Mar. 16th, 2014

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I recently watched "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2," which was pretty bad. Going into it I knew it was going to be pretty bad, but I watched it anyway. If thy make a third one, I'll probably watch that too. Animated films are a weakness of mine, and I've sat through all the "Shrek" and "Ice Age" movies, despite not really enjoying any of them aside from the first "Shrek." I expect I'll be sitting through "Muppets Most Wanted" at some point, even though from what I can tell it's got more or less the same plot as "The Great Muppet Caper," and the recent reboot was pretty mediocre. And I'll be seeing more "Fast and Furious" movies and more "Expendables" movies as they come down the pipe, though the most recent installments struck me as only meh.

As I look ahead to the movie slates for the rest of the year, I've found that there are very few movies that I'm actually anticipating, but a bunch that I'm probably going to end up watching just because I've seen previous installments that were okay, and I have some idea of what I'm getting myself into - "22 Jump Street," "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For," "Night at the Museum 3," "Expendables 3," and maybe even the next "Transformers" movie since it'll sort of of be a reboot and promises to aim for a slightly older audience. Is this franchise loyalty? No, because I don't really have any expectations that these movies are going to be any good, or any fondness for the properties that would carry me through a few bad installments. I'm going to call it franchise inertia, which is about gravitating toward familiarity more than actual enjoyment.

Even though I like to think of myself as a discerning cineaste with higher standards than most, the truth is that I'm usually game for slick Hollywood product of just about every stripe. I'll watch anything that they can shoehorn Jason Statham or Arnold Schwarzenegger into, anything with a decently large budget and lots of CGI action scenes, and pretty much anything animated that doesn't look too unbearably pandering to small children. "Mr. Peabody and Sherman" and the recent "Alvin and the Chipmunks" movies failed that test, but not that much else does. Franchise movies require almost no thought for me at all - as long as I got some amount of enjoyment out of a previous movie from the same series, I'm willing to give a new installment a chance, no matter how awful I suspect it's going to be. Hence why I paid to see "A Good Day to Die Hard" last year.

Most of the time I know exactly what I'm going to get with a sequel, so even though the reward isn't great, there's almost no risk associated with it. I can't say that about an original film, even when it has all the right names attached. "The Lone Ranger" wasn't any worse than the last "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, but I understand why audiences were more reluctant to see it, since there were a lot of uncertainties about what changes to the formula would have to be made to switch gears for a western. "Pacific Rim" was considerably better made and more kid-appropriate than any of the "Transformers" movies, but because it required buying into a whole new set of characters, terminology, and universe, it was a much harder sell. Branding carries an awful lot of weight, so even if you change almost everything from one installment of a franchise to the next, including actors, directors, and continuity, people will still come out for "The Amazing Spider-man."

Logically I know that I'm more likely to find a good film if I dig through older or foreign or independent movies, but that often requires a lot of time and effort I'm not willing to put in. Often it's just easier to grab the latest blockbuster available. And honestly, sometimes I'm just not in the mood to watch a really strong, challenging film. Most Hollywood movies let me be lazy, and don't require my full attention. Sequels don't even require me to learn the characters' names or the basic premise of the story because I already know what they are from the first movie. Watching franchise films often feels like watching new episodes of a television show in that respect. And as with television shows there are franchises that do wear out their welcome and that I've given up on - I dropped "Saw" after two movies and "The Pink Panther" after three. I still love "The X-files," but could never bring myself to watch that last movie.

It's usually harder to drop a movie franchise than a TV series, though, because movies are still positioned as events and have much bigger budgets. And there's always a chance that one of them will pull a "Madagascar 3" or an "X-men: First Class" and turn themselves around unexpectedly. It's rare, but it happens. And sometimes, it's worth sitting through all the mediocre parts to get there.


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