So unless you’ve been living under a rock, you might have noticed that sequels/spin-offs/reboots/prequels/requels/whatever else have been coming out at an insanely rapid pace over the last few years. Due to this, geeks around the globe rejoice because of how much content we get to enjoy. Then there are others who aren’t entirely happy about it, but honestly find all the wrong reasons to complain.
These are the two things that people complain about that I am so sick and tired of hearing:
- Franchise fatigue
- Hollywood doesn’t make anything “original” anymore
So my goal of this is to talk about film franchises and shared universes, and how they’re actually evolving the film industry, and not setting anything back. Even though the shared universe model is newer to us and has been a great success for the most part, I still see numerous people out there who don’t seem to understand what the ultimate goal of it is.
The shared universe model truly began in 2008, with the release of ‘Iron Man’. To avoid a full history lesson, we’ll just say that in the years following, ‘Iron Man’ not only spun-off its own series, but an entire series of interconnected films. Franchises within franchises. A Franchise-ception, if you will. After the massive success of ‘The Avengers’, many other film studios have started the process of building their own universes, in order to develop the same success story the Marvel Cinematic Universe has.
Before 2008, we had to wait years for a sequel to our favorite movies. The wait for each Star Wars prequel nearly killed me as a kid, and I’m sure people growing up in the 80’s felt the same way with the originals. Even Harry Potter, which at the time produced its films at a pretty quick pace, felt like forever compared to how long we wait for certain movies now. Of course, there are still many big-budget franchises where we still have this kind of wait. But it seems like there are so many others that hold us over in the process. So much so, that even one series on its own has movies to hold us over from within. The wait for ‘Star Wars Episode VIII’ feels a lot less painful knowing we’ll have ‘Rogue One’ in the meantime.
This is what the shared universe meant to me for awhile. I saw ‘The Avengers’ in 2012 and knew that I wouldn’t be getting another Avengers movie for another three years. But to hold me over, there would be a third Iron Man movie, a second Thor, and a second Captain America. The truth is, I didn’t even look forward to these movies that much, because I thought it was so much better to see these characters all together. I almost felt that stand-alone movies would be a step backwards after seeing ‘The Avengers’.
Then I actually saw ‘Iron Man 3’ and was surprised by how much fun I had with it. Say what you want on the movie, but in my opinion, it gave a far better character study to Tony Stark than any team up movie would have, and was a much more enjoyable experience than ‘Iron Man 2’.
‘Thor: The Dark World’ was okay. This was definitely an example of a Marvel movie that was made to hold the fans over while waiting for something better. But at the time, I still thought that the “something better” meant ‘Age of Ultron’.
I was proven wrong of course in 2014 with the release of ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’. This movie actually had an even BETTER story than ‘The Avengers’, and ended up changing so many things that we had been used to. Turns out, when watching the movies that followed- this movie in particular could not be missed. It basically restructured SHIELD, and changed Steve Rogers’ viewpoints on the world.
One of the great things about the movies leading up to ‘The Avengers’ was that you didn’t necessarily have to see all the movies that came before it. Sure, it made for a great experience if you did, but it wasn’t a prerequisite. You didn’t have to see ‘Iron Man 2’ to understand what was going on in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, or ‘Thor’. They were separate franchises, until the time came where they’d crossover.
However as time goes on, it’s beginning to look like this is all about to change, and I think people need to be well aware of this. I just recently wrote my review on ‘Civil War’, and I stated that this was the first time I truly felt with a Marvel movie that the viewer actually needed to see a select few movies beforehand in order to understand and feel what was going on.
‘Civil War’ not only tells a Captain America story, where you need to see the first two to really get it, but it also offers so much more. It’s Iron 3.5, it’s Avengers 2.5, it’s an introduction mini-movie for Black Panther and Spider-Man! It’s actually INSANE how many of these things are tackled in the movie, and at the end of it all, it was still just a Captain America movie at its center core.
So you might be thinking, “Wow, this is just way too much for people to keep track of now”. And sure, I can understand that. But is that what you say when you’re watching a television show? If you miss an episode of any show that follows an on-going story-arch, you will feel confused. If you miss multiple episodes, you’ll just be completely lost. The MCU is no longer a traditional film series. It’s a big-budget television show, where you just have to wait a few months between episodes.
It’s not James Bond, where you can pick up anywhere and get the gist of things. And if you’re looking for a TV comparison, it’s not NCIS. I honestly predict that ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ will be required viewing for ‘Avengers: Infinity War’.
I’ve even heard many complaints that they are starting to feel fatigued from all of these movies. If that’s you, it simply means you’re probably just not invested in it that much. But the money is speaking, and the MCU just made its 10 billionth dollar. There were numerous people who saw trailers for ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and ‘Ant-Man’, who truly believed Marvel was scraping the bottom of the barrel and decided to not see those movies because they thought the train was starting to slow down. Us real Marvel fans laugh in the faces of those people now because those two movies I just mentioned were massive successes both financially and critically. ‘Ant-Man’ was among my Top Five movies of 2015 and I liked it even more than ‘Age of Ultron’- a movie I was anticipating for three years! I was one of these people who wanted to push the standalone movies aside and just get the big team ups, and then look what happened. Most of those standalones ended up being more enjoyable. ‘Age of Ultron’ ended up being a weaker episode to an otherwise excellent season of Marvel movies.
