Sunday, October 18, 2009

Issue 8 - The Sequel That Equals

Why is it that there are so many terrible sequels in the movie world? Seriously, if I were to start listing all the overblown, boring, sloppy or just plain bad sequels ever made, this post would not be finished before Christmas.

There may be a number of reasons for this phenomenon. Perhaps the writers are pushed to complete the script in a hurry, to avoid a long delay between the first and second films. Perhaps the director feels pressured to make the follow-up “bigger” and more exciting than the first (which isn't always necessary, or possible, and sometimes only results in making it louder *coughtransformerscough*). Perhaps the first movie covered the most interesting period of the characters' lives and now there's nowhere to go with their development. (There's a very good reason most fairy-tales end with, "And they lived happily ever after..." - who wants to see Cinderella, post-wedding, faffing about the castle complaining that the servants don't do their jobs properly and that Charming hogs the remote?)

Or, perhaps we movie-goers expect too much. I mean, realistically, how many times can one man save the world before it all gets a bit old? (Unless his name is Bruce Willis, of course.)

I was driven to consider this after watching the particularly disappointing Step Up 2: The Streets. You may say that I deserved to be disappointed, watching a movie with a title like that, but I really enjoyed the first one. In true de Mented style, I have tabulated my thoughts in an attempt to discover where it all went wrong:




A heart-warming story throughout which you actually cared about the characters and what they were going through; that both made you laugh and made you cry.



Solid lead actors who were not outshone by their supporting cast, but were engaging and ably brought their characters through fairly convincing story arcs.


(Hang on...what were the main characters' names, again?)

A strong, clear message about learning where to set your goals and working hard to achieve them.


Not seeing it...

Choreography that showcased original ideas and a nice blend of different disciplines and elements of dance, making the most of the actors' individual strengths and styles.


Nope, nope, definitely not, e.g. why was there none of Hair's amazing tap-dancing in the finale?! There was even perfectly convenient rain that they could have used and everything!

Channing Tatum. Dancing.

Yes. In spades.

Yes, but he disappears after 15 minutes, leaving us with a very wishy-washy cast.

Is there some unwritten rule in Hollywood that says a sequel must simply squeeze every last drop of money out of a franchise, ignoring all concepts of art, entertainment and, often-times, respect for the characters? Surely, if you make a sequel that's as good as the first, it follows that you are then free to make MORE sequels, and therefore even more money?

There seems to be a school of thought that any good idea must be re-hashed until it's done to death, with no regard for the integrity of the story. I call this “The Ripley Effect”, in honour of Alien, Aliens, Alien3, Alien: Resurrection and Alien: PleaseDon'tLetThemMakeAnotherOne. Alien3 is the perfect example of characters we have grown to love falling foul of this make-a-quick-buck, “disposable” culture.

And then, there's the prequel. The major problem with prequels is that we already know what's going to happen to the characters, so there's no real tension in the narrative. The latest solution to this problem is the “reboot”. This involves either completely ignoring the films that have come before (e.g. Batman Begins) or going back to the beginning and changing the existing “cannon” in some way (e.g. Star Trek), to give the writers free rein in developing new stories and/or, in theory, killing off characters (or whole planets) as they will. So far, this appears to be an effective technique and has produced some great films. The majority of prequels, however, get it very wrong and feel like nothing more than cheap knock-offs.

Of course, there are exceptions. There are some sequels that equal or even surpass their predecessors. And James Cameron made all of them. OK, OK – that's an exaggeration, but it sure seems that way, sometimes.

So let's look at a brief overview of some of the best and worst sequels and prequels. Feel free to leave a comment with your favourite, or most hated, and why you think it did or didn't work.

The Good:

Terminator 2: Judgement Day
James Cameron at his finest. The film was not only technologically ground-breaking, it just plain rocked. An action movie with great heart.

Chalk another great one up to James Cameron. Good story, interesting characters, lots of guns, scary as anything...and that classic final battle between Ripley and the queen alien: pure movie magic.

