Why Are Franchises Destroying Movies?

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 19 May 2017
Category: Features
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We wait, in great anticipation, for the next instalment of our favourite cinematic franchise yet, inevitably, it almost always proves to be a hollow addition if examined through a critical, rather than fan-blind, eye. Why is this? Why are franchises destroying movies?

Why Are Franchises Destroying Movies?

I had an epiphany on Tuesday while watching the press screening of Alien: Covenant. My realisation is applicable to more than just the Alien universe but I thought I'd offer it up for debate as a precursor to my review of that movie - and likely many more to come as it's pertinent for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, the DC Extended Universe, the MonsterVerse, Universal Monsters....

As Alien: Covenant hit its third act and began to fall apart something that was said by the international comics creators - John Layman, Eric Powell, Matt Hawkins, and Ron Marz - multiple times at this year's FanCon Cape Town Comic Con popped into my head. They talked about how comic series such as Chew, by John Layman and Rob Guillory, (and Scalped by Jason Aaron, among many others) are designed to continue for a finite number of issues so you have a planned primary story arc with a beginning, middle, and end, which results in a satisfying experience for the reader (if it's well written, of course). The key to that is the end, where the story reaches a climax, straggling points are then wrapped up, and the reader is provided with closure.

Why Are Franchises Destroying Movies?
Above: Superman #75: The Death Of Superman (volume 2, number 75, January 1993) by Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding: I was caught once - never again!
In contrast, the superhero comic stories offered by DC and Marvel had beginnings, often decades ago and, in some cases, before most of us were born, and now they're all stuck in the middle. There will never be an ending, just a constant continuation of the middle that's occasionally interrupted by a reboot or universe reworking, or, in extreme cases, the "death" of a character, to take another stab at the beginning in order to fool readers into thinking something has changed - but it hasn't because you then end up right where you started: stuck in the middle.

Nothing is a means to an end. Everything is a means to a continuation.

Why Are Franchises Destroying Movies?

I realised as Alien: Covenant was disintegrating in front of me that the same problem affects these film franchises, the strongest of which originally started out as standalone films or films with a meritorious sequel (Alien/Aliens and Terminator/Terminator 2: Judgment Day, for example), that then got forced into the middle so that the studio executives could continue to rake in the money for the perpetual future, a point made by Jack Shepherd in 2015 that I took note of when Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens came out.

Why Are Franchises Destroying Movies?

The middle is the primary reason I've lost interest in most superhero movies - I just didn't have a name for why. Consequently I didn't even bother to write a review for Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, simply because I had nothing to say - if you liked the first one you'll like the second one. I preferred it to the first but it was another story in the middle with another megalomaniac antagonist who makes swirlies (this time underground instead of in the sky). There really was just nothing to comment on. (That, therefore is, I guess, my review. Done. Shortest review ever.)

The middle isn't my only reason for increasingly disliking superhero movies (and I'm sure it will spread to monster movies, too, as the two burgeoning franchises pick up speed). On aggregate I've tended to like the Marvel Cinematic Universe less than the DC Extended Universe - and I've received a lot of flack for it - mainly because the MCU, and especially The Avengers movies, come across as testosterone-fuelled, fist-pumping, sometimes snarky, bro fests, whereas the DC movies, for all their faults, more seriously focus on the issues of people and consequences. However the movies still remain a product of the middle and no thought-provoking exploration of collateral damage or moral implications of actions are enough to break free from this.

Therefore what we have now is a situation in which people get sucked in via the newness of a first movie - more often when it's a movie that is not initially intended to become a franchise so it's likely to be more unique and interesting. Then people get stuck on the middle movies desperately seeking more canon detail that they can use to fill in the blanks of the fan universe they've created in their heads. They become unwilling to let it go and admit the extent of the bad film-making because it feels like a betrayal of a franchise that they've invested in heavily, both emotionally and financially, with the ultimate expense being personal time, sometimes over decades.

I admit being occasionally complicit in this - this is the first of two, possibly three, Alien-related articles I will be posting in the next few days because the Alien universe is the one with which I always had a particular affinity and which resonated heavily with me - due to Ripley. Men who have had a hundred years of on-screen heroes to inspire them have no visceral sense of what Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor, of the Terminator movies, meant to two generations of women who grew up primarily with those film characters as their only strong role models. It's hard to let it go.

Why Are Franchises Destroying Movies?
Above: It may not have been the best movie (blame studio interference for that) but Alien 3 offered a fitting, dramatic end - and closure.
Unfortunately everything is now the middle - and that includes the new Alien films. Everything is designed to set up a continuation of a grand story, at the expense of smaller stories. Plot holes and character development become irrelevant in favour of more and more world building because it's now a machine churning out a drug, rather than artists trying to craft the best self-contained story they can, to ensure that the middle continues to draw fans back, trap them, and take their money. In fact, it's very telling that Ridley Scott next wants to make a prequel to Alien: Covenant, which itself is a sequel to a prequel, and then another movie somewhere in the middle of those three. He's gone on to state that he has as many as six movies in him if people want more.

The Alien series is dead. Long live the Alien Anthology franchise.

(Seriously - it's been given that name.)

Why Are Franchises Destroying Movies?
Above: The title of the Alien: Covenant prologue "Last Supper" is apt for more reasons than the film-makers intended. We've been betrayed, and right now Ridley Scott is hammering those nails into the Alien crucifix.
It's why the existence of Logan is both a surprise and such an anomaly - and why it's such a good movie. It's a story with an end that gives fitting closure to a number of characters. The more I've been thinking about this the more surprised I am that the film was ever greenlit. Perhaps it's because the actors have pretty much said they're done with the characters - so there was no longer anything to lose by going all out. The result was a deep, thought-provoking, emotionally resonant film that was respectful of both its audience and the characters for which it offered an ending.

Why Are Franchises Destroying Movies?

Unfortunately, unless audiences demand better quality, which may only come about via fatigue, which doesn't seem to be setting in any time soon, we won't be getting many Loganesque stories in the future. Studio executives want to milk the public as long as it remains profitable to do so, and the problem will get worse now that digital actors are becoming a viable solution to the problem of actors who play iconic characters aging and dying.

As a result we are all perpetually, and complicitly, trapped in the middle - and the middle is where the least creativity and ingenuity lie.

Read Next: Film Review: Alien: Covenant

Tags: #alien, #comics, #horror, #screen, #speculative_fiction, #star_wars

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