Even outside of all of this, we have the Netflix Marvel shows that differ greatly from the movies! Yeah, they’re connected to a degree… but they don’t focus much on trying to make references to them, and that’s why these shows (on their own) work insanely well. Daredevil and Jessica Jones are both very adult and dark, which added even more freshness to the MCU as a whole. Daredevil feels a bit familiar as it draws a lot from Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. However, there is enough there to differentiate it, and really makes for its own thing. Jessica Jones on the other hand was not only one of the best things I’ve seen come out of the MCU, but one of the most original/intriguing things I’ve seen in general. Sure, it’s still a comic book adaptation, but it was unlike anything I’ve seen before. And it was easily one of the best things I saw this year, accounting for both television and film.
Marvel structures and groups their films in “Phases” and these phases play out just like seasons of a television show. Or- you could even say like a traditional three-act structure that a movie, book, or play abides by. Phase 1 is where we are introduced to all of the characters. You get an understanding of who they are, where they come from, and what drives them. Phase 2 is there to further the story. This is where we see things shifting gear, or things hitting rock bottom before they’re able to get back up. ‘Winter Soldier’ saw the fall of SHIELD and the resurgence of HYDRA. The second Thor film and Guardians introduced us to an important plot device that sets up the final phase. Phase 3 will be the culmination of everything we’ve seen before. But already, I have burning questions. What will get Tony to fight alongside Steve Rogers again? Where are Thor and Hulk? What will happen in the Black Panther movie, and will Captain America and/or Bucky be a part of it like it was teased? How will Star-Lord, Rocket, Groot, Gamora, and Drax end up fighting alongside Ant-Man, Spider-Man, and literally everyone else?
It’s already been confirmed that Robert Downy Jr. will be a part of ‘Spider-Man Homecoming’. Since this is the case, it’s very obvious that the relationship we saw between Tony and Peter in ‘Civil War’ was essential, and that even the events of that movie will play a key role to the events of this Spider-Man flick.
I truly believe that this sense of “fatigue” is only being mentioned by those that just simply don’t have enough interest to keep going with something. And I also really believe it is their lack of understanding that Hollywood is trying to approach their films with more of a television model now.
Let’s compare the MCU, DC Extended Universe, and Star Wars to the most popular show that is currently on television, ‘Game of Thrones’. We’re currently on our 6th season of GoT, and there are 10 episodes in a season, and each episode is nearly a full hour long- give or take a couple of minutes.
This means that so far, since 2011- we are approaching 60 hours of GoT. That’s 10 hours a year on 1 story vs. 2-4 hours a year in either the Star Wars, DC or Marvel universes.
And there are people saying that Star Wars/Marvel/DC might feel over-saturated???!!!
One particular issue that many might bring up, at least in regards to Star Wars is: Each movie tends to repeat a formula, while each episode of GoT might actually feel quite fresh story-wise. This is just using GoT as an example though. Let’s not forget about network shows that actually do have the same formula each episode (NCIS, Law & Order,etc…). People love GoT, Breaking Bad, and House of Cards since they stray away from these formulas, and because they know people will get bored of that when they binge-watch. But television has the ability to expand their stories. So much so, that there is far more set-up, than actual pay-off. I didn’t feel pay-off for the television show LOST, until pretty much the final moments of that show.
But a formula is just the structure of a movie. Period. It’s actually needed so that there’s just the need to watch the movie, and go home, and not think “Oh, I gotta binge watch 5 more movies to see what happens next!” People want a sense of finality or closure when their movie ends, and in order to get to that, you have to use a three-act structure/formula. Some movies might end on a cliffhanger, but the viewer should still feel satisfied with a certain pay-off the story gives first, before teasing where the story will go next. ‘The Force Awakens’ did this perfectly. It felt like a complete journey, with a beginning, middle, and end. But then the ending also left you wanting to see where the journey would go next.
A studio should never feel the need to make a movie that is all set-up and no pay-off. There are exceptions, such as when a studio decides to adapt a book and split it into parts. (i.e. Harry Potter, Hunger Games, The Hobbit, etc…) Funny enough, people have taken issue on those movies. Specifically for the reason that one movie was all set-up, while the other was all pay-off. And how are they supposed to feel that pay-off emotionally if they watched the set-up a full year beforehand? They’ve forgotten why they should be emotionally invested in these characters and the events that transpire. So with all of that said, when studios have an idea for any movie, the goal should be to make that one movie good, and then they can see how the story can continue later, after they have seen how receptive the audience was.
This is a huge reason the latest Terminator movie failed. They went into it with the plan of it being a trilogy, and their movie ended up being a confusing mess that spat on the face of the first two films. Most importantly, there was simply no interest from the audience to have it continue. Had the movie been good, and then also set up the possibilities for more movies, fans would have been far more open to that. Whereas, with ‘The Force Awakens’: They brought a franchise that was more or less “done” back from the dead, gave us a good movie first and foremost, and then gave us the bits that would lend to the story continuing.
