Thursday, June 28, 2012

Our Favorite Sequels

It's summer now, and that can mean only one thing: SEQUELS! They're not all just routine, cynical cash grabs, though. Here are some that aren't. Or that are, but we just don't care.

Mark Ahn: I tried staying away from sequels that were totally different than the first installment, and only have the name in common; I think a good sequel takes the original narrative thread from the first installment and then expands on it.

I like Aliens.
I like The Godfather Part II.
I really like Spider-Man 2.
I really like the Bourne movies.
I love The Empire Strikes Back.

But my favorite is The Dark Knight.
The advantage that a sequel always has over the first installment is not having to deal with the (sometimes) bothersome exposition of origin stories; a proper sequel gets down to business right from the beginning. The Dark Knight is mostly about bigger things than just Batman, or even just the Joker, or the two fighting each other; Christopher Nolan pushes it to be about the nature of good and the nature of evil, and not just through broad, general strokes or on-the-nose symbols. Batman Begins was a good superhero/cop movie, but The Dark Knight doesn't just stay in those places, and that's why it hits that rarefied place of being so good for a "sequel" that everyone is a little nervous at the prospect of The Dark Knight Rises, because I'm thinking "how can this one be better than the previous one?" When does that ever happen? That a #2 is so good that a #3 seems unnecessary?

Two more random bits:
-The Joker is absolutely terrifying.
-The movie was PG-13. Now go back and read the previous thing.

Erich: Sequels, eh? I've always liked:

Back to the Future II
Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Spider-Man 2
Addams Family Values


Mike: The Bourne Supremacy (2004) - It’s important that a sequel can, at the very least, equal the original film in a franchise. This usually doesn’t happen. However, it’s something special when a film can surpass the original. This is even rarer. For every Spider-Man 2, there’s a Matrix Revolutions.

I’m a fan of The Bourne Identity. It’s a solid, fun action film starring an unlikely action star in Matt Damon. It’s a movie that didn’t rock my world, but it was a pleasant surprise. The Bourne Supremacy elevates the franchise to another place.

The Bourne Supremacy works on a number of levels, not the least of which is the script. Too often we allow action films to get away with not having much of a story; it can be poorly written, or hardly written at all, but as long as the fight scenes are bloody and the car chases fast, we’re happy. But every once in a while it’s nice to see an action movie with an interesting story, sharp dialogue, and a cast that can act as well as throw a punch. The Bourne Supremacy has all of that.
Today, people seem to blame Paul Greengrass for the hyper-kinetic, shaky-cam action style that we’ve seen too many times in film. Why it works in The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, and not many other films, is simply because Greengrass actually knows what he’s doing. A great action director needs to be a great visual storyteller. Too often today we’re given action films with quick cuts and crazy camera work, leaving us scratching our heads as to what we just saw. We know a fight just occurred, but it’s not until the end of the scene when we see the bad guys unconscious on the ground with our hero standing bloodied and panting above them that we know what happened. Greengrass allows us, even through his wild style, to recognize what is actually happening at all times.

On a side note, the hand-to-hand fighting in this franchise is fantastic. There seems to be a weight behind every punch thrown, and while the fights don’t always resemble how an actual fight plays out, there is a level of realism and technique to the strikes that should be applauded.

Erika: Spider-Man 2; The Godfather Part II; The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; The Empire Strikes Back; Before Sunset; The Dark Knight; Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol; X2: X-Men United

JB: I have spoken at length about The Bride of Frankenstein here and here and here. I am not sure there is that much more to say about it. It is the single best horror film ever. It is also a sequel.

I am guessing that some of my younger colleagues here will speak at length on the joys of The Godfather Part II, Aliens and Spider-Man 2 (God, I find more philosophical heft in one line of that movie—"I will not die a monster"—than I find in other whole movies.)

Another great sequel is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. It is not a perfect film, but I love every goddamned minute of it. It certainly ages better than the original Vacation, and European Vacation is unwatchable. 

