Monday, 3 October 2016

We could be heroes... just for one film

There's a lot of science fiction and superhero movies about right now. It's like they've always been there, creeping around the edge of cinema and suddenly we're surrounded by them. Like some sort of slow zombie invasion I find myself in the midst of a slew of films which are threatening to overwhelm me.

I'm not sure when this all happened but now that I've noticed it I see it everywhere. Almost every sci-fi/superhero movie seems to be part of a franchise. It's the cinematic equivalent of the modern fantasy novel: why write one book when we could have a trilogy (or more).

I get the reasons this happens, I'm not naive. If you make one good film it follows that people will pay for another. It's not new, Rocky and Rambo ploughed this furrow for years (as did the Herbie movies, and probably many others before that). But it seems as if this is now a default for film-making. Almost as if the franchise is thought up before the movie.

That's not to say franchises are terrible, but they seem to be treated as a magic bullet for cinema irrespective of the quality. Done well and they can create fantastic stories and characters. The Avengers series is probably the shining example of a studio pretty much nailing the franchise. Great characters, played by actors who fit the roles, in a series of engaging stories that build to a bigger narrative. Yes, there are a couple of clunky stand-alone movies (Iron Man 2 & 3 spring to mind) but they work to build a body of work greater than the sum of its parts.

But then there's the other side (or the "DC problem" as I like to refer to it). There's no plan evident with these movies, it feels like film-making by committee. Put aside Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy and you're not left with a hell of a lot. The reinventions of Batman and Superman have managed to make two of the greatest superheroes of all time dull. And that's a pretty hard thing to do.

Part of the issue I personally find with DC is that once you get past Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman the rest of the heroes aren't a particularly big draw (I've probably insulted some comic book fans at this point who will tell me that Green Lantern is the greatest of all the superheroes don'tchaknow). But now DC are locked into trying to build a franchise to rival Marvel. Which, from my perspective, may not be the best idea.

And with these two I understand why. Sales of comic books hit a massive downturn some years ago and Marvel had the foresight to get into films quick smart as they knew that this would provide a brand new revenue stream, attract new audiences, and allow them to tell their stories to a wider audience. It is a completely sound business plan, but ultimately it feels as if the big franchises are squeezing out the one-off movies.

I loved Guardians of the Galaxy. It was a great movie, brilliantly cast and plotted. It was a breath of fresh air to the superhero genre. And then I heard it was film number one in a potential series. And thematically part of the Marvel superhero universe which means one day Starlord may share screen time with Tony Stark. I cannot express my disapointment. Just let me have one movie that's not part of a bigger story arc. Just give me a one-off that won't be sullied by however many duller sequels. Let's allow a movie to live long in the memory and be remembered with love and affection rather than how I remember The Matrix.

There is no sequel.

Ah, The Matrix. I remember seeing that in the cinema for the first time and, insert expletive here, it blew me away. An unbelievable example of the power of cinema to combine storytelling and technology to stunning effect. The first time you saw the lobby scene? I guarantee you won't forget that. Absolutely astonishing.

But what do I remember now? The flaccid sequels, the horrible feelings I had when the words "prophecy", "chosen one" and "council" were used. They tried to turn a fantastic sci-fi movie into a killer franchise and ended up killing all the love that the original had.

The playground of ideas.

Science fiction, and that includes superhero movies, should be the playground of ideas. A place where you can do anything. With the amount of movies that are interlinked and franchised it seems to me that this is becoming a more limiting than liberating factor. More and more, films have to work alongside established canon or overly explain why things have been reinvented. I want fresh ideas when I watch these types of films. It's why I loved Kick-Ass (the first one), and Super, and Moon, and Oblivion.

I would love to see more great one-off movies full of ideas rather than just the next in an ongoing story arc that has been defined by audience share before a camera has even started filming.

*And yes, I know the symbol in the picture would better suit Superman, but I prefer drawing Batman.

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