Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

The Poochie Legacy: Absence Makes the Franchise Grow Longer

Blogs
by Matt Singer
August 14, 2012 2:36 PM
27 Comments
  • |
"The Bourne Legacy."
"The Bourne Legacy."

On February 9th, 1997, "The Simpsons" surpassed "The Flintstones" to become the longest running prime-time animated series in television history. To mark the occasion, the show cooked up a brilliantly timely episode about brand extension and obsolescence. In "The Itchy & Scratchie & Poochie Show," the ratings on the long-successful "Itchy & Scratchy" cartoon have fallen off a cliff. Searching for a way to revitalize its stale formula, executives create Poochie, a Frankenstein monster of test-marketed stupidity: a rapping surfer dog who's "a half Joe Camel, a third Fonzarelli." 

Advertising ensures a massive audience for Poochie's debut, but the character is so horrifyingly inane that the same executives who demanded his creation immediately plot to get rid of him. Desperate to save his job, the voice of Poochie -- Homer Simpson, naturally -- offers a room full of of "Itchy & Scratchy" writers these helpful suggestions:

"One, Poochie needs to be louder, angrier, and have access to a time machine. Two, whenever Poochie's not onscreen, all the other characters should be asking 'Where's Poochie?'"

Homer's pleas fall on deaf ears and Poochie is eliminated, but the "kung-fu hippie from Gangster City" still lives on in spirit at our modern movie theaters, where an increasing and alarming number of movie sequels look like they were designed according to Homer's specifications. They're grittier, more violent, and, weirdly, often involve time travel. As brands replace big stars and good stories as cinema's most valuable commodities, filmmakers find themselves increasingly hamstrung by the need to extend franchises past the point where their original creators and stars (and logic, and momentum, and character motivation) have bowed out, inspiring bizarre, series-extending plots where new heroes basically run around yelling "Where's Poochie?"

Consider the latest and possibly the most egregious example, "The Bourne Legacy." Matt Damon didn't want to make another film about amnesiac secret agent Jason Bourne and his battles against corrupt government forces, but Universal Pictures was understandably hesitant about killing off one of their most lucrative cash cows. Without Damon's involvement, they concocted "The Bourne Legacy," featuring another Bourne-esque super-spy named Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) on the run from the same(ish) corrupt government forces. Cross is Homer's dream of the ultimate Poochie: with his memories intact and a series of genetic enhancements to his muscles and brain, he's a louder, angrier version of Bourne. He also might have a time machine; this 2012 movie travels back to 2007 to retcon him into moments between scenes of the final Damon Bourne, "The Bourne Ultimatum." 

Renner is a fine action hero, somehow gruff and sensitive all at once, and his haunted countenance goes a long way toward filling in the gaps in Cross' backstory -- which is fortunate since the movie spends way more time on the minutia of its former hero's life than with the basic ingredients of its current one's. Cross is almost totally irrelevant to the actual plot; he's only here to provide the requisite action beats between the scenes of characters talking about Bourne (who isn't around to provide the requisite action beats himself). The whole thing is one gigantic contradiction: while the CIA scrambles to cut any and all ties to Bourne, the filmmakers scramble to invent ties between Bourne and Cross. "Legacy" is less a movie than a placeholder designed to keep a franchise warm until Matt Damon wants to return to it. 

2012 has been the year of Poochified sequels right from the get-go. On January 20th, Screen Gems released an unusual film entitled "Underworld: Awakening," the fourth installment in the werewolves-versus-vampires franchise. The series' primary heroes -- vampire Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and hybrid Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman) -- had already departed for greener career pastures before the third "Underworld," 2009's "Rise of the Lycans"; "Awakening" brought Beckinsale back into the fold without her co-star. This time around, Selene gets captured and imprisoned, and awakens twelve years in the future (Louder! Angrier! Access to a time machine!), where she goes on a man-wolf-vampire-hunt for the missing Corvin. Sadly, she's in for a long and fruitless search; how's she going to find a guy when the actor who plays him isn't even in the movie?

Earlier this summer Sony gave us "Men in Black III," in which Will Smith's Agent J travelled back in time (Louder! Angrier! Access to a time machine!) to save his missing partner K -- played in the first two films, and a couple scenes of this one, seemingly at gunpoint, by Tommy Lee Jones. The time travel story was basically just a confusing means to an end: namely as a way to write out Jones for most of the movie ("Where's K?!?") and to create a younger protagonist who could either reteam with Smith again or headline his own spinoff "MIB" series set in the 1960s.

