Roger Ebert wrote a gloomy article at the start of the summer movie season, called "Pirates and 26 Other Sequels This Year: Are Hollywood Execs Ruining Movies?" And he had a right to be skeptical. This year saw a record number of sequels, and movie franchise math has always stated that your expectations should be divided by the number at the end of the title. Sequels are for people who don't care about originality, so why bother making them good, right?
But this time, imagine he's making funny noises in a slightly warmer climate.
But something weird happened once the sequels actually started coming out: they weren't terrible. Many of them were the best reviewed movies in their franchise. While 2011 wasn't the first year that originality appeared to be dying at the movie theater, it was the first year to make the case that originality's death might be fun to watch.
Fast Five was the best example of this radical new thinking. It wasn't a great movie, but it was way better than every film in the franchise up to that point. It reminded you less of a fourth sequel than a good TV series finding its footing after a handful of episodes.
Watch the first season of The Simpsons for an example (provided you
don't find the use of the word "dude" hilarious when spoken from atop a skateboard).
Fast Five didn't make drastic changes. It was still a stupid movie, but there was a different quality to its stupidity. The first four movies didn't make sense in the insulting way a dumb person doesn't make sense when trying to talk their way out of a speeding ticket. Fast Five didn't make sense in the awesome way that Wu-Tang Clan lyrics don't even try to make sense. The first four movies failed to ask the all-important question, "What if we rubbed melted butter on the Rock and told him to pretend to be Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive?" Fast Five asked that question, and had the good sense to realize the answer was, "That would be goddamn hilarious!"
The problem with real law enforcement officials is that they just aren't greasy enough.
In his article about how sequels were going to ruin the year in movies, Ebert pointed out that "This year includes five fifth sequels (Fast Five; Final Destination 5; Puss in Boots; X-Men: First Class; Winnie the Pooh), two seventh sequels (The Muppets; Rise of the Apes) and the eighth Harry Potter movie (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two)." He did this to highlight just how screwed we were, but every single one of those movies is currently certified "Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes. Over half of them are the best reviewed movies in the history of their franchises -- suggesting a new, more complex sequel math where franchises don't really get going until part five.
I'm not going to deny that Hollywood went overboard this year: Heading into December, the seven highest grossing movies of 2011 were all sequels. There are enough sequels still coming soon to a theater near you (and lots of foreign audiences who, it turns out, like mindless bullshit even more than American people) that it could be an all-sequel top 10 by the end of the year. For now, The Smurfs -- the most successful non-sequel of the year -- is holding strong at number eight.
But after years of TV shows becoming more cinematic, movies seemed to take a page from the best TV shows, realizing that you can still do good work while giving audiences the familiar characters they know and love.
And also Antonio Banderas.
Let me preface this by saying that I've seen both of these movies and I still had to check IMDb to remember which was which. Studios have consistently proven that they aren't shy about remaking films over and over and over. But 2011 marks the first time I've ever seen two identical middling romantic comedies released at the exact same time.
Well, I say that, but I can't even be sure that these are the films I'm talking about.
This is a turning point. Until now, there's always been a tacit agreement between audiences and filmmakers that as long as Hollywood pumps out remakes of the stories we love, fans will quietly hand over money without complaining too loudly about the lack of originality. But reimaginings are not a renewable resource. At a certain point they have to start pulling stories that are increasingly more recent until the logical conclusion is reimagining a movie that hasn't even been released. I can only assume No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits were made within a few months of one another as a test on behalf of Hollywood as a whole to gauge exactly what percent of their audience is retarded enough not to notice. The answer, it turns out, is most of us. No Strings Attached was 17th in top-grossing comedies of the year, and Friends with Benefits was 21st. They insisted we were nostalgic for a mediocre story we hadn't even heard yet, and we collectively answered, "OK."
After this year, I fully anticipate seeing identical movies released simultaneously because studios know now that there is no accountability anymore. We will still see both. We may even see them twice if they have a limited IMAX 3-D showing.
Just burn our money, Hollywood. Burn it right up.
The Hangover 2 is the Transformers 3 of comedies. If Transformers 3 is all giant robot spectacle and butts, Hangover 2 is all man-boy shrieking and dicks. The formula is the same: semi-likable characters + a series of unrelated set pieces - any semblance of heart = movie!
And I expect that from Transformers 3. I want that movie to be robots and butts fighting each other for screen time, because that's what I paid for, but I never look for that in a comedy. The Hangover Part II was a shameless, heartless parade of jokes we've already seen partnered with shock-inducing spectacle. Never before has a comedy tried to rival a big-budget action movie for mindlessness and insulting stupidity. At least most comedies try to do something new. Hangover 2 just said, "Oh, you liked when Ed Helms woke up with weird shit on his face and then Zach Galifianakis said something silly the first time? We'll just do that again, but louder."
And the reason I'm calling it "Most Appropriate Movie of the Year?" It made over $500 million worldwide. It worked. They were successful, so the lesson in Hollywood will be "Do it again! Do that again with EVERY movie!" I hope you liked the first Hangover, because it's the only movie Hollywood is going to make for the next five years.
Back in November, the New York Times ran an article by Neil Genzlinger, renowned name-haver. In it, he talked about how the sitcom is dead and how all of the stories have been told and how comedy is dead and how there's nothing new anymore and how all of the things everywhere are dead.
I agreed with him at first, because sometimes I have to actively stop myself from being cynical. But there's a reason stories are told over and over, and it's not because creativity is dead and God is dead and everything in all the places is dead. It's because, for one, everything is a remix. But also there are important stories that everyone should hear except NEWSFLASH CALL THE NEWS PEOPLE most kids hate old things. Some punk kid isn't going to go on Netflix or WebWatcher and watch Old-Ass Thing. Some punk kid is going to watch Some Bullshit New Thing. Or something better, maybe. Who knows with these punk kids nowadays?
But I'll talk later about TV and Whitney and how super good I bet it is. Here, I'm talking about the final film in the Harry Potter series, a story of bravery and friendship and right and wrong and good and evil and magic and other stuff, probably. It's an old story, but it's this generation's old story. Not since the original Star Wars trilogy has a saga seen so filled with OMG THIS IS MY FAVORITE THING LETS WEAR THE COSTUMES AND WAIT IN THE LINES AND BUY THE TOYS AND MAKE THE FUCKING GIFS. Harry Potter is everywhere, and it ended this year.
But even though it's over, it is here to stay. It is the new Star Wars. For decades to come, people will be making Voldemort jokes and rewatching Harry Potter and hoping they make more Harry Potter and regretting that they made more Harry Potter. It's the newest version of the same old story we've seen. The only difference is that J.K. Rowling wears way less flannel, and instead of Vader being Luke's dad, Snape kills Dumbledore.