Monday, June 30, 2014

Box Office Analysis: Can Some Franchises Go On Forever?

The Dinosaurs are barely in the movie. There. Just saved you from
seeing this garbage.
I've got a lot to talk about when it comes to Transformers this week; I've got a Franchise Frenzy entry on all four movies, and I've got an Editorial brewing for tomorrow about the movies defenders. But for now, let's talk about the biggest opener of 2014 (I know, I know, I'm terrified too), and look at if some franchises really can go on for eternity.

One of the funniest things to read about every year is this idea of "superhero fatigue", that the entire form of superhero movies will inevitably collapse within a short amount of time. Entertainment Weekly wrote a huge column on this back in 2010 (in the same issue where the cover story was covering all the movies and shows at Comic-Con, which is filled with superhero movies. Weird how they disparaged what was helping to make that issue popular.) They theorized that superhero movies were on the way out, which made me laugh until my sides hurt.

Perhaps my favorite internet writer is Film Critic Hulk, a thoughtful fellow with a passion for cinema that writes in the distinctive style of The Hulk. In his in-depth analysis of Man of Steel, he noted that particular storytelling tropes (the origin story for instance) aren't bad in and of themselves, it's just the way they're portrayed in movies that gives them a negative reputation. That's so, so, so true, and definitely applies to the superhero movies. They're never gonna go away, bad ones like Green Lantern and Ghost Rider 2 would flop anyway even if they were the only superhero movies released. The idea of fatigue of the entire superhero movie genre is ridiculous; the true fatigue is one that applies to bad filmmaking.

This means that the Marvel Cinematic Universe will likely go on  for ages to come, just as the James Bond and Star Trek movies have done despite several box office and critical duds. Yet, a bit of an exception to this rule has to be the Transformers franchise. I'll save more in-depth thoughts in the series as a whole for Wednesday, but this newest installment, Age of Extinction, is easily one of the worst blockbusters ever made, right alongside Sucker Punch and Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen. Now, my theory of things like Bond, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Trek going on and on is because bad movies get balanced with good movies (the MCU hasn't made any bad ones yet, but they're also only six years old. They'll get there someday!) The Transformers franchise has one great movie, one that's tolerable yet idiotic and two movies that just make me worry for the future of the human race.

Now, how is it a series is able to keep going despite only one of the movies being good? Well, I freely admit that that first one is truly wonderful, a movie that has plenty of stupid moments that get overruled by moments of even greater wonder. One interesting factor I've discovered while pondering these sequels (I've probably put more thought into them in 100 seconds than Michael Bay has in his six years making these follow up films) is their presence. Hasbros had such success marketing these robots in the 80's that all they really had to do was dust off their handbook on how to put Transformers on every product on the planet from decades past and just go to work. The intense love people had for Optimus Prime twenty years ago reignited, with nostalgia driving the adults and cool robots fighting driving the kids. Unlike other potential franchises like How To Train Your Dragon and the Star Trek reboot series that struggled to maintain momentum in their sequels, Paramount not only made sure to keep the gap between sequels short but also relied on Hasbos experience in marketing the bots to carry the day.

It work. Bumblebee is now as well known as any modern day movie character could be.

So now, each time a movie comes out, rage from the previous movies disappointment doesn't come up. Instead, fuzzy memories of the old TV show and that fun movie from 2007 only come up. Not the humping dogs, the confusing (though occasionally fun) third act of the third movie or even John Turturros butt cheeks. And that definitely won't change this time around, even though I've heard a bit more negative reception from people who have seen it than the movies A- CinemaScore (God help us all if that's true) would suggest. For now though, Transformers, through marketing, not storytelling, remains the cinematic franchise that's like a Twinkie; it'll last forever despite no redeeming quality about it whatsoever.

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