The dependence of Hollywood on sequels is very evident. Rants on how picture making corporations lack originality often pop up during the summer blockbuster season and this year, it’s no different (sequels abound: Cars 2, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part 2, Final Destination 5, Spy Kids 4: All The Time In The World and of course The Dark Knight Rises) especially considering that a certain recently released sequel has been torn to shreds by the critics. We’re not going to name any names here, cuz that’s just uncool. Either way, the critic/consumer divide always seems to be most prevalent in summer box office receipts.
However, sequels have their place. An interesting take on a character’s direction after an initial movie can be very riveting; it’s the obvious cash grabs that make both critics and sometimes audiences frown. Here are some of the better sequels that not only survived an instalment but were a step above the previous. Here’s the cream of the crop pertaining to sequels!
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
The third instalment of the Harry Potter franchise sees Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón at the helm. Cuarón whose preceding film was Y Tu Mamá También brought a grittier and darker feel to the series as compared to the first two. Being Potter fans, we felt that Cuarón manages to capture the spirit of the book. From then on, the Potter movies have evolved into more than just a kid’s movie and a visual reading of the book with special effects as compared to his predecessor Chris Columbus.
Definitely more mature, complex, nuanced and darker (a sort of launch pad for the latter movies), this third instalment closely approximates the character-driven storytelling of J.K. Rowling. It’s less like a fairy tale like the first two and more like a fantasy Hitchcockian thriller. Although it still loaded with CGI, Cuarón deftly balances the effects and story with a sense of proportion.
The Dark Knight
Batman Begins was a fantastic film. It had the unenviable job of rebooting a franchise murdered by Batsuit nipples, Batman credit cards and ice skates. Although on the plus side, there was no way it could have been worse than Batman and Robin. Batman Begins more than delivered, with an origin story that captured the darker feel of the comics rather than the Adam West era camp that Joel Schumacher’s films delivered.
So how did The Dark Knight up the ante? If the first one didn’t already signal the disavowing of the standard save the girl in distress format of previous superhero films like Spider-Man, TDK took that format, chewed it up and spat it back out before trotting down its own path. Not only does the girl not get saved, she dies. Throw in a haunting performance by the late Heath Ledger as the Joker where he plays mind games with Bruce Wayne himself, and we have ourselves not only one of the darkest mainstream comic book movies but also one of the highest grossing ever.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
It is fitting we mention this film as it recently celebrated its 20th anniversary on July 3. While the first movie was a low budget Sci-Fi action movie, the sequel was the most expensive movie ever made at that time (a record James Cameron would break several times). Robert Patrick plays the T-1000, the seemingly indestructible liquid counterpart to Arnold’s original T-800.
There are so many things that make this film so good that we could just go on and on and on for days. The cutting edge special effects that still stand the test of time – they still look fantastic today. The desolate atmosphere of an impending nuclear holocaust that is prevalent throughout the film. The touching father-son bond behind Arnold’s Terminator and a young Edward Furlong’s John Connor. Hell, it made “Hasta La Vista, Baby.” Cool. Well, you get the point. This is the best action film ever and not a shabby sequel too. We kid, it’s much better than the first.
The Godfather Part II
If you thought the Corleone family was messed up in the original, the ending of Part II sure reinforced that fact even more. Serving as both a prequel and a sequel, we get to see Don Vito’s rise as well as Michael’s woes as the Don. Al Pacino’s critically acclaimed performance was famously snubbed by the Academy and also happens to be one of his best performances, before he started to adopt shouting and basically being himself as his only acting style. Regardless, this complicated and tragic tale of familial betrayal and even murder ranks high on many lists. It is often regarded as being equal or sometimes even better than the original and probably the best sequel to any movie ever
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
It’s known for the iconic moment when Darth Vader reveals to Luke the truth about his father. It’s also the best film in Star Wars too. What’s amazing about Empire though, is how much the tone of the series shifts from A New Hope. Whereas Episode IV was hopeful, Empire ends on a bleak and even dreadful note. Guess that’s what happens when you get your hand chopped off by your Dad and your partner in crime frozen in carbonite. Yeah, that tends to be a downer.
Interestingly, Empire bears a similarity to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in that they’re both the most critically acclaimed films of their series but also the lowest grossing. That’s where the similarities end though. For me, the shift to darker material seemed like a natural progression for Azkaban but Empire’s dark tones came out of nowhere and shocked the world. You’d never have guessed it if you watched IV and V back to back without prior knowledge of the plot. What we get is the most iconic moment in Sci-Fi movie history, one that we still remember.