(Updated with additional commentary and Kevin’s thoughts after watching episodes of “Rick and Morty” below.)
Kevin: Outnumbered, under siege, surrounded by a hostile enemy in unfamiliar territory. That’s what elite U.S. military forces were facing against a heavily armed militia in October 1993 during the infamous “Battle of Mogadishu,” with the actions of the brave Ranger and Delta operators that day later receiving the proper big-screen treatment in 2001’s “Black Hawk Down.” But in a much smaller and slightly less heroic way, that also describes what CJ and I had to recently go through to reach the theater for a screening of Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, except we had to battle past a force even more fiercely committed to their cause: “Rick and Morty” fans.
Now before we discuss the film, let’s set the table regarding what CJ and I had to deal with beforehand. The film was scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m. on a Tuesday night at the Alamo Drafthouse’s south Austin location. Usually I would have parked near the theater at 6:45, met CJ in the lobby, and been seated and ordering my first beer with minutes to spare. This time though when I arrived I found the normally quiet residential area around the theater jam-packed with cars, forcing me to park like half a mile away and double-time it on foot, not unlike the mad dash to safety the soldiers make at the end of “Black Hawk Down.”
When I got to the Alamo (whose name would soon seem oddly appropriate since CJ and I were about to be surrounded), I saw something I had never seen before at that theater: a line stretching several blocks and containing easily a few hundred very excited and rowdy people. Was there some film festival going on, or maybe a secret test screening of the new “Star Wars”? Nope, it was just a huge gathering of “Ricky and Morty” fans. What is “Rick and Morty” you may ask? Well first, as you’ll see from our experience later, if you do ask that question make sure it’s in a very hushed tone, and second, it’s a cartoon on Adult Swim.
Now while I am aware of the show I have never seen it, because as a grown man I only have enough room in my life for cartoons like “The Simpsons” or “South Park” that I was already watching before I could legally drink (plus I usually avoid getting hooked on new TV shows because it takes away precious time I could be using to watch “Action Jackson” for the 47th time). I do know a couple of people who swear the show is great, and based on the people we saw that night its fans are as loyal as they are diverse in both appearance and odor. Because the reason they were all there was to have their picture taken with the “Rickmobile,” a car with one of the characters on top that sells show-related merchandise.
Yep, that was it. There wasn’t a screening of the season premiere, the creators weren’t there to do a meet-and-great; hundreds of people stood in line for hours (some were finally reaching the front AFTER we got out of the 2.5 hour film) just to have their picture taken with an inanimate object and buy some hard-to-get T-shirts. Now we at TGD are in no place to judge someone’s fandom considering a retweet from Frank Stallone is the highlight of our week; my main issue was that, like Eric Bana trying to find a way around Somali militia roadblocks, nearly every entry point into the theater seemed to be blocked off by “Rick and Morty” fans.
Fortunately I finally snuck my way in through the merchandise tent – and promptly got yelled at by fans who thought I was trying to cut the line – and met up with my comrade CJ, who also managed to reach the lobby after apparently almost aborting the mission.
Now just when we thought we were about to reach our target, we still had to neutralize one more enemy combatant: the stereotypical humorless annoying superfan. Because as we were walking down the hallway and discussing our mutual ignorance of “Rick and Morty,” CJ made the mistake of asking “Isn’t that a show for kids?” right as we walked past some hipster who, even though he had his earbuds in and was texting, decided it was important enough to interrupt what he was doing to interject with “Ummmm, it’s actually definitely NOT a show for kids!”
Now CJ you couldn’t help herself from going back and hearing him out, so what was his response to your completely innocuous question, and could there have been a greater chasm between that dude and the Ranger and Delta warriors that we were about to see depicted in “Black Hawk Down,” that is IF WE COULD EVER GET TO THE FUCKING THEATER!
CJ: Holy shit, what was that, right?
