Replacing the original stars with new characters doesn’t always work out. Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) kept Goldblum and Pullman but introduced new leads for a bland, headache-inducing film that was both a critical and commercial failure. Ghostbusters (2016) brought together some of the funniest women in Hollywood for a film that was a critical success but failed to connect with audiences for a number of reasons. But on the other side of that there’s the Jurassic World franchise, which despite negative reviews, found favor and global success with audiences through new leads portrayed by Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. While the third Jurassic World entry is rumored to see the return of Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neil, and Laura Dern, Jurassic World (2015) and the superior Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) showed that old franchises can be built off of new characters and find favor with a new generation. Men in Black: International is most comparable to the Jurassic World series, though arguably it’s even less enamored with its own franchise history. Gray’s film isn’t a revolutionary gamechanger, but it’s funny, action-packed, and handled with a surprising level of emotional depth and sincerity. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the reviews almost all week because it’s a film that used to be the reason we went to movies in the summer. So why aren’t we going?
It’s clear from the box office records that sequel and spin-off fatigue isn’t truly a thing. The box office disappointments of The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Dark Phoenix are just a couple outliers in a year that has seen the success of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum, and is still looking forward to Toy Story 4, Annabelle Comes Home, Spider-Man: Far From Home, and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. But it’s also clear that sequels that should have been hits, regardless of Tomato scores, aren’t making money. We can argue that we’re not going because we’ve seen it before, but when a remake of Aladdin can exceed box office expectations, and The Lion King remake is looking at a $200 million opening weekend, then seeing something before clearly doesn’t matter much. Whether the return of Smith and Jones, or Tatum and Hill would’ve made a difference, I’m not sure. But I do think that perhaps our desire to see the same characters again and again, older yet the same, though sometimes pleasing, is suffocating something within our popular culture and killing would-be franchises led by new faces. No one asked for Men in Black: International, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a new generation of fans are glad they got it, and an older generation found pleasure in the franchise’s return beyond the exclusivity of their nostalgia.