Avatar 2, Top Gun: Maverick, and a year of violent denial

In the final season of The good fight, turmoil is always present. On one side is a crowd protesting. On the other is the police. In all 10 episodes, it is never said what the group is angry about. The only thing that is clear is that it is growing: steadily, steadily, exponentially. Yet inside the office building where the Paramount Plus legal drama takes place for the most part, it’s business as usual. There are cases to be won. The show must go on.

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The highest grossing film of 2022, Top Gun: Maverick, is a film with a huge void in the middle. Critically acclaimed for its craftsmanship and verisimilitude in a world where blockbusters thrive on unreality, the film sees Tom Cruise reprise his role as ace pilot Maverick to train a new generation of hotshots for an important mission. Someone has a terrible weapon of mass destruction and it has to be taken out. Who has these weapons? It does not matter. The picture doesn’t say. To mention them would be worse than the film’s heroes failing in their mission. That would rob the audience of something to feel good about.

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Taking in the popular culture of 2022 often felt like an exercise in denial. Just like in our real lives, as the institutions of government and public health continued to erode in the face of a dictatorial conspiratorial minority and the ongoing pandemic, the already shaky structures that underlie the entertainment industry began to crumble, even as the executives in charge tried to come through like nothing would be

Maverick poses in profile with his pack of young bucks in a spectacular sunset shot for Top Gun: Maverick

Photo: Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures

The movie industry, still recovering from the pandemic and focused on streaming shareholders, tried to return to a world where people would attend movies in theaters, despite the actual conditions that made those expectations foolish and dizzying. A number of Covid-era changes in policy left viewers unsure of what they could even expect anymore. Even Disney, the real box office champion, failed to catch on as its most popular cartoons like Turning red were relegated to streaming as mediocre or poorly marketed films flopped in theaters. Taken in conjunction with a Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase that felt pointless and Star Wars once dominating theaters retreating to TV shows documenting its past, even the mega-franchises seemed less reliable than before.

At the same time, streaming TV began to collapse, with Netflix entering an era of despair and the bill for the massive merger of Warner Bros. Discovery launched. Both of these dramatic dissolutions played out in eerily similar ways: Sudden, drastic, and barely justified cuts to cartoon programming, strongholds of shows that both featured diverse characters and employed diverse creators, and in WBD’s case, entire streaming movies and shows uprooted. from HBO Max servers, both undermining the streamer’s mission statement and calling into question the value of its one and only product: Streaming TV.

In response, audiences looked elsewhere: Among the biggest stories in cinemas this year is the surprise success of the Telugu blockbuster RRR. Franchise television achieved its greatest success in a revolution, as House of the Dragon and Andor took familiar iconography and turned them into stories of rebellion. Reflecting a moment of national unrest, labor took the spotlight in acclaimed plays such as Retirement and comedies like Abbot’s Primary School. And hating the rich might even be cool again, like Series gave way The white lotus or movies like The menu, Glass onionand Triangle of grief.

Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc standing in a pool holding a drink in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Photo: Netflix

What is disconcerting about being a passive spectator in all this – either as a casual viewer of entertainment, or as a critic – is the steadfast insistence on continuing as if things were normal. It’s strange to fret over box office numbers when the reason numbers were depressed in the first place – the pandemic – is still an ongoing concern. When movies connected, like Top Gun: Maverickthe sleep terror struck Smileor the end of the year Avatar: The Way of the Waterthe reason cited is often the same as Jordan Peele Nope warned earlier this summer: the spectacle that reigns supreme. A critic who complains about franchise dominance is old hat, but in 2022, that dominance started to crack the backbone of the entire company, making it something that seems hard to walk back from.

The challenge of marking time in the digital age is a form of time inflation—an hour just won’t get you as far as it used to these days, with so many things vying for your attention, and creeping expectations that you’re supposed to be doing more with said an hour than you did in previous years. Arguably, this reached an inflection point in 2022, as franchise bloat peaked, producing lonely stories that required all manner of extracurriculars, from an inordinate amount of Rings of Power to the ambivalent skepticism of the “multiverse” as explored in the post-MCUSpider-Man: No Way Home, a movie based on stolen power. Coupled with a shrinking animation scene and fewer platforms for stories not based on massive IP, it’s hard to feel good about what’s in store for 2023. Looking back, all that’s clear is chaos, where the art is cunning in favor of machines built to take time away from the audience, if it can’t have money.

The final episode of the series on The good fight, ominously titled “The End of Everything,” relies on a dark metatextual joke. One of the most striking things about the show is its long opening sequence, in which office furniture – telephones, desks, coffee thermoses – blow everything up in a studio setting. “The End of It All” makes this figurative imagery literal, as the show depicts the crowd from the season escalating into a riot, which is then used by white supremacists as an opportunity to open fire into the show’s predominantly black law enforcement offices. company, Reddick Boseman. During the gunfire, the show recreates its opening: phones shatter, decanters, vases, laptops. No one dies, but the show is over after this – closing the loop on a tongue-in-cheek montage sequence by recasting it as a warning that hasn’t been heeded in five years.

Distilling years of art into neat treats is often unnecessary for that art, at a basic level. Doing so in 2022 is exponentially faster, as art was treated as frivolity by its stewards and an empty store carried it off. It’s hard to feel like the bright spots are a foothold for optimism, as much as they are the bittersweet note the band plays while the doomed ship sinks.


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