Upon returning from The LEGO Batman Movie for the second time, I noticed something (aside from my LEGO film addiction, which doubtlessly needs to be addressed). Not only was The LEGO Batman Movie a good superhero film, but it was also a good parody film. That is, it exaggerated certain features of previous Batman films and also ridiculed their logic flaws. This was interesting, because it has been a while since the big screens have been blessed with a decent parody film. While Weird Al Yankovic has kept the music industry on its toes with critique through silly songs that rival dancing cucumbers, the field of movies making fun of movies seems to be recently barren. However, this was not always the case.
Ever since Aristophanes made fun of the playwriting style of Euripides in 411 BC, entertainers have been copying and critiquing others for the enjoyment of the populace. In the early 1940s, WWII enemies were run through the parody process, as Charlie Chaplin and The Three Stooges took comedic shots at the foes of the allied forces. In the 1970s, film trends began getting sarcastic scrutiny. Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and Monty Python and The Holy Grail insulted the spaghetti western, horror and medieval genres respectively, and were well-received for their endeavors. The film Airplane! was both well-received and also gained a cult following, parodying the disaster movie franchise with its dad-level puns, over-acted chaos and innuendos that would now would have placed it well outside the PG rating it managed to receive in the 1980s.
Then came Spaceballs, in all its ridiculous, inappropriate glory! The Star Wars rip-off featured a protagonist named Lone Starr (an unsubtle combination of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo) thwarting the plans of a pint-sized, asthmatic overlord named Dark Helmet, piloting his own spacecraft called the Death Star Spaceball One. This was quite a development for the parody film, as the dorky movie was a spoof of an actual movie, not just a genre or category of films. After that, the three Austin Powers films came out, each one parodying a different James Bond film to positive/mixed reviews, and then the parody genre promptly plummeted. The Scary Movie series got started and then sputtered into a 5 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and what had once generated both favorable reviews and cult followings is now considered box office poison, which leads a movie goer to ask, “Why the sudden lack of interest?”
Perhaps one of the reasons is the amount of immediate criticism a film receives from the online community. YouTube series like CinemaSins, Honest Trailers and How It Should Have Ended do the job of direct criticism without having to create an entirely new movie. Also, with more studios teaming up, it may be more of a legal risk to make fun of a product that is backed up by twice as many lawyers. However, if anyone learned anything from Deadpool (which is saying something) it’s that people still want parody. Viewers still want movies that put away pretense and acknowledge an Australian with knife claws and knee-breaking superhero landings are realistically goofy. Perhaps the realm of self-parody is the direction such movies are traveling, where one season a film franchise declares itself serious, while the next season it admits, “but not really.”