Today we see the release of one of the most disappointing movies of 2009 on DVD, Blu-ray and presumably VHS, Terminator 4: Shitstorm. T4 just about blew all opportunities to be a great film, from the missed major themes to the general dumbness of the basic plot. I actually had some enjoyment watching it, mostly for really nailing the gritty apocalyptic world and some cool effects on Sammy Worthington's half-man half-robot battle damage. All in all, though really an incredibly bad movie.
But what's sweet is that this didn't kill the franchise. That honour is of course reserved for Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003). In essence, the series can never be ruined now, because T3 already ruined it years ago. We can all rest easy. But what went wrong, and is that a bad thing?
Let's travel back to 1991. T2 is incredible as a genuinely good action film. I contend that the computer-generated imagery still looks good today (even against T4). The plot, the fights, "Hasta la Vista" (what fucking kids actually said that in the early '90s as an actual slang term before that movie?), everything is instantly iconic. I think one of the biggest achievements that many people tend to forget these days is the first act twist that the evil Terminator from the first movie is the protector of the second. Leading up all the way to that mall hallway scene audiences had no idea who was what, which is sweet. James Cameron in his prime, awesome, kick-ass.
T3 in many regards is a good action movie. It's just really not Terminator good. Nothing is really incredibly groundbreaking (although I do think that Arnie's late battle damage face is pretty damn good [#24 what]). There's also some sweet naked babe re-entries, graveyard fight and Elton John glasses. That's about it. It sucked because nothing special really happened, although it progressed the story in a natural, decent if not great way. The biggest thing that marred it was probably a public's obsession with nostalgia for Schwarzenegger and atmosphere (funny, it seems Skynet in T4 wanted to kill John Connor with the same ideas). T3 lowered expectations for T4, and T4 lowered our expectations for any more of these monstrosities (which we'll definitely see in this Millennium or the next).
It's very difficult for franchises to keep going after the core story is set. Oftentimes characters or situations end up just becoming a parody of themselves (see John McClane in Die Hard: With a Vengeance 1995). What's sweet is that when franchises are ruined there's no where to go but up, mostly in the form of re-boot / re-make / re-imagining whatever. James Bond is pretty famous for doing these about once a decade (thank you Martin Campbell). Considering that Quantum of Solace (2008) was a little on the weak side, I expect another slippery downfall pretty soon. Don't worry though, the franchise was already ruined by Die Another Day (2002), wait...I meant The World is Not Enough (1999), or no, no A View to a Kill (1985), no shit, definitely You Only Live Twice (1967). The sweet thing about the franchise is that for every License to Kill (1989) you've got a GoldenEye (1995), for every Die Another Day a Casino Royale (2006). The Bond Series can never be ruined. It's been ruined literally dozens of times before. Many franchises are like this.
Godzilla is notable for pretty much throwing in the towel at their third film, then proceeding to make twenty-five more. See also Spider-Man 3, on pace for the same result. I shouldn't even have to mention Indiana Jones...yeah that movie lost me at gophers way before refrigerators. And now Indiana Jones can never be ruined. How about that?!
Some studios though are on incredible hot streaks. Pixar's had an incredible fourteen-year, ten film streak that never ceases to astound me. Likewise Marvel Studio's self-produced films have been very good so far with much more in development. Unfortunately this creates a pretty high standard to live up to. The glass hasn't broken yet. The other foot's gotta fall and it's gonna fall hard. Shit. You've got to love a series like Terminator that blows away any hope of redemption instantly in favour of shitty shitty storytelling and failure to innovate after remolding the entire industry. Such spectacular failure surely funds the next re-boot or whatever happens that can then be truly great. Beware an excellent franchise, their eventual failure will be spectacular. Shitty films are where the true genius lies. Somehow I can follow this logic.
Of course you've also got a series like Transformers that instantly starts out shitty and then goes downhill from there. Now, Michael Bay may be on to something here, if the third installment is somehow incredibly good and blows away all kinds of expectations, he will be forever praised as a golden god walking among mere mortals and I'm sure will be granted an instant Oscar. It's all about the expectations. We'll see, dear readers, we'll see.