Mutant Roundtable: Can movie sequels ever be any good?

Justin: Salutations! I am Justin, your host for tonight’s Mutant Roundtable. Today we’re going to talk about a subject that always fascinates and horrifies us in the movie world, and that is the topic of sequels! Let’s start off easy! What is one sequel that you hated intensely, and one that you loved like it was your firstborn? (For the purpose of “sequel” questions, “spinoffs” and “prequels” will be allowed)

Lissa: Easy indeed! The first is tough to pick from, but I’m going to have to go with The Matrix Reloaded and Matrix: Revolutions. The thing there was disappointment. Sure, there have been sequels that have sucked far worse, but these weren’t supposed to. They were SUPPOSED to be good. Disappointment is harsh.

Favorite… well, the tops of my list almost don’t count. I have a huge love for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Star Wars trilogy. But I think the reason the sequels ruled was because the stories were intended to be one story, just told over three movies. That makes a huge difference. Outside of those, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is definitely at the top of my list.

Al: Well, there’s the obvious: Batman & Robin. I didn’t see this in the theater, was fully prepared for the awfulness of in on VHS, was appropriately horrified when I did finally break down and rent it, and *still* somehow wound up owning the DVD. I am a weak, weak man.

Most of the Highlander sequels were pretty lame, too (reviews forthcoming!), but The Final Conflict (Highlander 3) is especially wretched. At least The Quickening was somewhat redeemed by the Renegade Version.

Last, and probably least, is Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. It’s such mindless, meandering, pointlessly bizarre celluloid waste that I won’t spend any more time talking about it. I just want my ninety minutes back.

Loves? Well, as Lissa said, there’s Star Wars, LotR, and Indy, natch. Spider-Man 2 and X2 rate pretty highly, as does Aliens. My all-time favorite underrated sequel, however, is Rocky 2. It doesn’t have the emotional resonance of the first one, but it’s got such heart and Stallone is clearly having so much fun that it’s one I can never turn off when TNT is having their monthly marathon.

Kyle: Actually, in terms of “immense disappointment”, I think Alien: Resurrection was just a complete and utter “you have wasted your time and money” situation. Mostly because my friend Chris and I were super-looking forward to seeing it opening night, and after it was over we were just like “That was garbage.” I’ve heard it sort of grows on you, but after that first viewing I don’t want to see it again. Bleh!

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was a major childhood disappointment, although the merchandise tie-in did allow me to buy an awesome Indiana Jones action figure (the Raiders of the Lost Ark figures were cool, but I preferred the larger Temple of Doom figure). This girl who was pretty much my childhood best friend absolutely LOVED Temple of Doom, so I ended up having to endure far more than I otherwise would have, but to this day the only benefit of the film is that my friends and me can exchange “No time for love, Doctor Jones!” alterations for humorous benefit.

If the Star Wars series doesn’t count as sequels/prequels (see: argument in Scream 2) I think the most successful sequel was The Godfather Part 2, which I think avoids the “series installment” stigma because globally people like to pretend Part 3 doesn’t exist.

Friday the 13th Part 2 is fan-tabulous, and Freddy vs. Jason is that film’s fan-tabulousness multipled a thousandfold. Oh, and Halloween 4 is so cool it makes me cry.

Oh, wait: Legally Blonde is a surprisingly durable piece of cool entertainment that I have yet to get tired of when I flip and “nest” on a few scenes whenever it’s on cable (which is nightly, so it seems). Legally Blonde 2 appears to be one of the worst things I’ve ever tried to watch with my body and mind protectively going into ‘sleep’ mode to protect me from it’s awfulness. Yikes!

Shalen: I’m definitely in there with the others on Aliens and the second Godfather movie. I wouldn’t really count the Star Wars/LOTR films as sequels, although The Two Towers is honestly my favorite of the LOTR trilogy.

I choose to pretend that Alien 3 did not happen. I’ve fired it from the Magical Mental Canon of Shalen. (Puns. Puns are funny. Right?) The same is true of any movie with Matrix in the title when added to any other words. I don’t know if Serenity counts as a sequel, considering it’s a film following a tv series, but I treat it in essentially the same way.

