[23 July 2013]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
At first, fans are anxious to see more. They can’t believe how much they enjoyed the first go round and wonder how, if possible, the filmmakers will top their initial accomplishment. The answer, of course, is that they never completely do. Instead, they do a delicate dance between originality and the same old sh…stuff, providing the viewer with a sense of familiarity while tricking them into thinking it’s all worth another ticket purchase. And heaven help us if Part 2 piles on the profits. Before you know it, you’ve creating a movie monster known as “The Franchise.” Sometimes, these continuing series can be brilliant (Toy Story, which is headed for a fourth installment). In other instances, they are defiantly hit and miss (we’re looking at you, James Bond and Star Trek). And then there are those that can’t see when the written-off writing is on the wall.
With Comic Con winding down and the entire X-Men Universe (or what seems like it) there to promote both The Wolverine (opening this week) and Days of Future Past (promised for next Summer), we thought it would be fun to muse on those movie franchises that have yet to figure out that it’s over. Of course, you people keep giving many of these prime examples of the law of diminishing returns your hard earned dinero, and so it’s really not the fault of those making the movies. After all, you don’t mind how horribly repetitive and crappy some of them are. You will gladly give over your discretionary, disposable income to keep them going. So without further ado, here are what we consider to be The 10 Film Franchises That Are Past Their Prime. You can’t argue their financial success. Their artistry, on the other hand…
He single handed created the modern zombie movie phenomenon. Without his Night of the Living.. . and Dawn of the… Dead we’d be stuck with Bela Lugosi and some voodoo mumbo jumbo as our reanimated corpse frame of reference. Unfortunately, ever since the gimmicky Diary of the… George Romero has been spinning his artistic wheels (and don’t get us started on the—dare we say it—BORING Survival of the… ). This year’s World War Z more or less covered his greatest ambitions for the series. Unless he is hit by a bout of inspiration, this franchise’s best is far, far behind it.
Michael Bay needs to quit while he’s ahead. Granted, the last installment in this series, Dark of the Moon, made over a billion dollars at the box office, but with the limited returns of this summer’s Pacific Rim still ricocheting across studio suites all over Tinsel Town, one imagines a less than enthusiastic response to another bloated, bombastic giant robot flick. Of course, Bay has been able to milk this material far beyond its aesthetic sell-by date, and bringing Marky Mark (sans Funky Bunch) to this installment makes up for giving Shia LaBeouf the boot. The clock is definitely ticking though.
Truth be told, this series was DOA way back when Tobe Hooper took on the MPAA with his preferred cut of Part 2 and lost. Fans of Tom Savini’s skilled splatter missed out on many memorable power tool kills while the overall satiric tone suggested the director had spent too much time watching George Romero’s zombie films. In the end, the various sequels struggled, Marcus Nispel gave us a decent redux, and then the follow-ups went and pissed that positivity all away. It’s now time for Leatherface to put down his clownish skin mask and take up a new, non-cinematic hobby.
At this point in time, five films into the series, this is no longer about an adaptation of a popular undead video game shooter. Instead, Paul W. S. Anderson has absconded with this property and has promptly given it to his honey, wife Milla Jovovich, to get her out of the house once in a while. Having long since given up on being faithful to the console titles, what we now get are lots of CG action scenes, black leather outfits, and the occasional grasp at even more gimmicks (like 3D). Heaven help the few remaining fans should the Andersons ever divorce.
How can you tell this series is on life support? You announce that a 65 year-old ex-Governor/ex-superstar is coming back to be part of the mix, a decade after he left the last installment for politics. Granted, anything would be better than the embarrassing McG made mess that was Terminator: Salvation (even Batman couldn’t save that one), but how can someone now eligible for Social Security supposedly reclaim their beefy, brawling stunt spectacle past? Maybe the robot assassin here will be outfitted with a walker this time around. Or even worse, a retractable mobility scooter.
We include this supposedly finished franchise into the discussion because, like Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber, the culture can’t be cured of their obsession with it. Sure, Saw VII (otherwise known as Saw 3D) was supposed to bring the entire mythology to a mighty close. Now, Lionsgate is thinking Part Eight, or worse, a reboot back to the beginning (and how is that supposed to work, frankly?). Anyway, what’s most misguided about this concept is that a hundred wannabes have sprung up since James Wan reinvented the thriller with his buddy Leigh Whannell. All the good ‘games’ are already taken.
It was a novel concept - at first. Offer up a twist on the whole Blair Witch/found footage idea by showcasing a harried couple videotaping the hypothetical noises going bump in the night. Deliver a decent number of jump scares to the fright flick novices and bank big, big bucks. Even Part Two played it right, expanding the backstory without totally destroying the approach. With Part FIVE looming, the suits have clearly pushed this premise to the very limits of sustainability. Apparently, anyone with a webcam and a desire to play exhibitionist runs the risk of getting visited by demons. Wait, that’s true.
Like Saw, what fans originally liked about the first film in the franchise (the clever combination of storytelling, character, and Rube Goldberg like death traps) has now become all about the bloodletting. Don’t have a decent idea for a scare sequence? Just get a gymnast to miss her dismount and watch as her body crumbles into a collection of splattery CG segments. Sure, we love a good example of ample arterial spray as much as the next guy, but everything else in the Final Destination dialogue has been systematically stripped away. All we have left is Tony Todd and vein juice.
Originally, Miramax greenlit the Wayans’ Brothers’ Scary Movie because they thought it would be cool to mock their genre hit Scream and figured the guys behind In Living Color could do a decent job. Since then, the series has been hijacked by one of the Airplane! crew (David Zucker) while spinning off into the equally god-awful ...Movie series from no-talents Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg. With more and more horror films already acting like cheeky parodies of the genre (frankly, who could take The Last Exorcism seriously?), there is no longer a need for this kind of lampoon.
Let’s get one thing straight, right up front. Massive box office success does not mean that a film franchise is still fresh, inventive, or viable. As a matter of fact, one could easily argue that continuing commercial triumphs visited on Fox and their production partners Blue Sky are a direct result of sticking with the same shtick over and over and over again. Of course, we will see yet another installment in the series. How could we not when the last one - Continental Drift - took in…get ready for it…$877 million around the world. All we can say is, “SHAME ON YOU, WORLD!”