It took a month for me to see Incredibles 2. And man, did that turn out to be a disappointment. Depending on if you read Rotten Tomatoes or The New Yorker, you might agree or disagree. But The Incredibles is, incredibly, a sequel slated fourteen years later that nobody was really clamoring for. But with the culture of nostalgia entertainment, it made sense to make it. Given that the film has pulled in nearly a billion dollars worldwide, it’s no surprise that it exists.
The real surprise though is how much the nostalgia train is slowing down, or at least increasing in quality relative to its box office returns. Infinity War may have done better than either of the previous Avengers films, but that’s because it’s a better movie. Infinity War proved that nostalgia is not always bad, as long as it’s created in the service of something greater. In this sense, the something greater is the story, the characters, and a movie that doesn’t feel like it’s made by committee. It stars its own villain, sidelining the heroes you know and love to a chaotic force of a character that you can sympathize with, even as he destroys half of the world
The same holds true with Black Panther. It may not be the first superhero film starring a black man, but it’s the first to explicitly talk about black issues. It’s adding something new and innovative to the genre, creating a narrative about sons reconciling with the sins of their fathers in wholly different ways. The film uses the nostalgia entertainment of the traditional superhero to supervillain showdown to pit integrationist and supremacist ideologies against each other. While the outcome might have been a bit too conservative for some, the fact that the issues are even being talked about at all is a great step in the right direction.
There are, of course, legitimate critiques you can make of these movies. But along with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I think there are really reasons for these movies to exist beyond the box office. They are using their respective genres to comment on issues of our time and reckon with where we are as a society instead of where we want to be. If nostalgia entertainment can do that often, even in smaller ways like in Cobra Kai, I am all for it.
That’s why many have rejected the message of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Instead of killing your heroes, old fans wanted to see Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie hamming it up in a galaxy far, far away. But what they got was a postmodern look at the fallout and consequences of hero worship and how that can turn into the romantic authoritarian ideal . That being said, the movie’s take on the state of the galaxy resonated with many fans and critics alike, and provided something new to the franchise as opposed to being a virtual remake like The Force Awakens.
Before the flop of Solo at the box office, it seemed that the direction of nostalgia entertainment was to entertain for the sake of it. It was just fun for people to get the old gang back together, and see where Han got the Millennium Falcon’s dice from. But that’s exactly why Solo’s box office bomb might not just be good for the future of Star Wars, but the future of nostalgia entertainment as well.
Now, executives at Disney and other major mass media companies are aware that the train will grind to a financial halt if they’re just retreading old ground. So, if they’re listening to the market, and what the people want, they’ll realize that an Increidbles 3 might not seem like such a sure bet next year. Instead, media companies need to focus on turning nostalgia entertainment as a springboard into a springboard to talk about issues larger than the franchise at hand. Otherwise, we’ll eventually stop showing up.