Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Movies is Good: Ten Sequels Better Than the Films That Spawned Them!

 by JB

The facts I speak this quiet morning on the F This Movie! website are indeed facts... and not opinions. They are incontrovertible as geometry to any enlightened community of minds.

AN INTRODUCTORY BELLY-ACHE: To prepare for this column, I checked various websites containing lists of superior sequels in an attempt to plagiarize... ah, er... research the subject. My God, did it get my blood boiling. Most websites now take it for granted that film history started somewhere around 1999 and the venerable artform is now almost 25 years old. Such film sites (with a millennial’s worms-eye-view of history) can blow me. Film as an artform is more than 120 years old. If you find you can’t wrap your tiny mind around all that history, maybe you shouldn’t be fucking writing about film. Sheesh.

AN INTRODUCTORY CAVEAT: Yes, I know when dealing with any sequel situation, the original film had to do all the heavy lifting and set up the background and characters and set the stage for blah blah blah blah. Yes, I get it. Let’s move on!
1. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) A bigger budget, a longer shooting schedule, an iconic musical score, an amazing use of black humor, more developed characters, and an additional villain make this one of the greats. And by “additional villain,” I don’t mean Elsa Lanchester’s Bride, whose screen time turns her part into a glorified cameo. I mean Ernest Thesiger’s Dr. Pretorius, one of the best personifications of evil in movie history. Can he have your soul? It’s his ONLY weakness.

2. The Godfather, Part II (1974) Certainly a more ambitious film and one we need to give the proper credit. Only Francis Ford Coppola in the 1970s had the artistic hubris to attempt a sequel to what, even then, was being acknowledged as one of the finest American films of all time. If the first Godfather film asked the question, “To what extent is capitalism government-sanctioned crime?”—the second film asks the far deeper and more existential question “To what extent is one’s family one’s destiny?” How many of us would love to look at the lives of our parents and see how events before our births affected our lives? In that sense, Godfather II is a lot like Back to the Future, if you think about it (with a little bit less of the son wanting to make it with his mom.) This sequel features amazing associative editing; a huge, evocative recreation of Little Italy at the turn of the century; and a Pacino performance as strong or better than his performance in the original film. I said, “ENOUGH!”
3. The Empire Strikes Back (1980) I just re-watched this as a 4K Blu-ray and all of its positive qualities shone: more expansive canvas, more intricate plot, superior dialogue, introduction of a beyond-iconic character in Yoda, fun workout of the romantic subplot, better special effects, and Lando Calrissian. That’s quite a package.

NOTE: My wife disagrees with this! My God, do not ever engage her about Star Wars! Sheesh. (EDITOR’S NOTE: JB’s gorgeous and intelligent wife does not “disagree” so much as “holds a more nuanced and complicated opinion about one of the finest franchises in cinema history.”)

4. The Road Warrior (1981) You could argue that the first two films in the series have different things on their minds so it’s unfair to compare them. I wouldn’t. Mad Max seems like a rough draft, an actor’s exercise you jot down in a notebook and never let anyone see before you give the real performance. The final chase scene in The Road Warrior has rarely been topped in other action movies. It’s a pure tour-de-force. “In time I would grow to manhood and become leader of the great Northern tribe. And the Road Warrior? The movie lives on... only in my memory.”
5. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) Given the big, bloated, boring mess that was the first Star Trek movie, it could not have been that hard to best it by going back to what made the original television show great: brisk storytelling and sticking to the iconic characters and the choices they make. Ricardo Montalb√°n is also a far superior villain to…some sort of cranky rocket ship? I don’t even remember. Was it a rogue Roomba? V-Ger? V-Gen? V-getable?

6. The Color of Money (1986) 25 years lapsed between The Hustler and this Martin Scorsese-directed meditation on the themes of The Hustler. Incredibly cool that they were able to get Paul Newman to come back and reprise his iconic role. While the original film is a hard-scrabble B&W look at “the rackets,” I love how the sequel is an extended essay on the uses of irony in everyday life. Pool hustlers always pretend to be something else. Paul Newman is just looking for Tom Cruise’s best game—no tricks, no lies, no deceit. It’s an anomaly, a thought-provoking, big-budget star vehicle, released by, of all studios, Touchstone Films.
7. Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (1987) More of a remake than a straight sequel. More ambitious, bigger budget, superior use of humor as a distraction before the big scares, and better special effects. This one wins on the strength of the “Ash’s Run-away Hand” segment alone. “Who’s laughing NOW?”

8. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) James Cameron’s sequel tops his original in every conceivable way: plot, score, depth of character, dialogue, action-set-pieces, and of course, special effects. The liquid metal Terminator effects still hold up more than 30 years later. Sad, affecting ending too.
9. Toy Story 2 (1999) As much as I love love love the original, I have to give credit, as a onetime toy collector myself, to this incredible sequel. Besides being an extended meditation on playing with toys versus investing in toys (always play with toys; toys are made to be played with) the sequel gives us three wonderful new characters: Al, the awful toy collector; Jesse, the Woody’s Round-Up cowgirl sidekick; and Stinky Pete, an awful toy whose villainy is caused by never having been played with. You will never read the phrase “Mint in Box” the same way again.

