A Bad Sequel Isn’t the Same as A Cash Grab

Calling it one reduces the genuine, artistic intention of wanting to expand upon existing fictional universes.

Mickey Desruisseaux, Columnist

(P)optics is an irreverent take on the political and pop culture news of the day from a nerdy, left-of-center, black-ish perspective. A play on words, the title hinges on the word “optics” to communicate insight on both pop culture and politics.

Take the following with a grain of salt because I haven’t had a chance to see it yet, but apparently, the new Harry Potter movie “The Crimes of Grindelwald” isn’t very good. This might not matter to you — if the word “always” can still reduce you to tears, if you have the minimalist mark of the Deathly Hallows tattooed somewhere on your body and if you know what form your corporeal Patronus would take, chances are you’ve already seen it and have helped power the movie to a successful global box office.

But from what I’ve been able to gather from reviews, the movie seems to be overly convoluted, introducing plot holes and suffering from a serious case of Iron Man 2 syndrome in focusing too much on setting up sequels and not enough on telling a cohesive story in its own right. And if you read enough negative reviews, you’ll see the recurrence of two of the most dismissively damning words that can be written about a work of art, and often two of the most unfair — cash grab.

It seems that there’s no entry in a fan favorite franchise that’s safe from the cash grab accusation these days. “Jurassic World’s” ongoing revitalization of the “Jurassic Park” franchise? Cash grab. “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” aka the reboot to the reboot? Cash grab. The Disney-produced “Star Wars” film, “Solo: A Star Wars Story?” Cash grab, and a cash grab pushing a sinister leftist agenda, no less. Even the original “Fantastic Beasts,” a flawed but delightfully charming entry into the expanded Potterverse, was written off before its premiere as J.K. Rowling shamelessly capitalizing on nostalgia, rather than a legitimate attempt to expand on a world that fans have continued to express their love for since the late ‘90s.

This is not an argument to inoculate artists or media companies from criticism of their work that’s made in good faith; that’s the only way that successive generations of artists can grow. It isn’t to say that adaptations of a story can’t fall disastrously short of the standards set by their source material. And it isn’t to say that any financial decision made by a creator in regards to a popular franchise is always defensible on artistic grounds. There isn’t enough ink to print all the invective I could spew against downloadable content and microtransactions in video gaming. But there’s something off about suggesting that the mere attempt to breathe new life into  popular intellectual property is by its very nature greedy or exploitative — not only because it’s a lazy criticism that often fails to grapple with the merits and demerits of a piece of work in its own right, but it sets a standard that, if followed, would shut the door on great art that might not exist otherwise.

For years, “Rocky IV” was the epitome of a bombastically selfparodic installment stretching a franchise to its limits — but without it, the world would’ve missed out on 2015’s fantastic “Creed” and this year’s decidedly-less-fantastic-but-still-good “Creed II.”  The original “She-Ra” cartoon was little more than a female counterpart to an equally schlocky “He-Man” to drive toy sales among girls. Fast forward three decades, and Netflix’s new “She-Ra” series is swiftly developing into a critical darling. And in a year that will feature not one, not two, but three major releases featuring Spider-Man, I can’t begin to express enough gratitude to the late great Stan Lee for repeatedly giving his blessing to his iconic co-creation living on through other artists, decades after he last wrote for the character.

Similarly, it’s perverse to tell the artist ultimately responsible for the existence of a fictional world that they shouldn’t be allowed to add onto it — with the “Fantastic Beasts” movies, it looks like Rowling is entering a club populated by the likes of George Lucas after the “Star Wars” prequels and the Wachowski Sisters after the “Matrix” sequels. Is it possible that Rowling, who became a billionaire after wisely retaining the copyright to the Potterverse and has had a direct hand in most major projects that spun off from the books, is just out to make another buck off of her fans? Sure. Is it more likely that Rowling, also a prolific philanthropist who spent over 15 years developing the intricacies of her wizarding world and has branched off into entirely unrelated projects since, genuinely wants to continue building on the foundation she laid a decade later, however problematically? Probably. Either way, it takes a certain kind of gall to tell a creator who pulled herself out of poverty by writing that in simply daring to return to the story that put her on the map, she’s ruining her own creation. It’s not a gall that I currently possess, or ever want to.

Sequels, reboots, remakes and reimaginings are often derided for taking up too much oxygen in the media market from original stories that could badly use it and that’s a fair criticism. But the idea that they retroactively ruin the legacy of what came before has always rung false to me because the original art isn’t going anywhere. There’s no watered-down video game that can erase my memories of its more difficult predecessors that I can play at any time. There’s no all-female reboot of a movie that will suddenly wipe its masculine progenitor from the annals of history — a complaint all the more amusing when you consider that 2001’s “Ocean’s Eleven” is itself a remake. Similarly, there’s no addition to the world of Harry Potter, good or bad, that can ever obviate the magic of the original series or the sense of wonder it inspired in a generation around the world.

I may well end up not liking “The Crimes of Grindelwald” when I finally get around to seeing it — the film certainly won’t be the first entry in the franchise to disappoint me. But I won’t begrudge either Rowling, Warner Bros. or the legions of artists and engineers on either side of the camera for trying to keep the magic alive, in this or any other installment. And as long as there’s another story to be told in this world, my wand remains ever at the ready.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them. 

Mickey Desruisseaux is a 1L at the School of Law. A Political Science major and Creative Writing minor, most of his work in and out of school has been at the crossroads of the two disciplines.

Email Mickey at [email protected]

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