Others have mentioned sequels I enjoyed, but I also particularly liked Trancers IV: Jack of Swords for its cheesy hilarity, naming of random energy-sucking vampire (!) characters after characters from Shakespeare, general all-around gutsiness of having the final quest area called the Castle of Unrelenting Terror, AND the protagonist, as with other entries in the series, named Jack Deth. I would own it if it weren’t so hard to find. At present I only have the first film in the series, which is far from the most amusing.

Continuing in the B-movie vein, I truly and deeply loathed Starship Troopers 2. It wasn’t really connected to the first one’s story and characters, it just happened to be taking place in the same universe. And, far from the first movie’s biting satire, it went straight for the Alien-ripoff critter possession plot. Lame. Tired. Annoying.

Sue: One that I hated? Has to be Temple of Doom. (Highlander: Endgame is a very very close runner up though. That could have been soooo much better.)

One that I loved? Die Hard With A Vengeance. Jeremy Irons as the next Gruber to take on John McClane? Genius. Pure genius. Samuel L. Jackson was a nice touch too. I think I’ve watched this one more than the original.

Justin: Next Question: We’ve moved into the age of direct-to-DVD sequels (American Pie 4 & 5, Cutting Edge 2) — what are your feelings about this new trend, and have any of these “quickie” sequels attracted your attention?

Shalen: In answer to the question, zilch. Direct to DVD sequel of major franchise = so lousy they thought they couldn’t make book at the box office. Direct to dvd sequel of B franchise that never GOT a theatrical release, on the other hand, equals movie gold as far as I’m concerned.

I especially abominate the horde of Disney direct to DVD sequels. Stitch Has a Glitch? Please.

Sue: Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single direct-to-DVD sequel that I’ve even considered buying. I barely even notice the silly things. Really, except for the Disney-ish stuff that caters to a somewhat less discerning audience anyway, my feelings for the trend are slightly lower than ambivalent and only slightly higher than acrimonious.

Al: James Berardinelli did a brief article last year where he called Direct-to-DVD a scarlet letter of the medium, and that’s probably a better analogy than I can come up with on the fly. I have, however, seen a few that weren’t gag-inducing. Eye See You wasn’t terrible, certainly a better Stallone movie than Driven (and that one even had a companion video game). Species 3 was admittedly wretched, but it’s a fun and reasonably harmless sort of wretched, and, if I’m remembering correctly, cleaned up at the DTV Oscars that year. In full disclosure, I should probably mention I paid to see neither of those movies, and maybe if I had, I would be a bit more vengeful.

As far as the actual existence of Direct-To-DVD, I’m fairly ambivalent. I assume there will eventually be a star who got his big break in one of these and validate the practice of quick + dirty sequels, but until then, they’re mostly the same useless, empty, forgotten schlockfests that fill the racks of most independent video stores worth their salt. And who knows? Maybe the next generation will get a new Ed Wood or Roger Corman on whom they can look back and smile patronizingly.

Justin: Next Question: Out of all the genres, it seems like horror is the most renowned for sequels. Why do you think this is?

Shalen: Money. People who want to see other people torn to shreds do not care if they’re seeing the same person/critter/being do it several times sequentially, whereas watching Keanu Reaves seduce Sandra Bullock on a fast-moving object gets boring after the second time (or, IMO, the first). And I’m not pointing the finger here — I will watch almost any movie with zombies in it no matter how similar it is to all the other zombie movies I’ve seen.

Sue: I agree with Shalen that money is key. Streamlining a production straight into DVD form lends itself more easily to the lower budget genres. (Which includes both horror and Disney-type movies.) Minimal expenditure for whatever returns they can get their money grubbing little hands on.

The other factor (which Shalen also mentioned) is that some audiences are easier to please than others. I’m not trying to impugn anyone’s tastes, but minimal story/maximal gore isn’t particularly difficult to craft, especially when you have an existing brand name to rehash for audience recognition. Is this a well for future Mutant lovin’ material? Possibly. But for now, it’s just plain garbage.

