When perusing through the list of upcoming Marvel films, it’s difficult not to feel deeply depressed. Stretching into what feels like the next millennium, there are sequels, reboots, and re-adaptations of stories and heroes we’ve seen before.
These colourful, computerised concoctions are churned out every few months, while a horde of masochistic fans swallow up every morsel like an alcoholic at a wine tasting. It’s tempting to raise your fists to the sky and wonder how things ever got this bad. But things have been worse, and if you’re willing to dig a little deeper, the rise of these sprawling film franchises isn’t necessarily the end of great cinema. The truth is that brand recognition sells. In 2015 we saw the release of Jurassic World, summoning the Jurassic Park name back from the dead to break box office records across the globe. There was also tremendous success with Avengers: Age of Ultron and the seventh Fast and Furious sequel, both of which grossed over $1.5bn. Here in the UK, the twenty-fourth James Bond film, Spectre, was welcomed with a five-star review in The Guardian and more box office records. Audiences like familiarity, and as long as nostalgia sells this well, sequels aren’t going anywhere.
This might explain why 2016 is arriving with a multitude of continuations, even when decades have passed since the previous film. These include the upcoming Independence Day: Resurgence, or the peculiar Zoolander 2. Studio executives may not be remaking or rebooting beloved classics as fervently as they once did, but they’re still doing their best to cash in on a recognisable name. It’s not exactly original, but at least our memories are being trampled on in a slightly less insulting manner. You might think that this year’s follow-up to My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a step too far, but if you can bring in the punters on a title alone, why bother making anything new?
sequels can be more than cynical cash grabs
If I’ve got you feeling a bit down, don’t be. After all, without sequels we wouldn’t have The Godfather Part II, The Empire Strikes Back, Aliens, or Toy Story 3. Hollywood hasn’t yet lost all its taste for creativity, even if film makers are increasingly working with familiar material. Indeed, the past year has seen the release of a number of artistically innovative sequels. Mad Max: Fury Road dazzled audiences, while the colossal Star Wars: The Force Awakens has injected new life into a much-missed franchise, making Star Wars exciting again for the first time since 1983. When made with appropriate love and panache, sequels can be more than cynical cash grabs.
As Hollywood budgets continue to rocket upwards, it’s unlikely that the big film studios will start taking risks any time soon. Multiplexes brimming with sequels are increasingly a fact of life, but for the more discerning consumer, the choice is still out there. It’s easy to be cynical when the Marvel Cinematic Universe has just ticked over $9bn at the box office, but rest assured that there’s more to see in 2016 than muscles in spandex.