Movies are supposed to distract us from the crappiness of real life, unless they're explicitly about something crappy that happened in real life. But a lot of filmmakers can't help but subtly incorporate subtext rooted in reality. Even some big blockbusters are winking at the audience. SPOILERS for movies such as ...
Spider-Man: Far From HomeIs About Replacing Robert Downey Jr.
Spider-Man has been in the news a lot recently since Marvel and Sony's deal to share custody of the character fell through. Marvel doesn't even get the webslinger on weekends to cook him Hot Pockets for dinner in a bachelor apartment. It's too bad that Spidey won't be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe anymore, especially since his latest solo film, Far From Home, is all about how he was supposed to figure into its future.
While on the surface the movie finds Peter Parker struggling with the prospect of filling Tony Stark's ( occasionally urine-soaked) shoes, the subtext is that Marvel is grooming its replacement for Robert Downey Jr. For starters, Tony leaves Peter a crazy drone defense system (for some reason). Pointedly, the system is controlled with a pair of high-tech sunglasses that make Tom Holland look like Downey -- not just in the movies, but in real life too. Seriously, try to find a photo where Downey isn't wearing giant tinted shades.
Then Mysterio shows up. Right from the get-go, it feels as if he's auditioning to be part of the MCU. He gives himself a tragic origin which incorporates elements of various MCU characters -- a bearded flying genius in the mold of Iron Man, a soldier similar to Captain America, and "a grieving family man like Hawkeye," albeit with a less stupid haircut. It's like Beck is "aware of the tropes of the story he's in." If that wasn't enough, Beck literally creates CG monsters to fight, calling them "worthy of the Avengers" -- which could be read as referring to the team or the movie.
What's Mysterio's plan? To get those glasses, of course. Which is right on theme, because they're the symbolic embodiment of Downey Jr.-ness. And when we see behind Beck's digital curtain, it turns out he's wearing not a fishbowl and cyber-magic armor, but a mo-cap suit -- those ridiculous pajamas Downey had to wear on set.
And since the movie is secretly about vying for Marvel stardom, casting Jake Gyllenhal as Beck is a sly inside joke, because this isn't the first time he's almost usurped a Spider-Man. Back in 2004, Gyllenhaal nearly replaced Tobey Maguire for Spider-Man 2, because the studio was allegedly "irritated" by Maguire's behavior.
Ready Player OneIs About Steven Spielberg And Stanley Kubrick
Ready Player One feels like a ThinkGeek store came to life and wrote a screenplay while drunk. The reference-crammed adventure was directed by legendary filmmaker / cranky old man Steven Spielberg. And while the script was based on a popular book, a lot of elements were changed, making it more personal to the director. Case in point, the main character, Wade, straight up looks like a young Spielberg.
Like Wade, Spielberg came practically out of nowhere and had crazy success right off the bat. Spielberg's first theatrical feature, Jaws, was a smash hit, and he's continued to both direct and produce hit movies in the decades since. Movies like Back To The Future. Wade's first step in an elaborate virtual treasure hunt is to win an insane car race, which he does with his virtual replica of the DeLorean from BTTF. The car was in the book, but the race wasn't. The fact that Wade takes off on his quest using an icon from one of Spielberg's own projects feels significant.
The bulk of the movie is about how Wade idolizes the socially awkward creator of the virtual reality world he loves, James Halliday. Who was Spielberg's idol? Stanley Kubrick, who was a "hero and mentor" to him. In the biggest deviation from the book, Wade's second challenge finds him journeying inside a recreation of the Overlook Hotel from The Shining.
Which isn't a random choice. That's how Spielberg met Kubrick. He was waiting to shoot Raiders Of The Lost Ark on the same soundstage where Kubrick built the interiors for the Overlook. They soon became friends, and eventually began collaborating on what would become A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Which you might remember is all about robots. And how does Wade connect with Halliday? Through archived recordings that are curated by a robot.
In the end, Wade wins the contest and Halliday leaves him both his fortune the keys to his legacy. Similarly, shortly before his death, Kubrick decided not to direct A.I., but opted instead to entrust the project to Spielberg. One could argue that inheriting a vast VR playground is slightly better than getting a job filming Jude Law pretend to be a robot gigolo, but still.
