Avengers, X-Men, Glass: Movie sequels, reboots to keep spinning in 2019

It’s too late to complain about sequels, spin-offs and superheroes taking over the multiplexes. That spaceship has sailed.

And I’m not saying sequels or superheroes are always a bad thing — just look at 2018’s stellar hits Black Panther, Infinity War and Creed 2. Heck, in December alone, Aquaman, Bumblebee and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse all showed how good these kind of movies can be when they’re thoughtfully and lovingly crafted. And you can bet I’m looking forward to Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame

What’s intriguing about 2019’s lineup of franchise movies is how darn weird they are. And I’m not just talking about whatever Detective Pikachu is meant to be.

Forget Jared Leto, Joaquin Phoenix is the Joker now.


Warner Bros

Take, for example, the Joker movie starring Joaquin Phoenix, coming in September. That’s barely three years since the villainous comic book character last appeared on screen in 2016’s Suicide Squad played by Jared Leto. There were reports of various movies featuring the Joker in development, possibly involving Leto, until Warner and DC decided to just start again with Phoenix in a standalone solo story.

Three years is pretty quick to reboot a character, but that’s just where we are now — the media landscape demands an ever-accelerating cycle of new stuff. What’s more confusing about the Joker situation is that the DC Extended Universe movie series, of which Suicide Squad was a part, is still continuing, so Leto’s Joker is apparently still a thing. Which means there are two big-screen Jokers in play at the same time.

And that’s 2019 in a nutshell. It’s not enough for a movie to just be a sequel. It has to be a spin-off of a reboot of a movie that only came out five minutes ago. Endless confusing crossovers and remakes rewriting their own history, all of it utterly familiar, only faster, louder, and with more eye-melting effects. A dizzying spiral of more movies, more TV, more content, accelerating and turning in on itself, swallowing its own tail like some kind of mad ouroboros.

The ouroboros of content

Sure, there are some straight sequels. Look out for Kingsman 3John Wick 3: Parabellum and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. But even a relatively straight sequel like Son of Shaft can’t just tell a new story of a fresh, updated John Shaft. It has to feature every actor who’s previously played the role uniting a whole family of Shafts. It’s meta as all hell.

That self-referential meta-ness is everywhere. Look at Disney’s Christopher Robin or The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. Instead of just being a new version of Winnie the Pooh or the Nutcracker, they’re movies set years later that assume you know the original story. They’re sequels to movies that don’t even exist. 

It’s vanishingly rare to find a film that tells a simple self-contained story. This problem has afflicted blockbuster movies for a while now, as studios try to emulate the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in which various characters and storylines unfold across different movies but in the same story world. These days, every successful franchise is only one spin-off away from jumpstarting a money-spinning shared universe. Transformers just did a soft reboot with Bumblebee, and in 2019 we’ll see Hobbs and Shaw wheel-spin off from the Fast and Furious series.

Sometimes shared universes are spun from unrelated stories. I was actually pretty excited about Universal’s Dark Universe uniting classic movie monsters, but it seems the failure of 2017’s The Mummy may have sent that idea back to the grave. Maybe the other monster mashup will fare better, as Legendary’s MonsterVerse franchise sees Godzilla: King of the Monsters face King Kong.

Even more tenuously, 2019’s Glass will be a crossover uniting characters from M Night Shyamalan’s movies Unbreakable and Split. To be fair, this giddily silly Shyamalaniverse does look like fun. And at least it’s not the Cloverfield universe. That half-assed cut-and-shut crossover took existing movie God Particle, spliced in some nonsensical extra footage and vomited it onto Netflix in 2018 as the truly awful The Cloverfield Paradox. If only that debacle was the end of studios forcing round movie pegs into square shared universe holes.

That said, I’m still kind of curious to see the proposed 21 Jump Street / Men in Black crossover, which sounds more like a drunken dare than a movie.

The endless now

The ever-accelerating demand for new versions of familiar things means movies and TV are constantly rewriting their own history. 

Apart from rare exceptions like the amorphously malleable James Bond series, movies have traditionally been pretty fixed when it comes to their own continuity. But not any more: franchises can rewrite elements of their own back catalogues willy-nilly. Take the 2018 Halloween, which not only ignored previous sequels, but also brought back Jamie Lee Curtis while ignoring the previous sequel that did the exact same thing. In 2019, Terminator 6 is set to do something similar when it brings back Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. We’re not just rebooting movies now, we’re rebooting actual actors. 

The Terminator series, of course, is built around time travel, which means the continuity long ago became a tangled mess. The same thing happened with the reboot of Star Trek and Fox’s X-Men series. Instead of just starting again, they used time travel to shoehorn the new movies into existing continuity, making things unnecessarily confusing and complicated.

Dumbo is just one of three live action remakes from Disney in 2019.


Disney

In 2019, X-Men: Dark Phoenix takes a second swing at the storyline of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. A bit of time travel chicanery, a new cast and now movies franchises are rebooting themselves!

The ever-present now-ness not only applies to the story told on screen, but also to what’s being made. When Disney launches its streaming service Disney+ in 2019, it won’t be enough to offer a back catalogue of beloved classics stretching back for decades. The kids of iGeneration don’t care about mouldy old stuff, we’re told. The content has to look like now. Hence Disney’s digital makeovers of its animated classics, which in 2019 will see not one, not two but three live action remakes, applying new effects technology to Dumbo, Aladdin and The Lion King.

And that’s just the start. Want to log in to Disney+ to show your kids your favourite films, like The Rocketeer or Three Men and a Baby? Get back on your penny farthing, grandma! Disney+ will feature remade and remodelled versions of those films, plus Father of the Bride, High Fidelity, Lady and the Tramp, Peter Pan, The Parent Trap, The Sword in the Stone and the Mighty Ducks. Why? So they’re new. That’s what the content ouroboros demands.

Rogue One TV show: a prequel to a prequel?


Disney

Also coming to Disney+ are two more oddities. First, given how the movie ends, a Star Wars Rogue One TV series will be a prequel to a prequel. And second, I give you the peerlessly meta High School Musical: The Musical, which follows some high school kids putting on their own version of the actual High School Musical. If that’s not culture swallowing its own tail I don’t know what is.

Don’t get me wrong. I like superheroes. I like spectacular effects-driven blockbusters. And I like it when they get weird. But I’m definitely sick of movies that come with homework. Storylines that won’t pay off for a decade. Films that tie themselves in knots to fit continuity instead of just telling a fresh story. And the relentless saturation of new, new, new.

So yeah. Detective Pikachu will either be amazing or utterly incomprehensible — or more likely both.

Which might also be a good description of 2019.

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Richard Trenholm

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