The Art of the Spoil: Follow-up

Back in February, I wrote an article detailing an experiment I intended to carry out that involved me totally blanking myself on details for one film while over-clocking myself on another. Well, with my Iron Man 2 and Kick-Ass reviews in the books, so to speak, the time has come to disseminate to you the results of my effort. How did my relative knowledge of both films’ plot details affect the experiences of watching them? Maybe there’s a trace of irony here, but it probably should be said that if you haven’t seen these films, you ought to stay away from this article so as to avoid spoiling yourself (unless, of course, that’s your desire).*

So in the battle between a geeky teenager whose only superpower is that he can take a beating longer than most, and a billionaire industrialist genius who fights for world peace using power armor, who wins? Depends on how you look at it; from one angle, Iron Man 2 is the winner. If this project’s intent is to measure the effects spoilers have on the experience of watching a movie, then certainly my efforts to keep myself as much in the dark as possible for Iron Man 2 paid off. I will not lie and claim that I managed to stay 100% pure– I have accidentally caught bits and pieces of Iron Man 2 TV spots here and there, though not much more than that thanks to intervention from my fiancee– but I had no prior knowledge of specific plot details, such as the poisoning effect of the arc reactor. (Understandable since this is sort of hard to sell through a trailer.)

I also had never seen the action beats featured in the trailers, at least not most of them. I definitely missed seeing Whiplash cut cars in half with his electricity whips, and I thankfully never saw any footage from the climactic fight scene where Iron Man and War Machine go toe-to-toe with Vanko’s host of power armor drones. (I didn’t even know that Vanko had any notion to develop a drone army to fight Stark; I simply assumed that, following in Obadiah Stane’s footsteps, Vanko would just bite Stark’s style.) And all of that not-knowing definitely made the movie feel a lot more alive to me; that power armor flyover that takes place above the Stark Expo really took my breath away seeing it for the first time. I don’t know that the scene would have had the same power had I seen too much of it through television spots and movie clips.

The total benefit of blanking myself for Iron Man 2 is clear: I didn’t have any preconceived ideas or expectations about the movie going in, beyond broad hopes of a high quality picture. There’s something to be said for not having any build-up in your head over how good something is going to be based on a clip show of money shots that you’ve absorbed innumerable times over the course of days, weeks, months in anticipation of a particular movie’s release. And maybe there’s nothing truly profound or even all that elusive about that statement, but this is a simple truth that is easy to forget. Ask yourself this: Would you rather see a film’s signature fight scene in a trailer, or on the big screen, for the first time?

With  all of that said, the only thing that keeping your eyes fresh for a movie can improve upon in relation to a film is the experience, and not the quality of the film itself. If you’ve read my reactions to both films, it should be plain to you that Kick-Ass, despite how much I exposed myself to it before catching it in theaters, stands head and shoulders above Iron Man 2 in my esteem. Part of this is because as much as Youtube contains a wealth of delicious spoilery material, none of those clips can fully convey the dynamic and thrilling nature of the film’s action scenes. And those videos also only focus on a couple of very specific scenes– they do nothing more than vaguely hint at the greatest action beats in the entire movie (if that), and here I’m talking about (**seriously if you haven’t seen this movie close the damn window**) the first person shooter scene and the glorious arrival of the jet pack. Even having gorged myself on Kick-Ass previews for quite literally a quarter of a year or so, the excitement was still present throughout the movie when I finally had the chance to watch it in a theater. That’s just plain good filmmaking.

But Kick-Ass really surprised me with the amount of sharp commentary it contains, something much harder to get across in a 2:30-long trailer. I familiarized myself with the film’s action over a decent course of time, but nothing clued me in on just how funny, nuanced, and genuinely emotional the film’s more human moments really are. And those moments, for me, are really what madeKick-Ass so special, moreso than the insane action sequences (which I still firmly believe are among the best of the last few years). The mirrored aspects of Frank D’Amico’s and Damon Macready’s relationships with their respective children, Dave’s friendships and his ultimate courting of Katie Deauxma, Damon’s heart-to-heart with former partner Marcus, Dave and Chris setting off to fight crime together…there’s so much else to Kick-Ass than the bloodshed, something I actually didn’t expect when going into the theater. That I was given such an unexpected wealth of rich character development when I had gone out of my way to learn as much about the movie as possible made the movie really special for me.

In the end, I have to declare this project somewhat of a bust. I didn’t learn anything I couldn’t have just discerned using common sense: Lack of foreknowledge about a movie is good. Sure, I enjoyed the movie I spoiled myself on more than the one I kept myself in the dark on. But wouldn’t Kick-Ass have been even better if I hadn’t overloaded myself? Absolutely. It would  have been sublime. I do find it interesting that part of the reason I had a positive response towards Iron Man 2 at all stems from my general ignorance of the movie’s plot prior to buying my ticket; converse to Kick-Ass, I probably would have liked Iron Man 2 less had I opened myself up a little more to it. Of course, it’s pretty refreshing to say that I didn’t like a movie without saying, “…because the trailer gave too much away”. So if I take anything away from this, it’s a newfound resolve to avoid consumption of trailers and other previews; it might not make a bad movie good, but at the very least I can avoid feeling cheated.

*Genuine question: Is it hypocritical of me to avoid spoilers for the purpose of a blog article, only to include pretty substantial spoilers/details in that very article?

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7 thoughts on “The Art of the Spoil: Follow-up

  1. I try to avoid trailers and the like, but sometimes it’s hard to resist. Take Robin Hood for example, I’m trying to avoid all the hype surrounding it, but still couldn’t avoid checking out some of the trailers. Have avoided all reviews though (up until today anyway!)
    And it’s hard to avoid including some spoilers/details when it comes to blog articles….:)

    • I will say that it was pretty hard to keep myself from checking out the Iron Man 2 trailers– and so far, it has proven tough keeping myself clean as far as Inception goes. Honestly though? It was totally worth remaining (mostly) pure for Iron Man 2. That purity really helped elevate the experience for me.

      And I definitely find it hard to keep my reviews honest, too. It’s not as easy as it looks!

  2. Interesting – it depends on the film to whether I want to be in the dark or not – if the film is based on “general knowledge” (say a classic story, a news event, etc) I don’t mind knowing about things…

    If it’s more a “what’s that film about” like this years Inception I want to know NOTHING.

    And reviews…they’re off limit before I see a film — although I don’t particularly mind some general consensus (say…Rotten Tomatoes — because if the film is super rotten I don’t want to spend my $$$$)

    • For the first point, I agree. I didn’t really keep myself that pure on, for example, the Lord of the Rings movies. And going off of Olive’s example, I haven’t really done much to keep myself in the dark on Robin Hood. Maybe, then, Kick-Ass is the movie I really should have blanked myself on, but what’s done is done.

      And I agree about Inception.

      If there is one thing that I don’t mind absorbing, it’s reviews. Reviews by their very nature are meant to serve as something of a veil between the reader and the movie; a good reviewer can inform a reader of the substance of a film without giving anything away. By my own estimation I’m not very good at that very delicate art, but I do what I can.

  3. Hmmm… Here’s hoping my spoiler-free policy for Inception pays off as well. I said it when you announced it back several months ago, but great concept – well executed.

    • Thanks Darren– honestly, I was considering not even following up on this at all because I feel like I came to a conclusion that seems so obvious that I felt like I’d be embarrassing myself by talking about it. At the same time I’m glad I did it– and I look forward to blanking myself on Inception.

      I may overload myself a bit on Scott Pilgrim, but that almost seems superfluous since I’m up to date on the series and will be finished by the time the film comes out.

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