Monthly Archives: March 2013

A Dime On: Six Sequels that upstaged their original films

Among most people, the prevailing notion in film franchises is that the first film is the best. I mean it makes sense, a legitimately good movie becomes a hit, and the mean-money-making-machine that is Hollywood would try and find a way and cash in, often disregarding any need for story-telling, visual style and overall quality. That’s why a movie as cool as Mask of Zorro starring Antonio Banderas spawned that god-awful Legend of Zorro sequel, or Spielberg’s classic shark movie JAWS would pave the way to JAWS 3, or Superman eventually leading to Superman IV, I mean look at the special effects, and choreography of this “epic battle scene”. All over American television and movies, we have so many cases of studios milking a story until it becomes a crappy shell of what it used to be.

It’s not hard to see why. When someone comes up with a great idea for a film, they pitch and fight to get it made, a labor of love, passion and determination. When it becomes a hit, the studios push to have something made afterward to reel in more money. So many writers, directors who felt like they’ve told their stories completely, are now thrust into making a film that they didn’t intend on making right away.

Every once in a while, though Hollywood is able to make not just a good sequel, but one that surpasses the original in almost every way. And since we have the likes of Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Captain America 2, Scary Movie 5, Fast and Furious 6, Hangover Part III, and Despicable Me 2 coming out, I thought that this would be timely. For posterity, I’m gonna go with sequels that were made after the fact, so things like Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter, where the sequels were planned beforethe first films were made, aren’t included.

So without any further ado, let’s get started!

1) Terminator 2: Judgement Day

First Film: The Terminator

Sarah Connor was a young woman, who was shocked to find that mysteriously, people who had the same name as her were being killed off. The killer turned out to be a cybernetic robot from the future, called the Terminator. She was saved by a man of the future named Kyle Reese, who explained that she would bear the child who would lead the humans after the robot uprising. Together, they tried and thwarted this literal killing machine.

The first film was a low budget action film made by a then neophyte writer/director named James Cameron. By all accounts it wasn’t a great film overall, but it was very original in its concept at the time, and the final scenes were very gripping. That spurred the movie on towards having a very surprising run in the box office. After this film, Cameron got work doing another sequel, Aliens. Then, armed with more experience, much more freedom, and an infinitely larger budget, Cameron went back to his cinematic baby in Terminator 2.

The story here takes place several years after the first, where Sarah is confined in a mental institution (never really able to shake off the events of the past) and her son, John is in foster care. This time, the robots take it a step further, and send in a tougher assassin, the T-1000, a shape-shifting robot that can change between solid and liquid states. What does the future human resistance do? They send back a reprogrammed version of the original terminator and have a good, old-fashioned robot slugfest.

This movie is highly regarded as one of THE most influential action flicks of the 90’s, standing up to and surpassing many of  action films of today. It’s got everything you need, great stunts, a tough villain, thrilling moments, and it even took the time out to create some real character development in the young John Connor (played by Eddie Furlong). The plot was pretty good, and despite all the science fiction, was pretty straightforward and easy to digest. Hands down, the better film.

2) The Rescuers: Down Under

First Film: The Rescuers

This movie bored the bajeebus out of me. Where would I begin? The story was lackluster, the jokes were really weak, the villan was a trailer mom with two pet alligators and the animation was just horrendous. It looked like a crappy straight to video movie. How could the sequel look any better?

Holy hell.. that’s how. I mean look at the lines, the art, the scary villain! This was everything the original one should have been and then some! The only thing is, due to the crappiness of the first, this film wasn’t received well. It has an animation style that could tear The Little Mermaid and Lion King a new one, and I feel like I was one lucky kid growing up with this movie in my VHS collection.

3) Mr. Bean’s Holiday

First Film: Mr. Bean

Love it or hate it, we’re all familiar with the show of Mr. Bean. To make a world-wide phenomenon such as that with just 15-episodes (yes, I know you think there’s more, but I assure you, the original show had 15) is no easy task. Rowan Atkinson was and still is a comedic genius, and I respect him deeply. It doesn’t mean I loved the Mr. Bean Movie though.

The film was riddled with (a) rehashed jokes from the original TV show (b) cheap American slapstick. It lacked the cleverness of some of his gags, and made him look ridiculous (well at least even more so, to the point of not being all that funny). Sneezing on Whistler’s Mother, dancing in front of a mirror, using a peanut to change a channel. Yes, Bean is an idiot, and a bit of an asshole, but he’s and asshole idiot with a heart. The heart dropped out of this film, and the idiot just became more pronounced. If you don’t believe me, catch the sequel.

Okay, trailer voice aside, you can see a couple of things here. 1) the scenery is fantastic, shooting in Europe is beautiful, and no doubt having Europeans in the film crew put some artistic flair into the film regardless. 2) The jokes may still be slapstick, but they are updated, either to fit the technology of the times, like the use of laptops, or to fit the location, like when he biked past the athletic cyclists. It felt fluid, the gags felt like part of the story, unlike those in the first film. And on top of that you’d have scenes like this.

