The Diminishing Returns of Franchise Films

2019 was a very interesting year in film for me, sure it was filled with late masterworks from the likes of Martin Scorsese, Bong Joon-ho, and Quentin Tarantino, and a few indie/foreign films that caught me by surprise like An Elephant Sitting Still and The Death of Dick Long, but it was also one of the worst years of the decade for blockbuster filmmaking. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that this was the year I fell out of love with franchise films in general. 

If I was to backtrack where it all started, I’d say it began with John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (which proves it’s not all Disney’s fault), where the constant wheel-spinning of the narrative throughout the trilogy became clear. All these movies are practically identical; if you like one, you like them all. Chapter 2 ends on a promising cliffhanger (or at least I thought so at the time) of the crème de la crème of ultimate showdowns: John Wick versus the world. In comes Chapter Three which ends with the exact same cliffhanger. Here I was, naively thinking that franchise films could surpass the cyclical nature all of them tend to have, but still I didn’t dwell on it too much. 

Although I’ve soured on Avengers Endgame, I’d rather discuss Spider-Man: Far from Home. Endgame was the supposed “ending” to the Infinity Saga, and regardless of my opinion on the film itself, it’s a (fan) serviceable conclusion. However, it’s painfully obvious, especially when the literal trailer to Far from Home releases before Endgame even comes out, that the entire saga is just a passionless effort. Far from Home was then branded the REAL conclusion, but then just teases more to come. It’s a never-ending train rolling full speed ahead, and shouldn’t be taken seriously anymore in my eyes. The stakes feel fraudulent because they’re so predictable, with countless articles and set photos revealing the direction of the plot, reviving characters becomes second nature, and in hindsight almost none of it matters because characters will just get their own series on Disney Plus! Adding onto my unspoken frustrations with John Wick’s redundancy, this was when I started to become more outwardly upset at where blockbusters were in 2019, then I got to see The Rise of Skywalker!

In my opinion, both Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Godzilla: King of the Monsters represent the worst of blockbuster filmmaking. Fans were up in arms about the ”problems” of the predecessors to each film, and it’s almost like both Rise and King of the Monsters were engineered to please fans that never seem to be content with anything in the first place, sacrificing anything remotely compelling in favor of nonsensical slop. I’m just sorely disappointed that the movies I tend to enjoy are clearly exhibited as just a product now, and franchises I thought I was a fan of have begun to reveal themselves for what they really are. It’s a very cynical look on something that seems so inconsequential, but I think true creativity and outliers in these franchises (The Last Jedi) are starting to get bombarded with unjust criticism, solely because it doesn’t line up with what blockbusters usually are. Which leads to true travesties like Rise of Skywalker, which screams of absolute cowardice if you ask me, especially when The Last Jedi was such a bold move for a franchise film.

The Last Jedi might honestly be one of my favorite blockbusters of all time. It takes the usual wheel-spinning of the plot and recontextualizes it, while playing with expectation and failure in its subtext. The war is ever-lasting (Star Wars movies will always be made) but the characters can pave their own destiny without having to hold on or be tied down to vital characters from 40 years ago. It doesn’t hate Star Wars, it hates what it’s becoming and is simply a statement proclaiming that there is so much room for growth, most of this being conveyed through dialogue from Kylo Ren (played brilliantly by Adam Driver). It’s just such a refreshing outlook to have on franchise films in general, and I love it so much, so you can imagine my anger when nearly everything it stood for is swiped to please “true fans.” 

I’d like to clarify that when I say I want these films to be subversive, it doesn’t have to totally abandon all genre conventions, it just has to make them mean something else. With that being said I truly don’t think it’ll get any better, so it’s probably best if I just bow out of the future of blockbusters. I’ll always have the exciting outliers to challenge me, or at least be on the lookout for upcoming films that do, but the excitement that was once there is gone now. 

Essays

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