Jurassic World has reached fifth-film-in-a series exhaustion
‘Episode Five Syndrome’ has blighted film franchises from Star Trek to Rocky
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom ... The first Jurassic Park is the only one in the sequence to receive unqualified love
Where does Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom place in its franchise? A surprising number of correspondents, anticipating the latest dinosaur extravaganza, have argued that it is the “second film” in the series. That is to say it is part of a trilogy that began with Jurassic World three years ago.
This seems a stretch. Though only a few satellite characters appear from the earlier films – Jeff Goldblum is briefly in Fallen Kingdom – the current episodes lead directly on from the first three films. There is no radical rebooting. Jurassic World wasn’t Batman Begins. It wasn’t The Amazing Spider-Man. So, I think we can safely refer to the new picture as the fifth in the series. Can’t we?
We have thus reached an inauspicious corner in the journey towards franchise exhaustion. The first three films can be seen as a trilogy. The fourth constitutes a tentative tiptoe towards an unending future. Think of the excellent Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home or the triumphant Mad Max: Fury Road. By the fifth, the contempt habitually bred by familiarity tends to have set in.
Fallen Kingdom has already fared better than many episode fives. The critics have not raved. But most have been polite and the film has, at time of writing, secured a fresh score on the feared Rotten Tomatoes.
The first Jurassic Park is still the only one in the sequence to receive something like unqualified love. But they keep making money. And money is better than love. Didn’t the Beatles say that?
In the unlikely event you find yourself at a film festival devoted to fifth editions, Fallen Kingdom will surely feel like a palate cleanser. Just think what else you’ll have to endure. Star Trek confirmed its famous Curse of the Odd-Numbered Episode by moving from The Voyage Home to the gland-tighteningly awful Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989).
William Shatner was certain to direct at some point and, when it finally happened, the results were as turgid and deranged as even the weariest Part V veteran might have feared. This is the one that seems to end with our old friends having a conversation with God. He doesn’t hand them a slab with the words “Thou Shalt not permit Shatner behind the camera”. But Nicholas Meyer nonetheless returned for the perfectly fine Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Rocky V (1990) marked the point at which that series flattened all its angles. The first film had a rough charm that suggested a tidied up, mainstream version of the Elia Kazan aesthetic. By the phenomenally successful Rocky IV – the Cold War one with Dolph Lundgren – the series had become an agreeably bold cartoon. Rocky V, following the destitute hero’s struggles with a younger, rougher protégé, managed to be neither one thing nor the other. It took another 16 years before Sylvester Stallone returned with the charming Rocky Balboa.
Not being maniacs, we will not be viewing The Empire Strikes Back as the fifth episode in that series. This is not complicated. Star Wars began in 1977 with a film called Star Wars. The second film, released in 1980, is called The Empire Strikes Back. The fifth film is, alas, the not-very-good Attack of the Clones (2002).
The prequel trilogy deserves to have the word “notorious” brandished in its direction, but, in that series’ defence, the films did got steadily less awful as they progressed. Attack of the Clones improved sufficiently on The Phantom Menace to escape the drawer marked “effluent”, but, unlike the closing Revenge of The Sith, it doesn’t quite register as “much better than you remember it”.
Though released just over a year ago, Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge has already faded into the part of the memory that fails to register which of that series retained Keira Knightley and which hung on to Orlando Bloom. The former showed her face, but didn’t speak. The latter, whose post-Pirates career “went in a different direction”, had a slightly more prominent role.
The answer to the question rolling round your head is not “Penelope Cruz”. That was the previous one. It is “Kaya Scodelario”. It made just about enough money in non-Anglophone territories to damn us with a sixth episode whenever the contracts are in order.
So is Episode Five Syndrome unbreakable? Is the tolerable Fallen Kingdom the best we can hope for between four and six? Can we do no better than the so-so Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation or the samey Harry Potter and Whatever it Was (Order of the Phoenix, apparently)? Is this midlife crisis baked into the cinematic psyche?
Well, you could make a reasonable argument for You Only Live Twice (1967) as the best of the James Bond films. Okay, it was really racist. But they’re all really racist. That one had a great song, the portable helicopter, the rocket in the volcano and Donald Pleasance as Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
It was sufficiently good for Sean Connery to go out on a high before returning with a paunch for Diamonds are Forever four years later.
Still, the Bond films weren’t “a franchise” in the way we currently understand the word. There was little continuity. Each was very much a discrete entity. The best example of an episode five reviving a continuing sequence comes from one of the most unlikely smashes of the current century. The Fast and the Furious films began with a lean chase movie in 2001 and went on to become a bloated automotive soap.
By Fast & Furious, the fourth chapter, the fun was beginning to leak from the narrative’s radiator. But Fast Five (2011) was noisier, funnier, more imaginative and more agreeably ludicrous than anything that had gone before. The turbo-charge continued to rumble. Furious 7, released in 2015, is (appropriately enough) the seventh highest grossing film of all time.
It can be done. Keep that in mind as you look forward to looming or potential episodes five. Mad Max V really could be a smasher. Get it together.