As the assistant editor of a 2007 short documentary about glass sculpting in Central Florida, I know a thing or two about the movie business. For starters, sometimes it's the people closest to a film who end up understanding it the least.
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1973: American Graffiti
1999: Phantom Menace
2016: Food court.
So while I might not be balls-deep in the industry, I've spent a lifetime ogling it through Hollywood's soiled peephole. And so, from my unnecessarily perverse vantage point, here's my advice on how to fix seven modern movie franchises that have a chronic inability to understand what the hell to do with hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars.
#7. Half The Reason We Like Superman Is Watching Him Be Awkward Clark Kent
Superman's powers read like something an asshole child made up on the playground, making every cinematic conflict he has reliant on the villain stumbling upon an unusual mineral. What's the goddamn appeal? We obviously enjoy Superman films (I certainly do), so let's look at them from highest- to lowest-rated on Rotten Tomatoes and see if there's a pattern:
It's bad enough to drive a man to drink.
The originals are most liked, then broken up by the modern films and followed by their sequels -- implying that the longer a series lasts, the less audiences like it. When adjusted for inflation, the box office also reflects this model. Meanwhile, Man Of Steel's brooding, murderous depiction of Krypton's last son has resounded less positively than the dying cries of baby seal. Because no one wants to sit through two hours of the "hero" being an unrelatable alien hacking down city blocks.
So How Do We Fix It?
I'm all for making Superman a villain in someone else's story, but Man Of Steel failed to reach audiences because it didn't know how to make its eponymous anti-hero a root-for-able protagonist. Specifically, we never got to meet alter-ego Clark Kent and his awkward crush on Lois Lane -- which, besides his relationship with his parents, is maybe the only relatable aspect of this character. Whether we realize it or not, Clark's secret Lois boner is like 80 percent of why we watch this garbage. Just look at Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman, and the moment that show's ratings began to plummet after season three ...
"Derailed like a locomotive!"
The episode in question was the third of the fourth season -- the one in which Lois and Clark finally get married. And once the knot was tied, audience interest deflated faster than Dean Cain's career ... thanks to that entire "will they, won't they" conflict of the show getting thrown out the window.
And this is the same pattern we see in the original films, as the more hated sequels strayed farther away from Superman hiding his identity, until Man Of Steel made Lois Lane completely aware of his human disguise. Because I'm pretty sure Zack Snyder thinks a "protagonist" is a unit of measurement that old-timey nuns used to calculate the trajectory of orphan tears.
#6. It's Time For James Bond To Stop Being Jason Bourne
Every new generation of Bond movie reflects the prevailing action movie tropes of the day. We tend to forget that this is why Casino Royale had a parkour scene and Die Another Day blessed the audiences with a surfing Pierce Brosnan. This is also why, after The Bourne Identity hit it huge back in 2002, the producers of Casino Royale flat-out said that they were going to emulate Bourne's ball-pummeling demeanor.
This scene was originally going to introduce new Bond henchman The Gimp.
Eat up that raw testicular carnage, because this isn't your father's Bond anymore. This was mopey Bond -- a man actually aware of his own sociopathic tendencies and rampant alcoholism. And yet, all while this was going down, the series still wasn't able to defeat Jason Bourne at the domestic box office.
But as the Matt Damon series went away, Bond was finally able to find glory after Skyfall was handed over to a non-action director and the series bounced back from the scriptless Quantum Of Solace. Spectre was equally awesome, but saw audience ratings start to dip as it tried to bring the series back to its campy, Blofeldian roots. And that's where we are now: trapped between two worlds as producers insist a return of Daniel Craig, while the actor claims, well ...
"Bullshit! If you didn't do it after Quantum, you won't do it now."
So How Do We Fix It?
Lord knows I love that cold-eyed lobsterback Daniel Craig, but we're gonna need a new Bond. But before you start your engines about Idris Elba or Clive Owen or Tom Hardy or Jamie Foxx, the more important thing to ask isn't who will play the next 007, but rather who is going to direct it. Because along with a new title character, it's time to once again decide who gets to re-calibrate the series as an action franchise. One name comes to mind ...
Pro: Christopher Nolan successfully took all the ridiculous gadgets and characters of the Batman series and somehow made them feel plausible and fun.