Brolin's presence in "MIB III" appears to be part of a tangential trend pertaining to big budget sequels: introducing new actors and characters to long-running franchises in order to establish viable backup plans for future installments. It's the movie star equivalent of a fire extinguisher in a glass case; in case of sequel emergency, break glass. The last "Indiana Jones" famously included Shia LaBeouf's Mutt Williams who, George Lucas repeatedly threatened, could be spun off as the star of his own future sequels ("Indiana Jones and the Search For the Lost Indiana Jones" perhaps?). Likewise, "The Dark Knight Rises" ends just as  -- SPOILER ALERT -- Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character prepares to take up the mantle of Batman as Gotham City's next caped crusader. If Robert Downey Jr.'s salary demands get too high for "Iron Man 4," Marvel's already got a potential replacement: Don Cheadle's War Machine. And, of course, Renner himself has already played a Poochie-like figure before, as Tom Cruise's sidekick-cum-understudy in last year's "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol."

One of Renner's few genuinely compelling scenes in "The Bourne Legacy" involves a brief flashback to Aaron Cross' life before the CIA decided to liquidate his organization. He's in the field with his superior officer, Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton), in the immediate aftermath of a morally questionable military operation. In order to assuage the soldier's guilt about their actions, Byer tells Cross that they are both "sin-eaters," the people who do our nation's dirty work so the rest of us don't have to. "We are morally indefensible," he tells Cross, "and absolutely necessary."

Byer might as well be talking about the movie we're currently watching -- and about all sequels burdened with The Poochie Legacy. But what does it say about our world that "The Simpsons"' indictment of idiotic groupthink now seems more reasonable than the decisions of actual movie studios? At least the "Itchy & Scratchy" staff killed off Poochie. 

The sum total of all these sequels about missing characters is a pervasive sense of malaise at the multiplex, a place that feels increasingly defined by absences. A ticket to "The Bourne Legacy," after all, is a ticket to not see Matt Damon, or to kind of see him, or to see someone who sort of looks and acts like him in a plot that looks like something he would do. Most modern blockbusters are exercises in nostalgia; they take popular childhood properties from the '70s and '80s and update them on the big screen (Louder! Angrier! Access to a time machine!). But instead of satisfying our collective nostalgia, Poochie sequels create it, presumably because the only way to satisfy it at that point is to release more sequels.

The thinking behind these movies goes something like this: "We have a proven audience for Property X. We know people like it and we know we can sell it, so let's find someone else to carry on the Project X name and convince people it's exactly the same thing they enjoyed before." Poochie sequels are sort of like New Coke; they look exactly like the product you've always known and loved, but something ephemeral about them has changed. The constant references to past, better films just serve to remind us how far these franchises have fallen.

One last note about "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show" episode of "The Simpsons." In addition to breaking "The Flintstones"' prime-time record, the episode is famous for another reason: it introduced the Comic Book Guy's legendary catchphrase "Worst episode ever!"  The two milestones might be related. There's more to say, but I have to go now. My planet needs me. 

27 Comments

  • Matt | August 24, 2012 9:41 AMReply

    I was very disappointed! Love this Review!!!!! I agree with you. The trailer was brilliant, much better than the film. I think on it’s own the film wasn’t terrible (far too much running and jumping and not enough sensible plotting) its just in the shadow a a trilogy that was superior in it’s acheivements in every single way.

    I did a quick (hopefully) entertaining review myself:

    http://www.squidoo.com/5-most-annoying-things-about-the-bourne-legacy

    Check it out and let me know what you think!

  • Matt | August 24, 2012 9:43 AM

    http://www.squidoo.com/5-most-annoying-things-about-the-bourne-legacy

    I dont know what kind of crazy wizard magic happended to my previous comment after I posted it.

  • Pete | August 17, 2012 8:58 PMReply

    Film criticism and comments seasoned with Simpsons references. This article was made for me.

  • Andrew | August 15, 2012 11:24 PMReply

    The forerunner of the current crop of "Where's Poochie" movies would probably be the two Pink Panther movies made in the early 80s after Peter Sellers died. One of them built a plot (of sorts) around bits of old unused footage, while the other was just straight-up "Where's Clouseau"?

  • Memebag | August 15, 2012 8:25 AMReply

    Good article, but missing some perspective. Doctor Who has been been replacing its central character (sometimes louder, sometimes angrier, always with a time machine) since the 1960s to perpetuate a franchise. That in itself is nothing new, and can't be blamed for bad entertainment. I think a better explanation for why movies tend to suck is that people are dumb.

