The Summer of Sequels

This summer, the biggest hits at the box office are expected to be sequels. That isn’t surprising since by 2011 is expected to break the record for highest number of movie sequels in any other year. According to Box Office Mojo, the year with the previous highest was 2003 with a whopping 23.

This year, we’re expected to hit 27! Among them will be number fours – Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol; Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides; Scream 4; Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World; and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (Part One). Five of the films will be part five of their franchise: Fast Five, Final Destination 5, Puss in Boots (a sequel to the Shrek movies), X-Men: First Class, and Winnie the Pooh. There is also The Muppets, Rise of the Apes, and for many, the most anticipated sequel this year, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.

Let’s be honest, not all of these sequels should have been made. Even if the latest installment of your favorite franchise turns out to be a hit either critically or at the box office, there will always be one film in a series that was a stiff. Of the ones mentioned above, I think we can lose a few of The Fast & The Furious films, X-Men Origins: Wolverine (what a disappointment!) and I’ve never really been a Scream fan past the first one.

Let’s take a look at two sequels that made the world a better place.

The plight of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) was never as intense as it was during his rise to take the seat of the head of his father’s illicit empire in The Godfather, Part II (1974). The film intercuts Michael’s story with how the Corelones became such an important Cosa Nostra family by following the story of Michael’s father, Vito (Robert DeNiro), and his journey from Italy to New York.

It also has one of many critics’ favorite scenes in film, when Michael confronts his brother Fredo (John Cazale) in Nevada, first kissing him and then saying the immortal, “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart.” Shortly after, Fredo “slept with the fishes.” The Godfather, Part II won six Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Robert DeNiro and Best Director for Francis Ford Coppola. Sidenote: The producers should have stopped there; instead we had to suffer through the silly Part III, which included the sad, pathetic death of Michael, and the inclusion of Sofia Coppola in the cast.

At around 2pm on Wednesday, 21 May 1980, an eleven year old boy was taken out of school early for an appointment with Dr. Chew. Little did that kid know that Dr. Chew was actually the Wookie named Chewbacca, and he was going to be one of the first people to see Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. To say that Empire made an impression on the young lad would be an understatement. The second installment of the Star Wars trilogy is no doubt the best. It took a “long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” space fantasy story about an ancient magical order called Jedis, glowing swords, and spaceships and elevated it to high drama with just four lines of dialogue that changed everything.

Darth Vader: Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
Luke Skywalker: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
Darth Vader: No. I am your father.
Luke Skywalker: No… that’s not true! That’s impossible!

And we were done! Darth Vader was Luke Skywalkers father?! If we had the internet in 1980 like we do today, there would have been a colossal OMG loose in movie theaters everywhere.

Twitter and Facebook would have easily crashed at that moment. Sure, Empire ends on a downer, but the implications of the Vader/Skywalker storyline, coupled with the Han Solo frozen in carbonite situation, made it Wizard Magazine’s Best Cliffhanger of All Time. No matter how good Star Wars: Return of the Jedi was, Empire was better.

From the best, to the worst
Ironically, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is widely considered to be the worst-ever film sequel. Despite the stars in the cast, there’s hard to find anything good with Episode One of the Star Wars saga. Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, and a still-blossoming Natalie Portman tried as hard as they could to make this one fly, and I genuinely feel bad for them that they failed.

The debacle that was Jar Jar Binks aside, The Phantom Menace was never going to live up to expectations, but that isn’t a good enough excuse. George Lucas over indulged in CGI and cinematic wizardry and got away from the heart and soul that made all three of the previous (yet set in the future) films: compelling characters and substantial plot. And let’s not even go into the over-marketing of the film that brought us tie-ins to everything from bed linens to fast food.

Others sequels to avoid include any Rocky sequel; they all feel like a rip-off of the come-from-behind triumph that made Sylvester Stallone’s 1976 film such a masterpiece. Stay away from 1982’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch not because it’s scary, but because it’s the rare film that that completely discarded its franchise roots and had a plot completely devoid of the main franchise character: Michael Myers in the hockey mask.

Producers did return to the storyline with 1988’s Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Meyers, not that the film came close to the 1978 original written and directed by the great John Carpenter.

And then there’s the epically craptastic Grease 2, a film so appallingly bad that Janet Maslin for the New York Times said that the film was “dizzy and slight, with an even more negligible plot than its predecessor had. This time the story can’t even masquerade as an excuse for stringing the songs together. Songs? What songs? The numbers in Grease 2 are so hopelessly insubstantial that the cast is forced to burst into melody about pastimes like bowling.”

There can be arguments made that bad sequels are the result of a lack of creativity or laziness in Hollywood nowadays. But judging by what’s on the horizon for 2011, I have to say that there are more films that I want to see this year that happen to be sequels than films that are original. I only hope that the sequels are more like Empire and less like Phantom.

Trivia buffs note: The first film sequel was 1916’s Fall Of A Nation, based on the D.W. Griffith film Birth Of A Nation (1915), and was created as a way for writer Thomas Dixon to cash in on his book The Clansman which was the basis for Birth.

 

This summer, the biggest hits at the box office are expected to be sequels. That isn’t surprising since by 2011 is expected to break the record for highest number of movie sequels in any other year. A