The film walks a wonderful line between slapstick and sentiment. The slapstick is very well done, from Chevy Chase's wild ride on a lubed-up saucer sled to taking an attic ladder on the chin in one of the best-edited sight gags ever.

The attic scene is where the film finds it emotional center. Stranded alone in his attic, Chevy Chase's Clark Griswald whiles away the time waiting for his family to return from Christmas shopping by wrapping himself in castoff clothing for warmth and watching home movies on an old 8mm projector. It is a sweet moment, punctuated by another great slapstick moment.

Most of the credit for the film's success must go to John Hughes, who wrote the original National Lampoon Magazine short story upon which the film is based. While the film isn't quite as mean-spirited as its print incarnation (I seem to remember an alcoholic, kleptomaniac Asian foreign exchange student who was left out of the film), the film is more than willing to explore the black heart of a typical American Christmas: the endless, meaningless ritual; the Sisyphean task of getting all the Christmas lights to work at the same time; the impossibility of family; and the inevitable setting on fire of the family tree.

The film reaches its heart of darkness when Chevy Chase learns he is not going to receive his usual Christmas bonus – instead, his cheapskate boss has given every employee a membership in the “Jelly of the Month” Club. Clark’s volcanic rant, which has been building within him the whole film through, is nothing short of epic:

"I want to look him straight in the eye and tell him what a cheap, lying, no good, rotten, four flushing, snake licking, dirt eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood sucking, dog kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat assed, bug eyed, stiff legged, spotty lipped, worm headed, sack of monkey shit he is! Hallelujah! Holy shit! Where's the Tylenol?"

Alex: Aliens (1986) - I feel like Aliens should be the prototype for any sequel to a wildly successful and revered movie. As for the sequels to movies that by no means demanded one (I'm looking at you, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), I have no such advice except go the fuck away.

James Cameron's Marine-corps-lovefest/feminist opus just gets it. Any sequel needs to exist in, at a minimum, the same vague universe as its predecessor, but really that ought to be the extent of all obligations. Trying to recreate the circumstances of that which came before has been a death sentence for far too many projects to name. My point here is this: Set different goals. Have a new idea. Create a unique experience. I know, it seems stupefying in its obviousness, but it begs the question as to why we're treated to the same repetitive swill summer after summer.

Alien is one of the finest gothic horror movies ever: tense and atmospheric and constantly lurking in the darkest reaches of your psyche. So leave it to the ambitious young Cameron to pivot and instead churn out a kick-ass action movie that stood out above the rest. No small feat in the mid-'80s, when kick-ass action was the genre du jour.

Of course, it's not enough to just be "new." You could argue that the latter two Matrix films have wildly different goals than the first installment, namely unveiling the "mythology" of The One and all his one-y one-ness. Helpful tip for sequel engineers: If the word "mythology" crosses your brain in the early stages of the storytelling process, just call it a day. That's how we ended up here, in this post-Midichlorian existence.

No. With ingenuity and originality, you must also pair vision, which Cameron had in abundance. It's at this point of my review that I have no other recourse than to slip into the most prevalent of pseudo-frat guy superlatives: Aliens is fucking awesome.

While it's probably not a perfect movie, there's not a single moment in it that fails to command every bit of my attention. Take the Marine Corps battalion Ripley accompanies to intervene on LV-426. There's what, a dozen of them? In this two-hour movie? While this isn't exactly approaching Samuel Beckett levels of character development, you leave the movie with a firm grasp on ever single Marine's demeanor and general attitude toward the mission, from Jenette Goldstein's fuerza Latina paragon Pvt. Vazquez to Colette Hillers' Cpl. Ferro, full of pre-hipster era disillusionment.

