In the future, we may look back on 2012 as a defining year for the course of the film industry. The first Avengers movie codified the "franchise" as the new unit of the business of filmmaking, with individual films acting as the branches of a family tree within a movie "-verse," that come together every so often for a "family reunion" of sorts.
Warner Bros. is in the planning stages of their own version of this phenomenon, Justice League, which will act as a binder for a new "-verse," currently under construction, which may or may not include Man of Steel, and a new series of Batman movies.
Disney will be doing the same with their new acquisition of the Star Wars-verse. In addition to Star Wars Episodes VII, VIII, and IX, preliminary plans involve offshoots of the franchise to explore individual characters.
As someone who generally isn't crazy about large-scale, billion dollar blockbusters, I am surprised that this phenomenon does not bother me. I think it's kind of cool. I've always been somewhat envious of comic book fans who get to truly immerse themselves in a living storyline that grows and changes and evolves while retaining the same essential heart that attracted them to it in the first place.
Not all films need to adopt this model, and surely not all will, but it offers a rich viewing experience not unlike that of professional sports, which connects the thing you're watching at the moment with all these other things happening simultaneously and in the past.
But along with all this amazing potential for deep movie -verses, 2012 simultaneously saw the establishment of a less exciting trend: the low-concept, plot-heavy action movie that relies solely on the audience's trust in the franchise.
The Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall, Prometheus, the list goes on. Many enjoyed these movies for the action-packed stories and incredible visuals, but the plot of the "new action movie" is so convoluted and rife with loose ends, that what results is a disjointed pile of explosions.
WARNING: THIS PARAGRAPH IS A LITTLE BIT SPOILERY. SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN SOME OF THESE FILMS. What does the black goo do? Why did the Engineers lead the Earthlings to a weapons factory? How did Bruce Wayne get back to Gotham? How could he (or any of Gotham, for that matter) have possibly survived a nuclear explosion just over the bay? How did James Bond survive that fall? What happened to the hundreds of MI6 agents whose identities had been compromised?
These over-complicated stories are written with absolutely no care toward continuity or completion. It's not difficult to tie up a loose end. It's even less difficult to just not create the loose end to begin with. The problem is, as it stands Hollywood is so focused on cool set pieces and revolutionary visuals, that they're willing to throw disjointed loose end after disjointed loose end into a 3-hour mess of a film if it allows them to win the award for "most chases" or "largest street battle."
I may sound like a curmudgeonly old crank, and I sort of am one (save the "old" part). But my issue isn't with action. It's with unnecessary plot building that leads viewers down the garden path with no direction home. It's the movie equivalent to a bridge-to-nowhere (excuse the outdated political reference).
So while I'm excited about the future of "the franchise," I am disheartened by the direction individual franchise films has been heading. If these two phenomena evolve concurrently, then we are in for a whole lot of confusing garbage. If Hollywood decides they can sacrifice a gunfight or two in order to allow their films some semblance of cohesion (and maybe a 30-minute-shorter run-time), then we could be in for a golden age of action/adventure/sci-fi/thriller blockbusters.