By Joe Strange
In a recent interview, Pixar President Jim Morris spoke about the upcoming Toy Story 4 and how it won’t be a continuation of the trilogy that many of us grew up with and will, instead, be a story that Morris is unsure whether it will be continued in further instalments, he also goes on to say that you should ‘never begin a project with that in mind’, and here’s the thing, he’s bloody right.
As much as I love big movie events, there is a major problem with franchises, and it’s exactly what Jim Morris is talking about.
There’s a recent trend in Hollywood which is hampering the story telling art form, and that’s franchises being too preoccupied with what’s coming next, that they don’t actually pay attention to what’s happening now. In other words, more films than ever are just elaborate set ups for the next in the series.
Probably the biggest culprit of this is The Amazing Spiderman 2, I was one of those people who enjoyed The Amazing Spiderman, I liked Garfield as both Peter Parker and Spiderman, I really liked the tone and visual style, and yes, it was a bit tiring to hear Peter Parker’s origin story again, but once that was told, boy was I ready for the next one.
You can already see that inadvertently The Amazing Spiderman was just setting up for the sequel, you can almost imagine the studio conversation; “Okay, we’ve got to get this origin story out of the way but after that we can totally tell a wicked cool Spiderman story that will make everyone forget about that ridiculous version of Venom or that dancing scene.
So, with that in mind you’d think the sequel would be better, right? The characters are established, now it’s time for some of that great Spiderman wit and some of his iconic rogues gallery.
But what we got instead was basically a trailer for the Sinister Six movie, which has now been put on indefinite hold; “Look at the franchise potential,” the film says to us as it teases us with Dr Oct’s arms and Vultures wings, isn’t the next film going to be excit- Wait a minute this sounds familiar. Fool me once Sony, shame on you, fool me twice…
Because at the end of the day what The Amazing Spiderman 2 had going against it wasn’t its leading actors, or its visual style, what it suffered from was a lack of direction, a lack of direction that was a direct consequence of trying too hard to set up the next film.
It’s not just Sony that are guilty of this, Marvel’s Iron Man 2 had the same issues, the villains were cool, the CGI was great. But the studio’s desire to set up the Avengers and the expanded universe got in the way of the script, it robbed us of the much better Tony Stark story we could have had. Of course, the difference between Sony and Marvel Studios was that Marvel had a definite end goal, all the pieces were in play, and soon after Iron Man 2 we had Thor, which helped expand the universe as well as tell a simple origin story, one which we hadn’t seen on screen before.
Now I’m not saying that having sequels or further projects in mind is a bad idea, because it’s not. Shared universes are great for everyone, they keep the audience invested and films with shared consistencies are appealing for the same reasons we watch serial television shows, and with a secured fan base studios can be sure of at least some of their return. Without this forethought we’d have films connected on a shoe strong, we’d have a shared universe, but we wouldn’t feel it, and that’s really important.
These teases can be done really well, look at how Captain America the Winter Soldier took the events of The Avengers and went with it to create its own stand alone story, that has had huge repercussions on the MCU, with more on the way. Iron Man is another great example; they suggested the idea of SHIELD, but kept it within the confines of the story, they let the film play out with these little hints and put all the weight in the stinger at the end. They didn’t rely on the prospect of a sequel, instead gambling on fans’ excitement of the idea of another film.
And I don’t know about you, but by the end of The Amazing Spiderman 2 I wasn’t really that keen to see a Sinister Six movie.
This is one of my reservations about Batman Vs Superman: The Dawn of Justice, the studio is putting a lot of big characters in the promotional material, on top of Batman and Superman we’ve got Wonder Woman, Cyborg and Aquaman. DC knows that they want to make a Justice League movie, and I want to see one, but introducing 3 more heroes on top of acclimatising to a new Batman, especially after Nolan’s stellar series? It’s beginning to feel like this might just feel like the sort of icebreaker you have when you meet a new group of people, and I don’t want that, I want a spectacle, I want to see Superman fight Batman for crying out loud.
I hope I’m wrong, I hope that Dawn of Justice has enough focus and direction that it doesn’t feel like just another set up.
Now I’m running out of time, and haven’t even mentioned the habit of splitting the last book in a series into two films, perhaps that discussion is for another day. In the mean time I hope that more studios follow Pixar’s lead of writing for the film itself, and not merely for the sequel.