The problem with a movie having a guaranteed audience is that the people making it are more likely than usual to get lazy, to think they don’t have to create a masterpiece, because they’ll make money anyway. This weekend, I saw two very different movies with two very different guaranteed audiences, both of which I think feel victim to this phenomenon, but to different extents.
Love and Friendship takes its name from a short epistolary novella written by a teenage Jane Austen, although it’s difficult to tell why, since it is in fact an adaptation of a completely different unpublished work of her, a much darker epistolary novel she titled Lady Susan, the exact writing date of which is unknown, although the manuscript dates from a few years before she first published in 1811, so definitely would reflect her writing style then, although some will insist she first drafted it earlier, and she wrote it in the same satirical vein as Love and Friendship.
That certainly seems to be what writer/direcotr Whit Stillman seems to believe, since that’s what he presented it as. Except he didn’t make the satire nearly as biting as Austen can make hers. Instead he just created scenes and opportunities for lines from the novel to be spoken by the characters, since he knew that was what his audience was coming for, put them all on the cheap period-looking locales available in Ireland, as well as in the costumes and with the music that the audience also likes, strung the scenes together to they mostly matched the plot of Lady Susan, and called it a movie. The problem is, this doesn’t really work for a movie, at least not one you want to have any real substance to it. In fact the original novel is a pretty dark and cynical work(which was why Austen’s family wouldn’t have allowed her to publish it; they practiced major image control of her both during and after her life), something Stillman completely failed to make any use of it. The cast was given nothing to work with; Stephen Fry made a heroic effort anyway, but he didn’t even have enough screentime for it to make a difference. The dialogue was diverting, but that’s not enough to carry a movie. It ran 92 minutes, and by the end of it I was just waiting for the damn thing to be over already.
X-Men: Apocalypse had a far bigger guaranteed audience; in fact I went even after the mixed reviews, mostly because I’d heard there was important Cherik interaction, and I’ve shipped that since long before it got that portmanteau. It too had a sloppily written script, especially plotwise; it only works if you avoid thinking about it too much, and even if you don’t you feel the absurdity of it by the end. Also they continue to be sloppy with continuity, especially with the characters they introduce for this one; maybe at a stretch Kurt Wagner already being a teenage in the Munich circus can be made to work with the version of him we saw in X2, but why on Earth did they throw Jubilee in when she shouldn’t even be born yet, and then they didn’t even make much use of her?!(Setting up for next movie, maybe?). But on the other hand, they at least realized they had to put the work in for the characters, and especially aforementioned Cherik. Also Mystique, who arguably in the closest thing this movie has to a main protagonist, and continues to come into her own as a complicated heroine you root for. The situations these characters get into don’t feel real, but their emotions do.
Also, now that he has his franchise back, Bryan Singer ain’t gonna get lazy with his directing. There were two sequences that might have been the best pieces of pure moviemaking to come out of the franchise so far. First the dramatic one that combines a good supervillain speech, good acting from James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, an understanding and ability to convey how frightening it can be when something crazy happens everywhere in the world, and Beethoven, that had me on the edge my seat. Then, right after, one that combined perfect comic timing with a well-realized super-powered character and Annie Lennox that was equally as brilliant in its own way(you can argue we saw this already last movie, but the sequences are entertaining enough for there to be two of them). The script might not understand how crazy a story this was, but Singer had already created said story before handing it off to the screenwriter, and he knew what to do with it. This movie ran 144 minutes, and it didn’t seem too long at all.
There was also a post-credits scene that I’m sure made perfect sense to those that have read the comics, and obviously is setting up for the next movie. I’ll be back in my seat for that one.