Blockbusters that forget the why become exercises in brand promotion and computer pixels. Going back to Batman v Superman, The Nerdwriter has a fantastic YouTube video (embed below) detailing how, underneath the heated debate, that film’s real issue, like all of director Zack Snyder’s films, is its focus on moments over scenes. To be fair, BvS did get a short shrift, with Ultimate Edition proving far superior to the mangled theatrical cut. But these don’t obfuscate the flaw he talks about and it dovetails nicely with what we’re talking about.
As the Nerdwriter says, Batman v Superman was so obsessed with imagery and its own iconography that it bent over backwards to accommodate them, at the expense of story, pace and character. And this is a problem writ large with blockbusters, franchise filmmaking and especially requels. Perhaps the best example of this fault is Terminator Genisys, a failed requel which used its time travel conceit to literally recreate famous moments from previous Terminator films (with 100% more old Arnie!) as its “plot,” with no concern for continuity, logic or stakes. Nothing says an untethered franchise bereft of the “why” quite like that.
More and more, blockbusters are becoming set pieces strung together, essentially giant sizzle reels, to the point that the classical three-act structure has been virtually thrown aside. Rising and falling action have been replaced with ACTION! ACTION! ACTION! Vox made a similar argument recently with the piece “The biggest problem with modern blockbusters, explained by Independence Day: Resurgence.” That problem? No second acts! Movies nowadays have so overdosed on spectacle and “moments” that the three-act structure has been erased, replaced by an extensive set up followed by neverending climax.
The gritty, CGI-less Jason Bourne falls into this, with a interesting themes and characters given only a cursory glance which means there is little to differentiate this episode’s intrigue from the previous films. Even so, it came in first at the box office last weekend with $60 million, a healthy sum after nine years away, proving it had what ID4-Resurgence lacked: star power to put asses in seats.
While audiences have fallen in love with characters such as James Bond and Batman, who are famous for their longevity thanks to effective recasting, Jason Bourne proved audiences aren’t interested in any other Jason Bourne other than Matt Damon. Perhaps when Damon is 60 and he quits to embrace his dad bod, we’ll learn audiences are up for a recast but until then, they’ve spoken with their wallets.
With recent theater attendance near 20 year-lows, Hollywood’s been doing the same as studios try to top themselves with inflated budgets. That kind of bubble practically demands to be popped. It’s something Steven Spielberg himself predicted a year when blockbuster & sequel overload would force a change. Does this year herald that change?
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