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Culture » Film Reviews

Imperfect 10s

When a franchise hits 10 movies long, it can go in very different directions.

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UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • Universal Pictures

This week, as F9 arrives in theaters (too late for review at press time), the Fast & Furious franchise joins a select company: movie franchises that have reached their tenth installment. (I'm sure you didn't forget about the Hobbs & Shaw spin-off.) As an appetizer before you catch up with the latest turbo-charged adventures of Dom Toretto and company, here's a sampling of other long-running series that managed to reach a Part 10, and how that Part 10 fit in the bigger picture.

Sherlock Holmes Part 10: The House of Fear (1945)
The Set-Up: Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) investigate the suspicious deaths of members in a private club, all of whom stand to inherit the others' estates.

The Series Context: The series' 1940s films became more overtly contemporary rather than being set in Holmes' traditional Victorian England, including stories involving Nazi antagonists. They were fired off at a rapid clip of some three a year through 1946, while Rathbone and Bruce were also playing the roles in a radio series.

The Verdict: The genre tropes are as comforting as a cozy mystery, what with thunder and lightning crashing during a climax at an isolated mansion. The case itself has a satisfying resolution, but the primary appeal is Nigel Bruce's huffing and puffing as Watson, showing how comfortable he'd grown in the second-banana role.

What Came Next: Holmes & Watson consult on serial killings of young women whose fingers have been removed in The Woman in Green.

JANUS FILMS
  • Janus Films

Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman Part 10: Zatoichi's Revenge (1965)
The Set-Up: The itinerant masseur, gambler and swordsman Zatoichi (Shintarô Katsu) in feudal Japan sets out to avenge the murder of his teacher, and rescue the teacher's daughter from a brothel.

The Series Context: This one lasted through an impressive 26 features (all of them starring Katsu as Zatoichi) in its original incarnation, plus multiple Japanese television series. Most recently, the character was revived for features in 2003 and 2010.

The Verdict: Despite a story that emphasizes Zatoichi as a legendary, almost super-heroic figure—complete with plot to strip him of the source of his power—it all feels genuine thanks to the robust humanity Katsu brings to the character. Add a striking visual sensibility by director Akira Inoue, and you've got something that doesn't remotely feel like a series where people are going through the motions.

What Came Next: Zatoichi tries to prove the innocence of a man condemned to death in Zatoichi and the Doomed Man.

UNITED ARTISTS
  • United Artists

James Bond Part 10: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
The Set-Up: Agent 007 (Roger Moore) teams up with a KGB agent (Barbara Bach) to stop a megalomaniac (Curt Jürgens) with plans to instigate an apocalypse.

The Series Context: With Moore in the lead role, Bond was on his way in the more over-the-top direction that felt more like science-fiction than espionage. That trend hadn't quite reached its apex here (see: What Came Next), but most of Moore's successors as 007 have been part of considerably grittier and more earthbound threats.

The Verdict: The big action and production design carry the story through the combination of one of the dullest "Bond girls" and dullest villains in the entire series history. At least it introduced Richard Kiel's hulking metal-mouthed henchman Jaws, who proved so popular that he would become a more sympathetic part of the next sequel.

What Came Next: James Bond goes into space in Moonraker.

NEW LINE CINEMA
  • New Line Cinema

Friday the 13th Part 10: Jason X (2002)
The Set-Up: Unstoppable killing machine Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) gets cryogenically frozen, thawed out in the 25th century, and turned into a cyborg because ... well, why not.

The Series Context: The Friday the 13th series itself had been in cold storage for nearly a decade after Jason Goes to Hell in 1993. Emerging into the digital-technology world of 21st-century filmmaking, a vintage-1980s mad slasher felt like a weird anachronism (kinda like this movie's Jason)

The Verdict: Despite trying to duplicate some familiar genre elements—the perpetually-horny young people, creative deaths like liquid-nitrogen-face-smash—Jason X was just too slick to feel anything like an old-school Friday the 13th movie. As with Moonraker (see above), taking a franchise into space felt like a desperate last gasp.

What Came Next: New Line Cinema's other iconic blade-wielding killer joins the fun in Freddy vs. Jason.

20TH CENTURY FOX
  • 20th Century Fox

X-Men Part 10: Logan (2017)
The Set-Up: An aging Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) tries to keep his friends safe during a time of mutant persecution.

The Series Context: It's hard now to recall that the original X-Men—even before Sam Raimi's 2002 Spider-man—effectively kicked off the modern Marvel super-hero monolith. While the movies were showing their age nearly 20 years later, Jackman was still the face of the franchise.

The Verdict: As an action movie, it falls flat at times, but James Mangold wisely focuses on the character dynamics. He gives Jackman the opportunity to go out on a high note with a solid entry built on audience familiarity with the character's long journey.

What Came Next: Deadpool 2 and Dark Phoenix took the franchise (briefly) in two very different directions, while now we wait to see how and when the X-Men will be absorbed into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.