For better or worse, the franchise is the current sine qua non of mainstream American filmmaking—at once the defining trend, and the condition to which every studio executive aspires. When they work (Harry Potter, Twilight, Toy Story) they not only generate massive global box office, but penetrate the culture, becoming fully-fledged social phenomena. When they don't (anyone remember Wild Wild West? Or Ben Affleck as Daredevil?), there's an almost palpable sense of an opportunity lost, and more importantly, of money not made. Picture crates of action-figures, gathering dust in a warehouse somewhere . . .
But the franchise is predicated upon a faulty premise: that to succeed, it must aim for, and attract, a PG-13 audience. It's a theory akin to old-fashioned broadcasting: striving to reach the widest possible market, and taking care to exclude no one (at least in theory) who can afford a ticket.
In fact, given that there are few middle-aged men who'd care to shell out eighteen bucks to watch Bella blush and stammer at Edward (or Jacob — or Edward and Jacob) in Breaking Dawn —comparatively few men at all, in fact — this logic seems slightly suspect.
The answer, of course, is that these malcontents have franchise opportunities of their own: a new Mission Impossible film this Christmas, the promise of new Bond and Bourne (and Star Trek) flicks next year. But these, too, are essentially juvenile pleasures, aimed squarely at the fourteen-year-old boy inside every well-stuffed suit.
So it was refreshing to read David Fincher's interview in the New York Times, in which he noted that one of the chief attractions of directing the US remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo — a project he'd previously rejected, believing it too close to his earlier work, films like Se7en and Zodiac — was the possibility of upending this paradigm: "I don't need another serial-killer movie,” he said, “but I liked the chance to make a franchise movie for adults.”
It begs the question: what took them so long? Why can't grown-ups have franchises of their own? If there's room in the market for the overwhelmingly wholesome ethos of the Twilight movies — swoony paeans to teenage love, pre-marital abstinence, and the virtues of daily upper-body workouts — why not their opposite: a violent, nihilistic, unabashedly sexualised drama that revels in its darkness? Christopher Nolan's Batman came close, The Dark Knight, in particular. But even that film, for all its intelligence, and the care of its construction, remained at heart a superhero movie, inspired and sustained by the frivolous escapism of the penny dreadfuls.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by contrast, is about sexual violence, pervasive misogyny, generational guilt. Real-world issues—however slick their treatment. Fincher says in the piece that he's open to directing the second and third instalments of Larsson's trilogy, but adds that those discussions have not yet taken place; Sony, it seems, are waiting to see how this 'unflinching, R-rated' vision plays commercially before re-engaging his services. But considering that one of the chief complaints levelled against Hollywood is that it no longer makes films for adults, they could do worse than let him have his way.