The tone in which that guy responded would have only been acceptable had I walked up to him and told him his mother was a whore. What I did enjoy though was he gave his little retort, fully expecting me to slink away into the theater as he patted himself on the back, having scored another victory for democracy. When I turned around, walked up to him, and (politely) asked “So what is it? And what the hell is going on outside?,” BOY did his demeanor change.
He so badly wanted to get you and I away from him as soon as possible, which led to him sputtering out, “Yeah, it’s Dan Harmon, uhhh, it’s swearing, they are selling stuff in the van,” and then shaking his head vigorously as I went “Okay, thanks!” But like all good hipster millennials, I’m sure he will re-tell his story except in it I slovenly went, “Rick and Morty? This is why them broads don’t make no good presidents,” and was about to kick a stray AIDS-ridden dog that wandered into the theater until he bravely gave me what for and sent me packing into a shame spiral. In his own story he still doesn’t get laid though.
Kevin: Either way we finally reached the theater, where I got to see “Black Hawk Down” on the big screen for the first time in over 15 years, and I discovered it’s just as tense, visceral, and brutal as when it first came out. Although we certainly gave Ridley Scott well-deserved grief for his bizarre dedication to destroying any mystery the “Alien” franchise has left, he should have won a Best Director Oscar for “Black Hawk Down” just for the amount of moving parts he has to juggle. We are constantly going back and forth between different units on foot, in armored convoys, and up in the air, and yet we always know where everyone is and what they are doing at that particular time.
After the amazing sequence of the various helicopters closing in on their target …
… once the action starts you feel like you are watching an actual battle play out in real time. While the movie was also rather prescient about the challenges America would face post-9/11 in finding itself at war with people it is ostensibly trying to help, it’s also probably the most accurate depiction of the hardware that the military would be deploying in Afghanistan and Iraq considering that Scott later said that “Black Hawk Down” could not be made after 9/11, since all the vehicles and aircraft in the film were being utilized in the real theater of war.
Oh and one more reason why “Black Hawk Down” is so great: it’s the rare movie that survives having the black hole of charisma known as Josh Hartnett in the lead. Hartnett is actually fine in this, but as we discussed in our breakdown of 2001, the worst year for movies ever, the pool for young talent was so thin in the late ‘90s and early 2000’s that Hartnett was probably in a fierce competition for the role with Paul Walker and Chris Klein. Whereas ironically some of the unknowns in the cast at the time included Tom Hardy, Eric Bana, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, aka Jaime Lannister from “Game of Thrones.”
Now despite being a major commercial hit and receiving several Oscar nominations, “Black Hawk Down’s” Rotten Tomatoes score is surprisingly low considering it’s the film all other modern-day war movies from “Lone Survivor” to “13 Hours” are judged against. I’ll address the four most common complaints that people have had about the film over the years, even if they admire it on a technical level:
1) “It’s a movie about American soldiers shooting brown people.” This sort of statement is usually presented as if it is objectively damning in and of itself, but when you think about it it’s as nonsensical as criticizing “Saving Private Ryan” because it’s about American soldiers shooting white people. Nazis were white and Somalis are black, so I’m not exactly sure what Ridley Scott was supposed to do since he obviously has no agenda here outside of presenting this incident as it happened. He even uses Eric Bana’s character to basically state that this movie is not going to be about “politics, and all that shit.” That means you are free to view this movie through any lens you like. If you want to see this as a pre-9/11 warning about the dangers of military intervention in the name of “imposing peace,” you can. Or if you just want to admire this as a tense and well done “men under siege” movie like “Assault on Precinct 13” or “Dawn of the Dead,” you can as well.
2) “We only get the American perspective.” The book “Black Hawk Down” also has very interesting accounts from Somalis who witnessed the battle and who even took part, and you certainly don’t have to root against our soldiers to have some appreciation for other side’s perspective. It would have been nice to get that in the movie version, but that’s not the story Ridley Scott wanted to or was able to tell. Perhaps you could do a multi-episode TV series showing numerous different perspectives involved in this event, but for this particular 2-hour-plus film he wanted to showcase what it was like to be outnumbered and almost overrun in a foreign city in a battle most Americans had forgotten about.
3) “There’s no character development.” The same sort of charge that was recently leveled at “Dunkirk,” it’s probably one of my least-favorite movie criticisms outside of “Narration is always a lazy crutch” (tell that “Goodfellas” or “Days of Heaven”). As with Christopher Nolan’s film, in this case: a) this is more of a story about the event, not the characters, and b) how these characters respond to stay alive IS how they are developed. When I think of the type of “character development” the critics are talking about I picture “Saving Private Ryan,” which we all love for its amazing battle scenes and all tolerate every time it stops cold so that one of the characters can give a 10 minute soliloquy about life back home. For this particular movie it’s especially unnecessary, as I don’t need to know anything more about the two snipers who volunteered to defend one of the crash sites by themselves to know they were heroes.
4) “I couldn’t tell the characters apart.” I’d normally let this slide but I notice the people who make this criticism also say the same thing about any war movie or TV show with more than five characters, from “Band of Brothers” to “We Were Soldiers.” Like the guy whose girlfriends always seem to “go crazy,” maybe the problem is YOU. Because not only are their names on their helmets, but if you can’t tell Josh Hartnett apart from Ewen Bremner you have some obvious vision problems.
Before I go on, is there anything you want to add CJ about “Black Hawk Down”?
CJ: Regarding that first complaint you mentioned, the soldiers in the film even make a point to say that they follow the rules of engagement. Last I saw, one of the rules isn’t, “Run into battle giggling and shooting randomly at civilians. Feel free to make it your own!” But yeah I guess the movie would have had more impact if the soldiers ran into battle mercilessly taking out a horde of old white guys in business suits who were in the process of sticking their dicks in dolphin blowholes. That lack of attention to detail is probably why “Alien: Covenant” sucked so much Ridley!
I will say that when Jeremy Piven died I really wanted to pump my fist. Luckily I remembered in time that Piven, while a dick, was playing a real person, and maybe it would be in poor taste to celebrate a man’s horrible, terrifying death. That being said, a good death scene for Piven would be one in which he just stands on a street as random passersby punch him in the dick until he just succumbs to his injuries.
I’ve also seen this movie multiple times, and there is one scene that always confuses the hell out of me. As the Rangers return back to the stadium, they are met by workers bringing them water, except these guys are carrying small cups of water and towels, as if these battle-scarred soldiers are gonna take a quick sip and then lightly dab the corners of their mouths. It throws off the whole movie for me. What American soldier is in that area and only needs minimal hydration? Shouldn’t they just have a giant tub filled with water and let the solders dunk their heads in? No, a small plastic cup will do, and please, no more than two sips, anything more would be madness.
Kevin: Well let’s not forget CJ that, as they said in “Kingsman: The Secret Service”: “Manners make the man.” Of course they also ended that movie with the hero basically saving the world so he can have anal sex later, so make of that what you will. Going back to “Black Hawk Down,” let’s not forget that this came out during a time when Tom Sizemore was usually playing soldiers or cops, and I can’t think of a single person who is less suited psychologically or emotionally for either of those jobs than Tom Sizemore.
CJ: I’ll say that I’m amazed at how if Sizemore pops up in a war movie it’s a good sign, but if he pops up in anything else then it means you rented a shitty VOD release that probably costars Kellan Lutz. I know of no other actor with such a wide “Oh, Tom Sizemore is in this!” vs. “Oh …Tom Sizemore is in this” range.
I’ll wind this up by saying that when it comes to war movies, I rank “Black Hawk Down” pretty high as it’s one of those flicks where I’ll just keep watching if I stumble across it on TV. I still rank “Saving Private Ryan” ahead of it, followed by “13 Hours,” “The Patriot,” and “Monuments Men” (HAHAHA, just kidding, that movie is a pile of shit). Actually, I just remembered when Michael Bay said “Transformers 3” would be like “Black Hawk Down.” So “Transformers 3” is now #1.
