Are We Approaching The Sequel & Blockbuster Implosion Spielberg Warned Us About?

Spielberg

In the meantime, it will be a while before we see the ship turn. The Hollywood luxury liner is scraping the iceberg and, like Spielberg said, it’s only a matter of time before a breach. Just yesterday, the Alicia Vikander-fronted The Tomb Raider was officially dated for March 16, 2018, squaring it against The Flash. The two blockbusters are sandwiched between an untitled Fox/Marvel film (Deadpool 2?) and the long-gestating shark flick Meg on one side and Spielberg’s Ready Player One on the other. While blockbusters and franchise filmmaking were usually saved for the summer (hence “summer movie season”), their proliferation has led studios to colonize other months seeking profitable new corridors. Every time there is a surprise hit, studios try not just to replicate the film but its release and marketing.

The low profit-sharing in international markets, piracy and inflation drive studios to make bigger and bigger bets. As stories are viewed more and more as “product” and “content,” the focus on basic storytelling becomes an afterthought. This assembly line approach extends from the films to their marketing, as noted by film and television critic Matt Zoller Seitz. How many times can we see big words and Matt Damon’s face and feel compelled to see whatever film he’s the poster boy of?

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One film that actually managed to innovate in film marketing was Deadpool, but somehow it’s February release date became the most important feature, not that it was a passion project a decade in the making with a unique ability to break the fourth-wall. So now there’s a ridiculous number of blockbusters set for that winter month too, with the Fifty Shades sequels, The Dark Tower, The Great Wall, The Predator, Black Panther and Pacific Rim 2 all setting up shop there in 2017 and 2018. March 2017 is even worse, with Wolverine 3, Kong: Skull Island, Beauty and the Beast, Baby Driver, Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur, Power Rangers and Ghost in the Shell all opening in four short weeks. Two weeks, later Fast 8 hits. All of this excludes summer flicks.

It’s impossible these films don’t cannibalize each other and all it would take is a confluence. Making so many big-budget features and parking them so close to each other is a recipe for such, like lighting a match in a gas tank. Nobody wants Hollywood to become Disneyworld, though it fast is and, importantly, the Mouse House doesn’t want it either. Who’s to say that The Jungle Book didn’t eat some of Civil War‘s grosses? Or that Finding Dory didn’t kneecap The BFG in the family market? Diversity bests monopoly any day.

Studios have tried to offset this distrust of sequels by making them essentially remakes of their originals, “requels” if you will. Independence Day: Resurgence chased the success of Jurassic World, both of which counted on nostalgia and an updated premise to carry the day. Both have defenders World overwhelmingly succeeded while Resurgence overwhelmingly did not. Both films are 90s classics but the former fulfilled a franchise promise – that of a fully-functional dinosaur theme park paired the star of the moment Chris Pratt while the latter didn’t justify its existence by, say, embracing its sequel status 22 Jump Street-style and lacked any marketable stars.

Spielberg

The disappointment comes from the idea, especially in the case of Resurgence, “you had X amount of time and X amount of money and all the imagination in the world and this is the best you could come up with?” The film is even complete with the most greasy salesman-like sequel hook I’ve seen in a long time. What has appeal in a Marvel film, like a post-credit tease, is regurgitated clumsily and without heart, like an unfortunate number of tropes in Resurgence. Because unlike virtually every other studio, Marvel has earned audiences’ trust.

People don’t trust studios to actually make good movies because, for the most part, they don’t. Worse, in cases like this year, they don’t care to. Trust has been diffused by the democratization of the Internet and consistency can be key. Marvel is nothing if not consistent, whether it’s taking full advantage of the shared universe conceit (The Avengers & Captain America: Civil War) or launching an obscure character (Ant-Man & Doctor Strange). Studios neither can nor should be as homogeneous as Marvel is, but they should become well-known for their IPs and specifically knowing the strengths of the IP. The Conjuring 2 and The Purge: Election Year are great examples of how mid-budget genre films (whether from an auteur like James Wan or a shingle like Blumhouse) marketed well can do as good or better comparably than their mega-budget competitors like Warcraft or The Legend of Tarzan.

The idea is similar to what I wrote on Tuesday about how Justice League has the opportunity to reconstruct their seminal stories in the wake of another maligned 2016 sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Warner Bros. is hoping the third time is the charm for their burgeoning DC cinematic universe, the only feasible rival to Marvel and producers have used the word “redemption” for the production and story interchangeably. Now, all of Hollywood needs to follow that film’s trend and (re)earn audiences’ trust in their vision for a world where corporate populist storytelling can actually be meaningful and not just lazy brand extension.

Sam Flynn

Sam Flynn

Sam is a writer and journalist whose passion for pop culture burns with the fire of a thousand suns and at least three LED lamps.