Movies Have Let America Down This Summer

Man, what the hell, movies?

This has been a shit summer. There’s no question about that – and for many, many, many reasons. There’s a lot going on, and it’s all very depressing. And a problem for a lot of people (including myself) is there’s been little opportunity for meaningful, temporary escapism.

Mainstream movies this summer, for a lot of people the go-to method of escapism, have been mostly atrocious. Yeah, yeah, “What about The Lobster?” Hey, that’s a good movie. And I am a lucky human being because, living in New York City, I have access to all kinds of wonderful movies, but most people don’t. (When I lived in St. Louis, there was basically one boutique theater in the metropolitan district, which usually meant a 30 minute drive, at least, for most St. Louis residents if they wanted to see a typical arthouse movie.)

There are other factors at play here: With no Jon Stewart there’s no constant “voice of reason” on late night television right now. Samantha Bee and John Oliver are only on once a week. Seth Meyers is on at 12:30 a.m., which is too late for most people with jobs to watch on a consistent basis. And Stephen Colbert, even with his convention, is still figuring things out.* It’s really been tough not having that, “Oh, someone else feels the same way I do and he’s just as mad as I am,” dose of catharsis every night. This kind of thing made me less angry and sad. It’s like I could will my emotions onto Stewart and then I felt better. No wonder he left. And no wonder Twitter seems even nastier these days. Everyone is mad and there’s no outlet.

[*This was illustrated last week by that clip of Colbert being asked before the show what he’d say to Trump if Trump were on the show that night. Colbert gave a strong response that sent the audience into a frenzy. But the reality is, the last time Trump was on Colbert’s show, Colbert literally apologized to Trump for past jokes. This comes as sharp contrast to the clip of Letterman that Hillary Clinton is using, showing Dave attack Trump for having his Trump brand ties manufactured in China. Until this new iteration of Colbert actually does go after a candidate, it’s still a work in progress.]

Matt Singer at ScreenCrush crunched the numbers to prove that this really is a dismal summer for studio movies. (He used science!) And the box office numbers are down, too. People aren’t going as much. (This is where I have to mention there have been good studio movies. Captain America: Civil War is terrific. The upcoming Pete’s Dragon is great. Nice Guys was dynamite. The new Ghostbusters made me laugh. Star Trek Beyond is a good movie.) But, overall, it just feels like a constant grind of dreck. And I think that’s why critics are so bummed out about Suicide Squad. Contrary to popular belief, critics want to like movies. Suicide Squad felt like a pretty safe bet to be “good,” but then it turns out to be one of the worst movies of the summer. I have talked to many people in private conversations and the mood is for sure, “What a bummer.”

I truly believe this is why Pokémon GO has become so popular. It’s become the perfect distraction when the other distractions from this terrible summer we used to like aren’t there or aren’t good anymore. This game hasn’t just caught on with Pokémon fans (I love this game and know nothing about Pokémon) or gamers: It’s caught on with everyone. That’s remarkable.

Asking someone if he or she plays Pokémon GO now gets an affirmative answer as much as being asked if someone has seen The Force Awakens. People have found something else to do. Last night, instead of seeing a new movie, I wandered around Central Park catching Pokémon. It was glorious. It’s everything I wanted at that particular moment. It was the perfect distraction I used to feel from summer movies, but now I have to get that joy from capturing a digital Victreebel.

And then The Hollywood Reporter files its story Wednesday about the behind the scenes (I refuse to use the overused “dumpster fire” analogy, so I need a new one – what can I use? How about “trash bin blaze”? Eh, that’s a little too close. I think I will use “dirty litter box ammonia heap”) dirty litter box ammonia heap that was the production of Suicide Squad. The ragtag way this movie was put together – by letting a company who makes movie trailers make a cut of the film – is just depressing. It’s not surprising. Suicide Squad is not the first movie that this has happened to and it won’t be the last.

But, dammit, mainstream, potential blockbuster movies are important. They are. And they need to be better. I love indie films. I travel for film festivals, but the big budget films are what everyday people see on a regular basis. (Or, this summer, mostly not see.) These movies help shape our collective consciousness and collective moods. And, this summer, they are not there. For the most part, these films – entertainment! – have not been there to entertain us. They have only been there to make people angrier for wasting their hard earned money on a bad product. We deserve better and this just stinks.

The argument that all big budget studio films are “bad” and “critics hate them” is stupid. Because that’s exactly why this is all so frustrating: Big budget studio films can absolutely be good! I’ve seen them. You’ve seen them. They exist. So this is possible, so that’s why it’s so baffling we’ve run across so few of them in recent months.

There’s a line, “no one sets out to make a bad movie.” I still believe that’s true on an individual basis. But I’m starting to have my doubts when it comes to a corporate level. And I worry this isn’t going to stop anytime soon.

Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.