Maybe Marvel plays certain movies safe. And by that I mean, not all of them are AMAZING, but none of them are piss poor either. I think most of us can agree that ‘Thor: The Dark World’ is not the greatest installment of the MCU. But it was at least good enough for the audience to say “hey, I still like Thor and can’t wait to see what’s next for him”! ‘Terminator: Genisys’ on the other hand had people walking out saying the same thing they’ve been saying since 2003. “They should have left it at T2”. Fun fact– both of these movies I just mentioned were directed by the same person. A director who has also been behind the camera for a few episodes of Game of Thrones too. So if that isn’t proof that the studios are more in control of a final product when we’re dealing with a big-budget movie, I don’t know what is.
And that leads me to my next point. This is all a part of a studios’ plan! Much like how it’s HBO’s plan to tell their Game of Thrones story, it is Disney’s plan to keep Marvel Studios and LucasFilm active, to generate successful story-telling. If you watch GoT, or literally any show at all that produces 10+ episodes a year, you should not be complaining that LucasFilm is putting out 1 Star Wars movie a year, or that Marvel and DC put out 2 movies a year. This is intentional for the story they’re trying to tell. They want it to feel like a big-budget television show. If you don’t like it, that does not mean that everyone else will share that opinion. It means that you simply aren’t invested enough in the stories that they are telling. It’s no different than the reason I STOPPED watching ‘The Walking Dead’. I just didn’t like the show. Others do, and that’s fine. That’s why it keeps going. And that’s why anything keeps going. It has interest, and ratings/money reflect that.
Now sure, there is the issue of the movie ticket. It’s not cheap. And this is something I think is a really huge issue. This is a big reason many people only go to the movies so often. That could be a whole different discussion. However I do believe we’re starting to see the evolution of the cinema just by the content that is being put out and what we choose to see.
Take a movie like ‘The Nice Guys’, that just bombed at the box office, even though it had extremely high praise. What does this say about the movie-going public? From my eyes, it looks as though people are starting to be content with their smaller, low budget stuff being available to them at home, and seeing the bigger/louder stuff at the theater.
I’m totally one of these people! I really wanted to see ‘The Nice Guys’, but I also wasn’t dying to check it out right away at the theater to be painfully honest. I had an X-Men movie I wanted to get to first, because I knew that watching a movie like X-Men at home would not be the same experience. So I pushed the Shane Black movie to the side for a later weekend… and what happened? It was no longer playing at the theaters near me because it wasn’t making money. The theater chains started to pull it in favor of adding more showings for ‘Civil War’ and ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’…ya know, movies that would draw in more business. Yeah that’s kind of my own fault, but I’m also not that sad about it, because I know that in a short few months, I will have the opportunity to see it by renting it.
To those with the complaint that movies aren’t original anymore- you’re wrong. This is an example of what happens to the original movies that are released. They are there. You’re just not seeing them. Why? Because you’d rather spend your buck on the bigger mass-marketed movies that are an adaptation/sequel/reboot of something else that already exists. That also shouldn’t be looked at as a bad thing either. I think it’s all a part of the evolution for film and television.
If you don’t believe me, then here- take this link. This is the “coming soon” list from IMDB that has every movie that is being released in the not too distant future. Now I just went through it and counted for June, July, and August of 2016 for my sample. These 3 months are huge for sequels/reboots/remakes, and this is where their numbers would be highest. I counted 16 movies between June 3rd and the end of August that would fall under the category of sequels/reboots/remakes. How many original movies? 50.
We’re also now living in a world where some of the best original content is sitting right in your streaming services. So you have all of that stuff to account for too! If Adam Sandler can translate his box office failures to some kind of success on Netflix, you can expect a lot more original movies and shows to debut on these streaming services in the future, while the cinema will be reserved for the “event” films.
I realize a lot of what I’ve said in this post might be completely obvious to many of you reading this. But believe me, there are so many people out there that don’t understand this. There are people that feel that an annual Star Wars movie will end up being a bad thing. There are people that think that having ‘Captain America: Civil War’ and ‘Doctor Strange’ (two completely different films tonally) being released in the same year will create mass exhaustion.
If you do start to feel that way, that’s fine. But just because it happens to you doesn’t mean it will happen to a billion other people in the world. Just like any TV show, if you don’t like it anymore, just stop watching it. Maybe superheroes or Star Wars just isn’t your thing, the same reason zombies aren’t my thing. But someday, I’m sure there will be a cinematic universe that will appeal to you, if there isn’t one already. We’ve got Universal working on a Monsters Universe, which could be a fun return to old-school horror adventure, and we’ve got Legendary Entertainment working on crossovers with Godzilla, King Kong, and all of those other giants. That sounds super entertaining! We even have a Transformers universe in the works… though I’m not sure who that’s really for honestly.
My point in all of this?
The shared universe model is just another piece of cinema evolution.
So next time you come across someone that brings up “franchise fatigue”, or “nothing is original anymore”- show them this post. It might actually shut them up.