Kevin: Too bad we’ll never love any of those films as much as the people at the theater that day love “Rick and Morty,” but after seeing their obvious devotion I am now intrigued enough to give this show a chance. If anyone has a suggestion for a particularly good episode for a newbie like me to start with, let us know in the comments. Unless you’re that guy we encountered in the hallway, because you are a huge douche.
Update: Less than 24 hours after we posted this piece, we came across a commentary in The Onion’s A.V. Club site which indicates that our experience that night was not out of the ordinary, as the worst “Rick and Morty” fans are apparently notorious for being “smug” and having an “air of insufferable ‘true fan’ pretension.” All I know is that while I will still check out what is supposed to be a very clever show, it’s also always satisfying to have my split-second judgments of an entire group of people, based on a very limited sample size, quickly confirmed by third-party sources!
2nd Update: I said in our original post that despite still suffering PTSD from our experience with the “Rick and Morty” fans that night, I would still give the show a chance, and as I am a man of my word I recently sat down and watched three episodes: “A Rickle in Time” and “Totall Rickall” from Season 2, and the highly touted “Pickle Rick” from Season 3. So what did I think of “Rick and Morty” based on what I saw?
Well guess what, I liked it. All three episodes successfully executed one of the most difficult styles of comedy there is: taking a simple premise and organically building upon it with increasingly bigger and more outlandish stakes. For instance, in “Pickle Rick” the mad scientist character Rick turns himself into, yes, a pickle in order to avoid going to family counseling (long story), and after being washed into the sewer eventually finds himself massacring a building full of Russian agents. I can’t possibly explain the journey the character took to get there, but it’s hard not to laugh in admiration at the inventive obstacles the writers place in front of Rick to overcome.
Now I don’t plan on rushing home and binge-watching this thing anytime soon, but I’ll probably try and catch a few more episodes when I can. It seems like a clever show, and I can see why the fans like it. I can also see why it apparently attracts the worst kind of “I appreciate this on a much high level than everyone else” type of hardcore fandom. By the way, I spent some time with my three nephews this weekend, and despite the protestations of the “Uhh, this is totally NOT a show for kids” guy who CJ and I encountered, not only do they understand the show’s supposedly subtle and nuanced themes, but none of them are able to drive yet and they still all agree that a lot of the fans need to chill the fuck out.
Speaking of, we can add McDonald’s to the list of groups which found themselves blindsided by the cult of “Rick and Morty,” as a promotion tied to an in-joke from the show (Rick is driven to procure the fabled Szechuan sauce condiment which McDonald’s discontinued nearly 20 years ago) went horribly awry last weekend, leading to social media meltdowns and some probably hilarious angry nerd fights at some locations. The fast-food chain quickly said it will offer the sauce again later this year in much higher quantities, with a press release that began: “Yesterday, we were truly humbled by the amazing curiosity, passion and energy this community showed to welcome back Szechuan sauce.”
As someone who worked in corporate P.R. in the past, here is what I guarantee you the company actually meant by that sentence: “Since we are adults who make six figures a year, we had never heard of a cartoon called ‘Rick and Morty,’ but now having dealt with its fans we’d like to say, holy shit what is wrong with you people! It’s just a stupid sauce that no one was clamoring for until your stupid show reminded you of its existence! How fucking good can it be, it’s McDonald’s, we represent the company and even we admit our products suck.”
Apparently the great Szechaun Sauce War of 2017 has caused some soul-searching among the show’s fans about whether maybeeeeee it’s time for a little perspective. Although at least one fan on Twitter made a very good point about what the actual message of that episode was supposed to be: “the show isn’t actually giving you a hot tip about a condiment u have to try … the joke w the schezuan sauce is that rick is obsessed with an arbitrary piece of cultural ephemeralia, it could have been any obscure thing.”
Huh, that’s a very subtle and nuanced perspective, I’m surprised the super perceptive adult fans who obsess over “Rick and Morty” totally missed it.
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