spider-man-across-the-spider-verse 3-hour-long blockbuster

It’s Time to Embrace the 3-Hour-Long Blockbuster Again

“Why would they do that?” questioned my 7-year-old daughter as the credits began to roll for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Her query did not stem from the foggy haze of confusion surrounding a plot point, but from the clear-eyed rage of anger. For 2 hours and 20 minutes, a child who normally gets restless in movies was fully engrossed in the adventure of Miles Morales and his Spider-Verse friends and then the plug was pulled.

Similar to a person who was abruptly dumped via text, when they thought they were in it for the long haul, she demanded answers as to why the filmmakers would split the film in two. It was clear she was willing to sit longer if it meant getting to the satisfying ending the film seemed to be building towards.

It was yet another reminder that we need to normalize and bring back 3-hour-long blockbusters.

Now, before you put your hands up in the air and exclaim, “hold on, movies are too long as is, and I have things to do,” ask yourself what was the last show you binged? How many hours was that in total? I know we are in a golden age of television and that its narrative structure is different, but the fact of the matter is a good story is a good story. If you are absorbed in the world presented, the concept of time loses all meaning.

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This is what happened both times watching Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. I was so engulfed in the parent-child drama and the vibrant imagery that the film flew by. Even when I knew what to expect the second time around, the ending was just as jarring as when I saw it a press screening earlier in the week. Similar to a scuba diver being abruptly pulled back to shore just as they reached the locked treasure chest deep within the ocean, it is a shock to the system to be yanked out of such an immersive experience.

I understand in a post Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows world of cinema there are financial benefits to squeezing every last drop out of a ripe franchise. Whether it is two-part films like The Hunger Games: Mockingjay and the forthcoming Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One, or unnecessary 3-part sagas like Fast X, and I say this as a stan of the Fast & Furious franchise, there is plenty of money to be made asking audiences to comeback for a second serving of a meal you refused to let them finish eating the first time around.

While studios used to have a drive-thru mentality towards blockbusters, get them in and out quickly so that a theatre could maximize its number of screenings, the chokehold that Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and DC Extended Universe (DCEU) films have had on the box office for the past 15 years has eradicated that approach. Aside from training people to sit through credits, modern blockbusters have also gotten audiences comfortable with spending an average 2.5 hours watching the latest spectacle. Most of which have become glorified commercials that set up the next film in the franchise.

The problem is not that blockbuster are too long, but rather that many do not to justify their running time.

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I am old enough to a remember a time when Titanic was not only a box office hit, but a seemingly unsinkable juggernaut that people went to see multiple times. People could not get enough of the love story between Jack and Rose. The history of cinema is full of films, ranging from Gone with the Wind to Schindler’s List to The Wolf of Wall Street that were financially successful despite their lengthy running times. The fact that three (Titanic, Avengers: Endgame, and Avatar: The Way of Water) of the four top grossing films of all-time have running times of 180 minutes or more is further proof of this.

Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King

While most acclaimed film these days, that run 3 hours or more, tend to skew towards more adult driven stories, take Magnolia or the Academy Award winning RRR for example, we have seen examples of lengthy blockbusters that will keep audiences coming back for more. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was grand in scope, the first two were minutes shy of the 3-hour mark, with the final film The Return of the King clocking over 3-hours long, but Jackson’s films earned every minute of their running times.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse more than earned the right to let this particular arc play out in one sitting. While its superhero film peers have played it way too safe, by devotedly chaining themselves to the canon of comic book stories, the film gleefully embraced creativity and risk. As much as I deeply love the film, it is one of the year’s best works, I cannot help but wonder what further heights it could have reached had it been 45 minutes longer. By breaking the film into two parts, one is not only forced to ponder whether there will be enough content to fill another film, but also if it can maintain the same level of gravitas as its processor.

Look, I like a tight 90-minute film as much as the next person. Sometimes a marathon is not necessary when a sprint is perfectly fine. Not every crime film needs to be as sweeping as The Godfather, Part II and not every indie needs to be as interwoven as Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. However, we have seen examples in recent years of several summer blockbusters films that would have benefited greatly from a lengthier running time rather than being divide into pieces or unevenly compressed. I am not of fan of the Justice League film, but I will conceded that the Snyder Cut works far better than the shortened version.

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In an era when so many blockbusters seemed more concerned with the financial bottom line than telling a compelling story, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a reminder that they can still be daring without sacrificing its story. It is just a shame that that its boldness did not extend to the film’s length.



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