Why Grit Is Now A Substitute for Glorious
While I’d love it to flesh out what makes some dark movies great cinema and others not, and how a movie can have it both ways – Casino Royale, anyone? – the points this article makes are good.
What I want to focus on is this:
What bothers me more is the critical attitude that reads a film like Dark Knight Rises as nuanced or complex due to its moral ambiguity… rather than, you know, a film that contradicts itself on literally every conceivable thematic level, to the point where the film is a giant grimdark mess of growling and posturing, sound and fury saying nothing. The flip side of that, of course, is that a film like Pacific Rim is treated as somehow naive or insignificant because it dares, gasp!, to have not just a unified message, but a quite positive, affirmative message . . .
First, I’m not against wholly dark, gritty superhero films, let alone dark, morally ambiguous cinema. Second, Transformers is as fluff as it gets and is not worthy to polish the breastplate of Pacific Rim. So of course I’m not saying ‘lack of grit = good.’
But lately films are aiming for saturated darkness and conflicted morality to the detriment of plot clarity, visual details, unified message/theme, and truly nuanced character. Instead, explosions, forced dilemmas, trucks flipping, and quasi-existential-angst stand in for those things. Style and character over blankets of dark substance, by the way, is a large part of why Spider-Man (2002) is worlds better than Spider-Man 3 (2007), and Marvel’s The Avengers is better than The Dark Knight Rises, and Iron Man is better than Superman.
If films which aren’t “a giant grimdark mess of growling and posturing, sound and fury saying nothing” are also better and clearer and still make all the money, then why the influx of brooding demigods? ‘Dark and bloody’ is accepted as ‘deeper and better,’ so filmmakers are concentrating on the grit to the exclusion of much else. The public and Academy lauds the films in the one category over the other, calls them Important because they’re Serious, and ignores their deep flaws. Meanwhile, people may shell out big money for things like Pacific Rim and Iron Man, but simultaneously dismiss these coherent movies as ‘popcorn flicks,’ as if saying a tentpole movie needs anguish and confusion to make it Art. Why make a clean blockbuster when you can make a sloppier blockbuster which may get an Academy Award?
Something being dark from beginning to end doesn’t make it ‘better’ as a film. I will argue all day long Charade (1963) is a better film in every possible way than the aforementioned piles of grit, or the somewhat more plot-similar The Bourne Legacy, let alone its more serious remake The Truth About Charlie. But nobody seems to want to lighten up. Instead, The Dark Knight being passed over for Best Picture nomination helped extend the category to 10, but even then Bridesmaids couldn’t nab a nod. (To be fair, neither could the darker Skyfall.)
All this serves to cement the idea if you have a confusing, poorly edited movie but slather it with delusions of important themes, you will be lauded much more than a taut, tightly woven picture which doesn’t take itself . . . so seriously.