A lot of people bag on Aliens for "demystifying" the xenomorph, or some damn thing, because it has dozens of them mowed down and marginalized. But this argument gets right to the point I'm making regarding having new goals and new ideas for the movie. These are Marines. With huge machine guns and a hyper aggressive attitude towards big, ugly hostile creatures. The stakes have changed. Futhermore, I'd argue that the fact that the aliens adapt to their new adversaries by simply overwhelming them and infiltrating their method of escape (crashing Ferro's shuttle) only enhances their stature in the lore of sci-fi villains.

I could go on, but I'll close with one last bombastic statement for good measure: Bill Paxton gives one of the most efficient comedic performances in film history as Pvt. Hudson. I use the term "efficient" because I'm not trying to say Bill Paxton has given the funniest film performance ever, but rather that he makes the absolute most of the time he is given on screen, and he uses that time to make me laugh my fucking ass off. Nearly every single line he speaks and action he takes is a winner. "How do I get out of this chickenshit outfit?!" Go on, Hudson. "Game over man!" Not if the "game" is being hilarious, it isn't. Even the way he dies cracks my shit straight up.

I'm going to watch it right now. See you guys later.

Patrick:  It's not hard for me to come up with favorite sequels, seeing as how two of my favorite movies ever are Part IIs. But since I've already talked about those movies at some length in the past, I wanted to come up with something different for this list. And lots of the good ones have been taken by everyone else.

There are still plenty of sequels I really like, though. I prefer Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 to the original movie. I love Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Meyers. I'm alone in being a fan of the first two Pirates of the Caribbean sequels. I like every entry in the original Planet of the Apes franchise. Lethal Weapon 2? Sure. Die Hard 2: Die Harder? Of course. Terminator 2?? HELL FUCKING YES.

But I'll build on a movie that Erika mentioned (because we are gay for each other): Before Sunset. So many of the titles on this list are part of a franchise -- they're sequels that exist because the first was a huge hit, and it's a no-brainer to greenlight more of the same. But Before Sunset isn't the kind of sequel that usually gets made. For starters, it's the follow-up to a movie that not a lot of people saw and that didn't make a ton of money: 1995's Before Sunrise. Secondly, Before Sunset doesn't just bring back the same characters and have them do more of the same. It's a continuation of a story, not just another installment of something familiar. It's less a sequel than it is a companion piece.
Richard Linklater's original Before Sunrise is one of the great romances of the last 30 years -- a movie dizzy with the possibility of young love and which perfectly captures what it feels like to have that one night that changes your life. Before Sunset is something else altogether, though. It's a sequel, yes, and features the same characters basically walking and talking through a European city (this time it's Paris instead of Vienna), but it has very different things on its mind than the first movie. Before Sunset is the movie you watch in your 30s, when life hasn't worked out the way you once thought (hoped) it might. It's a melancholy movie about regret. About the road not traveled. It's sad and beautiful and wonderfully acted by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, both reprising their roles from the original movie (and both receiving a writing credit on the sequel).

Before Sunset may not reflect my own life -- I find it easier to relate to the romanticism of Sunrise -- but that doesn't diminish any of its greatness. I so appreciate a filmmaker who loves and respects his characters enough to check in with them 10 years later; I can think of very few others who have done something similar outside of Michael Apted's Up series and Truffaut's Antoine Doinel films. It's such a rare and special sequel.

Plus, it's got what has to be one of the best last lines of a movie in 20 years.

Doug: Star Trek: First Contact (1996) - I could (and probably should?) say that Spider-Man 2 is my favorite sequel (it was, after all, on my recent "next-in" list, rounding out my top 10 movies of ALL TIME), but that would be boring.

I was never a big Star Trek: The Original Series (or TOS, to you ├╝ber-nerds out there) fan. Watching reruns of those episodes in the middle of the night when I was in junior high made (and continues to make) me feel VERY MUCH ALONE. Even the original movies leave me feeling cold. During this past February's inaugural F This Movie Fest, I got another chance to watch Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. While I can definitely see why people (read: Patrick) like it so much, I was still all, "Yeah. OK. Sure." Instead, I gravitated toward Star Trek: The Next Generation (or TNG, to all the cool kids). Because THE FUTURE IS NOW and WHOOPI GOLDBERG and THIS VIDEO].

