Thursday, March 3, 2016

A RAMBLIN' RANT: The death of the third act in Hollywood

You might have noticed this phenomenon. Hollywood movies have no endings any more. They have just become the middle act in endless multi-million dollar soap operas.

I remember the first moment I became aware of this trend. I was reading The Hunger Games and was nearing the  ending -- I was locked in and ready for a real humdinger of a climax. If you've read the book or seen the film, you'll know what really happens: an unsatisfying cliffhanger that forces you to hang on for a sequel. 

Having had to deal with this in most of the movies I had been seeing lately, I threw the book away. Enough of the cliffhanger, enough of the sequel. If your story can stand on its own feet, come up with an ending. THEN, if you have an idea for a follow up, do it. I do not know if author Suzanne Collins had planned out The Hunger Games as a series, but she really shafted what could have been a decent teen sci-fi with a pair of sequels that, based on general consensus, are regarded as considerably weaker than the opening instalment.

The rise of the Marvel cinematic universe is a major reason for this new focus on franchises. And even though it has been a huge success, there have been stumbles along the way -- and the flaws of the approach are readily apparent across the franchise.

Iron Man 2 almost stopped the MCU dead with its bloated, formless story and poor characterisation -- it felt top-loaded with extraneous bullshit.



The ending of Captain America: The First Avenger still bugs me -- Steve Rogers saves the world and promptly gets frozen for 70 years, waking up in the future of 2011. You spend the whole movie putting this guy through the ringer, and just as he saves the world, you fudge it so that everything he just fought for means nothing. All the characters and relationships of the previous 2 hours are just wiped away with no resolution, sacrifices for the incoming Avengers movie.

When The Avengers hit big, that signalled the industry-wide shift toward multi-film franchises.

What does this spell for creativity?

Studios are always looking for sure things, and converting existing IP into multi-media franchises looks like easy money. This means original content has even less of a chance to get the green light -- there's no guarantee of success. Studios feel safer going for something with name recognition.

Singular, self-contained stories won't get made, or will be drastically altered to make way for potential sequels -- even if those revisions lead to movies that feel half-baked and unsatisfying. No movie can be singular any more -- even the brilliantly self-contained John Wick will get a sequel. 



One of the first real casualties of this new status quo is the latest James Bond film, Spectre. The Bond franchise has been a pretty good barometer of what's hot in Hollywood, for good or ill. The bloated, retcon fest of Spectre is ironically a spectre of what looms for these other stabs at multi-film franchises. 

We'll have to wait and see what happens with the DC, Universal Monsters and Transformers/GI Joe/Bayhem mega-franchises, but the odds are not in their favour (Callback!).

End of rant.

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