The shared movie universe: it is a well sought after concept which is slowly eating away at movie franchises and destroying the quality of the summer blockbusters and it is all Marvel’s fault. The idea of a shared universe is that a number of films are linked by taking place in the same environment, world or timeline. If it is successful, it can mean big money and huge returns as each new installment is met with interest. If it is done badly it can destroy a movie series before it has truly begun.
The issue is that it has only been done well once. Marvel launched their Cinematic Universe with Iron Man and slowly, tentatively but with building confidence reached the pinnacle of shared universes with Avengers Assemble. Marvel are now at the point where they release two movies every year, linked to their wider universe but sole stories as well. It has become traditional, summer, event viewing and it is making Marvel and Disney a lot of money.
This means that many other studios want this too. Studios are looking at their properties and wondering how they can make them into shared universes of their own, trying desperately to link huge summer blockbusters together in an attempt to cash-in on Marvel’s success.
Two examples have failed quite significantly so far. The first is The Amazing Spiderman series. The two movies were very good and got favourable reviews by Views from the Sofa but definitely had one major issue, foreshadowing and setting-up sequels. The first movie slightly hinted at a wider world while the second jammed it down your throat. For many this meant that the film lacked substance and rather than concentrate on just the story that was being told, the movies worked too hard to ensure people knew they had another story to look forward to.
The second example has managed to weather it’s faults but only just. DC were always going to try to follow Marvel but have decided to speed the process up. Rather than give each hero their own movie, they have jumped almost immediately into shared films, with Batman V Superman being the first proper collaboration in their shared universe. Again, like Amazing Spiderman before it, it is a mixed bag, with some random scenes and moments highlighting future plans. It also makes for a strange ending which feels long-winded without being too clear.
The ball has started rolling for DC though and no amount of poor reception for what should have been the biggest movie of the year will stop their plans. It extends to Suicide Squad later this year, which will surely have it’s own hints and Easter eggs growing the universe wider.
You would think with two examples of this process not being successful, studios would shy away and take heed but if anything, the opposite is taking place. New franchises are being announced at the first of major shared universe projects, each with their own horrifying plans. Star Wars is the next to get the expanded treatment and may be the only series which survives the process, especially as it lends itself more to this type of storytelling and is already seven movies in.
Lucasarts and Disney aren’t just stopping there though. Indiana Jones has been “unofficially” announced as being part of a bigger universe but how that would work is anybody’s guess. It isn’t just Disney trying this either, Sony are having another go at bringing more films under one umbrella with their Ghost Corps company trying to expand their new Ghostbusters into a larger universe. To already have the studio department set-up, with the logo appearing at the beginning of the reboot, shows clear intentions.
Even horror movies are getting in on the act. Universal want their famous monsters to team-up eventually. It begins with Tom Cruise in The Mummy but should then lead to Wolfman, Frankenstein and probably yet another Dracula movie seeing as the Luke Evans version failed to inspire.
Shared universes are breaking Hollywood. They need to stop planning the next film before the first has been successful (or not as is usually the case). It is making for shallow movies which constantly feel like a prequel to something larger rather than a proper installment in the wider story.
If studios are going to go down the shared universe route, they need to take a leaf out of Marvel’s book and build slowly. Superheroes lend themselves to this device much better and more easily but if you rush it, you end up with under performing and underwhelming movies like DC’s Dawn of Justice.
Overall, shared universes are Hollywood’s new craze but need to be put to rest. Too many studios are attempting to build and develop their own version, often for franchises which don’t fit the mold. For every Marvel or Star Wars, there is a bizarre plan for Ghostbusters or Indiana Jones which can only really end in failure.