Seriously, to me these things just seem like a hazy middle ground between legitimate box office and spin-off television series. Am I alone in thinking that? Anyone?

Kyle: Money certainly plays a roll. Horror films, especially the ones that tend to be most popular at the box office and in DVD sales, tend to be highly formulaic and thusly any director with or without talent can be told “Take ___ Part 1 and remake it with a new cast and more blood for $5 million. Make it by Friday, please.”

Story-wise, horror sequels can knocked out of the park as well. The killer died in the first one? Well, he’s a demon. He had a son. She was wrong: her son is still alive and he’s an undead zombie force of nature. Note to self: change the ending of the film when it’s released on DVD to make it more ambiguous as to whether the killer died or not. *maniacal sound of hands clasping at money being made over “UNRATED ALTERNATE ENDING NOT SEEN IN THEATERS! super DVD special edition*

I’d say action movies are the next easiest films to ‘sequelize.’ Whereas most dramas and comedies generally end with denoucements that don’t lend themselves to being continued, action films (especially ones built around a particular action star: hello, Steven Seagal!) can be pumped out as long as there are cool new stunts to shoot, exploding blood squibs to be placed on extras, and an action star who doesn’t feel the Shakespeare/higher drama pull.

But then again, does anyone REALLY want Fried Green Tomatoes 2?

Shalen: Noooooooo!

Sue: No, wait. I like this idea. I can see huge potential here.

  • Fried Green Tomatoes 2 – Yes I Like Them Sam I Am!
  • Must Love Dogs 2 – The Corgi Files
  • My Best Friends Wedding 2 – The Annullment
  • Sleepless In Seattle 2 – Insomnia in Hoboken

Hey, why not?

Shalen: Pride and Prejudice 2: Pride and EXTREME Prejudice. Cover photo: Colin Firth holding a shotgun. Tagline: They called him Fitzwilliam one too many times.

Or possibly:

Any Given Romance 2: Because Life Doesn’t End When You Marry

This is one of the reasons I liked Shrek 2 so much, by the way (speaking of great sequels).

Lissa: Shrek 2 did kick much butt. Although I have to give props to the Mummy 2 for the same thing, actually. The couple was married! And happy! And that wasn’t really a sideplot to the movie! When does that ever happen?

I hadn’t bothered answering the question because I hate horror in general, so I never watch the sequels, either. But I do think the film makers need to ask “is there a place for a sequel here?” I’ve never seen Highlander 2, but I saw the first Highlander well after it came out. Enjoyed it greatly, but at the end I just looked at my friend and said, “And they made a sequel from this how?” I thought the story was over. I felt satisfied. Good story, but come on. Everyone was dead.

Al: Sure, everyone was dead. But without Highlander 2, you would never learn about the alien planet that the immortals came from! ::shudder::

Justin: Next Question: If you had to make a list of absolute rules for Hollywood filmmakers to abide by in making sequels/prequels, what would they be?

Shalen: Thou shalt not cast a rapper nor other musician. (Did you know they made another XXX movie without Vin Diesel?)

Actually, I’d like to add that to original films as well.

Thou shalt track down Brett Ratner and pay him never, ever to make another sequel to a superhero film.

Al: Thou shalt honor thy dead by not returning them to life via magic spell, secret talisman, or unbreakable bond of friendship spanning life and death itself. Time travel is okay, though.

All plucky child sidekicks shall be hung by their toes and whipped with a wet noodle at least once per ninety minutes. If you cannot find a way to fit this in the plot, thou shalt excise the character.

Kyle: If you can’t get the original actor to reprise their role, just write the role out. Recasting is stupid!

If a film is hugely popular and you want to make a prequel or a sequel, make sure that whoever is writing the new installment(s) KNOWS AND LOVES the original film! Otherwise, the uninspired crap that gets produced pleases no one and instead tarnishes the original film FOREVER.

