|I had to have a picture, so... here you go, Barb-Heads|
It's funny. Way, way back when I was a young Signal Watch back in film school, one of my instructors proposed the idea that, in the very near future, story would not matter. This was, of course, preposterous, but something that has come back to haunt me over and over again in the years that have followed.
It wasn't entirely clear what my instructors meant by "story will not matter", and so it became easy to dismiss, even as people lined up for Michael Bay movies and we were all vaguely aware that one does not show up for, say, a Kung-Fu movie specifically to see how events will unfold so much as to see Jet Li perform aerial stunts and kick people in the sternum for 90 minutes. The change was blamed a bit on video games which, in the mid-90's, had yet to really evolve much past Doom or side-scrollers. And, frankly, were thought of quite differently from movies in the zeitgeist - although that quickly changed (I guess) with games like Wing Commander (which I never played but people seemed to love) and certainly with the early 00's-era Grand Theft Auto.
Muddying the waters, "it lacks a story" was often the vague criticism of the tastemakers from the 70's through the 90's. Nothing took the wind out of your sails quite like watching something you'd enjoyed only to have either a tweedy-type or someone whose opinion you cared about come along and say "well, it didn't have much story now, did it?" and you'd be considering "well, it had characters, a beginning, middle and an end. There was an arc or two in there." And, man, "lack of story" was a favorite dig at superhero faire at one point by folks with jobs at newspapers, and that was where I learned to more or less understand. Because it often meant "it didn't have a story that resonated with me, a person who doesn't think a story about a mad scientist needing to be stopped by the swift right hook of justice is equal to a story about people very politely going through a divorce while wearing tweed coats and having a humiliating and/ or unlikely sexual encounter or two."
And that's okay. It just means you need to look at "it doesn't have much of a story" as a criticism as sort of a smoke screen unless we're getting specific.
I can name many things which lack story that seem to nonetheless delight people, often earning a rabid, nigh-manic fanbase who is immune to your accusations of lack of story (hello, Dragonball Z fans!). And there are lots of folks who are really, really into, say, Mario, despite the fact that his storyline is "plumber who does very, very little plumbing". And that all feels to me a bit like getting really into, say, Tony the Tiger because every commercial has a fifteen second story arc where a kid masters a sport thanks to Tony and sugar.
But I digress.
In a very short window I watched both DC's third entry in their superhero universe, Suicide Squad, and Netflix's summer darling, Stranger Things. In varying ways, both made me wonder if my instructor back in film school had a point.