Film, Star Wars, TV, Writing

Milking the Franchise: STAR WARS, MARVEL & beyond

As Star Wars and Marvel announce their future plans, A. J. Black discusses the phenomenon of milking the biggest franchises in the world for all they’re worth…

Franchise cinema, let’s be honest, can be thrilling. It can transform movie experiences from solitary pursuits to collective endeavours.

In an age of deeply fractured politics and cultural conflicts happening across nation states, there is comfort in how Captain America taking on Thanos only for the entire MCU to ride in and support him galvanised everyone operating in that shared cinematic space to cheer in collective joy, no matter what your political or cultural persuasion. Many felt the same when Rey and Kylo Ren turned the Emperor’s fire back on him (though I’d argue this was a far diminished return than the Marvel example…). Denigrators of franchise filmmaking, of fandoms indulging in shared universes, miss this aspect – the collectivisation of a text which binds fans together.

It is often toxic, but it is equally as often magnetic and joyful.

There is, however, a limit to the reach and scope of such franchise endeavours for those, like me, who skirt the edges of fandom.

Marvel and Star Warsboth of whom Disney just announced a huge slate of projects for over the next few years—are not the worlds I personally am most invested in. My fandom interests lie elsewhere but even then, I am not a consumer who digests only Star Trek or only James Bond. Fandoms are frequently incredible communities filled with people who live and breathe the properties they love, and this is to be—sans the aforementioned toxicity—encouraged. Friendships are born. Partnerships are made. Respect can be mutual. I have seen these things happen. I have, in my own way, experienced them myself.

Yet it feels like we are sailing close to a perihelion of franchise dilution. A point where financial concern and milking a product for all its worth become not just the primary driver, but the only driving principle.
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TV, Writing

TV Review: LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Where do you even begin to start when examining Lovecraft Country? Misha Green’s series feels like an apogee of black-fronted genre television, a show which throws everything but the kitchen sink at its audience.

One recurrent aspect of Lovecraft Country across the ten episode run (which has felt like twenty given how much Green and her writers have packed in) is how acutely aware everyone involved in the show is about what the series means. This is not just just a drama. This feels like a statement. It feels like television reparations for decades of TV shows and movies that Lovecraft Country takes an enormous cue from, all of them almost exclusively fronted by white casts with low threshold of ethnic diversity, particularly in American storytelling. Lovecraft Country confidently, with fulsome sass and stylistic vim, barges onto the scene with a concoction of high concept Afro-futurism, cosmic horror, social justice power and emotional melodrama. It does so unapologetically.

It makes for quite a ride, frankly. Green, backed by two very different showmen in Jordan Peele and JJ Abrams, adapts Matt Ruff’s episodic and almost anthological source material relatively faithfully, revelling in some of the more striking and powerful storylines – particularly Ruby’s Mr Hyde-style transformation, powered by racial commentary, that is delivered with icky, brutal gore in Strange Case (it was my favourite story in Ruff’s book and the show does it justice). Along the way, Green is unafraid to throw new juice in the mix, such as Atticus Freeman’s backstory as a GI in Korea, brought to live in what for me is Lovecraft Country’s finest episode, Meet Me in Daegu, and strings together a myriad of narratives and ideas with real bravado come the season finale. Not all of them stick but Lovecraft Country is never less than pulsing, pulp entertainment of the highest order.

It is, frankly, a complete hot mess, but I mean that in the kindest possible terms.
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His Dark Materials, Season Reviews, TV

HIS DARK MATERIALS (Season 1) is a slick adaptation lacking magic (TV Review)

Until the BBC, in league with HBO, decided to tackle Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, it remained one of the greatest, unfilmed epic adventure stories in modern literature.

There was, granted, an attempt in 2007 with The Golden Compass, directed by Chris Weitz, but despite starring Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig and a host of talented thespians in support, it failed to capture enough critical acclaim & audience imagination (and crucially box office) to warrant adapting not just Pullman’s first novel, Northern Lights, but the subsequent two sequels – not to mention launch the career of star Dakota Blue Richards, playing central heroine Lyra Belacqua. On the face of it, His Dark Materials should be a slam dunk as a success story; a plucky heroine, a quest narrative, magical realms, talking bears, witches and megalomaniacal villains. Except it isn’t quite that simple.

Though this kind of genre may lend itself to family friendly entertainment, a Harry Potter-esque story of good vs evil, Philip Pullman’s books are incredibly dense, complicated and challenging pieces of world-building crammed with the kind of philosophical ideas that your JK Rowling’s or George Lucas’ do not touch. His Dark Materials, over the three books, goes to some seriously dark places – the climax of Northern Lights is built on such a moment. Adapting these books is not nearly as easy as they may look from the outset, bucking convention in the ideas Pullman presents. The Golden Compass proved one film was not enough space to pull this off. The BBC’s His Dark Materials suggests even an eight-part television series might not be up to the challenge.

As despite the fact Jack Thorne’s scripts put everything from the first novel (and a bit from the second) on screen, the first season of His Dark Materials lacks the key component present in Pullman’s writing: magic.

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