7 Fixes That Would Make Classic Franchises Bearable Again
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.
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.
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.
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.
"Is it the Moby song? Should we get a Moby theme?"
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 ...
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.
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.
Terminator And Aliens Aren't Supposed To Be Action Franchises
No matter your opinion of Terminator or Aliens, I think we can all agree that the first two films of both franchises were undoubtedly the best of a set slowly going off the rails. Evidence: The last Alien film didn't even have a fucking alien in it.
But did have the ultimate costume idea for shirtless douches at comic conventions.
Along with that similarity, both series started as horror films that were followed by action sequels, and both had fairly simple setups that escalated into a giant timeline of events. And both the Alien and Terminator franchises went from being about heroes simply trying to survive a monster to stopping a grand scheme. Eighty percent of the first two Terminator films had nothing to do with Judgment Day and everything to do with running away from immortal killing machines. But as the series was brought back, stopping the apocalypse was suddenly all we were worried about -- to the point where Genisys completely focused on resetting the timeline while warning a generation about the harrowing dangers of cloud storage.
"Shiver in fear at this dystopian product from 2011!"
So How Do We Fix It?
Why aren't these horror franchises?
This is going to sound strange, but the original Terminator had nothing to do with robots from the future. According to James Cameron himself, the apocalyptic premise was simply a launching pad for his very own slasher film. The original villain was meant to emulate the unstoppable likes of Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. In other words, the entire futuristic backstory was just invented so that a creepy robot could chase a waitress in a factory. And somehow this snowballed into an entire series of films focused less on the fear and more on the ridiculous logic of time-traveling murder computers.
This entire convoluted film is brought to you by James Cameron throwing a dart at the words "time machine."
It's the same for Alien, which was originally imagined as a haunted house in space. Then it was turned into an action franchise, and stayed that way until someone finally realized the mistake and made Alien: Isolation to scare the pants off the gaming world. We took perfectly good horror plots about being stalked and torn apart by a mechanized skeleton and space dragon and spent decades trying to make them work in the wrong goddamn genre. I mean, shit, the T-1000 is basically a slightly-less-naked version of the monster from It Follows. How did we miss that?
Die Hard Is About The Character Of John McClane (And Not The Actor Playing Him)
Tough talk: There hasn't been a good Die Hard film in 20 years. As the series increasingly escalated, John McClane went from a fish-out-of-water beat cop to international rescue spy surfing fighter jets. Now, Bruce Willis is winding up to yet again whiff in the upcoming Die Hard: Year One, which promises to take place both in the present and back in the '70s, focusing on the origin story of how John McClane met his wife.
This is seriously what the new Die Hard writer thinks we've been all waiting to see.
Awkwardly coined as a "sequel/prequel hybrid," it's as if the studio is stuck between the idea of rebooting the franchise and doing a sequel with Bruce Willis -- who once asked a producer during a negotiation, "Who's your second choice to play John McClane?"
So How Do We Fix It?
Hey ... who is the second choice to play John McClane?
As Kevin Smith once painstakingly detailed after making Cop Out, Bruce Willis is kind of a pain in the ass to work with.
So why not ... you know ... just recast the role and make John McClane immortal? It's not exactly like his character grows with each film.
In fact, certain things actually recede over the years.
Go ahead, try to think of what John McClane's arc is throughout the first three films. He doesn't have one. In fact, John McClane is so aggressively stagnant that other characters around him have arcs to accept who he is. Because John McClane is the grizzled roughneck everyman to James Bond's charming cervix-magnet. They are both power fantasies. And no one wants to see their power fantasies grow old and confused.
Plus, recasting the role is so guaranteed to work that it already did.
"Come out to D.C., we'll get together, have a few laughs ..."
There's Only One Way To Make An Avatar Sequel
Avatar made more money than any other movie in history. Because of that, James Cameron plans to create at least three more films set in that universe, which are currently being written by multiple writers and which promise to once again revolutionize the world of digital effects in a grand multi-million-dollar production. Along with this, Disney World will be opening an entire new section of their park devoted to recreating the iconic world of Pandora.
Only there's a snag: No one gives a big blue shit about Avatar.
Without looking it up, name two characters from this movie. Actual character names, not the actors.
You know it and I know it, but James Cameron doesn't know it. So if you or someone you love happens by Mr. King of the World, please relay the following immediately:
So How Do We Fix It?
STOP EVERYTHING YOU ARE DOING, JAMES CAMERON.
Look, Jim. I love your work, and that you helped design the Predator. But no one wants to see another Avatar film. Seriously, Jim. I'm sorry about this, because it was our fault for leading you on.
You see, it was December of 2009. Obama had just become president, while the war in Iraq was winding down. The recession had just ended, and everyone was ready to jump on the postwar escapism bandwagon. Then your movie about fuckable blue monsters came along and not only tapped into that push from Bush, but also did so through the budding resurgence of 3D movies which we were all so desperate to enjoy. We really needed something safe to enjoy, Jim. I understand how it would be easy to confuse the attention with actual affection, but I'm telling you: No one is a fan of Avatar. I'm sorry. And since Avatar 2 is now being delayed indefinitely by the studio ...
... I thought it might be a good time to tell you. Please stop, Jim. You made the "Who Let The Dogs Out" of movies, and you're walking into your cinematic "You All Dat." Now please go back to making good films, and not a bunch of garbage sequels for the next 10 years. You have the power to make this stop, Jim. You're in charge.
James Cameron can direct all further career questions to David's Twitter.
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Hollywood has A LOT to fix. See what else needs some cleaning up in 18 Offensive Stereotypes You Still See In Movies And On TV and 5 Things Movie Trailers Need To Stop Doing.
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