The Call of Duty cinematic universe Activision wants can’t and won’t exist

Infinity Ward/Activision

In November 2015, Activision Blizzard announced it was launching a new studios division that would create films based on its most popular game franchises, including Call of Duty. Now, the studio’s co-presidents helping to helm said Call of Duty films have outlined what that “cinematic universe” will look like.

There’s only one problem though: It’s not a cinematic universe.

Stacey Sher and Nick van Dyk sat down with The Guardian and teased what the future of the films would look like. Each movie, according to the co-heads, will take place in a different era that a particular game is set in. That includes World War II, Vietnam, the modern day era and, naturally, futuristic settings.

“We have plotted out many years,” Sher said. “We put together this group of writers to talk about where we were going. There’ll be a film that feels more like Black Ops, the story behind the story. The Modern Warfare series looks at what it’s like to fight a war with the eyes of the world on you. And then maybe something that is more of a hybrid, where you are looking at private, covert operations, while a public operation is going on.”

Sher and van Dyk said they’ve worked with military experts, a group of writers and retired soldiers to create a universe that’s believable and could exist for a number of years. The question is could Activision Blizzard Studio’s Call of Duty franchise compare to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe or DC’s Extended Universe?

Simply put, no it can’t. For one thing, what Activision Blizzard has outlined isn’t a cinematic universe. It’s a franchise. in the same way that Fast and Furious is a franchise or The Expendables is a franchise. There are a series of movies that share the same characters and exist within the same universe, but that doesn’t make them a cinematic universe.

A cinematic universe uses multiple movies that introduce different characters and elements of a shared universe. The end result is one, super packed movie that brings these various characters together, combining all of the individual aspects of the universe they belong to. The Avengers or Justice League are perfect examples of this. To get to The Avengers, audiences had to sit through Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor and Iron Man 2 before The Avengers was released. Similarly, people have to sit through Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Wonder Woman before they get Justice League at the end of this year.

There are multiple, individual movies that are designed to interlock with one another and create a shared universe that culminates in this mega event. Based on what Sher and van Dyk told The Guardian, they’re not looking to do anything remotely like that. There won’t be a number of main characters from different Call of Duty movies that wind up in one specific film that takes place in the Call of Duty universe. Instead, what Sher and van Dyk are creating is a film franchise based on a popular game franchise.

There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that’s a far smarter and better decision for the type of films they’re looking to produce. But it feels like every movie is being turned into a cinematic universe when it doesn’t have to be. Studios aren’t just pitching single movies anymore. Universal isn’t planning on rebooting The Mummy; instead, it will use The Mummy as a way to launch its own monster cinematic universe that also includes The Thing, Van Helsing, The Invisible Man and other notable characters the studio owns.

Last year I wrote that Hollywood has a cinematic universe problem – and that hasn’t changed. If anything, it’s gotten worse. We don’t need every franchise or every movie to try and acclaim cinematic universe status. It’s going to hurt the studio — particularly if the first movie doesn’t do as well as they hoped — and it’s going to annoy the audience.

A Call of Duty movie franchise could do extremely well, given the right director, cast and writers. That’s what Activision Blizzard Studios should focus on: creating a series of good movies. Don’t try and force a cinematic universe, it’ll just backfire.

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