  • I seriously hope you guys ross douthat | August 15, 2012 7:11 AMReply

    "he's a louder, angrier version of Bourne"

    Nope. Still reading, but this is just wrong. I've watched Legacy and Supremacy in the last 48 hours and you're wrong. Bourne is a lot angrier. He's a really angry guy. Louder, I dunno, really? Until the end Legacy doesn't have a lot of noise. Anyway I shall continue to read...

  • Ash | August 14, 2012 10:48 PMReply

    I'm Surprised there wasn't a comparison to the Bond film saga, as one of the most successful things that The Bourne Legacy accomplishes is that it gives America a Bond character that, unlike Bond, doesn't have the glaring plot hole of a different actor pretending to be the same character every few years and the market audience having to awkwardly adjust to the new guy and weather he is 'Bond enough'. Here you don't have that problem, when one actor is fed up with the roll, he bows out and a 'new agent' escapes. Plausible.
    " A ticket to "The Bourne Legacy," after all, is a ticket to not see Matt Damon, or to kind of see him, or to see someone who sort of looks and acts like him in a plot that looks like something he would do. "

    You seem to be confusing the character with the actors a little (maybe sardonically, but it confuses the point). A ticket to 'The Bourne Legacy," after all, is actually a ticket to see the Jason Bourne Archetype, victim of Government conspiracy, evolve, in glorious action sequence after glorious action sequence, in the hope that a larger narrative may be created to feed the paranoid and bloodthirsty in the world. Ultimately, and in the long-term, It's a ticket to a more American version of Bond.

  • Habanosbooie | August 14, 2012 10:36 PMReply

    When are they gonna get to the fireworks factory!!?

  • Steve Vanden-Eykel | August 14, 2012 10:17 PMReply

    Like a lot of supposedly visionary works, the Poochie episode didn't actually predict anything, it merely described what was happening at the time. I can only assume the author is younger than 15, because he obviously doesn't remember back that far. Nothing's changed.

  • Christina | August 14, 2012 8:44 PMReply

    Great article and a very good point - haven't seen the Bourne Legacy yet, but interesting to see just how many series are passing the baton at the moment in a similar manner. Just one pedantic thing though - The Simpsons came up with Poochie and delivered the concept truly well, but think it was inspired by the actual creation of Scrappy-Doo in the Scooby-Doo series (see "Scrappy" on tvtropes.com as well), another extremely annoying late addition to a well-loved series. Life imitating art imitating life, etc ...!

  • Clark Kent | August 14, 2012 7:19 PMReply

    One of the most amazing, refreshing and witty articles I´ve read about movies. Congrats, Matt.

  • Jeroen | August 14, 2012 5:55 PMReply

    Good article, even though I don't agree with some generalizations I agree with the throughline that the 'Poochie sequels' are yet another example of the cowardice that plagues American mainstream filmmaking. However, I must defend the final scene in The Dark Knight Rises in this context. The 'rise of Robin' should be seen as a thematic completion of the Nolan batfilms and a parting wink to the audience. Neither JGL nor Nolan is interested in doing 'Robin Begins', and even though some of the WB brass would probably love to poochify Nolan's Bat franchise I doubt they would do it without JGL and Nolan's approval.

  • DK | August 15, 2012 10:04 AM

    This this this. Maybe WB told Nolan to stick that in there, but the man himself has no interest in doing more Batman movies and has publicly stated the next director should do whatever he/she wants with the franchise. Robin's "rise" was a thematic part of the conclusion to the story. Seems like certain people watching the film want a sequel more than was actually intended. Fin.

  • Dewsterling | August 14, 2012 5:41 PMReply

    This article parses my theory that Idiocracy is secretly a documentary of the modern-future political landscape.

  • ChubbRck | August 29, 2012 9:25 PM

    Secretly? Seems pretty blatant to me.

  • TomH | August 14, 2012 5:41 PMReply

    Brilliant analysis, Matt! I never made that connection before.

    Of course, when it comes to continuing franchises, there aren't always a lot of good options open to the studios. Every so often, you get a Lord of the Rings trilogy or a Dark Knight trilogy, where it's all the same actors, writers and director, and there's a clear beginning, middle and end to the story.

