As a confirmed movie fanatic, I naturally like to keep up with cinema’s upcoming features. Man, there’s nothing like having a movie to look forward to. So, last night, I went to some of my favourite movie sites to see what will be hitting the screens in 2010. A few treasures and a lot of shit, as it happened. Same old, same old, to be sure. But what really struck me was the sheer quantity of movies heading this way with numbers in the title. More specifically, movies with numbers after the title.
Here’s what I found. I’ve included the sequel number in brackets for those films that think they can dupe us by using a subtitle instead. Fools!
Piranha 3D, Hatchet 2, Cabin Fever 2, The Descent Part 2, Rec 2 & 3, Mirrors 2, Puppet Master: Axis Of Evil (10), Zombieland 2, Saw 7, 30 Days Of Night: Dark Days (2), Blair Witch 3, Cloverfield 2, Silent Hill 2, Friday The 13th Part 2 (technically Part 13), Jeepers Creepers 3, The Strangers 2, Hostel 3, Iron Man 2, Toy Story 3, Sex and the City 2, Shrek Forever After (4), Predators (5), Hairspray 2, Step Up 3D, Nanny McPhee 2, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2), The Howling: Reborn (8), Paranormal Activity 2, Tron Legacy (2), Hoodwinked 2, Free Willy: Escape From Pirates Cove (4), Little Fockers (3).
That’s an awful lot of digits, folks. The winning lottery numbers for this week are probably in there somewhere.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and rage about sequels. Not really. Well, maybe a little bit. I have nothing against sequels as a concept, okay? In fact, a few of those sequels are on my list of movies to see. Of course, the rest of them simply pull a weary sigh from me. I mean, do we really need a thirteenth Friday 13th movie, for fuck’s sake? The truth is, I can’t help but feel a pang when I remember that every single one of those movies represents an original idea that didn’t get made. And that’s sad, isn’t it?
The sequel is hardly a new phenomenon. The first movie sequel goes back to 1916 and Fall of a Nation, the film made to cash in on the success of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. And cashing in has usually been the single reason for the existence of the sequel. Although there are those which are presented more as instalments than sequels, such as the James Bond, or Indiana Jones movies, these franchises would never have made it past the first episode if they hadn’t made piles of money.
It’s simple maths for the people holding the purse strings. This made money, so it will make money again, and again, and again. Ba da bing, ba da boom. The problem is that, more often than not, it leads to an increasingly dreadful string of repetitive drivel, which gradually sheds whatever magic made the original such a success in the first place. Steven Spielberg, only too aware how awful the Jaws sequels were, made damn sure that no E.T. sequel was ever, or will ever be made.
There doesn’t even seem to be a time limit on the cash-in philosophy. 46 years elapsed between The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Return to Oz (1985), 25 years between The Hustler (1961) and The Color of Money (1986), and 23 years between Psycho and Psycho II. And then there’s the Disney factor. Not content with making sequels to their own ideas, Disney takes it upon itself to create sequels to movies which were based on classic literature; The Jungle Book II, The Little Mermaid II, 101 Dalmatians II, even The Hunchback of Notre Dame II! One can only imagine that Disney would make The Bible II, if they thought it could get away with it. Perhaps it’s no accident that Spielberg’s worst movie was Hook, an attempt to make a sequel to Peter Pan.
Sequels have a place in our viewing pleasure. Some of my favourite movies are sequels. But while you’re enjoying Iron Man 2, or (if you have no discernment at all) Saw VII, spare a thought for what could have been a great, original, movie made in its place, if only some producer out there had decided to take a risk.
Five First Sequels That Worked
Seven years after Ridley Scott’s original Alien, and fresh from the success of The Terminator, James Cameron decided, for the second time in his career, to make a sequel to someone else’s movie. Fortunately, this time he did a far better job than he had done on Piranha 2: Flying Killers. But let’s be honest, he had slightly better material to work with this time around. Fucking flying piranhas, I ask you.
Cameron’s masterstroke was to take the basis of Alien, which was to all intents and purposes a horror movie, and switch genres to an action movie. Rather than retread the monster-stalks-humans set-up that made Alien so scary, Cameron introduced soldiers, multiplied the monsters, and gave us humans-stalk-monsters-stalk-humans instead. In addition, he took the character of Ripley and, with Sigourney Weaver, evolved her into one of cinema’s most iconic female characters. I defy anyone not to hoot with joy when Ripley marches up to the alien queen in the power loader and barks, ‘Get away from her, you bitch!’ Yay Ripley!
