

“Then, in the sequels, they keep going back,” he continues. “And thus we have a disconnect between the audience and the characters. We know the island is a terrible, dangerous place where everyone dies, and so do the characters, so when they go there anyway, we can’t relate to that decision. This is where the empathy machine breaks down.”

I couldn’t help but think about Willems’ video as I was watching the opening act of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – the sequel to the massively successful Jurassic World, released in 2015 – and it dawned on me that the first few minutes were character introductions so that they can go back to the island again.

And go back they do: at the outset of this sequel, we find out that a dormant volcano underneath Isla Nublar – the island from the original Jurassic Park and the sequel Jurassic World – is threatening to explode and kill all life on the island, particularly in and around the now-defunct theme park. Former theme park manager-turned-dinosaur rights activist Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is contacted by the estate of Ben Lockwood (James Cromwell), a former collaborator of John Hammond, who has plans to move the dinosaurs off the island and to a sanctuary he has created for them.

And so Claire, with her knowledge of the park, treks out to Isla Nublar with Lockwood’s team, accompanied by a vet, a tech geek and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), whose connection to the velociraptor Blue will help the team rescue her. But alas, all is not as it seems: Lockwood’s assistant Mills (Rafe Spall) has double-crossed his boss, and is actually bringing the dinosaurs to the mainland to auction them off to the highest bidder, alongside a horrific newly-created predator, the Indo-raptor.

As you’d expect, Claire and Owen don’t feel so good about all of this, and decide to stop Mills’ auction and kill the indo-raptor before it can kill anyone, which it manages to do anyway with something approaching ruthless efficiency. The movie ends with the former inhabitants of Isla Nublar escaping into the wilds of the United States of America, as Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) tells a senate committee “welcome to Jurassic World”.

It’s very much a sequel in two parts – the first half, in which the characters go back to the island again and are forced to escape with their lives, and the second in which the dinos are brought to the mainland and there is a great deal of talk about the ethics of genetic modification (one minor plotline deals with a new character, Maisie, being a human clone; the ethics of human cloning, it turns out, is what caused the rift between Hammond and Lockwood back before Jurassic Park existed), with the final scenes setting up a sequel that won’t rely on anyone going to an island.

In a way, you could see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom as the middle-chapter of a new trilogy that seeks to correct some of the problems that Willems was talking about. Yes, characters went back to the island, but the second half of the film clearly seeks to set up a future in which characters don’t have to make decisions we don’t understand – and in that context, you can forgive the island-set first half as merely putting the characters and the dinosaurs in a room together.

It makes for a potentially exciting future for the franchise. A third Jurassic World film could find Owen and Claire helping hunt wild dinos in rural America. Or it could be a Planet Of The Apes-style dystopia in which dinosaurs have replaced humans as the dominate predator. Or it could go further down the genetics route, with genetically-modified dinosaurs being used as weapons both against the original dinos and against humans. The possibilities are endless, and don’t involve islands. And, I’ll be honest, I’ll be queueing up on opening night regardless of what direction the film takes.

As far as this film goes, it was pretty good. I mean, the notion that the sequels are samey is right – if you’ve seen one human-being-hunted-by-a-dangerous-predator, you’ve seen ‘em all. J.A. Bayona directs this film with plenty of style, ramping the tension at the right points, but it isn’t as horrific as you might expect, no more so than any of the earlier films.

Pratt and Howard are fine too. I don’t know that their characters are necessarily strong enough to carry the franchise as much as they have been, but the actors make up for it with genuine charisma and rapport on screen. And it was nice to see Goldblum pop up in a fairly brief cameo, one of several nice little nods to the original film.

I don’t know what to tell you – it is a Jurassic Park sequel, so it’s probably a lot like you’re expecting.

But I am excited by some of the story choices late in the film, and especially the notion of dinosaurs running wild in the real world. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom may not be the great Jurassic Park sequel we want or deserve, but there is a chance the next film might be. And I’m excited to see what they do next.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was directed by J.A. Bayona, from a script by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, and stars Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, Isabella Sermon, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, BD Wong, and Jeff Goldblum. It is in cinemas now.

MOVIE REVIEW Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Fair warning: considerable spoilers follow – read after watching.

In a way, I’m glad I waited a week to write a review of Solo: A Star Wars Story, the latest anthology movie from Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm set in the Star Wars universe. As I walked out of the theatre last Wednesday night, following a sparsely attended midnight screening, I would have told you how much I enjoyed it, how it was a fairly straight-forward action movie, how I enjoyed the performance of leading man Alden Ehrenreich.

But over the course of a week, I’ve slowly started to think less and less of the film. As of right now, a full seven days since I saw it, I’m ready to tell you that I don’t think it’s a good film at all.

Set a decade before the events of 1977’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Solo: A Star Wars Story (honestly, how many times am I going to have to write Star Wars before this review is finished) is ostensibly an origin story for Han Solo, one of the universes best characters, and one of film history’s most iconic figures.

