May 20, 2013
It’s that time of the year again — time for the most American of American products to flood the pop-culture consciousness of an entire world populace.
It’s what we do best: Exporting explosions, spectacle, car chases, crime, drunken debauchery, fated lovers, suspension of the laws of physics and Vin Diesel.
In celebration of a holiday perfectly suited for these behemoth films to bludgeon moviegoers into blissful submission, I thought it would be good to dissect this annual tradition and see which has the best chance of coming out the winner (whatever that means, as judged solely by me, cynically).
It’s especially interesting this holiday because we have three of the most epic trilogies of ALL TIME going head to head-to-head, in a desperate bid for Memorial Day greatness (kidding, they just want your money).
“6 Fast 6 Furious” (aka, The Fast and The Furious Trilogy 2: 3 Fast 3 Furious, redux)
Wow. What an entry into the Memorial Day foray. It’s got everything anyone could ever want in a movie. Exotic locales, Vin Diesel’s supple bald head, Paul Walker “acting”, cars, cars, T&A, and MORE CARS COMING OUT OF FLAMING B-52S!!! Just wrap you mind around this promo photo. While this film is billed as “6 Furious”, it’s more the third film in the second “Fast and the Furious” trilogy after the franchise successfully rebooted itself from “street racing subculture flick” to “over-the-top, billion-dollar, check-your-logic-at-the-door, genre grab bag.” A master stroke if I do say so. But all they’re doing is giving the people what they want. As a franchise the movies have made over $1.5 billion combined worldwide, with no sign of slowing down.
But what has made such a global juggernaut? Well, admittedly, they are exquisitely well made. “Fast 5” was a brilliant, operatic display of bombast. Sure there was no logic or physics or acting really to speak of, but anyone who saw it would be lying if they didn’t jump of their seat at least once, shouting “OMG, THEY JUST DESTROYED A BANK WITH A STOLEN SAFE!!!” Toss in a few wry smiles from Vin Diesel, too-thin models in bikinis, sweaty Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson flexing his pecs, and you have everything a male between the ages of 12 and 17.5 could possibly want.
Trilogy Score: 7.9 / 64.5% (rolling mean average)
Weekend Box Office Prediction: Eleventy-twelve bajillion dollars
“The Hangover III” (aka, less of a comedy than “Hangover II”)
Bad reviews be damned, the Wolfpack is back!! And by all accounts they’re up to their old, loveable shenanigans (not at all, actually). In what may be the most obvious and shameless attempt to take a good idea that turned out to be a box-office smash and turn it into a frantic money grab. Still, the dream threesome have charisma to spare. So the second movie was a grimier, Thai-set carbon copy of the first. It still featured Bradley Cooper’s “Sexiest Man Alive” smile and tasteful 5 o’clock shadow. Zach Galififiniakiasias barely has to do much more than have a beard for audiences to pay the price of admission and boy do they. The two movies so far have earned an amazing $1 billion worldwide, which is absolutely unheard of for an R-rated comedy. But the indulgent debauchery and escapist “boys will be boys” fantasy does sell. Even when American comedies tend to perform poorer overseas, “The Hangover” has managed to transcend cultural differences with its unique brand of explosive, over the top physical comedy and raunch. Oh, and Ken Jeong. A guilty pleasure for sure.
Trilogy Score: 11 (base 6) / .5 style bonus
Weekend Box Office Prediction: $89.4 million (exactly)
What? You haven’t heard of “Before Midnight”? A trilogy spanning over 18 years of real time, that features little more than two lovers strolling exotic locales and waxing quixotic on their life, love, and mortality. Oh, and absolutely ZERO explosions in the whole thing. Well, Richard Linklater’s existential epic featuring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawk as star-crossed lovers every nine years in their romantic life cycle, is a flat out masterpiece. Featuring a chance encounter on a train 18 years ago, both actually and in the character’s lives, 1995’s “Before Sunrise” put Delpy and Hawke in love at first sight mode.
Soaking up the last moments of a Vienna night, probing deep into each other’s souls and the fate that brought them together. After nine years, the lovers are back in 2004’s “Before Sunset”. After parting ways and moving on with their lives, they find themselves meeting, talking, and strolling the streets of Paris. And now, another nine years, Hawk and Delpy find themselves in “Before Midnight”, starring at the sundown of their lives, wondering why they did what they did and why they loved the way they loved.
If this were the preceding two movies, the trailer would come with an booming, stentorian “The EPIC conclusion to the trilogy of a lifetime” but in this case, it’s not too far off. This IS the trilogy of a lifetime, it’s just the characters’ lifetime, as inhabited by Delpy and Hawke. We know them, like distant friends coming over for dinner after a long absence. We feel for them and we want their true love to end in happily ever after. While life intervenes and nothing is perfect, we’ll get to see, finally, how these two conclude their epic romance. In many ways, it’s completely antithetical to “6F6F” and “Hangover III”. It lacks the spectacle, budget, big name stars, etc. but in other ways it’s even more epic. A giant story tackling life’s biggest issues, spanning real/imagined space and time. It does things other movies can only look at an admire. The films so far have made meager box office, only $20 million, but that’s not really the point. It’s that Linklater has created something fully fleshed out, deeply human, and incredibly engrossing.
Trilogy Score: 11 (one louder)
Weekend Box Office Prediction: €1.5M (<—- Euros)
Winner: “Before Midnight”
Conclusion: Why? Because I’m the judge. Don’t get me wrong, I will be the first in line to buy tickets for “Fast and Furious 6”, it does have a CAR FLYING OUT OF A CRASHING PLANE after all. But “Before Midnight” does something important for content these days, it tells a completely engrossing, character-based story in an economical way. This is a film that can boast a fan base, people who will show up because they know and love the previous two films. It also invested deeply in the audience’s investment in the characters. To me, it’s an unheralded example of how to make compelling content. Connect with an audience on an emotional level and invest them in the story your telling. If you do that, you don’t need $100 million worth of CGI mayhem and debauchery. Not as many people will see it but those who do, at least won’t be walking out of the theatre hating life.
If Memorial Day is for movies, at least think about supporting ones that aren’t clangorous monstrosities. And if you do, do so responsibly.