Contemporary Hollywood is built around projects that studio types like to describe as “pre-sold,” meaning that they have titles and stories that prospective audiences instantly recognize, and brands that require no effort to explain. Your superhero movies, your sequels, your remakes and reboots all fall into this category, as do adaptations of mega-selling (but not, I fear, merely bestselling) books. And so does what you might call the “tie-in” film — a movie that doesn’t so much adapt a story as attach one to some preexisting pop-culture property, like a board game, or a theme-park ride.
Of all the varieties of pre-sold cinema, it’s easy to regard the tie-in as the crassest and most artistically bankrupt. And sometimes (cough, Battleship, cough) the results vindicate that assumption. But there are exceptions: There was no reason to expect any kind of creative spark from the original Pirates of the Caribbean, for instance, but then Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski turned Disney’s shameless ride-sploitation into an unexpected pleasure. (Then, alas, came the sequels.)