Everybody’s got a shared universe nowdays. Some of them succeed: Marvel, Star Wars, Fast and Furious, and (inexplicably) Transformers. Some struggle, like the DC Cinematic Universe and Universal’s surely abortive attempt at turning its monster properties into long-term box office gold. Then there’s M. Night Shyamalan, doing his own thing off in a weird, awesome little corner.
Now Activision is getting in on the action, and it’s going to do it with - wait for it - Call of Duty. Yes, the mega-blockbuster shooter series that long ago became its own punchline, the annual addiction of the gamer-bro demographic, the source of all multiplayer gaming’s evils, will be the next Marvel Universe - at least according to Activision. Speaking to the Guardian, Activision Blizzard co-presidents Stacey Sher and Nick van Dyk outlined a strategy that follows in Ubisoft’s footsteps, creating an in-house production company to make a series of modern-warfare movies and historical-warfare TV shows. Several (!) already have screenplays in one shape or another. The first could shoot in 2018, which means we'll be able to watch it - with inevitable in-theatre commentary by screaming 12-year-old racists - by 2019, and get a solid trilogy under our belts by the end of Trump's second term. I mean, I assume these are already being planned as campaign tie-ins.
Sher and van Dyk say the films will adhere to the “high-adrenaline, high-energy aesthetic” of COD's various sub-franchises (oh my god fuck this series) rather than replicate existing storylines, but realistically, nobody’s going to mourn the loss of these games’ stultifyingly stupid, pro-war storylines. Sher cites Marvel’s loveable characters and “real filmmakers” as an influence, while van Dyk describes the new universe as "broad and inclusive, global in scope,” with an interconnecting timeline “with consistent themes and Easter eggs”. Good luck reconciling those ideals with, I don't know, everything that Call of Duty represents.
One of the more depressing aspects of this story is the skill and experience of the producers behind it. Sher comes to Activision Blizzard from an independent career as a producer, with credits on Man on the Moon, Out of Sight, Gattaca, Get Shorty, The Fisher King, and several Tarantino films. Van Dyk, meanwhile, is a former Disney exec, and according to the Guardian aided in the acquisition of Marvel and Star Wars. These are people who know what they’re doing, who have made real, good movies, which suggests we might actually see Call of Duty invade cinemas as well as blanketing the world with video game marketing every November. God help us all.
Other titles in Activision Blizzard’s back catalogue, potentially up for adaptation, include Overwatch, StarCraft, Destiny, and Guitar Hero. Would you go see movies based on those properties? I can see Overwatch working, given that it’s based around characters and already produced several decent short films; I have less confidence in StarCraft and Destiny, because - again - those stories are bollocks. I’d watch a sports underdog movie based on Guitar Hero, though. There’s no rule that says a Golden Retreiver can’t play lead guitar in a speed metal band.