Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sequels, Threequels, Franchises, oh my!

Last night, as I was trying to sleep, a thought kept coming into my head. And that thought was no, not about Anton Yelchin or Alexander Skarsgard you fools, but about sequels and threequels.

Now, it has become a long-standing fear of fans of something quality that a mediocre or bad sequel will come of it. However, ever since 1972 and The Godfather, Part II, this fear has been ruled with some notable exceptions. However, there have been over the past several years, particularly in recent years with the heightened popularity of franchises, several examples of sequels that are considered to be nearly as good as, as good as, or better than the original film on which they are based. For example, there is the aforementioned Godfather, Part II; Empire Strikes Back; Terminator 2: Judgment Day; I-haven't-seen-it-but-have-been-led-to-believe-it-fits-here Aliens; Toy Story 2; Shrek 2; Spider-man 2; The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; The Dark Knight; X2. To name a few, that is.

Obviously, this is a totally non-scientific manner in which I am determining whatever the hell I am rambling on about.

Sequels have been proven to not simply be a marketing ploy for Disney to sell a bunch of Direct-to-VHS/DVD movies (although, in its defense, The Lion King 2 is actually quite enjoyable... moreso than most of its sequel counterparts via Disney). There are loads of bad sequels or sequels that incredibly disappoint.

But I remember seeing both Shrek the Third and Spider-man 3 and easily disliking the both of them. Shrek the Third had its moments and Spider-man 3 had James Franco being the only good thing about the entire movie, but overall, they were far cries from the first two movies. Even the unsteady X-Men franchise had a decent opening film, an improved second film, and then a blah third film. Other franchises start off with a strong first film and then settle into two mediocre sequels (Pirates of the Caribbean and The Matrix, for example).

Even Return of the Jedi and The Godfather, Part III, while both being good films in their own rights, are still mere shadows of the brilliance of their first two installments. The third Terminator movie was only mediocre. And while Lord of the Rings: Return of the King should disprove this theory that threequels nearly always never measure up, it's an unfair comparison, as all three Lord of the Rings films were made in a grouping, all principal photography done together during the same stretch of time, a nearly identical team of production and post-production for the three films, and the like. And the James Bond franchise also doesn't count in my book, like the Harry Potter franchise (although, it is my personal opinion that Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is rather poor), because the two although in the same franchise, really seem to differ between the films. Which is one of my main beefs with the entire Harry Potter film franchise. Keeping the same cast does not unite films. Look at James Bond! You've got to settle on a unified, continuous plot, filming style, and set design. But, alas, this isn't the place for my Harry Potter film rants.

Besides that, however, when a franchise like James Bond has made as many films as it has, each "sequel" tends to differ based on its own natural merits and not on its relation to the past film(s). But, in this vein, yes, both From Russia with Love and Goldfinger are good "sequels."

While I have gotten over the understandable fear of sequels to good material, because there are so many excellent exceptions, many of which are some of my favourite films of all times, it is difficult for me to think of many threequels that have really stood up well. I suppose I could argue that Ocean's Thirteen was a good threequel, after the okay sequel of Ocean's Twelve, but it feels odd comparing Ocean's Eleven to The Godfather or Star Wars, even if it is a fun romp.

Mostly, I am hoping that Pixar might help eliminate my fear of threequels with Toy Story 3. Pixar hasn't disappointed yet, but the odds seem more against them than ever, in my opinion. Other people were pleasantly surprised by the quality of Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up, but Pixar has been making odd concepts into great films ever since Toy Story. And they made a brilliant sequel to one of those films. But a threequel? Pixar has earned my trust, but threequels haven't. I've met very few threequels I've really liked. I suppose Return of the Jedi and Ocean's Thirteen might be saving graces, but it's hard to get over Sofia Coppola's poor acting in The Godfather, Part III, or everything but James Franco in Spider-man 3.

In conclusion, there really isn't much that can be got out of this roundabout ramble. My point is simply that the fear of sequels has been calmed a bit, despite the annoyance of clear box office bait that is a sequel to The Hangover, Sex and the City 2, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and so on and so forth. There are some great cinematic experiences that are sequels. However, few threequels have ever risen to any form of glory. I'm hoping Pixar disproves that and then Christopher Nolan makes an assist by making that third Batman movie and making it awesome.

At least in the meantime we've got Inception.

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