Suderman reads between the lines of the third-term report cards of Spider-Man, Shrek, Pirates, Danny Ocean and friends.
Spidey found himself tied up in multiple knots. Shrek has some serious thinking to do about family planning. The Pirates have come a full circle at World’s End. And, Danny Ocean and team have turned number 13 into a lucky charm.
No matter what critics have said, box office figures only seem to further encourage the high-profile class of 2007 to come back again for yet another term. The universal appeal of these unforgettable characters have transcended megabytes of hardcore criticism from all around the world and reached out to a starved lot of loyalists.
True, the ‘triquels’ this year have been a mixed bag. But these films have more in common than you would think – ‘more’ being the key word there.
Considering that none of these four were designed as a trilogy (three films broken down into first, second and third acts) and yet had ambitions of creating a franchise (more adventures of the same guys), the function of the first part was to introduce you to a bunch of people you would fall in love with and package the film around a set of values that would define the world they are set in.
If Spidey was about celebrating the superhero by showing us the human face of the person behind the mask, Shrek, an anti-thesis to fairytale stereotypes, was about creating new ones to further the fantasy of the underdogs. If Pirates was designed to capture the free-spirited happy-go-lucky old-world charm in a bottle of rum with Captain Jack Sparrow onboard as a mascot, Ocean’s was Soderberg’s way of unwinding with the boys and rewinding to the spunky sixties – to an era of good old-fashioned heists.
Sam Raimi, Andrew Adamson, Gore Verbinski and Steven Soderberg successfully brought alive on screen characters who are timeless – a comic-book superhero, a fairytale stereotype turned on its head, a comic hero born out of pirate-lore and a retro bunch of good-looking, smart-thinking, well-dressed-up robbers.
Thanks to perfect casting, these memorable, adorable characters banked on the charming personas of some very fine actors – Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, George Clooney and Brad Pitt. By the end of the first installment, the lines between the actors and the characters they were playing, were blurred. With the success of the second, it was proven to the makers that the first wasn’t a flash in the pan.
Then came the summer of 2007, and the stage for the third act – the acid test for any franchise. Had the characters indeed become legendary that people would come back just to see them do their thing? Going by the box office success, maybe they have.
Let’s examine the plot-lines of the third installments again. Spidey had to fight the evil within him but there were two villains too many for MORE conflict. Shrek just had to deal with the prospect of responsibility and kids but the makers ensured they accommodated everyone from the first two parts – that’s everybody from the telephone directory of fairyland – for MORE entertainment. Pirates just had to bring back Captain Jack Sparrow from World’s End but the producers packed enough crooks in it to spoil the brawl, all for MORE action. And, Oceans 13 had to come up with something MORE difficult to pull off. The word is ‘more’.
“People want more of it? Let’s give them more of the same thing,” seems to be mantra and the plot just an excuse to unleash more of the same set of values that the franchise is built around.
Which is why the critics have had a problem while fans queued up to meet their favourite heroes again.
If the triquels have taught us anything this summer, it is that a film belonging to a franchise is like a re-union or an alumni meet.
You already know the guys, their friends and family. You aren’t there to judge them anymore.
You already know who they are and what they do. You just want an opportunity to catch up with their lives, their adventures. You want to feel good about having them around. The more the action, the more the fun, the better the re-union.
Besides, they are not just entertainment anymore. They are company. People need people.
What better people to turn to, in regular intervals, than your favourite heroes going about their lives, inspiring you to do good and bringing cheer to your life. And, not just during those 100 plus minutes, but for days after they sign off as they make you wait in anticipation till they’re back again – with a brand new excuse, another pretense of a plot – just to make you happy.