I acknowledge that this complaint is going to sound both basic and obvious, not to mention asinine, but still it needs to be said: movies are too long. Especially right now, movies are too long. Last week saw the release of First Man, Bad Times At The El Royale, and on Netflix, 22 July, clocking in at 2 hours 21 minutes, 2 hours 21 minutes, and 2 hours 23 minutes, respectively. A 140-minute movie should be a rare thing (in fact it should probably require congressional approval). When we get three on the same weekend, it’s become a problem.
This isn’t to say that two hours and twenty minutes is always too long, but it was certainly too long for these movies. It’s not that you should never make a movie that long, it’s just that if you do, you should be thinking long and hard about whether it needs to be long. Sometimes the answer is yes, and that’s fine, but it has to feel like someone at least asked. This week felt like no one asked, or didn’t ask hard enough. Which hurts not just individual movies but, to some extent, all movies.
This isn’t just about modern moviegoers having shorter attention spans, although that’s undoubtedly true, and at some point you have to start questioning the ability of art to change that. This generation works longer hours for less money and fewer vacations, with massive debt and no retirement savings, so of course we have stingier budgets for our leisure time. We have to finish the popcorn and go drive Ubers or do Taskrabbits or whatever. (My colleague Brian Grubb argues that nothing in modern life should last longer than two hours.)
But it’s also about the movies themselves. Both First Man and El Royale have plenty to recommend them, visually tasteful and artistically innovative, and both come to feel like a bit of a drag towards the end. It’s the length specifically that’s the problem (22 July had plenty of others). It’s the only thing keeping them from wholehearted recommendations.