Is it enough to just make one movie anymore? In the wake of Marvel’s audacious world-building in an assembly line of completely indistinguishable adventure movies, the studios would answer no. What used to be one series of movies has become a web, one that involves various other series’ and offshoots of one particular brand. ... But no one should be surprised: every studio has been headed in this direction for quite a while now.
Observation 1: Only someone not looking very closely would think that The Wolverine (which I liked) is "indistinguishable" from Captain America (which I also liked), but they're completely alike in the sense that they're both a product of the same exude-by-the-yard-and-shrinkwrap-to-order mentality. The individual projects, and the individual creators, may not believe themselves to be part of such a thing, but once enough of their output clogs up the multiplex like so much foliage blocking a storm drain, it hardly matters. It's the long-term effects on diversity that are most deadly — the stuff you never know is being crowded out in the first place because it doesn't have a chance to manifest on the same level.
Observation 2: Most every property is a franchise by default. Why make one movie when you can make five — or in the case of Zatōichi, twenty-dozen? Except that Zatōichi had a coolness to it that can't be synthesized, a coolness that only manifests itself in retrospect. Marvel and Disney (and Sony) are not just aiming to make money but make cultural capital, something they can wring money out of over and over again. But cool isn't something you synthesize; it's a property bestowed upon you as a benediction for all the lives touched by the coolness. You can make a product that, if you're lucky, becomes cool. But you can't make cool as a product.
Observation 3: Up 'til now, my formula for responding to this sort of greedbag culture-grab has been something like, "If five less Marvel movies a year means one more Upstream Color or Gravity, I'm all for it." In theory, it's not a zero-sum game, because those things don't come from the same places ... but in practice, when there's only a limited number of Friday nights in a year and only so much shelf space in a store, it has a nasty way of turning into one.
Observation 4: In a franchise-driven world, it may not be possible to get peoples' attention by doing something other than creating franchises. That's great if comics are where you started and where you want to end up — but what about those of us who want to see Life of Oharu or Umberto D., and — more importantly — not to have those things confined to a self-selecting cinematic ghetto?
I've complained about this stuff long and loud, but I'm coming to the conclusion that these are the parameters of the game. In other words, if you want to compete with any of this stuff, you're stuck doing it on their terms or not at all. Ergo, you have to create your own franchise-of-sorts, promote it aggressively, create the same kind of atmosphere of excitement about it that gets routinely whipped up for the latest movie about Jason Statham driving a car and killing people. And this is not just an approach reserved for movies, either, but for most anything — it's all franchises (and [Teenage Mutant Ninja] turtles) from here on down.
I'm not crazy about that being the approach, but perhaps we can reach a point where while we can start there, we don't have to end up there.