Con: James Bond would continue to be moody and dark. Another possibility would be to embrace and return to the '70s camp, which would require a director seemingly stuck in that era ...
Imagine that shit. But no matter who does it, what's important is that they punt all shaky-cam shots back to 2002. And this isn't the only punch-and-shoot series that needs to stop thinking about Matt Damon ...
#5. The Bourne Series Needs To Get Rid Of Jason Bourne
The Super Bowl trailer for the new Bourne movie looks undeniably boss, assuming your boss is in a perpetual state of disappearing into crowds between exotic bare-knuckle boxing matches. For that, you have Paul Greengrass to thank -- as Matt Damon continually stipulated that he would only return if the director came back as well. It's this ambivalence that has already put the possibility of a sixth return in doubt ...
But since the Jeremy Renner version didn't make all the money in the world, the studio has decided that it's more important to cold-shoulder Legacy in exchange for one more go at Violent Will Hunting ... making the possibility of a sequel for either ambiguous. After all, it's not like Hawkeye McNextEthanHunt is exactly begging for roles. It's as if you dumped your new spouse to have one last fling with an ex, and when the dust clears, you're actually left with nobody.
So How Do We Fix It?
There's no clearer way to see how definitively over Jason Bourne's story is than just Wikipedia-ing the novels ...
The Bourne Redundancy (Coming 2017).
After the first three Ludlum novels were made, the estate took it upon themselves to stretch out the books for as long as possible with other writers at the helm. And we're already seeing a similar stagnation in the new trailer, which features a character assuring our non-amnesiac hero that "remembering everything doesn't mean you know everything." Because it's not a goddamn Bourne film unless we see Matt Damon struggling with his dark past.
By the end of the next film, you find out he was actually a twin who ate the other embryo in utero.
It's the same way Wolverine is in a perpetual state of revelatory flashbacks. And since all we really care about is weird foreign sirens and rooftop combat, it's time to commit and give Renner a goddamn Bourne series already. When you look at the actual box office numbers, his debut film did about the same as Damon's first go at it. So let's give the guy a shot at something other than perpetual understudy before we find him in the middle of Sunset Blvd. wearing Tom Cruise's face like a Halloween mask.
#4. Pirates Of The Caribbean Got Shittier The More It Became A Fantasy
While the ride-based series has actually been getting more and more lucrative with every installment, public opinion of the Pirates Of The Caribbean films has been steadily dripping away, not unlike the real Blackbeard's penis.
"You will always remember this as the day that you regret watching Captain Jack Sparrow."
Furthermore, the films are increasingly costing ludicrous amounts of money (the upcoming film cost a rumored $350 million). So what's going on? Jack Sparrow's insufferable monkey business is being set in an increasingly paranormal world. The first film gave us cursed ghost pirates, the second added Davy Jones and the Kraken, and At World's End added Calypso and Davy Jones's Locker, along with cursed pirates, Davy Jones, and the Kraken. And that's juggling an ever-shifting love triangle framed behind the East India Trading Company doing battle with the pirate brethren. It's as if the filmmakers thought they needed a Tolkien-esque mythology to keep the audience engaged in a series about sea monsters and swashbuckling.
So How Do We Fix It?
Here's the thing I don't think even fans realize: The Pirates Of The Caribbean films were never supposed to be all that supernatural. The first one worked because of its fun characters more than the world-building fantasy, and ultimately, the series suffered the more complicated it got. Just look at the subtle difference between the first sword fighting sequence vs. the last of the original trilogy.
If you didn't catch it, that first shot was of two characters having a verbal back-and-forth in a blacksmith shop while the second photo is Johnny Depp fighting a cartoon man-squid over a CGI whirlpool created by an angry crab goddess.
But the need for escalation while making sure Jack Sparrow is always front and center could have easily been fixed, had they just made it an episodic series of pirates-being-pirates adventures instead of a ballooning arc that wore people out. How awesome would a Pirates Of The Caribbean anthology been, in which the only connector is the loopy presence of Jack Sparrow? Instead, Pirates 5 is yet another magical adventure about Jack Sparrow finding the motherfuckering Trident of Poseidon while battling with an army of ghost pirates from the Devil's Triangle, like he's goddamn Kratos from God Of War.