Notes on the “Franchise” and “Cinematic Universe”

The Big Daddy of the cinematic universe
The Big Daddy of the cinematic universe

This year has seen the release of a lot of big budget superhero films and TV shows. Marvel had Deadpool, a highly successful experiment with more adult content and 4th wall-breaking aspects, and Captain America Civil War, linking up lots of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with so many characters in it that it was basically Avengers 2.5 more than a Captain America centered film. Marvel will have Dr. Strange releasing later this year in an attempt to open up the more magical and mystical aspects of the Marvel Universe, and the third Thor and second Guardians of the Galaxy movie for next year. They also had the third season of Agents of Shield on TV, the last season of Agent Carter (a fond adieu to you Peggy!), and came off the fantastic Netflix releases of Daredevil Season 2 and Jessica Jones, which were both very well executed television shows. They are both slated for new seasons next year along with a Luke Cage series and another season of Shield on deck as well. Iron Fist, Cloak and Dagger, the Punisher, Legion, the Defenders, Damage Control and Empire of the Dead are all Marvel comics that have shows on order. And lets not forget the myriad of Marvel animated shows like Avengers Assemble, Guardians of the Galaxy and Ultimate Spiderman just to name three out of the more than 8 series that have run in recent years. And in between all of these films and shows there are nods and winks and tie-ins and correlated story threads and overarching plot arcs and WOW that’s a lot isn’t it!

The up and comer of the cinematic universe
The up and comer of the cinematic universe

DC has the same thing going on, trying to play catch up to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe already in progress. They are late to the DCCU (DC Cinematic Universe) party, but are doing a rush to get to where Marvel is now. This year we have had two big budget bloated DC movies, Batman V. Superman Dawn of Justice ( a bloated, quasi-entertaining movie whose title is even too much of a mouthful) and Suicide Squad (a movie with too many characters and plot lines that felt totally unnecessary and underdone) that missed the whole philosophy of “less is more”. DC also has The Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl running on TV, which will all be linked up through crossover episodes,  and be on the CW since Supergirl moved over from CBS, by the end of the year. They also have Gotham, which is getting pretty good, airing on FOX. These are all good shows too, and they have lots of room to grow and develop. They have Flash and Aquaman and Wonder Woman movies coming up, with Green Lantern way later on, and of course the Justice League films. They also have had Constantine, who will be given another chance in the future, and they own Preacher which just finished its amazing first season on AMC. DC has ordered a Krypton series based on Superman’s home planet for SyFy, and are planning a Watchmen and Static Shock show among many others as well.

And FOX...though X-men and Spiderman started the whole superhero franchise hype back in 99/00, so you gotta give credit where credit is due.
And FOX…though X-men and Spiderman started the whole superhero franchise hype back in 99/00, so you gotta give credit where credit is due.

And then there is Sony, finishing up their new X-men trilogy with X-men Apocalypse, one of my surprise favorites of the year, and with a teaser of their new Spiderman dropped into Civil War with his own movie, Homecoming, coming out next year, along with the final stand-alone Wolverine movie with release TBD. And lets not even start on the Fantastic Four mess.

Let’s pause for a minute. That is a WHOLE LOT OF CONTENT. And many other franchises are doing it too. Star Wars will have a movie a year til the end of time, with two cartoon shows already running (Rebels and Star Wars Lego, and a live action show in the works) not to mention video games and theme park tie ins of course. Star Trek just released its third movie in the new time line, with a show set in the prime timeline slated for release  next year and a 4th movie in the JJverse already greenlit for production. There are so many of our favorite nerdy things coming to life in so many ways in so many different types of media with so many interlocking pieces it can all be overwhelming, and its all happening so FAST.

SO FAST
SO FAST

But why so much and so quickly? I understand competition between franchises, but is that really what is best for the franchises, for the characters, for the quality of the art, for the earnings of the companies that own the rights to the franchises, and for us as lovers and viewers and readers of all this content?

My advice is to adopt a slower, less is more attitude and here is why. Everyone is in a rush job to get to the “climactic battle” or the “big finish”, especially DC, but in doing so, they bloat the movies, flood the market with content, and lessen each character and story as a result. Also we get viewer fatigue, as there is too much to consume, to much to keep track of, to many subdivisions of our attention, that it all seems like too much to take in and we start to tune out and have to work to really pick and choose what we want to watch. How many times have you turned on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon, or pulled up your DVR list, and spent so much time trying to decide which episodes of what to watch when and in what order that you just wasted 45 minutes and turned on a rerun of something else? It’s a lot of planning and responsibility! There are entire TED talks (Barry Schwartz, Sheena Iyengar) on this very subject. It’s called decision fatigue. This makes the whole viewing experience of the franchise and CU less enjoyable and more frantic and stressful.

Which one forms the head?
Which one forms the head?

It also leaves less room for new, original material and content in our lives, which is where things get truly mind expanding and interesting. Seeing our old faves in new and clever ways is great, but lets not forget to give new ideas, artists, writers, and filmmakers a spot in our lives too. I learned this very well this year at Comic Con, as my experience there was much more rewarding when i slowed down and payed attention to fewer new things with focus instead of briefly registering many things I was already familiar with. (You can read more about that on the Wordfunnel page). Studios go for brand recognition, as a safe bet for revenue generation, but forget that the  next big thing may be an unknown. Look how great the movie Pacific Rim was. New, not based on anything, but well done and had a strong following. It’s going forward with a sequel, but had a hard time getting there because it was buried under the “safe bets” of existing franchises. And look how poorly executed an almost fail safe franchise like Ghostbusters did. How did they mess that up? “Who ya gonna call?” is part of the cultural consciousness, but it didn’t guarantee a hit. Give new stuff a chance! You never know when you’ll have the next hot property and be making some serious new revenue, not to mention supporting a whole new wave of fans who appreciate new content.

reboot fail
reboot fail

Bloated rush jobs on films and TV may not pay off in the long run. Give your franchises the respect they deserve: slow it down and give each character room to grow and develop with more films and shows over a longer period. More is not always better. Bigger is not always greater. Faster doesn’t always get you to where you want to be more quickly. Journey, not destination. Studios, content creators and consumers both need to come to terms with this. This year’s big superhero films are a prime example of that. Batman and Wonder Woman should have gotten their own films first before being shoehorned into a big budget epic team up so that their characters would have had more emotional connection to the audience, and thus feel more familiar and fleshed out than they did in Batman V Superman. Give Harley and Joker their own time to shine before shoving them in to a film with 6 other villain/heroes in Suicide Squad. Let Spiderman:Homecoming come out before dropping him into the 10 hero “Captain America” movie that was Civil War. Give the audience a chance to breathe and absorb. Let them appreciate each character on their own before cramming them into these massive team ups with ridiculous, hole-ridden plots. Quality over quantity guys! I understand Marvel got there first, but rushing to catch up with each other to some nebulous climax won’t make things better. You’ll make more quality movies over a longer period of time, sell more tickets and blu-rays, and when you do have the massive epic team up battle movies, the moments will feel earned, the arcs feel triumphantly completed, and the stories and decisions matter to the audience, which will bring them back for afterwards, when you undoubtedly reboot these franchises to keep milking that sweet comic cow. What’s the rush to get to the end? The cow will still be there! Give artists, writers, and animators time to think up and create awesome new and original characters, worlds, and stories. In the mean time, take us for  a ride! Give us a few loop-the-loops and suspenseful drops and twists in the roller coaster before you end it, don’t rely on speed and cheap thrills to sell us the content. We will all be better and more rewarded for it in the end!