We view movies on their merits and this should be case with most movies, but I think the movie scene has evolved (and continues to evolve) in a way that the lines between stand-alone movies and serials have been blurred if not completely merged. This has perhaps produced a new type of ‘movie’ a sub-genre that has merged with a genre. The Lord of The Rings is a good example of this. We knew while watching the first one that this was a series of movies and so were content with questions not answered in the first movie because we knew that they will be answered in the next one or the one after that. Harry Potter is of course another example.
You may say I’m being disingenuous here because those two have source material which was already written as a serial form. This is true, but does the existence or non-existence of already constructed source material make this form of film making exclusive? I think not. Think of Nolan’s Batman franchise. This is what he did in Batman Begins. Let’s look at the suit. Only in the second movie is Batman able to turn his head. The suit evolves into a ‘final’ product by the third movie. The Batpod is introduced in TDK and the Tumbler (or The Bat) in TDKR. Iron Man is another example. Iron Man is an origins story. It evolves into more in IM2 and the picture is complete by IM3.
The traditional way is that a stand-alone movie is made. It is shown to the public, feedback is received and then the movie makers decide to make a sequel or two. Even this has changed slightly. We now have movie studios deciding to make a sequel even before they get feedback from the public. You’ll hear that a sequel is being planned even while the movie is in production. So what happens when a studio plans to make two movies or a trilogy from the beginning? Do we expect that the entire story will be told in the first one leaving nothing for us to discover in the movie 2 and 3? More likely that we will travel the journey with our heroes and discover things about them as they do. In TDKR we Bruce Wayne discovered he had a limit, and we discovered this with him. But he also learnt he could rise above it, and so did we.
So we get a treatment of an origins story and we learn the things that have shaped and formed the character of a man (or woman). We learn the reasons for the predispositions and what their beliefs are built on. So when we see their actions in subsequent films we know the reasons and the depth of their characters. We understand what a person has to overcome to perform a certain act; we know what makes them human and yet sets them apart from the rest of us. And as apart as they are we also know that there is hope that we may aspire to be like them with all of our own faults and regrets.
It’s worth noting that this is not something new in the world of literature. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings is a very good example as are the Harry Potter books. Stephen King did this with The Dark Tower books and to a lesser degree The Green Mile.
Man of Steel is the first of a trilogy. And as such I regard it as one of the best in the category. If you’re not happy with the underdevelopment of characters like Louis Lane I ask that you consider Pepper Pots in Iron Man (the first one), Alfred in Batman Begins, Frodo’s friend Sam in TFOTR or even Jane Foster in Thor. Each of these characters grew with each movie (no doubt we will see more of Jane Foster in Thor: The Dark World).
So these are no longer single movies and should not be viewed as such exclusively. It is also more than a franchise in that although they can each be enjoyed individually they need to be viewed in their complete set for the full picture. This is how they are different to The Godfather. The Godfather was a complete story which was added to later. These are incomplete stories and the sequels need to be watched for the complete picture to be appreciated (paradoxically this means they cannot be called sequels). They are separate pieces of art that must be put together for the viewer to get a full appreciation of what they are seeing.