I used to watch TNG every day after school/before dinner on an old, 20-inch tube TV in my parents' bedroom. In Chicago, the show ran at 6 p.m. on channel 50, WPWR (new episodes were at 6 p.m. on Saturdays, but I usually watched repeats during the week). If I was lucky (or my mom wasn't watching Wheel of Fortune), I could occasionally watch it downstairs on the big TV. But that was rare. Sometimes, my folks would get mad because I'd stay upstairs until after 7 p.m., waiting for the show's riveting conclusion. "Dougie! Your meatloaf is getting cold!" was a common complaint in my house. My response? "Great, because meatloaf is gross, and would it be so bad if I just skipped dinner and made myself a microwave taquito once this VERY IMPORTANT episode of TNG in which Picard has to portray private detective Dixon Hill on the holodeck in order to thwart Q ends?"

I was excited when it was announced that the cast of TNG would be taking over the Star Trek film franchise in the early '90s. Unfortunately, their first foray onto the silver screen, Star Trek: Generations, didn't really do it for me. Probably because some leftover cast members from TOS stuck around, which only served to remind me of how indifferent I was towards those characters and their depressing show. To be fair, I should probably give Generations another chance, seeing as though I was 16 when it came out, and still hadn't seen boobs. BOOBS!

When Star Trek: First Contact came out in 1996, I tempered my expectations. But it turns out I didn't need to, because First Contact is great! It's the first Star Trek movie to solely feature the cast from TNG, and it's easily their most quality effort. It's way better than Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek: Nemesis, which, arguably, have better names, but suffer from ... I dunno -- being really boring? In First Contact, I like the vibe, the dialogue and the villain.

The Borg first appeared in a TNG episode from 1989(!), and they're a pretty powerful, badass antagonist. They're a collection of different intergalactic humanoids that have been transformed into cybernetic organisms functioning as drones of a collective hive. Nearly impossible to stop, the Borg are ominous in their demeanor, actions and complete lack of language, aside from their monotone chant, "Resistance is futile."

Look, I know that Star Trek: First Contact has its flaws. A LOT of the stuff that takes place on earth in the past is ROUGH, but as a feature-length film starring a lesser known, JV cast, it's spectacular. Forget about Data's experimentation with human emotion. Forget about all the Moby Dick/Captain Ahab mumbo jumbo. And DEFINITELY forget about Worf shouting, "Assimilate this!"

Star Trek: First Contact
is incredibly easy to watch, even though it relies (a little bit) on knowledge of TNG and, specifically, Captain Picard's relationship with the Borg from "The Best of Both Worlds" two-episode arc. It's warlike in its subject material and its scope -- the battles are big, the effects are (were?) better than ever and, most importantly, we get to watch the Enterprise kick some major Borg ass. It's a guilty pleasure (fer sure), but First Contact stands out in the pantheon of great Star Trek movies.

Your move, JJ Abrams.

23 comments:

  1. [i]Batman Returns[/i] :Because it's both a Tim Burton film done when he still had it and a Batman film. So many great moments in it. The Penguin is both teryfing and funny at the same time and Catwoman is sexy and mysterious as she should be. Comparing it to the Nolan films is unfair. Their goals are totally different. Still it's probably my favorite Batman film, there's just something about it...

    [i]Bride Of Chucky[/i]The fourth entry in a series about a killer doll shouldn't be as funny an entertaining as this is.

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    1. I LOVE Batman Returns. I still firmly believe that that movie and the Burton original are infinitely more entertaining than any Batman film from the last decade.

