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New Escapist Column! On How the “Chucky” Franchise Is About Being Both Mass Produced and Remaining One of a Kind…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. I’ve been watching the Child’s Play and Chucky franchise, and so it seemed like a good opportunity to delve into one of the more distinctive major horror franchises.

There’s an interesting tension to the Chucky franchise, one that plays out across the various entries. This is a horror series about a mass-produced piece of children’s entertainment, controlled by the demented soul of a monstrous serial killer. Much of the franchise is about the contrast between those two ideas: the factory-assembled doll and the distinctive spirit inside of it. It works well as a metaphor for the larger Chucky franchise as a whole, which has changed form repeatedly across its various incarnations, but somehow managed to retain a unique and consistent identity.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On How “The Matrix Resurrections” Utilises Franchsie Nostalgia…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist on Friday. With the release of The Matrix Resurrections on HBO Max and in theatres, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the film and its themes, in particular its relationship with the earlier films in the franchise.

The Matrix Resurrections exists as part of a larger wave of long-delayed nostalgic sequels to older franchises, from Space Jam: A New Legacy to Ghostbusters: Afterlife to Spider-Man: No Way Home. However, what distinguishes The Matrix Resurrections from these other examples is the way in which it uses nostalgia to a very specific purpose. It’s a film that is aware of both the passage of time since the original film and very engaged with the debate over the reason for its own existence. The result is a movie that has something meaningful to say about the modern movie landscape… and much beyond.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On “The Wrath of Khan” and “The Voyage Home”, and the Soul of “Star Trek” in “First Contact”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Given that this month marks the 35th anniversary of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: First Contact, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at their relationship within the Star Trek franchise – and how they connect to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

For many Star Trek fans, The Wrath of Khan remains the most beloved and most brilliant entire in the franchise’s cinematic canon. However, it’s notable that The Voyage Home was a much more populist hit, resonating with general audiences. For a decade following the release of The Voyage Home, it provided a template for the franchise for a decade. However, with the release of First Contact, the balance of power shifted. Suddenly, the franchise found itself caught in the gravity of The Wrath of Khan, which exerted a powerful gravity on the franchise’s direction and development.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On the the Folly of Franchising the Predator…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist yesterday. With news that Dan Trachtenberg’s new Predator film might receive an edit for PG-13, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the difficulty in trying to reshape the iconic eighties movie monster into a modern franchise.

The appeal of the Predator is very simple. It hunts. It’s a concept that is perhaps best suited to a mode of franchising that doesn’t really exist any more, a set of reasonably budgeted sequel films that swap out characters and locations while retaining the core concept. However, modern franchises demand more. They demand world building, mythology, scale, spectacle and a shared universe. There’s something absurd about trying to retroactively apply that to the Predator as a concept.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: Scoob!

Have you ever wondered what it might look like is a beloved fifty-one-year-old children’s television franchise had a midlife crisis?

If so, Scoob! might just be for you.

We have lift-off.

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New Escapist Column! On the Franchise Revanchism in “Star Wars”, “Doctor Who” and “Star Trek”…

I published an In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine on Friday, looking at one of the more interesting (and frustrating) trends in modern franchise storytelling.

New ideas in existing franchises have always been controversial. After all, fans were taken aback by the changes made to existing properties in films like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. So the controversy around things like the first season of Star Trek: Discovery or Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi are nothing new. What is new, however, is the way in which these properties now seem to be swayed by fan anxieties, retreating from bold ideas into the safety of familiarity. This leads an emptiness, and runs the risk of letting these properties stagnate.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On the Need of “Star Wars” to “Grow Beyond” the Skywalkers…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last night, looking at the future of the Star Wars brand.

While there is still some ambiguity about where Disney will take the cinematic franchise following the release of Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, a clean break might be the best course of action. Modern franchises are too beholden to fan service and familiarity, to retreading old ground in order to avoid offending or challenging existing fans. This prevents franchises from growing and embracing new ideas and new possibilities. It leaves them stagnant, and ultimately does little to appease fandoms with very strong ideas of how characters or ideas should be portrayed.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! The “Hiatus” After “The Rise of Skywalker”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last night, looking at what follows Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker.

Disney have announced that there will be a three-year gap between The Rise of Skywalker and the franchise’s next theatrical release. However, is this really a hiatus? In the nineties and even into the twenty-first century, franchises like Batman and X-Men routinely went three or four years between new releases. Each of the original Star Wars films were separated by three years. It perhaps speaks to the heightened nature of modern franchise production that the idea of going three years without a Star Wars film feels like a really long time – even with The Mandalorian on the air.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! How “The Empire Strikes Back” Invented the Modern Sequel and Franchise…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine late last week, hopefully one a little bit less contentious than discussions of Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi.

The piece takes a look at Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, and the impact that it had on shaping a lot of modern blockbusters. We tend to think of Jaws and Star Wars as the cornerstones of the modern blockbuster movie, and that’s certainly fair. However The Empire Strikes Back has arguably had an even greater impact on the way in which franchise movies are built – from ballooning budgets to the idea of the perpetual second act.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: The Girl in the Spider’s Web

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is essentially a high concept shorn of any sense of authorship.

Lisbeth Salander is one of the very few breakout fictional characters of the twenty-first century, a concept that immediately latched on to the public imagination following the publication of Stieg Larsson’s Män som hatar kvinnor in 2005. Salander was a character who seemed to speak to the turbulent new century, a digitally native avenging angel who unleashed her wrath against a violent and misogynist establishment. Salander seemed to speak immediately and viscerally to her moment.

Phoning it in.

A Swedish language film was released four years later, featuring a career-defining performance from Noomi Rapace, which seemed to be enough to singlehandedly assure the young actor an English-language career. Hollywood quickly noticed and immediately commissioned a remake that would be directed by David Fincher, and which would go on to be nominated for five awards. Rooney Mara would effectively launch her career with a Best Actress nomination for her performance of Salander.

All of these are incredible accomplishments for a character and concept that in someways seemed clichéd and nineties. Män som hatar kvinnor was the kind of serial killer narrative that has been ubiquitous in the nineties, but largely supplanted by terrorist stories in the new millennium. As an archetype, Salander was very much of a piece with cyberpunk hackers with which Hollywood had clumsily flirted in movies like Hackers or The Matrix or Johnny Mnemonic.

Snow escape.

Salander was elevated by two things. The first was a prescient understanding of the appeal of a feminine avenging angel dismantling systems of misogynist oppression. If anything, Salander seemed ahead of her time, and should be perfectly pitched for the #metoo moment. However, the other important aspect of Salander was a strong sense of authorship and craft. Noomi Rapace embodied the character in the Swedish-language original, and David Fincher helped to elevate pulpy material to top-tier filmmaking in the American reimagining.

All of this makes The Girl in the Spider’s Web an interesting , if deeply unsatisfying case study of what happens when anything resembling a distinct creative voice is ripped away from Salander and she is stuck in a much more bland and conventional film. The results are deeply frustrating, but affirm the level of talent involved in the character’s earlier adventures on page and screen.

Everything burns.

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