District 9: I have nothing to add to the chorus of critical acclaim already showered on this movie. An amazingly inventive flick. See it in the theaters.
That out of the way, I have a broader question: will the recent string of smart, successful action movies finally put that trope of the “dumb popcorn flick” to rest? Iron Man, The Dark Knight, The Hurt Locker, and now District 9. Even Inglourious Basterds (which I’m not sure I’ll get over my distaste for Tarantino to see): you can call it a lot of things, like “tasteless,” “derivative,” “unfocused,” etc., but you can’t say it’s dumb.
The successes above aren’t just action movies with a veneer of philosophy smeared across the top. Any movie can try at that (oh, Four Brothers is about staying true to your roots, etc). These movies explore interesting themes, using action as their language. District 9 is about the conflict between newcomers and civilization, portrayed as a literal conflict. In The Dark Knight, the war between Order and Chaos comes down to a brawl on a scaffolded building.
I suspect that Hollywood has not finished with dumb popcorn flicks yet. They’re too easy to write: dream up some action set-pieces, write a script that pastes them together, start shooting next week. And the growing trend to merchandise every aspect of a film, which started with Star Wars action figures and continues to the Transformers 2 toys available in your Burger King Kids’ Meal, guarantees that corporate sponsors won’t settle for anything too challenging.
But if the industry isn’t done with it, I am. You will never get me into a theater again to see G.I. Joe or The Faster and the Furiousest or the equivalent. Having seen what movies are capable of – stimulating depictions of interesting ideas that still have the power to pump my adrenaline – I won’t settle for less. Don’t ask me to “leave my brain at the door.” It’s in my skull. I can’t do that.