The problem with subversion and deconstruction is eventually they become so expected that to NOT do a subversion becomes the subversion. It’s a bit of a paradox.
I saw Jack the Giant Slayer a few weeks ago, and what I liked most about it was that it wasn’t attempting to deconstruct the story. I was half-expecting some tale where either Jack becomes a badass or where the giants are merely misunderstood. It’s par for the course at this point. Instead, the film is exactly what it says, a fairly traditional retelling of the original fairy tale. There’s more detail. A princess is added. The golden goose is gone. But what we end up with is the story, often told, of a plucky hero using his wits to save the day from some monsters.
It was refreshing in just how much it didn’t try to change.
On the other end, there’s Oz, a film that doesn’t really need to exist as far as I can tell other than it’s a solid brand name. I wouldn’t say Oz was an attempt at deconstruction, but it was an attempt to add hidden depths where none were required. There’s no need for an origin for the Wicked Witch, and was anyone really asking how the Wizard came to his position in the Emerald City? It isn’t a dreadful film, but Oz didn’t need reinvention.
My favorite recent example of deconstruction failure has to be Kick-Ass 2. What started out as a subversion of the entire genre (albeit an often deeply flawed one) has become guilty of every excess it sought to skewer. In particular, the notion that it is somehow a clever take on the superhero genre falls apart once you realize the “clever” part comes from the swearing and bloodshed, and without that, there’s nothing to distinguish the film from any other generic superhero flick. Take away the intentionally stupid names, the less polished costumes, the mean-spirited nature, the “cooler than this” attitude and you end up with a flick believing it is somehow better than its source material while being every bit the standard superhero movie it was supposedly designed to deconstruct.
Which matters not one bit to anyone who isn’t me apparently.
And that’s cool. I may find Kick-Ass in all its incarnations to be neither fish nor fowl, neither sincere in its storytelling or subversion, but I’m just one guy. If all movies were aimed at me, they’d feature giant robots throwing rocket punches and ninjas fighting dinosaurs.
What’s lost so often with all this forced cleverness and determined subversion is the heart and soul that makes it all worthwhile. I miss sincerity. It’s why my favorite sitcom at the moment is the sublime Parks and Recreations, a show that started out as a weak The Office imitator, then found itself when it realized good, capable characters are worth our time and can be funny too.
One of the reasons I’m not looking forward to the new Superman movie is because I just don’t see a need for it. I don’t need justification for how Superman became a good person, and I don’t need a tale of his acceptance by the people of Earth. That’s really not the story Superman was made to tell, and while I get the appeal of the notion, I’m perfectly fine with Superman as is. He’s a good guy who helps people, and nobody is really afraid of him because he just isn’t someone to be afraid of, despite his incredible power.
Yes, it’s realistic. That’s the whole damn point, isn’t it?
Subversion, deconstruction, parody. They all occupy this dangerous zone, and when done well, they can tell great stories. But just as often, they end up missing out on the charm of the originals. If they should happen to do so while smugly winking at the audience, it’s all the worse. It’s why I struggle against these label myself because they so often become synonymous with disdain for the story itself.
I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. I don’t write about ghost dinosaurs and cyclops battles to make fun of them. I love giant robots. I love epic adventures. I love Superman for being unquestionably good. I love fantasy because it is fantastic, and what I write isn’t intended to be a goof on the genre (and its many sub-genres). I’m sincere in my love of it all, and while I try to add my own spin, I’m also not trying to change it into one big joke in order to show how clever I am. Not always easy, I’ll admit, as I am pretty darned clever.
I love when someone gives me an old story at a new angle, but only if the new angle is worthy of a story. Otherwise, it’s just so much Cooler Than This bravado.
I am not cooler than dinobots because NOTHING is cooler than dinobots.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,