Debate rages over which movie is the better, Alien or Aliens, but since they are such different movies it’s really a moot point. But Aliens is that rare beast, a sequel that can stand on its own as a great movie in its own right.
The Bourne Supremacy
In 2002, Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity came out of nowhere and single-handedly managed to revolutionise the espionage movie, leaving the James Bond franchise to play catch-up. Taking the title of Robert Ludlum’s book, a few characters, but little else, The Bourne Identity introduced an amnesiac government agent as far removed from 007 as possible. Where Bond was all swagger, playboy looks and total lack of remorse, Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne (same initials) was a dressed down blank page who could blend into a crowd, and felt shame and guilt as he came to realise who he was. The movie was a hit and we wanted more.
Liman, disinterested in making a sequel, stayed on as producer and handed the reins to British director, and one-time documentary maker, Paul Greengrass. The Bourne Supremacy surpassed its progenitor in every way, emerging as far more than simply a rerun of the same story. Ruthlessly killing off a major character in the first 10 minutes, introducing the excellent Joan Allen as CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy into the mix, and culminating in one of the best car chase sequences put on film, The Bourne Supremacy is a thrilling piece of cinema which never forgets it has a heart. Greengrass uses handheld cinematography expertly, putting us right in the middle of events, and Matt Damon anchors the movie with very human hero. It’s a credit to all concerned that the franchise ended on such a high note, with the equally accomplished The Bourne Ultimatum. Talk of a fourth instalment persists but it’s hard to see where it could go, The Bourne Ultimatum ending as perfectly as it did.
The Empire Strikes Back
1980, and Star Wars 2 (or 5, whatever) is due for release. We were excited, but apprehensive. There was no way Star Wars could be bettered, right? The movie had been a phenomenon, had launched a thousand space ships. How could you top that?
Well, if you’re George Lucas, you simply step back and let someone else do the hard work. Having written and directed Star Wars, Lucas came up with the story, handed over scriptwriting duties to Leigh Brackett and (in the wake of Brackett’s death) Lawrence Kasdan, and gave the helm to veteran Director Irvin Kershner. As a result, The Empire Strikes Back is the most mature and accomplished movie of the series. For all his ideas and creativity, George Lucas simply cannot write dialogue. So why he didn’t repeat this method for his recent prequels is a mystery, especially since the dialogue is one of the latter trilogy’s greatest weaknesses. In the words of Harrison Ford, ‘You can write this shit, George, but you sure can’t say it’.
However, there is no such weakness in The Empire Strikes Back. And this is the film that gave us Yoda, Boba Fett, our first glance of the Emperor, and the immortal line, ‘I am your father’. And the AT-AT walkers are super cool.
The Godfather Part II
The success of The Godfather in 1972 practically guaranteed a sequel. Ka-ching! However, Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo clearly took the task seriously, and rather than churn out a rerun of the original, they built upon it. What they delivered was a rich, layered epic, which contrasted Michael Corleone’s rise as Don of the family with his father’s rise, a generation earlier. Taking unused parts of the original novel, together with new material weaved around historical events in Cuba, The Godfather Part II is a masterpiece. Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are mesmerising, and carry their respective stories completely. Every bit the celebration of the Italian American family, and ruthless deconstruction of the American dream, as the original, The Godfather Part II is required viewing for any student of the cinematic arts.
The much maligned Godfather Part III followed 16 years later and, while not as good as the previous two films, is certainly a lot better than its reputation suggests.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
In the wake of the success of Star Wars, and with a huge following built up from re-runs of the TV show, Star Trek finally returned in 1979 with The Motion Picture. It received a critically lukewarm response because, while it carried the series’ themes of exploration and discovery, it had none of the humour and fun of the original show. As a result, series creator Gene Roddenberry was ousted from production of the follow-up, and Nicholas Meyer was brought on board to finish the script and direct.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was not only a sequel to the first movie, but a sequel to one of the original episodes, Space Seed. Ricardo Montalban returned as the deliciously hammy superhuman, Khan, seeking revenge on Admiral Kirk. Exploration was abandoned in preference to military engagement, which made for a far more exciting picture, and the chemistry between the lead characters was restored. To top it all off, a major character death at the end, although he was revived in the subsequent sequel, still stands as one of the most moving scenes in any of the Trek movies to date. With J.J. Abrams rebooted Star Trek movie counting as number 11 in the series, it still never got better than this.
And Five That Really Didn’t
Blues Brothers 2000
Why, oh why, oh why? The Blues Brothers was one of the greatest comedies of all time, successfully mixing music, action and laughs in a way that few others have ever managed. Its success hinged on many things, but one of the most important aspects was the presence of John Belushi. His death in 1982, two years after the release of The Blues Brothers, should have ruled out any thoughts of a sequel. It would be like making a sequel to Lethal Weapon without Mel Gibson. Worse, in fact. It just couldn’t work, right?
