Thursday, September 8, 2011

Revenge of the Son of the Sequel 2: Terrible Sequels to Geek Classics.

I've written at length about good movies, games and TV with bad endings, but that isn't the only way to ruin something good. Often, you can have a single film that is amazing, an instant classic and one met with nearly universal fan, if not critical acclaim. The box office and secondary numbers come in, and the studios immediately get to thinking... "How can we make more money off of this?" Now, they can't be blamed for that, on its own... making money from producing more movies is sort of the point of their business, it is what their jobs are about. I won't be so reluctant to withhold criticism on the specific films created in these cash-grabs, and how they tarnish the memory of their original source, however. This won't be an exhaustive list, as I'm as unprepared to write a ten page article as most people are to read one, and a full third of that could likely be devoted to superhero sequels.

The Matrix

We've established our lead character is in no real danger, so how do we make these fights
exciting and meaningful? Have him fight more CGI!

Oh, god. Though the original has not aged well in my memory, for the first half-dozen or so viewings, I was amazed by the effects and intrigued by the world created for the sci-fi action movie. This film was one of the first must-own DVDs, with very well thought-out bonus content, a genuinely interesting commentary and a solid premise. Now, we've seen similar stories done better, and a last minute change to the machines' motivations so as not to confuse the audience aside, this is still a classic. The sequels are a blight, from half-baked plots where the climax is actually handled in a separate video game, to loose ends that are never satisfactorily explained, I didn't bother seeing the third film for years after being let down by the second one. Inconsistent, incoherent and poorly planned out, it is best to just pretend these films never happened.

Pitch Black/The Chronicles of Riddick

This was, I think, a case of a cool little low-budget film being turned into a vehicle for its star once it was clear that he was the sort of actor that Hollwood blockbusters are built around. In Pitch Black, the key to the tension is that the Riddick character is, for most of the film, considered at least as dangerous as the creatures that the survivors of the crash are being wiped out by. He is menacing, cruel, and at best an antihero, the extreme nature of the situation pushing him barely out of the villain category. However, when a sequel was needed to be a Vin Diesel blockbuster, a handwave to the original characterization was made, and he became a sci-fi hero in a world crafted by someone with a vague recollection of having once read Dune and a streak of plagiarism. The tone, visual style and characterization were preserved, however... this time in the tie-in video game (Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay) that was superior to the film in every way.


Hi, I'm Mario Van Peebles,  and I ruin things. Professionally.
Highlander is one of those movies that suggested a world that begged for a sequel, at least on paper. The core problem is, the first movie pretty much wraps the concept up. Immortals have been killing each other and taking the power of those they kill for hundreds of years, and in the end, there can be only one. By the end of the movie, there is only one. The rest are dead, the hero won, Queen plays in the background. Great movie, and a geek cult classic. Every subsequent film comes up with more and more ludicrous justifications for continuing to tell stories in a concept that has played out to its logical conclusion. After seeing Highlander 2, I'd thought, "Well, at least there's no way this could get any worse." Boy, was I wrong. Quick way to tell if a movie is going to expand your horizons on how bad a movie can be: if Mario Van Peebles is in it, strap in for a bumpy ride. At least the television series kept the flavor of the original film and handled the paradox in the best (and maybe only) possible way... they ignored it.

The Mummy

I really liked the original Mummy, as we dont' get nearly enough pulp action outside of Indiana Jones (and no, we're not gonna talk about Crystal Skull. Maybe someday, but I'm not ready yet.) As a straight pulp adventure movie with light horror, the Mummy hit all the required notes. We got a villain with a backstory, a properly grizzled hero, the by-the-numbers romance subplot and a supporting cast with a badass mysterious foreigner and comic relief that walked right down that line between funny and annoying. When I saw the second film, I was amazed by how much they got wrong... the action set-pieces were annoying and random, the plot and pacing were uneven, and we hear all the while about the Scorpion King, played by the Rock, and he ends up barely in the movie at all. What we do see is a vaguely Rock-shaped bit of terrible CGI that at the time had me giggling, calling it the "Rock Lobster." And somehow, the third was just as bad. Poor Jet Li. I've seen him in so many good films, but virtually none of those are in English.

Pirates of the Caribbean

Geoffrey Rush's expression here is about what mine was at the rapid and  silly twists to Elizabeth Swan's
character in the sequels. "Weren't you a kind of sheltered Governor's daughter like, a year ago?"

I didn't expect much out of this when I first heard about it. Yeah, they cast Johnny Depp, but this was a movie adapted from one of the rides at Disney theme parks. After some positive marks from friends and reviewers, I ran out to see a matinee and was blown away. Jack Sparrow would go on to feature in plenty of terrible Halloween costumes and mediocre video games, but when it came out, it was hard to not like him. Skeletal pirates, ship-to-ship combat and great sword duels, we even get to see a port attacked, sacked and pillaged by buccaneers. Predictably, the characters I loved in the first ones were dismantled in the sequels, the cliffhanger ending of Dead Man's Chest felt like a ripoff, and At World's End was, well... just kind of stupid. Too many half-cooked plots and characters went into the garbled mess of the second and third film, and characters changed not as a result of logical development, but to fit the nonsense that passed for a plot. Even cutting the dead weight of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley's characters adrift couldn't save the fourth film from feeling dull and tired as compared to the original.

I've steered clear of bad spinoffs and sequels in two genres in particular, as horror is kind of characterized by the campy, gleefully terrible sequel, and I'm not sure where to start with comic book films (Superman IV, maybe?) Also, I've written quite enough recently about George Lucas, so the Star Wars prequels and my feelings on them is pretty much a given. That said, I'll likely revisit this topic at some point in the future, as there's a score of other films that fit the bill here, with these that are best left forgotten.
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Alpha said...

Poor Jet Li, indeed.

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