      To shorten a point, any story about a grown man who dresses as a bat to fight another grown man in clown make-up called The Joker is only allowed to place its head so far up its own rear end. To me, that's a popcorn story, not a social commentary or a profound statement.

      I don't know art, but I know what I like.

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  2. "First Contact" is a good movie but bad Trek movie. It's hard to imagine that a Picard with the kind of mental issues on display in this film would have still had a command in the first place.

    Plus you've got Data becoming "Buffalo Bill" as the Borg Queen makes him a body suit out of skin from his assimilated shipmates...and has no problem with this morally.

    Hindsight being 20/20 - Data should have died at the end of "First Contact".

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    1. But then there wouldn't have been a Nemesis...Oh. Oh, I see.

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  3. Dude! Goldfinger! The only good 2nd sequel ever?

    I never liked super-hero movie sequels because they're always about the hero whining how he doesn't want to be a hero any more. I don't mind existential crisis storylines, but in movies, they're such cliches! Please, make me care about your hero in some other way!

    Oh, and to be a hipster and give a totaly cool, original answer that nobody else would think of - Rescuers Down Under!

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    1. I grant 7 Hipster Points for RDU.

      I taketh away 8 for being proud of it.

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    2. Mission Impossible 3?

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  4. Erich: Back to the Future Part II is meh. MEH I tells ya! Part III is better. #fact

    Erika: YES re: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol!

    JB: No love for Vegas Vacation? I KID.

    Patrick: I know.

    Kathy: Wah!

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    1. Sorry that I have a problem with sequels that depend on a severe change in the lead characters to work (see also "Alien Resurrection").

      Would "Bride of Frankenstein" be the classic it is say the Monster had suddenly gone from childlike outcast to raging maniac?

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  5. I feel like an idiot for not remembering Before Sunset.

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    1. I feel like an idiot for not remembering The Road Warrior. And Another Stakeout!

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    2. I like any sequel in which Durant returns.

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  6. I just felt compelled to ejaculate on the internet about Aliens for a while, which is a woefully obvious choice for this topic. But I'd also give high marks to such underrated fare as:

    Scream 2, Major League II, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (a truly beautiful last 15 minutes or so), Rocky III and Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult.

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    1. Seriously, what an obvious choice in Aliens. That's like some idiot writing about The Dark Knight, gosh.

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  7. A Shot In The Dark

    I've had a running discussion with some friends about whether there are any decent comedy sequels, and the only two that any of us could think of were Christmas Vacation and A Shot In The Dark. Shot is particularly rare because they took Clouseau, a supporting character in The Pink Panther, and built a movie around him, which is almost always a terrible idea. The rest of the series had diminishing returns (to put it mildly), but for my money A Shot In The Dark is the best in the series.

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    1. ^^^ Disagree. "A Shot in the Dark" is solid (Sellers truly becomes the Clouseau we know and love here, and we get in Kato and Dreyfuss perfect sidekick/nemesis, respectively; all that and Elke Sommer) and better than the movie that inspired it (except for the music, which is still cool because Henry Mancini is awesome :-)). But Clouseau driving Dreyfus batty, an integral part of their long-running chemistry, really detonates and results in the funniest and most outrageous moments of the series in "Return of" and "Strikes Back" (my personal favorite). "Pink Panther" and "Shot in the Dark" are building blocks (solid one's that can even stand on their own, the latter more than the former) but to me the series' funniest entries take place in the 70's.

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  8. I re-watched BEFORE SUNSET, and it really holds up. Now I want to watch both films back-to-back. Who's with me?

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  9. Let me add "The Devil's Rejects" & "Desperado". I really need to see "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset".

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  10. Does Evil Dead II count as a sequel???

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    1. Since no one else is answering, I will. Yes, yes it does count as a sequel. And Steve, you are one of the most insightful people we have every come across... Let's make out.

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    2. Second Steve is right. It is a sequel. And First Steve really is very insightful. Good luck making out.

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