Some franchises should exist, and some should not. Some exist and are excellent, and some exist and are not. In this final franchise article (unless it’s super popular, and gets a fourth installment where I am replaced by Mark Wahlberg), we’re going to look at those franchises that do exist but should have been better.
The original was a game-changer. It was something so unique that I cannot think of another movie that manages to be both thought-provoking and balls-to-the-wall exciting, in equal measures. It invented a genre of movies centered around large, slow motion gunfight set pieces and sequences, and has influenced dozens of movies since its release. I’m not a Matrix sequel hater (though I will admit the only way to watch them is one after another, in a single sitting), but I can see that we should be living in a world in which The Matrix is a whole generation’s Star Wars, and not one in which it is a chore to watch the whole trilogy. The problem, perhaps, is that the movies are too overburdened with ideas, or maybe it’s more that Neo got too powerful too quickly, leaving no worthy adversary (a la Superman). Whatever the source of the difficulty, the problem is definitely that each film is overburdened with monologue. The joy of the original Matrix film is found in its unique mix of massive ideas and people getting kicked through walls. Perhaps it would have been better to follow the Star Wars route and have the second movie be more about Neo getting to grips with his powers, until movie three, when he can finally kick loose, and become a true, blue badass. Regardless, it’s hard to write good drama when your main character is essentially God.
Pirates of the Caribbean
What’s the best thing about The Curse of the Black Pearl? Johnny Depp. What’s the worst thing about everything after The Curse of the Black Pearl? Johnny Depp. When his character appeared on the screen in Pearl, it was a revelation. The voice, the walk, the mannerisms. Captain Jack Sparrow was a character for the ages, a Han Solo to Orlando Bloom’s Luke Skywalker. But Han Solo was always a supporting character in the Star Wars trilogy, and that’s what makes him so awesome; he never wears out his welcome. Disney didn’t understand this, and decided that Sparrow needed to be the face of the marketing campaign in the form of every feature trailer, in addition to be the main character (and at times sole protagonist) in each of the sequels. Unfortunately, his shtick had an expiration date, which was about two minutes into any subsequent film to the first. Rather than sticking with their everyman characters, the Pirates films dove blindly into weirdness, and made a character who, instead of a cipher, turned into someone with an immense, convoluted back story that only ever served to subtract from the original film’s tone of PG, scary fun. Give Bloom and Knightley a plot that doesn’t revolve around Sparrow, and bring the Captain in later in the film’s plot as a cameo character, and Captain Jack becomes a welcome surprise rather than an instant annoyance.
Men in Black
I’ve talked about this before. How is this series of movies so shitty? It’s a movie about cops who police the alien population of New York. Open the movie with a crime, and the rest of the movie is the Men in Black trying to solve that crime. That’s it. Each movie can be a standalone feature, with just the main characters recurring, and as long as the comedy and action stays on point, then it would be fine. So why are there such big gaps of years between the movies? And why do they suck so hard? Maybe there is more stuff about the making of movies that I don’t understand, but it always baffles me when a property as rich as this one gets squandered. Of course, maybe they sit me down in a room, ask me to write a sequel, and after four hours all I’ll have written is “Agent J: Aw, hell, naw,” and then it all makes sense.
This is an entry on this list that will hopefully be embarrassing for me once Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters 3 drops, and proves to me that a great Ghostbusters franchise doesn’t need to be better, because it is better. Until then I will be forced to lament that I love Ghostbusters, and actually I quite like Ghostbusters 2, but I feel as though this is a franchise that should have gone on and on. My pitch is simple: Every few years, make a standalone Ghostbusters movie featuring the best/most popular comedians of the moment. Yes, this would mean that we would have had an Adam Sandler headed Ghostbusters, but we would have also had a Robin Williams led team, an Eddie Murphy outfit, an Ellen Degeneres sorority, and an international team, led by Jack Dee (English comedian; just Google him, trust me); additionally, we would have a Tina Fey comedy board, a Ben Stiller original cast of characters, and, best of all, a Ghostbusters team led by Bill Hicks (with his second in command, Mitch Hedberg). Of course, this would have all collapsed onto itself by now, and we would probably be complaining about Ghostbusters fatigue (and who knows what Birdman would have looked like as a jab at the Ghostbusters as a sub-genre), but as a daydream, it’s pretty good (though I’m still crazy excited for Ghostbusters 3).
The Mask is an insane cartoon creation of a movie, based on an overly violent, misanthropic comic book. It succeeds based on Jim Carrey’s tour-de-force performance as a manic, living cartoon, facing off against gangsters and trying to win the heart of Cameron Diaz in her first feature film appearance. When I first saw The Mask at the cinema, it blew my ten-year-old mind, and I expected another one next year, but, alas, it was not to be. I think The Mask would have benefited from the recent upsurge in superhero movies, and would probably have become a member of the Avengers by now. Instead, it suffered from the fact that Carrey became a superstar upon its release, and the fact that Carrey probably learned the hard way from Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls that sometimes lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice. So in place of The Mask Returns and The Mask Rises, we got the risible Son of the Mask, and the occasionally great animated TV show. There is an alternate universe though, where ten-year-old Sean got his wish, and a trilogy of Mask movies were made before the inevitable crossover in which Jim Carrey had to battle the original Mask’s owner, Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston).