We live in an era when geek culture can feel ascendant and yet oddly sterile. The genres that were once loved mainly by fanboys, eccentrics, teenagers — science fiction, fantasy, and (above all) comic books — are now the pillars of pop culture, the mainstays of mass entertainment. The geeks have inherited the earth . . . but much of their triumph consists of perpetually looking backward, returning to worlds first made famous when theirs was mainly a niche enthusiasm, rather than boldly going where genre hasn’t gone before.
There are sound reasons for this caution: Genre’s triumph is inseparable from the triumph of the “pre-sold,” blockbuster approach to moviemaking, and the occasional attempt to do something genuinely original produces plenty of aesthetic and financial cautionary tales. For every breakthrough, such as Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, there’s a flop John Carter or (Blomkamp’s follow-up) Elysium to convince studio executives that they’re better off strip-mining the Marvel Universe or returning, yet again, to franchises that were young with the Baby Boomers and have aged with them ever since.