The premise: After seeing an advance copy of the latest blockbuster “Vindicators” sequel, Bart abuses his nerd privilege by getting people to do his bidding lest he spoil the movie for them. The other Simpsons worry about Bart taking this too far, while Hollywood takes their own step to ensure Bart’s silence.
The reaction: Making specific pop culture references basically means you’re dooming your show to be dated within a few years. This isn’t to say that you should never do it, but I consider something like a MAD Magazine-level “parody” like Avengers/Vindicators to be very dull and uninspired, rather than something a little broader and more substantial. None of the Vindicators material in this episode is really saying anything about blockbuster movies, it’s just recreating stuff from real-life: people being emotionally moved by the tragic ending of Avengers: Infinity War, and then being bummed they have to wait a whole year for the conclusion in the sequel. So they’re literally just doing their satirical take on the last two Avengers movies… but then where’s the satire? There’s plenty of criticisms one could make about the films of the MCU, both creatively as movies themselves, and regarding the big business media juggernaut behind them. They approach a bit of the latter with the two movie executives (voiced by the Russo brothers) talking about how imperative the box office of their movie is to the global economy, but by that point, the episode is basically over. So all the Vindicators stuff is mostly just empty referencing and meaningless filler. What are we left with? A story where Bart acts like a dick, only to mend his ways thanks to manipulation. By means I won’t bother explaining here, Bart watches an advance copy of the new Vindicators movie, and uses his spoiler knowledge to get people to do anything he wants, which we see as him taking everything from Comic Book Guy’s store, and ultimately forcing the entire town to build him a giant treehouse. I know the episode is called “Bart the Bad Guy,” but Bart’s not just a little scamp pulling pranks because it’s funny, he’s actively abusing people to do his bidding for no real reason other than he’s just a shit. I guess the episode is about the crisis of Bart’s morality, as clearly spelled out by Marge toward the end (“Bart’s soul is at stake!”) The ending involves the Vindicators executives kidnapping Bart and trapping him in a VR simulation where he discovers his actions have caused his beloved Vindicators to be in danger of being defeated by the sinister villain Chinnos (get it, because Thanos has a big chin? BRILLIANT WRITING YOU GUYS). Rather than team up with him, Bart chooses to defeat the evil villain, and everything is all good. So he learns the errors of his ways via massive hallucination and manipulation by a huge corporation? That feels like an ending that shouldn’t be played so straight. We end on the executives, satisfied Bart won’t blab spoilers anymore, disarming the explosive device under Homer and Marge’s bed, in a knee-slapping jab at their new Disney overlords. Any sort of bite-the-hand humor the show used to excel at goes right out the freaking window after this embarrassing mess. After this episode-length Avengers commercial, I can’t wait to see what new synergistic effort Disney’s got cooked up next.
Three items of note:
– “Vindicators: Crystal War” is a Marble Studios film, but when characters are talking about “Marble movies,” it really just sounds like Marvel, which makes me wonder what the fuck is even the point of doing the whole legally distinguishable charade. Disney owns this shit, why not have it actually just be Marvel Studios and the Avengers? Who gives a crap?
– Embracing his spoiler powers, Bart arrives at school acting cool as the other kids are terror stricken, set to the music used in Spider-Man 3 when Venom-infected Peter Parker is strutting his stuff down the New York City streets. My knee jerk reaction is to complain about such a dated reference (we are thirteen years out from Spider-Man 3) at this point, just in case you wanted to feel old today), but considering Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame are more contemporary and those references also suck, it’s basically a no-win scenario. But this is all stuff I’ve talked about numerous times: this is literally as fast as their production cycle can go in terms of contemporary references, and in the age of memes and satire on the Internet, you’re inevitably going to miss the boat bagging on the hot new movie or cultural moment if you wait more than a week. But also, as the show in its prime knew well, a reference doesn’t mean shit unless it’s funny outside of its context, or is adding or subverting something from the source material. What’s the point of using the Spider-Man 3 music? I haven’t a clue, other than please laugh at reference.
– One of Bart’s spoiler victims is Principal Skinner, who gets robbed of his hairpiece. I remember on an early DVD commentary, Matt Groening talking about how he was adamant against the idea of Skinner wearing a toupee, because he felt it was a very cliche trope for a humorless principal character. The only time I recall a mention of this was in one of the very first Simpsons comics, where we see Skinner gluing his hair on his head to ensure the toupee doesn’t budge. But here we are nearly thirty years later, and we finally circled back to this idea, and I guess Groening didn’t give a shit anymore, or was too busy relaxing in his solid gold mansion with his rocket car to notice this addition. Not that I really care either, it’s just an interesting thing I noticed.
One good line/moment: Nothing to be had here. Man, this one was an absolute dud. It was aggressively boring more than anything, maybe second worst of the year after the Todd Flanders episode.