So Why Won't Hollywood Lighten Up A Bit?

The Dark Knight, Star Trek Into Darkness, Oblivion, the list goes on. Esquire's editor Alex Bilmes wants to know why our blockbusters have gone all doom and gloom.

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It’s the beginning of blockbuster season and all across the universe — and doubtless in unknown galaxies beyond — cinemas are going dark.

Not as in shutting up shop — although if they go on like this, who knows? — but putting on sad faces, cranking up the mournful music and releasing crepuscular ad campaigns in which doomy voiceovers prophesy the end of the world while familiar comic-book heroes are water-boarded by sniggering supervillains.

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That’ll be 15 quid for the ticket and another fiver for popcorn, mate. Dark days, indeed.

Following the success of The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises (as well as the releases, in 2012, of Dark Shadows, Dark Tide, Dark Horse, In Darkness, In the Dark Half and The Darkest Hour), this summer we are to be confronted — after this month’s Dark Skies, of course — with Star Trek Into Darkness, in which the crew of the USS Enterprise presumably take a turn up a blind alley.

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Later in the year, we’ll be treated to Thor: The Dark World, which doesn’t sound too cheery, does it? Iron Man 3 will, we are promised, be the “darkest” in that series to date.

As dark as Zero Dark Thirty? Wait and (try to) see. Darker than 2011’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon? Hard to say, in this light.

Meanwhile, the next episode in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy carries the effervescent title The Desolation of Smaug. And the forthcoming Superman film, called Man of Steel lest anyone should confuse it with a light-hearted mainstream entertainment, ditches the screwball comedy that made the Christopher Reeve movies so enjoyable in favour of agonised soul searching, psychological torment and all the rest of that feel-good stuff.

Tom Cruise’s next project is called, simply, Oblivion. Sounds like a right laugh, Tom. Any vicious terrorists in it? Hope so.

Personally, I’m most looking forward to Pirates of the Caribbean 5: Seriously, What’s the Point?, and Toy Story 4: We’re All Going To Die. And the Star Wars reboot, Episode VII: Anyone Got a Torch on Them?

At a certain point in the past decade big budget, mainstream Hollywood films went not just dark, but sombre, pretentious and boring: overlong, overwritten and, especially, overacted, by a new breed of “tortured”, grunting, method-bound muscleman.

Some of the fault for all this can be written off to the global economic downturn, the war on terror, climate change, Simon Cowell’s haircut and other contemporary ills: dark films for dark times.

More blame, perhaps, can be laid at the drawbridge (heavy, black, creaky, dungeon-like) of Christopher Nolan, the director of the psychopathically glum, monstrously successful Dark Knight series, as well as the ultimate stupid person’s idea of a clever film, Inception. (I’m a fairly stupid person myself; like recognises like.)

In Nolanworld, wisecracks are banned, laughter is absent, enjoyment is frowned upon and the wishes of the audience are sublimated to the vision of the auteur.

Which is cool if you’re watching a Michael Haneke film about an old lady dying. But seems a shame if it’s a bums-on-seats bubblegum blockbuster you’re after.

These summer juggernauts are immune to criticism, of course. You’ll eventually see one or two of them, either at the cinema or on DVD or on a plane or on-demand, if only because surrender to intergalactic power is easier than resistance.

That’s fine. Just don’t expect to leave with a spring in your step. Those days are gone, miserable earthlings.

Dark Skies is out on 5 April; Oblivion is out on 12 April; Iron Man 3 is out on 28 April; Star Trek Into Darkness is out on 9 May.

by Alex Bilmes

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