Director Shane Black’s new film The Nice Guys is the best movie to come out of 2016 thus far. It’s funny, fun, charming and boasts a cinematic duo for the ages in Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling.
The Nice Guys represents the refined, classy elder statesman every genre should aspire to become.
Fairly recently Steven Spielberg caused a flurry of internet activity by asserting that superhero movies were destined to go the way of the Western. I suspect the comment rubbed some fans of the genre the wrong way because it perhaps implied that it was little more than a fad destined to go extinct.
But the Western isn’t extinct. The genre is far from dead. It’s just older.
Where once Westerns drunkenly paraded through the streets every weekend arm in arm with their dime-a-dozen peers now they rear their heads far more sparingly, maybe at a holiday work function or neighborhood barbecue, with a sense of refinement curated over the decades.
Westerns are no longer an inescapable driving force in cinema like the superhero movies of today, but when a No Country For Old Men or Django Unchained pops up, cinema pays attention.
The same can be said of film noir. And what the Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino have done for the Western, Shane Black has done for noir with The Nice Guys.
The Nice Guys is at once acutely aware of both the trappings and stereotypes of noir film and the tastes and temperament of the modern filmgoer. Like Drive or Inherent Vice, The Nice Guys manages to wield a self-awareness of its genre without leaning on parody or nostalgia. It’s an excellent entry in a canon of film that isn’t dead or extinct but, like the Western, just older.
Steven Spielberg is right, obviously. I mean, of course he’s right. That’s what happens to genres. It’s a life cycle. Marvel and DC can plan their films well into 2050, but they aren’t really the ones in charge. One day, with any luck, after an inevitable, embarrassing midlife crisis, the superhero film genre will age with dignity, let its hair grey a little, spend a decade finding itself, and turn out a few quiet, dignified, post-bubble films as good as The Nice Guys.