Many movie fans shudder when they hear that some of their all time favourite movies are getting a sequel. This can spell disaster for the spirit and legacy of the original. If we think of movies such as The Hangover: Part II, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and pretty much Star Wars Episodes I to III, we can immediately see how sequels can really damage their predecessors. With Blade Runner 2049 having hit cinemas around the world this month, I wanted to share with you some of the key attributes that make a good sequel, the things that make a bad sequel and the things that make a sequel an absolute, ugly mess.
In most cases, continuity is vital for a sequel and is really a starting point for any remake of the original. Continuity from the original allows the viewer to immerse themselves quickly back into the world created by the movie or movies that came before it. When building a franchise this is especially important. If we think of the Marvel movie universe, every movie abides by a set of rules and realities that allow the audience to assume and expect rather than have to be told. The Marvel movie franchise also provides a good example of where a lack of continuity can harm a sequel or a franchise through The Incredible Hulk from 2008. While the movie itself is probably one of the better Marvel movies made to date, and we leave aside the recasting of the Hulk in subsequent movies, it doesn’t quite feel like one of the other movies. It stands apart from the others. While it was one of the first movies in the franchise it is affected deeply by continuity and can really be only viewed as a standalone story.
Taking chances with sequels is important. It is very easy to give characters similar challenges in a similar scenario, but the audience wants to see characters face something new. Bravery from writers, directors and the studio backing a sequel is essential to allowing this character development take place. Undoubtedly, going out on a limb can go horribly wrong. Batman and Robin comes to mind as an exercise in excessive adventurism. But when we think of movies like Mad Max: Fury Road we see where this bravery pays off. Recasting Max, the title character of the series, would be a big enough risk on it’s own. To then make him a supporting character, giving the lead to Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, was in danger of derailing the movie completely. This bravery paid off in spades and audiences were treated to one of the finest action movies in years.
Retelling the original
This is the most obvious pitfall that most bad sequels fall into and can really cheapen the original story. One of the most obvious examples of this is The Hangover: Part II. The movie is basically a much diminished retelling of the first movie set in a new location. Sequels sometimes need to make references to the original and this can be rewarding as it creates the continuity between the stories that we spoke about earlier, but rehashing original scenes or jokes will only leave fans feeling disregarded. So many sequels look to the original and misunderstand what the audience loved about the it. With the Hangover: Part II, the writers and Director thought that the audience wanted another story about a group of guys trying, once again, to piece together the previous night. They were so confident of this that gave us a beat by beat retelling of the first movie. That’s not what we wanted. For the record, that is never what we want! Audiences wanted to see growth from the first film for the characters. We wanted to see the characters in different, but equally as hilarious situations. Any sequel that goes down the route of The Hangover: Part II is never going to work
Recasting main characters
We have already spoke about where this has been done and has not effected the sequel in Mad Max: Fury Road, but this movie is one of the few exceptions of movies recasting some of our favourite characters. For many sequels this is a death nail for them before they even reach theatres. Having to recast main characters is often a sign to audiences that the script wasn’t good enough for the original cast to return, or simply that they believe that a sequel shouldn’t be made. Some characters and the actors that play them are just too intrinsically linked to recast them. Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger is a prime example of this. But in 2010, when a roboot of A Nightmare on Elm Street was released, it was Jackie Earle Haley who was in the iconic role of Freddy Krueger. While Jackie Earle Haley is a talented actor, he just wasn’t the Freddy we all knew and feared. The movie fell flat, and the attempt to reboot the franchise failed.
So many sequels end up in this ugly position. Some of them started out bad and then turned ugly, some of the started out great and steeply decline as they are milked for all they were worth. There are too many examples of this to mention here. In fact this could be a separate article on it’s own. However, some of the biggest culprits here include disasters like the Transformers, Police Academy, Scary Movie, Taken and the Fast and Furious Movies. Cashing in isn’t limited to a string of sequels. Making just one sequel can be just as bad. This is especially true when the original ties off a story so completely that a sequel could never work. Speed 2: Cruise Control is the perfect example of this. This was a sequel so unnecessary that even Keanu Reeves didn’t return for the big payday.
Betraying the Spirit of the Original Story
As mentioned already there should be continuity in a sequel, and by ignoring this you can easily end up in bad sequel territory. But what if you completely ignore the core components of what made the original so good? Sylvester Stallone answered that question in 1983 with Staying Alive, the sequel to the Saturday Night Fever. The original wasn’t just a movie about Disco, it was an exploration of class, a raw view of the disco scene that people hadn’t seen before and story that is bristling with aggression. The sequel contains none of the grit of the original and is more akin to the dance movies that littered the 2000’s than the underrated classic that its predecessor was. It seems out of place and takes the character that we invested in for the first movie and makes him into a cartoonish version of what we seen in the first movie. Sequels and remakes that do this to the original characters really show how badly a sequel can go wrong.
Note: Blade Runner 2049 falls into the category of a good sequel. Go check it out while it’s still in cinemas. You won’t regret it!