Lots of films are intended to have sequels, launch franchises, or even be the start of a new cinematic universe, but things don’t always work out the way they’re planned. There are plenty of times that a film should’ve worked, and I’m going to be looking at the ones that I think deserved better, by analysing why they failed, why I think there’s potential there, and then giving a few sequel or franchise ideas.
This time in ‘The Franchise That Should Have Been’ – Equilibrium
As always, spoilers ahead.
I’m pretty sure that I’m on record saying that the worst thing about The Matrix is that it spawned a legion of poor imitators throughout the early 2000’s. Equilibrium is definitely a film that took some visual and stylistic inspiration from The Matrix, but there’s also a lot more to it than that. I think that a sequel to this film could’ve offered audiences a lot more, but before I get to that…
Just why did it fail?
The Matrix comparison
Ok, so there are some elements of this film that are no doubt inspired by (or, you know, ripped off) The Matrix. Martial arts mixed with guns and long black trench coats will always be associated with that franchise, and it’s easy to understand why general audiences would look at a trailer for Equilibrium and think that it’s just a poor imitation of something most people loved. That being said, it probably took the success of The Matrix to have a studio gamble on this film in the first place, and it was no doubt rushed into production to make sure that aesthetic was fresh in audiences minds. I hope you’re ready for a contradiction…
It came out way too early
I’m aware that I just said Equilibrium was made when it was because it was relying on audiences still wanting more from the Matrix franchise, but really it came out about ten years too early. This is a dystopian future, very similar to that seen in franchises like The Hunger Games, a setting that’s only now starting to lose it’s popularity. It’s also quite a dense sci-fi film, something that present day general audiences are a little bit more accepting of. The film also stars Christian Bale, who is a much bigger star now, although were this film made today, it’s less likely that he would still be in it.
There’s a huge disparity between critics and general audiences on this film. Taking a look at Rotten Tomatoes, you’ll see that it scored a less than impressive 38% with critics, but a very respectable 82% with audiences. These reviews no doubt destroyed any chance this film had of making money, as on a $20 million budget, it ended it’s run having made only $5.3 million worldwide (these numbers are taken from Wikipedia, so may not be 100% accurate).
Something to note is that in America, this film only opened on around 300 screens. A wide release in the U.S. is classified as 600 or more screens, but big action films normally debut on 1,500 or more, so not all audiences even had the option of seeing this film, which is a shame, because clearly the majority of people who did see it felt like it was a worthwhile watch.
Why did I like this film so much?
While at first the action in this film can easily be compared to (do I need to finish this sentence?), it’s actually quite unique in the way it’s presented. The film even invented a new martial art – gun kata, which to put it simply, combines punchy kick face with shooty bang bang. It also explains this style of fighting in a few sentences, and it makes perfect sense when you think about the characters that are using it.
This film sets up an intriguing, if not completely original world. The idea that human emotion would be suppressed after a third world war is something that’s unlikely, but isn’t completely unbelievable. Yes, we’ve seen it before in this genre, but it’s done well here.
This film is half dumb action film, half intellectual sci-fi, and while I’ve already spoken about the first part of that combination, the second part is just as important. There are numerous twists and unexpected developments in the film, pretty much from the moment it starts until the moment it ends, and while some of them won’t surprise long term film fans, some of them seemingly come out of nowhere, but still make perfect sense. The writing in this film is better than a lot of people give it credit for, and you definitely need to pay attention to some of the smaller details early on if you want to get the most of what this film has to offer.
What are we missing out on?
This film ends with (spoiler alert!) Grammaton Cleric John Preston (Christian Bale) overthrowing the government regime that was suppressing emotion in the general public. We’re left to believe that Preston will now oversee the ceasing in production of the drug responsible for taking away human feelings, and lead the people into a new age of love, art, poetry and culture.
The thing is, the rest of the world is still taking this drug. Wouldn’t it be interesting (and so very sci-fi) to see the one nation of feeling people go to war with the rest of the world, who are an emotionless race, not afraid to indulge in underhanded tactics, and will do literally anything to win? That’s an enemy you can never underestimate, and one that would bring natural drama to any story.
On top of that, we could see John Preston go through a character arc that leads him right back to decisions that don’t have a right answers. He could easily find himself having to do something that goes against the emotions he fought so hard to have, in order to serve the greater good. To add to this pitch, the first Equilibrium only had a budget of $20 million, so if you can make a sequel for around $50 million (let’s be realistic, Christian Bale would need a big pay day to return), it would be almost guaranteed to turn a profit.
So what do you think about Equilibrium? Have I convinced you that the world lost a great franchise, or do you think I’m wrong, as usual? Share any thoughts, comments, or suggestions for other franchises that should have been below.
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