I’m an unabashed fan of continuity in my entertainment. I like that immersive feeling of something that happened in an earlier installment coming back to importance in a later one. I like that Bojack Horseman has been dwelling in “Hollywoo” (including everyone in the series calling it that) ever since an ill-conceived escapade involving vandalism of a certain famous sign halfway through Season 1. I like that the ’90s cartoon version of The Tick had an episode where a villain tries to carve his name on the moon, and not only does the moon have his partial name on it from that point on, it much later becomes a plot device which then leads to a chunk being bitten out of it (long story).
And yet I am also an unabashed fan of Mad Max: Fury Road, a film which plays merry hell with the established details and order of events portrayed in the first three films of the franchise. What gives?
Well, it helps most that Fury Road is just an awesome movie, but George Miller had a great take when asked about the inconsistencies — that Max is more mythic figure than man. Stories involving him are not so much to be considered history as tales around a post-apocalyptic campfire, much like the oral traditions before our modern era of codifying–some might go so far as to say calcifying–our heroes and villains and plots in written form.
While that might seem on the surface like a convenient excuse to ignore continuity, in Miller’s case it’s backed up by the framing devices through which both The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome are presented: they are straight up being told to you as the remembrances of something that happened in the past when the narrator met (or at least claims to have met) Max. In Road Warrior the narrator (who is eventually revealed as the Feral Child of the story) goes so far as to admit openly that what he’s about to say may be unreliable: “My life fades. The vision dims…”
Continuity could be argued as the recent anomaly of human storytelling, stacked against centuries of purely oral myth. Did the audience in Ancient Thebes care if the guy speaking of the Labors of Hercules established a timeline that didn’t make sense compared to the guy who earlier came by and wove a tale including Hercules as being part of Jason’s crew on the Argo? Or how one Hercules might have been more gregarious while the other displayed a certain moodiness? Let’s hear about wine drinking, monster punching and the lifting of very heavy objects!
That’s not to say you can’t prefer one telling over another–or to mix our myths, prefer the Mel Gibson Hercules to the Tom Hardy Hercules. We say the Joker is definitively Cesar Romero. Then he’s Jack Nicholson, for sure. Then he’s Heath Ledger. All these remakes and reboots that are such sacrilege to us at times are, if you think about it, just par for the course where a popular fictional character is concerned.
And then for all that people have talked for decades about superhero comics being our “modern myths,” I don’t see enough corresponding thought that this is exactly why we maybe shouldn’t get so upset when our favorite bad guy puncher is turned over to a new writer we don’t like, or gets involved in a plotline we don’t feel is appropriate, or even just is drawn a different way. Superhero comics these days with their countless crossovers and reboots and retcons are about as close as it gets to those free-for-all days of campfire tales, aren’t they? I mean, I suppose fan fiction does it one better, but I can’t think of any other worldwide medium where it’s so accepted that characters and even entire universes can have colossal variations in their behavior within just a few years’ time, all of which is fully documented and can be looked back on, sometimes with nostalgia and sometimes with incredulity. Film still tends to wait about a generation before doing a reboot, though where films about comic book characters are concerned that’s bled over and we’ve gotten three entirely different versions of Spider-Man within 15 years. Meanwhile in comics my friends and I will get outraged about this or that and then one of us will remind the others, “Hey, if you don’t like it just wait twelve months.” Mind you that also means that when we’re feeling everything’s going awesome and it’s the perfect representation of that character we love, it’s always in the back of our heads that it won’t last.
But unlike the old days of myth, we’ll still have the record of the version we liked to go back to. Which is probably what pissed me off about the “Special Edition” Star Wars movies more than anything else–George Lucas not only messed around with continuity, he tried to go back and change the stories we already had and get rid of anything that didn’t fit his new vision.
Big myth-take. And beyond the sad fact that we still don’t have a Blu Ray version of the original trilogy because of the lingering effect of his shenanigans, ultimately futile.
Tomorrow I’ll probably be back to the old man yelling at the bling-toothed cloud of the Juggaloker, but for today I ponder this broader view–that even in our modern times, popular stories and characters want to morph and evolve and uh, uh, find a way. The only real difference is that we have those evolutions and mutations on record. But which record is the correct one?
Maybe none of them. Maybe all. In the end it’s probably whichever version speaks most to you.