Sue: Thou shalt not allow the word, “Yippee!” to be written into any script, lest I smite thee in my wrath.

Consider the lilies of the field, that they not think that they are ‘all that and a bag of chips’. Likewise be thou humble and not waste space on the special edition DVD by proclaiming to the world how brilliant and special thou art. Particularly when thou hast wrought crap.

Thou shalt know when to say “Enough! It is done, and it is good, and any more would be a money-grubbing desecration that defiles the memories, hopes and dreams of the faithful.”

Al: Can we condense that into “Thou shalt not create new films with the words ‘Star’ and/or ‘Wars’ in the title?'”

Sue: Star Wars is water under the bridge. I’d just hate for anyone else to think they ought to emulate Lucas and the Return of the Ego.

Justin: Next Question: What movie(s) would you love to see a sequel of, and would you be okay if it wasn’t that great?

Lissa: Serenity! And it would suck if it wasn’t great. But that’s kind of a cop-out. Sort of. It’s usually the sci-fi ones I want more of, and it’s also often those that suck.

I’d love a sequel to Children of Men, actually. It ended in a place that still left questions. But I strongly suspect that WOULD suck, and as the Matrix taught us, sometimes it’s better to have unanswered questions than to have them answered stupidly.

Shalen: Very good point, Lissa. I really don’t want to see any more “let’s ruin Shalen’s positive memories of Firefly without really answering any questions” movies, but one never knows.

I’d like to see the Chronicles of Riddick continue, and I would fully expect and enjoy a degree of lameness in those films.

Sue: Assuming that the question is relating to movies that aren’t already being fed into the great Hollywood Sequel Factory… hmmm… none come to mind.

To be honest, I don’t particularly want to see more sequels/prequels, I want to see less of them. What I’m looking for are good, solid, original, stand-alone movies. Unfortunately, it seems like the well of creativity has been running dry for quite some time, which is why we’ve been buried in rehashes, remakes, epilogues, prologues, tortured Jedi/Superheros/Keanu Reeves and improbably aging immortals.

(Of course if anyone made a Highlander movie about Methos, I’d go see it, even if I had to scrape it off the bottom of my shoe afterward. I’ve always adored Methos. Twisted but lovable – my kind of guy!)

Lissa: I don’t know that I want less sequels. I think what I’d like is more planned sequels. The reason Empire Strikes Back/Return of the Jedi and The Two Towers/The Return of the King work so well is because the arc was intended to be one story, not “oh, let’s see if this makes money, and if it does, we’ll make another one!” I’d love to see more movies take on the multi-movie approach, because you can do so much more with character development and backstory and all that.

But I do agree, Sue, that there are way too many sequels out there that are just, well… stupid.

Justin: Final Question: Provide two case studies of sequels/prequels: one that succeeded and is as good or better than the original, and one that failed to touch the original’s magic. In your expertly opinion, what happened in both of these cases?

Kyle: I’ve got two fairly controversial ones here:

MISIFRE: Fletch Lives — as far as I’m concerned, this doesn’t really exist. Honestly, everything that was great about the character of Fletch in the first film (highlighted almost totally by Chevy Chase’s performance) seemingly gets tossed aside. I feel like that isn’t Fletch walking around in Fletch Lives: it’s more like Clark W. Griswald doing a middling Fletch impression. Meanwhile, other than Hal Holbrook (who is great in everything he does, I think) the rest of the cast is awful. Even editor Frank seems like he was fixed since the original film (in a vetrinarianal sense). Vaguely amusing, but overall it’s a complete misfire. It’s probably only a true injustice to me and those like me, who revere the original film as something extremely special.

