This “Legacy Sequel” transformation article contains spoilers for Thor: Love and Thunder.
In November 2015, Matt Singer announced “the age of legacy”. These seven years have been interesting, to say the least.
Conceptually, the “legacyquel” is a particular brand of Hollywood franchise extension. The idea is that a late addition to a given film franchise incorporates both old, existing characters to appeal to nostalgic fans and a new cast to appeal to younger audiences. Ideally, legacy serves to pass the torch from one generation to the next, effectively serving as an acknowledgment of what came before while celebrating what lies ahead.
Of course, the legacyquels weren’t entirely new inventions. There had already been a number of franchises that had been around long enough for that torch to have passed. star trek gave way to Star Trek: The Next Generation. In The color of moneypool hustler Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) from the scammer trained young hotshot Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise). Same The Godfather Part III featured Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) passing control of the family to his nephew, Vincent (Andy Garcia).
However, legacyquels rose to prominence in the mid-2010s because the nostalgia-driven age of the franchise had lasted long enough that many of the cornerstones of those franchises were reaching retirement age. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull introduced Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) as a potential successor to Henry Jones Jr. (Harrison Ford). Creed saw Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) train Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) to fight in the ring.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is perhaps the most famous and successful example, featuring all three tracks from the original star wars show up to pass the saga on to a new generation of characters, including Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and Poe (Oscar Isaac). If Hollywood was going to be dominated by these endless franchises, it seemed like an enduring pattern. It allowed the inevitable passage of time and the possibility of renewal or reinvention.
What’s been remarkable over the past two years is the extent to which Hollywood has discarded this legacy model in favor of something far more flattering and far less enduring. Increasingly, it seems blockbusters are content to tease the possibility of an older generation giving way to younger characters, only to discard the possibility at the last minute in favor of pursuing the nostalgic fantasy. There’s a reason this is the golden age of the aging movie star.
Increasingly, these films will introduce new characters who have potentially interesting stories to tell within the framework of these major franchises, only to quickly overwhelm them with older characters returning from the early installments who are receiving much attention and narrative attention. bigger. Instead of being stories of how the old inevitably gives way to the young, these become tales of how the older generation will never die or fade away.
Top Gun: Maverick is a great example. There had long been rumors of a potential sequel to Superior gun. When the project really started to gain momentum in October 2010, actor Tom Cruise was in the midst of a career slump that involved Paramount trying to sever all ties with him. Early sequel rumors suggested that Cruise would play “a smaller role” in the sequel, though this was officially denied by Cruise’s longtime creative collaborator Christopher McQuarrie.
It’s easy to believe Paramount wanted Cruise to pass the baton Superior gun to a new generation. After all, according to his own account, actor Jeremy Renner was positioned “to potentially take over” the Impossible mission franchise of Cruise in Ghost protocolwhich was prepped for a 2011 release. However, at the last minute, Cruise simply refused to shoot a scene in which his super spy Ethan Hunt would receive a career-ending knee injury, leaving the set stating, ” I’m not going anywhere.”
Cruise was vindicated. Ghost protocol was the fourth film of the Impossible mission franchise, and Cruise is currently set to headline the seventh and eighth entries in the series. It may further prevent Paramount from further exploitation of the intellectual property. Top Gun: Maverick is also a star vehicle for Cruise, built around his star character. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) is not only a mentor to the young characters, but he directs the decisive mission for them.
It’s like imagining a version of Creed where Rocky trains Adonis for most of the film, but then decides to step into the ring himself at the climax. It sounds like a version of JJ Abrams star trek where Spock-Prime (Leonard Nimoy) single-handedly saves young Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) from the clutches of Nero (Eric Bana). In maverickyoung driver Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller) largely exists to validate and vindicate the older mentor figure.
There is something similar at play in Thor: Love and Thunder. In this film, Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) discovers that his ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has become worthy of his Mjolnir hammer and has claimed the title of Mighty Thor. The film draws much inspiration from writer Jason Aaron’s seven-year run on the Thor titles, during which the Odinson was deemed “unworthy” and Jane took over in his place as part of Marvel’s “All-New, All-Different” line.
Aaron’s run was popular, and Jane’s title sold well. However, while Jane has headlined two separate ongoing series as Mighty Thor, she has to fight for space in love and thunder. The film completely drops the comic book plotline regarding Odinson’s “unworthiness”, allowing the character to casually take on Mjolnir. However, Jane doesn’t even get a single movie as the main character. Instead, she’s just a subplot in an overstuffed two-hour show.
The problem is compounded by the way love and thunder solves Jane’s plot. Jane dies of cancer in Thor’s arms. While Thor repeatedly brags about having “another classic Thor adventure”, Jane has only one such adventure. More than that, his death is treated as a motivating factor for Thor, reaffirming the importance and value of his heroism rather than serving as a statement about his potential. Jane snaps Thor out of his midlife crisis.
To be fair, Natalie Portman is an Oscar-winning actress. Indeed, she had previously announced that she was “done” with the Thor franchise and made an appearance in Avengers: Endgame via recycled footage and a newly recorded voiceover snippet. She was unlikely to stay and commit to a franchise like this. In contrast, Hemsworth has given interviews about how he wants to become the longest-serving superhero actor. Still, it’s a frustrating illustration of a larger trend in these movies.
This is an acceleration of a trend that dates back to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, with franchise veterans like Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) and Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) topping sequel trilogy nominal leads like Poe Dameron or Kylo Ren. Increasingly, it seems that these movies are not about introducing or establishing new characters, but rather asserting the primacy and worth of the established generation by using these new characters.
Characters who previously left franchises are often brought back. jurassic world did not feature any of the tracks from the original jurassic parkbut Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum are all co-responsible for Jurassic World Dominion, crowding out the younger cast. Harrison Ford headlines a new IndianaJones movie at the age of 79. Where the actors cannot be brought back, the characters are; six of the nine tracks on Strange new worlds are pre-existing star trek characters.
Even films that feature ostensibly smaller appearances from these older characters are still dominated by this logic. Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson appear only briefly in Ghostbusters: Afterlife, but the film is haunted by Egon Spengler, with late actor Harold Ramis even appearing via computer-generated footage. Tellingly, the movie doesn’t end with new characters like Phoebe (McKenna Grace), but follows the older characters in New York.
There’s something disheartening about all of this, especially given the vocal harassment that many of these new cast members have faced in these franchises. Daisy Ridley, Kelly Marie Tran and Moses Ingram were all victims of targeted harassment from star wars Fans. Studies have recorded ‘sexist’ and ‘bigoted’ vocal responses to the news that Natalie Portman would be playing the Mighty Thor. It is strange that the mere inclusion of women and people of color is part of a culture war.
More fundamentally, it illustrates how modern pop culture is overdosing on the sugar rush of nostalgia it’s been wielding for decades. It used to be enough to bring these old and familiar characters back for “one last adventure”, but now it’s impossible to imagine that these characters might ever have to leave. As the star wars franchise demonstrated, maybe they don’t have to; faces and voices can be recreated as digital files, trapped in eerie limbo.
There is a stagnation in all of this, which prevents these types of properties from evolving as they need to survive in the long term. It’s a rotten, ticking time bomb. Pop culture has spent decades reassuring audiences that nothing must ever end, that their favorite stories will go on forever. Over the past two years, that argument has taken a particularly troubling turn, reassuring viewers that nothing has to ever change either.