Toy Story 4-- Forky Is The Movie
The Toy Story series has been running for almost a quarter-century now. The original was made back when people thought giving Tim Allen a lucrative movie gig was a solid idea. Toy Story 3 offered a perfect ending for the lovable gang of sentient playthings, and the series formed a solid trilogy. So there's really no reason for Toy Story 4 to exist ... and it's precisely that sense of purposelessness which drives its entire story.
The movie is represented in the (somewhat existentially terrifying) character of Forky, a Spork who gains consciousness thanks to whatever fickle gods rule the Pixar-verse. Forky feels like he shouldn't exist. He even spends the entire first act trying to hurl himself into the garbage. Incidentally, the writers of Toy Story 4 reportedly threw out "75% of the script" at one point, which the director later claimed was something that happened "every day." So both the story and Forky kept finding their way into the trash.
Forky eventually learns to accept his existence because he makes Bonnie happy, just as the writers presumably realized that their work would similarly make kids happy (and also, you know, boatloads of money). Instead of shying away from the strain of being the fourth movie in a 24-year-old series, the story makes that strain its "emotional spine."
Meanwhile, Woody walks away from being a child's toy to live his own life. Which makes sense. The first movie can be interpreted as a clash between traditional animation (the old-fashioned cowboy Woody) and the newfangled computer animation Toy Story pioneered (futuristic spaceman Buzz). In the end, there's room for both of them in Andy's room, and at the time, there was room for both kinds of animation to entertain kids. But in 2019, Disney has "no current plans" to make another traditionally animated feature. So likewise, it's time for Woody to pack it in and follow whatever wild, hedonistic life isn't suitable for impressionable Pixar audiences.
Dark PhoenixAccidentally Parallels The Fox Buyout
Not a lot of people went to go see the latest X-Men movie, Dark Phoenix. This was possibly due to the fact we'd already seen a crappy version of the same story written by the same guy, or maybe because by the time the movie hit theaters, Disney had bought Fox and we all knew they would likely be rebooting the characters within the MCU, sending the original X-Men continuity to live on a nice farm upstate. In what seemed like a subtle nod to the real-life developments in the superhero movie game, at one point, the X-Men get captured by the "Mutant Containment Unit."
Director Simon Kinberg claims the acronym was coincidental, and he didn't realize the connection until a costume designer showed him the shoulder patches. But rather than scrap their plans and waste a bunch of perfectly good props, Kinberg decided to embrace the accidental meta subtext with "a wink and a smile." Sure, the MCU beats up and imprisons the X-Men, but by the end, they're all fighting together to rid the world of ... ah, who knows, we'd already walked out by then.
It Really Seems Like The New Dumbo Is A Middle Finger To Disney
"The story of a social outcast surrounded by circus folk" could describe almost any Tim Burton movie, so it's perhaps not surprising that he was hired to direct Disney's live-action remake of Dumbo. Despite the fact that he keeps making blockbuster Disney movies (some more insane than others), he still seemingly has some problems with the Mouse House. We've mentioned before how A Nightmare Before Christmas was Burton working through his issues with the studio that fired him in the '80s, and Dumbo seems to be doing something similar.
The villain of the movie is V.A. Vandevere, a conspicuously Disney-like entrepreneur known as the "architect of dreams." Vandevere runs an amusement park called "Dreamland" that couldn't look more like an off-brand Disneyland, right down to its main street and Tomorrowland-like rocket ship ride.
Vandevere is a beloved celebrity, but behind the scenes, he's a ruthless businessman. He wants Dumbo to be a part of his park, so he proposes a merger with our heroes' ramshackle travelling circus. Once he gets what he wants, he fires them all, which is somewhat reminiscent of Burton's own history with Disney. It's also pretty prescient commentary, seeing as this movie came out shortly before Disney's takeover of Fox led to thousands of layoffs. It sure seems like this Disney movie is one big "F-you" to the way Disney does business.
Further underscoring the Disney/Dreamland connection, once Dumbo's act is off the ground (so to speak), they start selling toys that look like the original cartoon character. You know, like the ones they sell at Disney parks.
And while we're pointing out the odd meta aspects of this movie, how about the fact that it's basically an inverse of Batman Returns? Danny DeVito is still a loner surrounded by circus workers, but he's now the good guy. And Michael Keaton is still a millionaire, but he's the bad guy. Still, the weirdest part is that this film was made by Disney. It's like if An Inconvenient Truth had been funded by a sentient cloud of carbon emissions.
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