It feels as something has been missing from big studio films in recent memory, at least when you ask general audiences. The kind of archaic, action-heavy and pathos-ridden blockbusters that usually draw many to the theatre, seem to have lost their appeal. In the exact moment where the cinema as an institution has gained a major rival in the form of streaming services, the films that usually gel so well on the big screen, with their opulent production design and their often CG-supported visual grandeur, seem have lost contact to their potential audiences, no matter how visually inventive or audacious they are. Some of these films get a push in the case of a positive critical reception or massive marketing campaigns, but in general, new franchises are hit hard at the box office. Recent examples are plenty and to be fair, many of these films are forgettable. But even films that truly stand out have to take major losses in their cinema runs.
One example is Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow (2014), an action film with a star-studded cast, a talented crew and stellar reviews. It concisely mixed genre conventions into big entertainment — but despite the quality on display and the accessibility in the film’s storytelling, the general public wasn’t interested in seeing it. And while they didn’t get away with a positive critic’s consensus, flopped films such as the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending (2015) and Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) have gained a community of fans, who admire them for their courage to be original in their vision of spectacle and who prevent their names from being forgotten in the flash flood of the contemporary blockbuster landscape. It’s a slightly different story with Mortal Engines — but not all too different.
The base setup of the film is one that seems to be, in theory, a safe bet: produced and co-written by Peter Jackson, who used to be the biggest name of the industry in relation to the type of filmmaking in question, Mortal Engines somehow managed to completely bomb at the box office. It is actually quite a shame, because the film keeps its promise of – big – and manages to possess much more vigor and excitement than the average blockbuster film.
On Monday night, I was invited to the IMAX Headquarters to attend a screening of Mission: Impossible – Fallout followed by a Q&A with director Christopher McQuarrie, hosted and moderated by Collider’s Steven “Frosty” Weintraub. Fallout has been a major hyper fixation with me this year, so of course, I was dying to make that quick hop to L.A. for my last time viewing the film in a theater. After a quick check-in, the attendees were seated and left alone to witness the halo-jump scene in glorious laser-projection.
There’s no official review of Fallout on the site, but I can personally vouch for it. If you managed to avoid seeing it this whole summer, just know that it’s a rollercoaster ride of a blockbuster that never slows down. For popcorn action flick standards, the direction of this spectacle film is so artful and distinct that it made for one of the most memorable and thrilling cinema experiences all year.
After the screening, Christopher McQuarrie showed up in the flesh to respond to Weintraub’s questions and then opened the floor to our own. A lot was discussed in those two hours. The full transcript can be found on Collider, but I’ve compiled a few of my favorite moments from the Q&A here:
Many film critics and industry publications will tell you a version of the same concept, that the age of the Hollywood star is over.
What they mean has more to do with power behind the camera than screen presence. Where we still find visible old-school star power doubling as negotiating power seems to rest mostly with an older generation of actors who also run production companies. Brad Pitt and Plan B Entertainment, Leonardo DiCaprio and Appian Way Productions,Tom Cruise and Cruise/Wagner Productions.
Rarer still is the helming of an extended franchise, from production to release, at the hands of a single person, with that same person as its star. There are a few franchises that have done this successfully, molding them into cinematic touchstones: Sylvester Stallone with Rocky, Vin Diesel with the Fast and the Furious franchise (though this arrangement took place later in the series’ history), and Tom Cruise with Mission: Impossible.
These are case studies in what it means to have outsized power in a landscape that is already wildly unequal. These are predominantly action franchises willed into being, or into continuation, by men who command extensive studio contracts numbering in the ten of millions of dollars. These are endeavors commanded by a kind of arrogance (or “ambition”) that has to exist for such an idea to gain traction. These are structures built on the auspices of “family”, moral fortitude, trust in the loyalty of others, and the singular conviction of their protagonists to succeed against impossible odds.
These are idealized redemption stories about what it means to make movies.