Yes, it still looks exagerrated, it’s still Bean. If you wanted Atkinson at peak wit, you should check out the Black Adder series. But beyond the silliness, you have to admit, the guy is eye-catching. That false piano work is quite impressive, and that operatic ballad at the end, has something in there, some real emotion behind it, a genuine bonding moment between Bean and the kid, even though it’s still silly. This was the tiny bit of heart that Bean has always had, and this film was like a fond farewell to the character who has brought so much to this world. It is worth watching, I assure you.

4) Night at the Museum 2

First Film: Night at the Museum

Night at the Museum is a story of a security guard named Larry Daley (played by Ben Stiller) who discovers that, due to an ancient Egyptian artifact, all the statues and exhibits come to life at night. This film was funny, and quite enjoyable I might add. A lot of the humor was visual, and you could tell the writers had fun with it. The story was more of simply watching this guard try and cope with a situation of animals running free, Huns fighting Native Americans and cavemen. It was simple, and pretty nice. Not to mention it had class acts like Mickey Rooney and Dick Van Dyke in the cast.

The sequel upped the ante in a big way. They moved from a single museum to the Smithsonian Institute, the biggest block of museums in the world. In this film, instead of marveling at all the animated museum exhibits, Daley, along with Amelia Earhart (played by Amy Adams), have to actually use the  re-animated exhibits to help them achieve their goals. He steals a pitchfork from the painting “American Gothic” in order to defend himself from the evil pharaoh’s mummies, he asks Bobble-head Einsteins for help. It adds a totally new layer of dynamism to the whole experience.

Then there are moments that are just craftily designed, like how the Cherub triplets are voiced, and look like the Jonas Brothers, and sing renditions of ” More Than a Woman” by the Bee Gees, or Darth Vader and Oscar the Grouch trying to join the evil league of villains, or the miniature figurine’s going all “300” on the feet of the enemies, and all the witty dialogue that comes with it. This movie took what the original had, and improved it on EVERY SINGLE LEVEL.

5) Universal Soldier: Regeneration

First Film: Universal Soldier

For many, Jean Claude Van Damme’s film reel went from kinda cool in the 80’s to so bad, it’s not even good. From his Belgian portrayal of American Colonel Guile, to his unbelievably horrid team-up with Dennis Rodman, to his very flashy and cool-looking, yet highly inefficient signature kick (its way more accurate in film than in real life), Van Damme has been more of a subject of mockery versus a serious source of machismo. (Just watch this scene from his 1989 film Kickboxer. Frankly, I wouldn’t blame anyone for wanting to attack him just so he’d stop.)

In all fairness though, a fight between Van Damme and fellow 80’s action icon Dolph Lundgren promised a hell of a lot of fun. The plot was just as cheesy, the action was ambitious thought fairly basic, but it is as entertaining an action film as you’d normally find there. It was so successful, that it led to 6 sequels, most of them crap, like this. So it was really surprising when, in 2009, 17 years after the original, that a gritty, balls-to-the-wall, slobber-knocker sequel came out.

This movie took all the over-the-top premises of robotic indestructible men flying out of crashing cars while exploding (both men and cars, for those of you confused by my grammar), and all that, and threw it in the garbage chute. This may have been more due to budget concerns, but holy hell, it improved the film greatly. If you haven’t seen it, the fight scene here between Van Damme and Lundgren, who are both really old at this point, made my top 10 list of fight scenes, simply because these two old guys slammed themselves into anything and everything. This is what an indestructible robo-man fight scene should look like!

But the star of this film was the much younger mixed martial artist and former Belarusian policeman, Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski. Arlovski played the Next-Generation UniSol (NGU), and he tore through this movie like a bat out of hell. They gave him many opportunities to shine, and he paid them back by giving us some pretty impressive, visually stunning fights throughout the film. Many people all over the interwebs, be it from IMDB, or from Rotten Tomatoes have given this movie mixed reviews, but I for one am on the positive. Among any of the Universal Soldier films, this is the one to check out.

6) Shanghai Knights

First Film: Shanghai Noon

I thought the first film was pretty fun. The novelty theme of a Chinese man in the Wild West was so new and fresh that everyone had a great time with this movie. (Well, that’s not counting “Once Upon a Time in China and America” which came out a few years earlier. Though this movie was Chinese, so even the cowboys knew Kung-Fu!) It was your basic fish-out-of-water story peppered with old-timey pop-culture references, such as Jackie Chan’s character Chon Wang, is mispronounced as John Wayne, and Roy O’Bannon, Owen Wilson’s character, shares that his real name is Wyatt Earp. Overall, this was some good, clean family fun.

When Shanghai Knights came out though, they stepped up their game. From the smaller setting of a town in the wild west, this film moved from the West, to New York, all they way to London. It brought action, including the amazing marketplace fight scene, also one of my favorites, and anted up the references, with more characters named after great names in film and literature, more pop culture and anachronistic references! It had a well-presented story, the movie was pretty fluid, and it had even better clean family fun!

There are a lot of great sequels out there, and maybe for you, there are many other sequels that beat out the original. These are just my picks, my own ten cents, I’d love to hear yours!

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