I love tracking trends in the film industry. If you check every decade of cinema from the 1950s to the present, you can narrow down the genre of movies that dominates a time period. You’ll run into some spillage but there’s more of less a chance of these movies encapsulating certain trends. Right now we’re in an age of superhero movies, and I don’t see these going away anytime soon. Maybe they’ll hit their peak and flutter about trying to grow new wings like Westerns, but they’re here to stay – at least until Avengers: Infinity Wars concludes a decade long cinematic venture. The next direction after our post-superhero movie journey can only veer in a singular direction: shared universes.
Already we’re hearing about the various franchises that no are no longer aiming for trilogies. They want entire universes. And though we shrug at the notion of anybody pulling off what Marvel Studios have done, it’s easy to understand their reasoning. Why stick to a trilogy of movies for profit when you potentially have a TV show on the big screen, culminating in a classic team up situation between separate franchises within the confines of a studio storybook? It makes sense until it doesn’t.
Not every movie needs a sequel. I’ve defended the notion of sequels before and how it’s always fun to watch characters we’ve attached ourselves to in new settings. This doesn’t mean it always works (lord knows it doesn’t), but even if it’s not necessary, it’s one of the benefits of long form storytelling. As much as I wholeheartedly love the Alien quadrilogy (fight me) there’s no reason for any movie to exist beyond the first movie. When you have something that has become integrally important to the history of cinema as an Alien or a Ghostbusters, there’s no need for a sequel. I’m a firm believer in the theory of there not being any bad ideas, only bad writers or execution. That’s how you get a Ghostbusters 2 or an Alien vs Predator.
As happy as I am with the crew behind the female-lead Ghostbusters, it’s not a movie that needs to be franchised. Maybe if they were clever enough to structure a franchise on the basis that franchising is ridiculous, we might have something worthwhile? It looks like the Jump Street franchise may be heading down that path. After the best credit sequence in film history, there’s really nowhere else for them to go than turning Schmidt and Jenko into universe hopping buddy comedians. I can see it now, “You two sons of bitches are going to Asgard!” but for the actual Ghostbusters franchise, the beauty of the first movie was the single lightning in a bottle situation. Blue collar workers, essentially paranormal janitors, take on a demon lord. They aren’t really superheroes. But again, that’s something that could sustain a feasible franchise given the proper attention.
Universal Monsters attempted to jump start their franchise last year with Dracula Untold and the results were disappointing (still nowhere near as bad I feared). The benefit here for Universal is this isn’t their first rodeo. I’m one of a handful of people that actually enjoys Van Helsing as a schlocktastic disaster of monster movie nonsense. I also enjoy The Mummy remake with Brendan Frasier. (Please don’t throw things at me.) What you could have built from these aforementioned monster/adventure movies is a sprawling epic that rides the line of goofy camp and rides its way into our hearts. What Dracula Untold did was, like, the opposite of that. Why? They copied and pasted the formula. They made Dracula into a superhero (or tried. And failed. Hard). Embrace what works about the monsters. Let them be monstrosities. Don’t pull a Maleficent with the most famous movie monsters.
It’s all about finding that balance between what can work with long form cinematic storytelling. A few things to keep in mind:
- Is each individual movie worth exploring on their own merits?
- Is this movie necessary to the overarching thematics?
- Are talented, team players working on the project?
Each movie needs to sustain its own story while contributing to a larger puzzle. But most importantly, is this a cinematic universe worth exploring? A Paul Blart cinematic universe won’t do much to draw in an audience because nobody cares enough – or maybe it will and I’m just underestimating the power of stupid.
Comic books are a medium in which thousands upon thousands of stories have been told. It makes sense to cultivate cinematic mythologies as intricate as Lord of the Rings and Star Wars because the complexities of the stories are in the DNA of the medium. When Hollywood began adapting the medium, it was only a matter of time before all avenues were explored. ALL avenues. (Reminder: we’ve seen two film incarnations of Howard the Duck.) I suggest we use comics as a Rorschach test to determine what is worthy of a cinematic universe. Let’s start with Prometheus…