    More often, though, what you get is actors and directors who leave in the middle of a film series, with the replacements being less than stellar (Keaton/Burton leaving, so we wound up with Schumaker/Kilmer/Clooney). Or else you get endless reboot after reboot (re-doing the Spider-Man origin story again proved to be too soon).

    The producers behind James Bond have managed to survive multiple recasts, but they seem to be the exception.

    I actually thought the idea of introducing a new character to the Bourne mythos was interesting on the surface, but after reading and seeing some of the crazy stuff that's involved in that story . . . maybe it would have been better to just recast Renner as Bourne himself.

    Of course, Hollywood just *could* try giving us new ideas. :) But the question at hand is how to make sequels better, and I'm afraid there may not be a perfect solution for that.

    I could say more, but I'm feeling pretty loud and angry right now, so I need to get in my time machine.

  • rafiki | August 14, 2012 5:32 PMReply

    Dear Die Hard,

    You rock! Especially when that guy was on the roof.

    P.S. Do you know Mad Max?

  • Tyler Foster | August 14, 2012 5:24 PMReply

    The article is interesting, and I agree with all of the other examples, but I have to say I personally hardly thought about Matt Damon's Bourne character at any point during Legacy. Frankly, I thought the "Poochie" idea that Ultimatum and Legacy ran concurrently was the most exciting part of the premise, because I thought that might be a new and interesting way to create that connection between chapters in a franchise, but Gilroy really doesn't explore it. The characters from Ultimatum that return have a collective five minutes of screen time. It's only the vague concept of Bourne that affects Cross rather than his actual actions, and thus, I wasn't really thinking about Bourne himself.

  • usayusa | August 14, 2012 5:24 PMReply

    "extend franchises past the point where their original creators and stars (and logic, and momentum, and character motivation) have bowed out"

    like... THE SIMPSONS

  • CP | August 14, 2012 4:36 PMReply

    Not to be a nerd here but if you saw "Dark Knight Rises" you'd know JGL doesn't become the next Batman, he's the next Robin. They even say his name is Robin.

  • TomH | August 14, 2012 5:59 PM

    CP: Ahhh, but Robin's name isn't "Robin." It's Dick Grayson. ;)

  • JH | August 14, 2012 5:34 PM

    But in that cinematic universe there is no first Robin. So he can't be the 'next'. Nolan gives him the first name Robin, while Bruce Wayne essentially trains him to take the mantle throughout the film. So if he is telling him to wear a mask, hide his identity etc, you think he'd turn around and be called by his legal name, Robin?

    I can't say that he'd just become Batman or whether he'd go with Nightwing, or one of the other revisions but I think it's safe to say he's not going to known as "Robin".

  • Jason | August 14, 2012 4:28 PMReply

    Excuse me, but "proactive" and "paradigm"? Aren't these just buzzwords that dumb people use to sound important? Not that I'm accusing you of anything like that. I'm fired, aren't I?

  • Nate | August 14, 2012 4:12 PMReply

    Is there a way to get out of the dungeon without using the wizard's key?

  • Peter Labuza | August 14, 2012 3:41 PMReply

    This is a great post, Matt, though I think this trend goes back further (though it is certainly more common now). Specifically I'm thinking of Danny Glover in "Predator 2" or that guy who was not Charlton Heston in "Escape from the Planet of the Apes" (and then any of the apes sequels after that really, which became about Ceasar). Maybe because I liked "Bourne Legacy" - it has an extremely acute awareness of Obama's foreign policy and is much more interested in process than action beats - but seem to be in the minority, I don't necessarily see this as a bad thing. Maybe I'm being a luddite by refusing to see the obvious Hollywood machinery at work but there are a lot of sequels that have the same character that simply put them through the same physical and/or emotional conflicts as the film that came before it. And then consider how they decide to bring back Vito Corleone in Godfather 2 by going back in time and using a different actor. There's an obvious bias against Poochie characters and most of the stuff here about the way franchise works is certainly damning to any defense, but again I think it can open up new opportunities for different stories and narratives (isn't that what TV shows do every season by emphasizing different characters?).

  • ak | August 14, 2012 2:53 PMReply

    I have to go now. My planet needs me.

  • Alex | August 15, 2012 3:04 AM

    Great post and very good observation. The weird thing is, as long as these poochifications don't completely jump the shark, I am still compelled to see them. Even when you clearly see through brand extensions, you can still like the brand - and I sometimes hate myself for falling for such ploys. So I will go to see The Bourne Legacy because I liked the first three Bourne films. Damn you, movie studios, for your trickery!

Email Updates