Right. It couldn’t and it didn’t. Writer Dan Aykroyd and director John Landis, unable to replace John Belushi with his brother, James, due to scheduling conflicts, decided to introduce a new character, played by John Goodman. It doesn’t work. There’s a convoluted plot involving a third ‘brother’, the Russian mafia and a new ‘mission from God’. Which doesn’t work. Most of the actors from the first film return. But it is all very desperate stuff, with none of the charm, wit, pace or fun of the original. Simply put, it doesn’t work. And the introduction of a precocious child into the mix doesn’t do it any favours either. Get him out of here! He’s annoying me!
According to Richard Dreyfuss in the untouchable Jaws, the great white shark ‘swims and eats and makes little sharks, and that’s all it does’. Well, according to Jaws 2, and the increasingly ludicrous series of sequels that followed, they also come looking for their mates, they hold grudges, and they manage to identify and hunt down family and friends of the people who kill their kids. Rubbish! Boo!
Director Jeannot Szwarc, who is no Spielberg, does the best he can with a lame script, which includes a laughable scene where the shark manages to drag a helicopter under the water, but Jaws 2 is severely lacking the chemistry between characters that so drove the original. With a very similar storyline, only with added annoying teenagers and no Dreyfuss or Robert Shaw, Jaws 2 is basically Jaws without any of the magic of Jaws. It leaves you with a montage of fat people in 70s bathing costumes and a crap looking shark. Funny how you can forgive those things when you watch the original.
The Matrix Reloaded
When The Matrix arrived, in 1999, it was one of the most fresh and original science fiction movies for years. Like all good sci-fi it had brilliant ideas, which were well executed, and it stirred the brain cells as well as the adrenaline. Then The Matrix Reloaded arrived and the franchise promptly disappeared up its own asshole. And then some. If there was one thing the original suffered from, and apart from Keanu Reeves this was the only complaint, it was an overblown pomposity and a complete lack of humour. Reloaded took that malaise to the nth degree and crafted a triumph of plodding self-importance.
For all its grandeur, The Matrix Reloaded is ultimately a tedious exercise in style over content. Show without the tell. Everyone looks very swish in their long coats and cool sunglasses, but someone forgot to include a coherent plot. By the time the old guy in the white hat turns up to ‘explain’ what’s going on, you just want to put Star Wars on. Matrix Revolutions followed, and was a better stab at continuation, but when you look back at the ending of the original, what else was really needed?
Ocean’s Eleven, a remake of the 1960 Rat Pack movie of the same name, was a star-studded piece of entertaining fluff. It didn’t take itself too seriously, had a great chemistry between the big names onscreen, and remembered to allow the audience to have as much fun watching it as the cast clearly had making it. It was better than the Frank Sinatra original because it avoided the smug, self-indulgence which made that movie simply an exercise in Ol’ Blue Eyes and his mates having a lark.
However, the follow-up, Ocean’s Twelve, somehow manages to repeat the mistake of Sinatra’s movie, leaving us feeling as if we’ve been invited to someone else’s party, and no-one wants to talk to us. It’s like watching Clooney, Pitt, Damon, Roberts and their pals go to Europe for a holiday and send us their snaps. They all have as much fun working together as they did in the first film, but somehow they forget to include us. The story ambles, pretty much going nowhere, with none of the tension that the heist scenes of the original delivered, and the movie ends coming across as cynical, self-satisfied and inaccessible. Ocean’s Thirteen was an improvement, but the spark from the first outing never really returned.
Speed 2: Cruise Control
There have been some sequels that were never intended as sequels at all, they were merely original scripts reworked as sequels. The ultimate cash-in. Speed 2 comes across as one of those movies. Without the lead character from the excellent Speed, played with wooden abandon by Keanu Reeves, Speed 2 simply has Sandra Bullock’s returning character Annie hitched up with someone else, Jason Patric’s cop. She looks hot, he looks hot, they go on holiday together on a big ship which is taken over by Willem Dafoe (who may or may not look hot) and the big ship goes really fast. That’s about it.
Bullock runs around doing very little, but makes a few referential jokes, to remind you this is a sequel. Poor Jason Patric, who is better than this tripe, is saddled with a dullard of an action role, which could have been filled by just about anyone, even Keanu Reeves. And everyone gets wet in thin clothes, making them all look a bit hotter. Speed 3 never arrived. Can’t imagine why.