When should a movie have a sequel? When should it not?
The movie sequel has been around for almost as long as
movies themselves. The serial began with books, progressed to radio, advanced
through TV, and went big-time on the silver screen. Producers love sequels,
because whether good or bad, they make money.
When any movie is a hit, the first question a producer asks
is if it has the potential for a second feature, and ideally even more. Why?
Wasn’t the first movie satisfying enough?
Wasn’t Raiders of the Lost Ark enough for us? Didn’t
we get enough time travel in Back to the Future? Didn’t Star Wars
offer plenty of saber excitement and unearthly creatures? The answer, pure and
simple, is NO! Rich characters diving into limitless adventures always make
audiences crave more.
We want more than just three guys on a small fishing boat
facing a great white shark. We want to see a pyramid of water skiers performing
over shark-infested waters. We want to see scientists discover the biggest and
most intelligent (not to mention angry) great white shark in the world—in 3D!
We always want more.
The problem with sequels is that often they are slapped
together to make the quick buck. Sometimes a producer has more money than
story. Occasionally, they retain the main character or the main villain, and
simply reuse the formula of the first film, but with a mostly new cast. I see
this type of thing with slasher films. It seems to work fine with them, because
often with these fear-based plots, story is secondary to the blood, gore, and
methods of murder.
Ocean’s Eleven (2001) was a great movie. The cast
worked together like a fine Swiss timepiece. They delivered their lines with
precision and humor, actually improving on the original effort of the 1960 Rat
Pack version. Ocean’s Twelve, however, was not so good.
The producers wanted to capitalize on their gang of clever
criminals, and retain the fun of a crazy twist, but the result was confusing
and convoluted. It was not nearly as witty or charming as the first. Then along
came Ocean’s Thirteen. It went back to the banter between the
characters, and drew the audience into the confidence of the confidence men.
Several film trilogies suffer from the same problem. The
first film is terrific, the second is weak, and the third comes back strong. I
believe this problem is a result of audience expectations combined with a rush
to get the next installment on screen. This is so common that movie audiences
almost expect this to happen. It’s become a rule.
The exception to this is the original Star Wars
trilogy. George Lucas began his franchise with Episode IV: A New Hope,
knowing full well that if box office returns were good, The Empire Strikes
Back would soon follow, and so forth. He had a plan from the beginning.
Considering that it is part of a bigger story, I (along with many others)
consider Empire to be the best of all the episodes. The characters are
richer, the emotion is deeper, and the action is fiercer. It does what a sequel
should do, and takes you further into the story. By the time the credits roll
on Empire, you are ready for the Return of the Jedi.
Sequels work best when they make the adventure bigger, and
the characters more heroic. Just repeating the same story with an
interchangeable cast makes for a forgettable string of film. Why bother?
That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema! Thanks for reading!