Starting out on the shipyards of Corellia, where Han is an orphaned teen caught up in the local gang culture, we follow the rogue as he is separated from his sweetheart Qi’ra (Game Of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) and escapes his home, takes on his infamous moniker (spoiler: he got it because he was alone), and joins the Empire as a pilot because he just wants to fly, man. He ends up in a ground battle on the planet Mimban.

From there, he is united with lifelong friend Chewbacca and falls in with pirate Tobias Beckett (played by Woody Harrelson) and his crew (also featuring Thandie Newton and Jon Favreau) on an intergalactic version of The Great Train Robbery – the aim: steal a train carriage full of the valuable hyperspace fuel coaxium.

But the heist goes wrong, leading Han to improvise in front of super-criminal Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany): he and Beckett are joined by Qi’ra and playboy smuggler Lando (Donald Glover) to steal raw coaxium from the planet of Kessel. If you’re at all familiar with Han Solo, the name Kessel will ring a bell – we’re treated to a full display of the infamous Kessel Run (achieved in just over 12 parsecs), before Han double-crosses both Beckett and Vos and hands the coaxium over to an early version of the Rebellion.

Qi’ra is forced to kill Vos, thus saving Han, and reports to his superior, the presumed dead Darth Maul, last seen in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, set prior to this film, in which he was sliced in two by Obi Wan Kenobi.

Yeah, it’s a lot to take in. But it didn’t seem like so much in the theatre last week: we bounced from location to location, enjoying the sights – “hey, it’s the Kessel Run”, “woah, he just met Chewbacca”, “oh, that’s how he got his name” – and taking in a few big action scenes, albeit none on the level of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.

That is the films first major problem: it’s kind of bland.

Solo: A Star Wars Story had its share of drama behind the scenes – original writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were replaced part-way through production by Ron Howard, a director without a distinct visual style who isn’t known for making large scale, effects-heavy franchise films.

The result is a film that just kind of happens. There are no scenes on the level of Rey and Kylo killing Snoke in his chambers or Holdo launching into hyperspace through a star destroyer from Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi; the closest we get is the Kessel Run, which ends up featuring a black hole and an asteroid-sized octopus, and even that one feels a bit anti-climactic since it is over fairly quickly.

The other major problem Solo: A Star Wars Story has is that it feels piecemeal.

There is a lot going on – from the street chase and escape from Corellia, to the Kessel Run, to the final showdown on the planet of Savareen – and it feels kind of muddled, like none of it necessarily connects to the rest. As the week has passed, that is what I am most struck by: it all just feels so disjointed.

The most exciting scene – the train heist on the planet Vandor, seen prominently in the trailers – takes place in the first act of the film when it clearly would have made for the most exciting conclusion to the whole movie. Instead, it doesn’t hit as hard because we’ve not spent any time with anyone; it just kind of happens. It all just happens.

That is the main crime of Solo: A Star Wars Story: none of it sticks, none of it resonates, and none of it is still with me a week later. Instead of an experience, the film is just a series of events that vaguely tie-in to the Star Wars universe and set up an inevitable sequel. And it’s all just bland.

(For those of you who’ve seen it, I can imagine a version of Solo: A Star Wars Story which dispenses with the opening scenes on Corellia and Mimban – they seems like Lucasfilm adding stuff purely to pre-empt fan calls that “we should have seen this or that” – and where Han and Chewie are already established smugglers, leading to his team-up with Beckett. The Kessel Run still happens half-way through the film and features the Falcon and Lando, as per the film, but somehow it goes wrong. The Darth Maul reveal happens here and he orders Vos to kill the crew, but Vos decides to give them another chance – the train heist on Vandor, where the double-crossing occurs, leading to the death of Vos, Beckett and the rest of his crew. I’d cut the Rebellion out entirely.)

It isn’t all doom and gloom. You may be glad to hear that Alden Ehrenreich is actually pretty good as Han Solo, putting his own mark on the character instead of doing a Harrison Ford impression, and his relationship with Chewie is one great element of the film. Donald Glover and Paul Bettany appear to be having fun, but they also appear to be holdovers from the Lord/Miller version of the film, stuck out of place in most scenes.

And I did enjoy the Kessel Run, it has to be said. I love a good giant monster.

Look, Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t a terrible film. It is a fairly serviceable action film. Heck, if it wasn’t a Star Wars film, none of this would be an issue. But it is a Star Wars film, one with a fairly hefty $250 million price tag.

It should’ve been better. It could’ve been. Alas, we’ll never know.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is directed by Ron Howard (with an assist from Phil Lord & Christopher Miller), from a script by Jonathan & Lawrence Kasdan, and stars Alden Ehrenreich, Woodly Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Jonas Suotamo, and Paul Bettany, and the voices of Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Jon Favreau. It is in cinemas now.

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