10. The Dark Knight (2008) I was not the biggest fan of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. The sequel bests it in every way possible: better plot, better villains, better weapons, better score, better cinematography, better action set-pieces, better theme, and an increasingly more-gravelly Batman voice.

POSTSCRIPT: I will never agree that Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again is better than the original Mamma Mia!, which somehow seems to have become a canonical critical opinion. Same with Back to the Future III, Aliens, Scream 2, Superman II, From Russia with Love, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Toy Story 3, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Blade Runner 2049, or Dawn of the Dead...

None of them is better than Mamma Mia!

27 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. OUTSTANDING LIST! I was also caught off guard by how many of my Absolute All Time Favorite flicks were on it. Thanks!

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  3. Where do you stand on Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo?

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    1. I’ve never seen it, though I have engaged in the tired joke of following every movie title that ends in “2” with “electric boogaloo” for decades, so I guess I should see it…

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    2. Same. Finally going to watch it today!

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  4. Can't disagree with any of these choices.

    One I'd definitely add to this category is 'The Testament of Dr. Mabuse,' which tops the already great 'Dr. Mabuse the Gambler' in being creepier, better paced, and having a more interesting protagonist with the Inspector Lohmann character.

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  5. I was going to name another 10 but then didn’t want to step on the toes of any potentially superior sequel to this column you may have planned.

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    1. POTENTIALLY superior?!

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    2. I assume you were just going to list Gremlins; The New Batch 10 times in a row. You wouldn't be wrong!

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  6. Agree with every one of these choices.

    Does the Good, the Bad and the Ugly count? The best film in the Dollars Trilogy and, across the board, a great leap in quality but it really has nothing at all to do with the previous films.

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  7. I tried to avoid anything except direct sequels; I didn’t want to wade into the “Part VI is better than Part IV” swamp. I may be wrong about this, but I always thought that GBU was a prequel to Fistful of Dollars in that it took place before the events in Fistful.

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    1. Fistful Events sounds like a 90’s punk band.

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    2. They opened for Less than Jake and Reel Big Fish during the short lived "Vans Warped Tour: Star Trek II-The Wrath of Skaaaaaaan!"

      ill show myself out...or should i say..ill skank myself out.

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    3. Good point. I just read the entries and typed my immediate response without thinking of the timeline.

      Would I be wrong in assuming that you also think GBU is the best of the Dollars Trilogy?

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    4. You would be RIGHT to assume it’s my favorite; you would be WRONG to “assume” because then you make an “ass” of “u” and “me.”

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  8. This is a great list. The only ones I haven't seen are Colour of Money and Godfather 2 (or Godfather 1 for that matter), but I agree with the rest of them.

    One other thing, Star Trek The Motion Picture isn't a big, bloated, boring (alliteration!) mess, but rather is a beautiful contemplative movie with a great score. It's more akin to Space Odyssey 2001 than Star Trek though, so I agree that the sequel is probably "better". I love them both.

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    1. I come by the alliteration honestly; I was a high-school English teacher for 34 years. I will try to remember in the future that movies are not boring— they are contemplative.

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    2. I can see why it's disliked by Star Trek fans, and considered boring by many. If I'm in the right mood, I'm a real sucker for slow moving shots of space ships docking, etc. so it was right down my alley. I'm glad they had a budget to put more work into the models in this and subsequent movies compared to the TV show.

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    3. I'm with you here, Paul. I love the first movie and found it inspiring and... well, yeah... contemplative. Wrath of Khan is better, though, but much more on the space opera side of things.

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  9. If we're only sticking to direct, part twos, I'd add...

    - Mission: Impossible II (Yes, I'm the weirdo who loves this one.)
    - Before Sunset
    - Spider-Man 2
    - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
    - The Purge: Anarchy
    - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
    - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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  10. I've got one - Before Sunset. I think it's the best part of the trilogy.
    And more in the spirit of Junesploitation, Slumber Party Massacre 2, definitely.

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  11. I'm sure you were speaking tongue in cheek but I'm a big fan of Mama Mia.

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  12. Not tongue and cheek at all. I unironically love Mama Mia!

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  13. Nice column, still I would gently disagree on three choices. I like THE GODFATHER better than PART II, simply because I think its focus on one large plot is working better for me, than jumping back and forth between the timelines. I'm always struggling to recap PART II, never had those problems with the first one.

    The Road Warrior and Terminator 2 are two of a kind. Bigger and more polished than their predecessors, at the same time I like the first parts for being smaller, a bit more rough on the edges. No big complaints here, just my personal opinion.

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