With the recent news that The Hobbit has already been extended into a trilogy, I can’t help but notice how mind-numbingly standard it’s become to expand a franchise into three films. As we draw near to the end of yet another summer jam-packed with blockbusters, even though few have been sequels, the shadow of the inevitable trilogy has hung low over cinemas and it’s already becoming boring.
Sequels are far from a new idea in film, but this trend of endless trilogies seems to have begun with The Lord of the Rings. The massively successful series set the bar for what a modern blockbuster could achieve, both critically and commercially. It was naturally always going to be made into three films because of its source material and it turned out to be the perfect format for the adaptation.
However, due to its successes at the box office, studios caught on to the huge amounts of money to be made from trilogies. Holding things back for sequels means audiences will inevitably return to find out what happens, even if the first film was dreadful. The Amazing Spider-Man immediately springs to mind here. Although I didn’t hate the film, it was full of wasted opportunities to try new things and all the parts that differentiated it from the original Spider-Man film were pushed aside for a sequel. Worst of all, I still want to see the follow up, despite my disappointment with the first. Although no third film has been announced as yet, you can see it coming a mile off and I’ll probably end up seeing that too.
This inevitability is most apparent in the avalanche of superhero blockbusters that saturate cinemas every summer. Marvel in particular are terrible at creating one-off experiences. These days I feel obliged, not excited, to wait for the regular post-credits scene. As I watch the credits roll, I spend every second of it hoping I’m wrong and that just this once the film will end with no teaser for a sequel. The Avengers was of course going to have a follow-up, but did all its feeder films need one too? Iron Man 3 could do well, mainly due to Robert Downey Jr, but Captain America and Thor seem to lack enough depth to support another solo outing.
Sam Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy sums up the other problem you tend to get with threequels. Spiderman 1 and 2 were great films, but the third was a disaster. The series completely ran out of steam and it definitely felt as if the reasons for making the last were purely monetary. It came across as completely unnecessary, and for many it spoilt the merits of the first two. The X-Men series also suffered this fate, with the third undoing all of Bryan Singer’s great work. What was a relatively deep and thought-provoking look at race relations with great superhero action descended into nothing but meaningless fighting and an over-saturation of gimmicky characters.
A trilogy doesn’t have to be a bad thing though. There are a ton of great examples of how it should work; perhaps the best of these is Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight franchise. From start to finish, the series retains its quality and the sequels were used to actually tell a story rather than pad one out. It says a lot that when people argue over which one is best, all three are almost equally loved. The original Star Wars films are perhaps the only others that share this trait, but even then, Return of the Jedi is significantly less revered. It’s interesting to note that Batman Begins was never meant to spawn a sequel, let alone a trilogy. Somehow this has played in its favour since each film works incredibly well independently of the others. The first three Bourne films and the Toy Story series also managed to achieve this and yet so many other films seem to miss the point.
Hopefully The Hobbit will live up to its hype, but extending it into a trilogy worries me. Being planned to last so long just screams cash-in, and unlike The Lord of the Rings, the source material just isn’t there. At such a late stage in filming for the first, it seems odd that director Peter Jackson has only just decided that he needs more time to tell the story. I wish that the prospect of a trilogy didn’t fill me with such dread, that the idea of more of a good thing could be just that, but far too often my expectations have been shattered. The whole format is quickly becoming tired, outdated and is unfortunately stifling innovation.
You can read Patrick’s blog, Button Smashing Reviews, here.