The Problem with Meeting Audience Expectations in Cinema

For the past century cinema has endured, captivating a variety of audiences across the globe. There has always been the dichotomy of good and bad films across the entirety of film history, films that would provoke passionate love or hatred. At one moment a film can open your eyes to a new perspective in life, or fill you with excitement and joy. Then the next movie could simply bore you to tears with confusing storytelling or writing that assumes you’re an eight year old that needs every detail explained to them.

However there is a darker, sinister issue that has been growing for the last couple of decades. It’s a problem with the middle ground, a mediocrity encompassing movies on a wide scale. A problem I experienced after watching Avengers: Age of Ultron months after its release and my reaction being, “Meh, it was alright”. Then I thought, isn’t this a problem? Shouldn’t I be in awe of the film’s increased scale, fascinated by it’s themes of the narcissism in heroism, particularly from heroes who if they decided to go rogue, ordinary society would have no chance of defeating, and consequently the film shows how that can play out.

Yet my reaction to it all was slightly above apathetic, because I could identify depth in its story, and there were some fun action scenes, but the stuff I enjoyed was hampered by severe problems of running time, pacing, dialogue, and subplots that will only resolve if you pay tickets for the next film in Marvel’s “Universe”. All those problems were not as bad as the worst crime a film can commit, which was that Avengers: Age of Ultron, despite its positive qualities wasn’t anything I hadn’t already seen before in the first film.

Age of Ultron was so close to being a great film that transcends what the previous Marvel films were exploring. The entire purpose of the Ultron character was to question the idea of super-heroism, and to break apart the Avengers dynamic. But those things don’t happen, yes those themes and questions are brought up, but never resolved. The members of the Avengers team experience conflict sure, but they don’t break up they just removed old members and replaced them with newer ones. However wouldn’t the stakes be higher, more emotional if the film did end with the team splitting apart, dysfunctional, if not killing one of the major team members? The answer is, nobody knows because that doesn’t happen. Apparently we’re supposed to retain our investment for future films that belong to a wider setting by adding in subplots, which is in confrontation with the concise and interesting themes that Ultron brings, further bloating the running time and pace of the film’s structure.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

It wasn’t just certain Marvel superhero movies that left me feeling cold, I could not be more willing to jump onboard the Jurassic World fun train only to be left slightly irritated and numb.

What we got wasn’t entirely displeasing, again some fun action set pieces and visuals, but it was transplanting those set pieces and visuals almost verbatim from the first film. “Oh look, that’s the Asian scientist from the original, now he’s a mad scientist, looking for corporate gain!”, “Oh look, that guy with the glasses is wearing a Jurassic Park t-shirt, references!”, “Oh my god! Is that a T-Rex joining the fight!”. It took no creativity to repeat what was done before, Jurassic World turned into a safe bet using nostalgia as their bedding to fall onto, rather than dare try something so different yet familiar. Even if that creative gamble turned out not to be great, at least there could be some more interesting discussion to be had from something that was fascinatingly bad rather than merely ok.

To me a Jurassic Park sequel should be made in the same spirit as the first film. The dinosaurs depicted needed to be scientifically accurate at the time of the film’s production, even at the risk of those depictions becoming outdated, just like the original. It should explore broad themes along the lines of man/technology vs. nature, expanding on those ideas without just repeating what was done before. Plus, was I the only person who saw the announcement for Jurassic World and immediately conjured up thoughts of a post-apocalyptic, Mad Max world with dinosaurs having taken over!?

Is this a desirable position for filmmakers to be in? Merely to imitate and reference the past? Must we pander to the desires of what the audience want and expect? Can we not give the audience something new, that they never knew they wanted?

Modern cinema is setting a dangerous precedent that threatens the existence of the medium. The current track record of box-office record breaking movies doesn’t say it, but the future of movies is becoming dire. With the recurrence of familiar stories, regurgitated references to exploit “fans”, tired clichés that get re-used from other profitable, trend setting movies. It will lead to cinema becoming culturally bankrupt.

You might think that I would welcome seeing the end of superhero films, but that isn’t what I want. Ultimately no one who put these films into production cares about these complaints because franchise movies are made for their return on investment. The films marketing teams have social media and YouTube at their whim to control the message, relying on Twitter users with large amounts of followers to mimetically follow a trail of hype to further spread an irrational excitement for something you’re being told to want. The studio’s attitude to why a film should be made will never change, if one fad loses momentum and doesn’t make them a lot of money then they move on to whatever the next popular thing is with the fickle impulse of iPhone users.

Jurassic World

We should always take issue with this attitude, just because something is popular doesn’t make it good, you point to the good examples all you like, they’ll still be the spare golden nuggets which are, ninety-nine percent of the time surrounded by wasteful rock. That wider percentage will end up being more often than not more representative of the medium because of their wide popularity. Of course good movies are being made all the time, but you’re not seeing them.

These are films, made from original screenplays that someone with very special talents produced out of their own will alone, and was lucky enough to get their script made into a feature film. Except these films are never going to have the marketing budget to compete with big-budget, tent-pole franchises, because studios do not consider them financially viable. So the independent cinema scene will continue to wane and any chance of seeing an original work that can delight and surprise will continue to diminish.

It’s an issue that stigmatises sequels, it’s an issue of marketing, of corporate cynicism taking advantage of trends. Producing movies for the sake of projected forecasts in profit rather than the desire to explore narrative potential in a way that naturally continues the story or themes from the original work. A problem further exacerbated when those trends are further validated by the continued financial success of tent pole franchises that merely meet the requirements of what a film needs to achieve. With the upcoming release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, we are going to see this cycle return. There are swaths of internet nerds that think the film looks terrible or even amazing, either way it doesn’t matter. Once you’ve seen the trailer, or the poster, or even the Bat-Superman logo they made for promoting the film, it will make tons of money.

I must sound like an irritable old man complaining about the blaring heavy metal from next door, when I could just put on some headphones or go outside and live a bit. You’re thinking that this whole article is about what this writer believes is going wrong with cinema and you may have no issue with the movies I mentioned. Perhaps that is true, but I don’t care about the continued existence of superhero movies, sequels or remakes so long as they are done interestingly. Also would it hurt to get some more variety and high standards of storytelling, so that filmmakers can continue to surprise, rather than take advantage of the audience?