What with Iron Man 3, Oblivion, Elysium, Pacific Rim and the myriad other blockbusting sci-fi movies coming out, 2013 is shaping up to be a great year for the genre.
If by “genre” you mean “these four ideas repeated over and over again.”
4. Earth is About to Get Trashed
Wanna go see a movie this summer where Earth ends up okay? Too bad, that’s literally impossible, because apparently “destroying the world” is the only thing anyone ever does in the future.
Star Trek Into Darkness is pretty straight forward about it, opening its international trailer with Benedict Cumberbatch monotoning “You think your world is safe? It is an illusion.” Oblivion gets a little more specific: “60 years ago, Earth was attacked. We won the war, but they destroyed half the planet.” In Pacific Rim, the aliens are “counting on humans to give up, to fail” After Earth, This is the End and World’s End all have it right there in their frickin’ titles.
Elysium, to its infinite credit, is a little more subtle. They just say “The poor live on Earth” and then show us this:
Subtle is relative in this case.
3. The Hero Doesn’t Know What’s Going On
Another consistent theme is that our hero won’t really understand what he (or she. Haha! Just kidding. Women can’t be heroes) is up against.
Star Trek Into Darkness is, again, the stand out here because they haven’t even told us who the villain is (even though it’s pretty obviously Khan Noonien Singh, from Wrath of Khan), but the other movies are clearly following suit. Most of the Oblivion trailer is Tom Cruise screaming “Tell me what’s going on!” at people. If you’ve read Ender’s Game, then you know exactly how the upcoming film fits into this category, and Edgar Wright’s The World’s End (the third in his “Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy” following Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) is a comedy lampooning this very idea.
What’s this mean? Apparently Hollywood executives have decided that we, as an audience, are desperate for confused heroes kept thoroughly out of the loop by forces beyond their control.
Interpret that little observation however you want.
2. Friggin’ Robot Suits, Man
Seriously, look at this:
Forget puny human flesh! The future is all about putting on robot armor and using it to fuck shit up. Elysium casts Matt Damon as a proletariat Iron Man, while Iron Man 3 casts Robert Downey Jr. as a bourgeois Matt Damon. The upcoming Robocop remake hasn’t released too many details, but I think it’s a pretty safe bet that updating it for the Twitter generation didn’t involve removing the “he’s a robot cop” angle.
And then, of course, we have Pacific Rim, which gets extra points for making the robot suits really, really huge.
1. Magical Negroes
The “magical negro” trope is an old film-making trope where a black character appears with magical powers that he for some reason only uses to help white characters. It’s most recognizable in films like The Legend of Bagger Vance or Bruce Almighty, but also shows up in Star Trek: The Next Generation with Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan. And, based on the trailers at least, it’s going to be in every sci-fi movie to come out this year.
Oblivion is the most obvious example, with Morgan Freeman smoking cigars and providing playful exposition for Tom Cruise. The Elysium trailer involves Matt Damon getting an ambiguously ethnic guy with a charming accent to solder some K’Nex to his spinal column, and Pacific Rim hints at this with Idris Elba giving an encouraging speech about “cancelling the apocalypse” while the trailer only ever gives us shots of white people piloting the gigantic robot mech-suits.
So will this actually be how the movie works? Impossible to tell. But trailers tell a story, and right now each one of those trailers has a magical negro. C’mon, Hollywood. You’re (slightly) better than this.