One Reel Too Many: An End To Trilogies

One Reel Too Many:  An End To Trilogies

By Nic Brown Self-observation time: When have you ever held witness to a truly great, or expectation-exceeding 3rd movie in a film franchise? Go ahead. I’ll wait. There’s food in the fridge. Seriously. 15 minutes. Go. I’m waiting. Anything? I mean there was… well no. Nothing. Ever. Because there wasn’t one. It’s odd how you’d

By Nic Brown

Self-observation time: When have you ever held witness to a truly great, or expectation-exceeding 3rd movie in a film franchise? Go ahead. I’ll wait. There’s food in the fridge. Seriously. 15 minutes. Go.
I’m waiting.
Anything?
I mean there was… well no. Nothing. Ever. Because there wasn’t one.
It’s odd how you’d think that the supposed “Hollywood elite” would know when a concept or idea was dry ( and discussed over countless “lunches”  and closed door meetings).  Hollywood would know when an idea or script was lame… after nearly a century at the trade.  Right?  Here is a new and interesting concept:   a storyline can be told once.  Once.  And the knee-jerk need to keep a franchise going (no matter the profits [a la Saw] isn’t necessary.

But they seem determined to stick to their sequence of a kid on a bike for the first time, only, for Hollywood, the sequence is backwards.  They start out riding perfectly. But then, suddenly, they just start falling. Over. And over. And over. And over. And there’s no stopping them.  They are convinced that “three times is a charm.”

The three-quel failure traces back decades, but let’s simply go back to childhood. Yours and mine, most likely.  Batman.  That is, 1989’s Batman, not the Batman of the 2000s.  After a gold-standard debut film, and an artistically ambitious (if a little misunderstood) sequel, the Batman film franchise could have concluded on an interesting Burton-note that confused and had audiences talking. Almost intuitively, Burton handed the director reigns over to Joel Schumacher. The results? A complete turn in the opposite direction:  1995’s Batman Forever. A movie starring Val Kilmer, Chris O’ Donnell, Nicole Kidman, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, and Drew Barrymore, amongst others. As a guest list for a mid-90s “Save-The-Hammer Pants” rally? Trendy. As a film cast? A bit crowded, and so not gellin’. (© The Dr. Scholls guy.)
Now, because it holds mad emotional ties to your boy’s early days, I tend to give a pass to the controversial Seal marketing tool known as Forever. I mean, in all fairness, I don’t think anyone was even awful in the film. But the murk in Tim Burton’s first two films—(that director Christopher Nolan successfully restored with the two most recent Batman reboots…wonder what the 3rd film will be like?)—was completely forsaken by your man, Schumacher, for what is essentially a laser-light show. (And free puns for everyone!!) But even with the not-altogether “even” feeling you left “Forever” with, nothing-and I mean nothing-could prepare you for the giant “WHAT?!” that was 1997’s Batman & Robin.
Honestly, you gotta give a film like Batman & Robin some credit. It’s like one of those Dave Letterman “stupid human tricks” skits, where someone sees how many pieces of fruit they can fit in their mouth or whatever. Except, y’know, with plotlines. With my toddler-nostalgia pardon of Forever in mind, I think I can safely make a numerical exception, and the centerpiece/example of our concept-exhaustion investigation with Batman & Robin. It’s quite ironic, I remember actually going to the theatre with my mother in ’97 to go see the film upon release, but one of the characters was all-too frightening for my fragile 5-year-old psyche and we left. (Most likely Arnold Schwarzenegger, who continues to frighten us all today as the governor of Hollywood, et. al.) Years later when I watched the movie as a teen, I was just scared by everything. Including the fact that this was allowed to be made. By important people… with money… and power.
Limiting this tradition to superhero movies is almost an insult. Why not take a stab at a higher standard?  How about “fine cinema”?   I give you Godfather III.   Whereas the first two installments of The Godfather are near required viewing for anyone who either would like to pursue a career in film, or just appreciates fine cinema, III, I can only imagine, would only be required viewing for people who like just ridiculously outlandish, slightly-higher-budget college thesis films. (Complete with the main character dying and dropping an orange at the end— I didn’t spoil anything:  if you saw Godfather III, your entire evening would be spoiled.)
In yet another example, even blaxploitation—blaxploitation—isn’t as fun the 3rd go around. Now, as an admitted collector of the genre’s-achem-“finer works,” I can admit that nearly all the stuff is outlandish to begin with. But that’s what makes all the three-quels sooo ridiculous. And amongst all the wonderful contributions to my cause, I only need one: Shaft In Africa. Oh. My. Lord.
Now, Shaft In Africa’s one of those films that you really only need to see the trailer for in order to realize how ridiculous it’s going to be. Matter of fact, since Shaft is not a mob boss with a daughter who cannot act (see Coppola’s attempt for family “acting”), or a man who wears ridiculously hi-tech rubber body armor in the shape of a bat that has a face-lift every other film (Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney).  However, this may be the best example yet in outlandish concepts. For those unfamiliar with the Shaft concept: John Shaft is a detective in early 1970s New York City. A detective that takes the law into his own hands. And if you read the previous two sentences in an Isaac Hayes-like voice, you essentially have the plot for Shaft. During the course of the 1st two Shaft movies, the only two that are redeemable beyond a requisitely awesome 1970s funk soundtrack, Shaft gets at gangsters and crime bosses looking to do the same to him, loses a partner and a lot of bets, and also gets at gangsters and crime bosses. For the 3rd installment, I suppose the creators decided that the ruff-and-tumble New York experience just wasn’t enough. (Can you smell the exhaust? Here it comes!) So come 1973, “Shaft ain’t in New York. Shaft In Africa.” (From an original promotional effort for the film. You’re welcome.)
During Shaft In Filmmaking, our hero undergoes trials, tribulations, and not-believable  of every nature. Including one of the most wrong/un-PC job adequacy tests I’ve ever seen: To determine his ability to maneuver across the land of Africa, (might I add I don’t remember it being specified what country in Africa Shaft is in), he is put in a room, the floor masked deep in sand, and deprived of water. By the way, can I just say this—many parts of Africa are desolate, and in need of great help economically…but if you have some spare time, go to Google Images™ and search “Johannesburg.” Exactly. And given the fact that it is, again, not specified what country in Africa this dude is in, it’s a bit weird to assume all of Africa is like this, no?
There’s nothing wrong with exploring a story. But you have to know when to call it quits or chose art over commerce. If you don’t, the public will do it for you.  By now, a concensus could be made that third installments have only given us Ewoks (and lead us to darker elements… Jar Jar Binks).  Perhaps, given the history from fine cinema to the superheroic, trilogies tend to strike out.

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