SUCCESS: Final Destination 3 — obviously, my choices here are extremely personal and not in line with general consensus across the world (there’s a lot of debate about the entire Final Destination trilogy) so I realize most people won’t even be too interested in the second sequel to a horror film. But I have to say that Final Destination 3 has really grown on me since I first rented and sped through the film (not out of boredom; more because i had about 50 minutes to return it without incurring a late fee when i remembered i had rented it, and i have a thing about late fees) to the point where I consider it an exceptional example of a horror comfort film, on par with John Carpenter’s The Fog or Freddy vs. Jason. FD3 has an amazing cast, excellent death scenes, and an interesting narrative that, in a hugely appreciated way, manages to set up a main guy-and-girl duo that shares charisma but lacks even a glimpse of love or lust. I like the original film and the first sequel, but both had quirks and significant elements that bug me enough that I’ve never watched them again. FD3 is amazing, though, and capitalizes on everything the Final Destination “formula” should offer. Pure fun!

Shalen: Well, avoiding the most obvious answers (LOTR, St** W***), and as Kyle said, not something everyone will necessarily agree with:

MISFIRE: Battle Royale II. The characters aren’t interesting. Frankly Shuya wasn’t that interesting in the first one; he was helplessly carried along by other characters and his situation up until the film’s last moments. Having the second film focus on him as a tragic hero was a mistake. Further, the characters are much more cannon fodder and less of real personalities in the second film, lacking the heartwrenching immediacy of the first one. The villain, rather than complex and pitiable, is simply loud and annoying.

SUCCESS: Army of Darkness. Perhaps a very obvious choice, but there’s a reason people who never saw the first two Evil Dead films have seen this one. Contains many of the trilogy’s best-loved quotes, and I just never get tired of claymation skeletons. (Maybe that’s just me.) This one departed from genre staples to become a wild and crazy time travel/horror/fantasy/comedy, it never takes itself too seriously, and there’s nothing quite like it.

Lissa: Case studies? Essays? Eek. Oh well — here goes.

MISFIRE: Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde. The first one was actually quite witty and cute and a lot of fun to watch. But part of the reason it was fun and witty was that Elle, the main character, grew up a lot. And at the end of the movie, I was satisfied. I believed the end of the movie well enough, and I was happy. But the sequel was awful, because the writers didn’t pay attention to how Elle had grown in the first one. She regressed, despite the fact that the sequel took place several years after the first. I found it very hard to believe that a competent, together lawyer (which is where Elle was headed at the end of the first) would care SO much about inviting her dog’s mother to her wedding. Seriously. Plus, they’d used all the good gags in the first one, and they were sinking to scrape the bottom of the barrel. And there was a musical dance number. That was painful.

SUCCESS: Shrek 2. Shrek 2 did everything right. The characters remembered that they grew, and continued to grow and mature (even if Shrek had to be dragged kicking and screaming towards maturity). The inclusion of new characters was done in a non-contrived manner, and the initial rivalry between Donkey and Puss played out great. And Shrek and Fiona actually had a realistic happily ever after, where they (gasp!) fought over things, but worked them out because they loved each other. And in this one, the musical number worked — and so, so, so well.

Drew: Whoa… so this is what happens when you say “yeah, I’ll contribute something tomorrow” for a week straight.

For misfire, I’ll go with perennial scapegoat Batman and Robin. I actually liked Forever (at the time, anyway), but nothing could save this turkey. I still remember the moment I realized Clooney and O’Donnell were making more (and worse) puns than Adam West and Burt Ward ever did back in the 60s… and that this was NOT Tim Burton’s Batman. Thankfully, it turned out not to be Christopher Nolan’s either.

As for a sequel that’s better than the original, my controversial choice is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I’m a man who loves his Raiders, but even Marion can’t top the chemistry between Ford and Connery, who are the most convincing father/son duo I’ve ever seen on film. Plus there’s no beating that immortal line: “He chose… poorly.” And last but not least, it doesn’t have motherlovin’ snakes. I hate snakes, Jock… I hate ’em!

Lissa: I was thinking Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Drew. It doth rock.

But I just had to make one more comment. They made Open Water 2. The two main characters were eaten by sharks at the end of the first one. How the HECK do you make a sequel?

Al: People waterskiing behind a cruise ship or something get left behind. Except this time, they’re BEST FRIENDS! Will their relationship survive?

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