Mission: Impossible 3
With all due respect to John Woo, the second instalment in Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible series was fairly woeful. A good action movie, perhaps, but it didn't have the right sort of feel. JJ Abrams got the series back on track with this third film, though. Fingers crossed he'll direct the fourth, which is in the works.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
is possibly my favourite book of all time, so I guess it's no surprise that I had some major problems with Andrew Adamson's movie adaptation. He got it very right with Prince Caspian, though. Many would disagree with me, but I felt that the modifications he made to the story were so well done that they felt as if they were part of the original book; the night raid on Miraz's castle is powerful, as is Peter's journey from pride to humility. That moment Lucy stands alone on the bridge, facing the entire enemy army, and pulls out her little dagger with complete confidence in Aslan...fantastic. It may not have done so well at the box office, but I loved it. (And, while we're on the subject, whichever executive at Disney made the decision to drop The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was an idiot. It was always going to be the best book to translate to film, and now we have to make do with a different director and major budget cuts. Bad form, Disney.)

Batman Begins/The Dark Knight:
What can I say? I've always been a Batman girl more than a Superman girl, and I love the darker side of Batman – I think Val Kilmer's take was the best in the “old” movies, because the point of Bruce Wayne is that he's just a little bit off-kilter. The new movies take that same approach, minus the cheesy one-liners but with the addition of Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and the performance that Heath Ledger will always be remembered for. Genius.

Star Trek
If I start talking about how much I love this movie, I will end up repeating myself. Suffice it to say: read

The Bad:

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
While I quite liked the second one, this third instalment left me wondering what the heck the makers' intentions were. So many threads of the story went absolutely nowhere. My overriding memory of it is as an incoherent mess. Also, a classic example of The Ripley Effect in action. Ultimately, it's a Disney movie - it's not supposed to end leaving two of the main characters – in whom you have invested so much throughout the first two movies – in a such an unsatisfying situation! Especially when there was another easy and much more satisfying alternative. Duh...

X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Oh dear. This one suffers from many of the same problems as X-Men 2 and 3. Some very shonky special effects certainly don't help, either. It would have been good to see more of Gambit and less...well, to be honest, I can't really put my finger on it, but something certainly doesn't work.

Thoughts whilst watching this movie: “No. Oh, no. Wait, wait – did they just speed up the film???! Gimme another look at that! Oh, man, this is so bad it's laughable...”

Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life
Oh. My. Goodness. The shark!! I'll say no more.

The Ugly:

Speed 2: Cruise Control
I like to pretend this movie doesn't exist. Well done, Keanu Reeves, for steering clear of it.

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem
By about 20 minutes into the movie, most of the characters were dead or well on their way to being killed off, and I couldn't have cared less. What a sad, sad, commercialised waste of a potential fanboy/fangirl [fanperson?] dream.

The Debatable:

The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions
I did enjoy the heady geekiness of both these movies, I have to say. But, puh-leeease, the giant rave/orgy was SO pointless, and they're definitely not as re-watchable as the first. Nonetheless, they contain some good action sequences and some intriguing ideas.

The Star Wars franchise
It will be an eternal argument: which is the best of the original trilogy? The critics' choice is always The Empire Strikes Back, but I'm not ashamed to hop off the bandwagon and admit my favourite to be Return of the Jedi – Ewoks and all. Either way: a rare case of the sequels equalling or bettering the original. And then we come to Episodes I to III. I probably enjoyed them more than a lot of people did (especially Episode III) – I can even handle Jar Jar Binks – but all that CGI really gets my goat. I was crying out for one real set-piece....Just one!! But I think the biggest problem, in a nutshell, is the lack of humour. George Lucas just takes the whole thing far too seriously. Where's the fun?

The Indiana Jones franchise
Although Temple of Doom wasn't as enjoyable as Raiders, no-one would dispute that Last Crusade was a darn good ride. So it pains me to say it, especially considering it has two of my favourite actors in it (Harrison Ford and Shia LaBeouf), but the fourth, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, was a let-down. If Steven Spielberg had stuck to his guns and refused to let George Lucas write aliens into the story, it would have had real potential. Even there, if he'd just left out that stupid scene with the fridge, all may have been well. *sigh*

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