| on May 20, 2010, 01:52:00 PM
A Sequel Soliloquy: Scot Eric's Top Twelve #2's of All Time
by Scot Eric
Number Two -- it's possibly the most disliked and disrespected of all numbers. The very connotation is "second-best", "runner-up" and simply "not good enough". Outside of being everybody's favorite bowel movement and the number worn by Derek Jeter -- it's generally not a digit anyone wants to be associated with.
When it comes to the movie biz, the number 2 (or when they're being pseudo-classy: the roman numeral II) following any film title often means "they've run out of ideas", "they're going to the well once again", "they say it'll be bigger and better -- but more likely it's just louder and dumber". Outside of the creatively bereft number crunchers -- follow-up flicks to Hollywood hits are typically seen as little more than money-making opportunities. Originality is like an oasis of clear blue water in a desert -- it's referred to by many, envisioned and dreamed about by some -- but rarely found by anybody. The very "idea" of a sequel most likely means there IS no idea at all.
However, there are those sequels that have pulled off the delightful double play of having both commercial AND artistic merit. The list that will follow is my own personal compendium of films that actually equalled -- and in some cases, surpassed -- their cinematic forebearers.
Before I launch into the list, I should make note of a few things. As you might have surmised from my opening paragraph, this list is solely devoted to the 2nd film in any series (hence my waxing not-so poetically about the number TWO). So on this forthcoming list, you won't see the likes of "Rocky III" or "LOTR: The Return of the King", much less "Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow".
There’s also a chance I haven’t seen a film or two in my time -– which could lead to an otherwise deserving film not making the list. I confess -- I’ve never actually SEEN “The Road Warrior” or even "Weekend at Bernie's 2" and I have to live with that dual shame every day of my life. I plan to see Iron Man 2 within the next several days -- but at Mess Press Time -- I have NOT seen Shell Head's second go-around, so that film also did not make my final tally.
I finally narrowed down my choices to an even dozen. Sure, there's probably plenty of worthy contenders that others may prefer, but such is the stuff of lists of this nature. One can fervently argue whether my exclusion of films like the 2nd Austin Powers movie, the 2nd Pink Panther movie or hell, the 2nd Thin Man movie was warranted (although I doubt anyone will). I'm equally certain that be it minutes or months later -- I will realize I did indeed leave out a film or two that deserved placement here.
Eh, whaddya gonna do? Enough of the pretty talk...
Scot Eric's Top Twelve #2's of All Time
12: Superman II
Putting aside the drama that occurred behind the scenes between Richard Donner and the Salkinds that led to Richard Lester taking over the directing chores, for all its sometimes laughable flaws, "Superman II" was one fun popcorn cruncher of a movie. Terrence Stamp was a definite crowd-pleaser as the scenery-gnawing General Zod, a villain as formidable as any that have appeared onscreen. Chris Reeve returns to the dual role of Clark Kent & Superman and attacks both with more panache and pathos than we saw for most of his acting career. Toss in the supporting cast from the original film (particularly Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder), and it's little wonder why it was DECADES before a superior superhero sequel was ever made.
11. Terminator II: Judgment Day
Although one may not realize it -- "The Terminator" was literally the "little engine that could". Directed by an unknown, starring a former Mister Universe from Austria who was primarily known in the States for his sweaty flexing "performance" as Conan the Barbarian -- and a plot dealing with time travel, cyborgs and about ten thousand rounds of ammunition -- it was the sleeper hit of 1984 -- putting away a then tidy sum of $78 million worldwide (yeah -- I had to look that up -- it did even less than I thought). But by the early 90's, Cameron was an established hit director, Schwarzenegger was literally AND figuratively one of the biggest stars in the world -- and "T2" was one of the most anticipated movies of 1991. Despite the whiny presence of Edward Furlong and a ridiculously satiric nod to earlier criticisms of the original film's violence (the T-800 is instructed not to kill humans, so he blows away a few dozen kneecaps throughout the film) -- the film was a powerhouse. The combination of Linda Hamilton's fearlessly fierce Sarah Hamilton -- and the then-mind-boggling special effects (as well as Robert Patrick's icy stares) that created the morphing T-1000 were the key factors that propelled this flick's box office, as it did almost 7 times better than the original (yeah, I looked that up too).
10. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
"The Fellowship of the Ring" was 3 hours plus of setup, and "The Return of the King" is about seventeen hours of resolutions...but it's "The Two Towers" that's truly packed with all the Tolkien goodies. The amazingly realized Battle at Helm's Deep is still wondrous to behold; the nasty little Gollum is perhaps one of the most vividly vicious little buggers ever committed to film, and let's not forget the coolest Talking Trees since "The Wizard of Oz".
09. From Russia With Love
Some may say it's "unfair" to include a film from a series that's been ongoing for close to fifty years. Some may say that Bond films really shouldn't count as "sequels", as each (or should I say most -- I forget) of them are actually based on a different book or story by Ian Fleming. To those people -- I say fuck off. "From Russia With Love" is indeed the 2nd James Bond feature film -- and it takes the character established by Sean Connery in "Dr. No" and pits him against the evil organization SPECTRE -- as they seek revenge for Dr. No's death (see, it IS a sequel). Low on gadgetry but high on thrills, and many are provided by foes such as a young Robert Shaw's Red Grant and most memorably of all -- Lotte Lenya's Rosa Klebb. Who keeps a knife in their shoe? Rosa Klebb, that's who. 45 years later -- ANOTHER movie villain uses a similar gimmick. One clue to who -- he appears later on this list.
08. Spider-Man 2
The first superhero sequel to legitimately improve upon the first film, "Spider-Man 2" is chock full of Spidey-goodness. We trade a rather hammy and silly-looking baddie (Willem Dafoe's garish Green Goblin) for the far better depiction of Doctor Octopus by Alfred Molina (although the similarity of the two villains' origins is perhaps the film's lone shortcoming). Both Maguire and Dunst are far more comfortable in their roles as Peter and Mary Jane. Once again, every second of J.K. Simmons' screen time as J. Jonah Jameson is alone worth the price of admission -- but it's the battle atop a speeding subway train that is still talked about today as the most memorable superhero fight scene in ANY comic book inspired flick.
07. Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn
Less a sequel and more a remake -- "Evil Dead 2" takes the original shoestring budgeted cult classic and injects an insane amount of humor, creepiness and several gallons of bile and blood into the "buncha schmucks end up in a cabin in the woods" story. Bruce Campbell as Ash is a wide-eyed dynamo of energy and lunacy -- as he battles demons, headless corpses and his own right hand. The amputation of said hand and the subsequent attachment of a chainsaw; the "eyeball" cam and the marvelous ending actually has left many (including me) feeling that "ED2" eclipses the original.
06. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
This might be the one sequel on the list -- that didn't have a very high bar to clear in terms of matching or transcending the initial film. Only the most ardent Trekkie could say "Star Trek The Motion Picture" was anything other than a colossal snoozefest -- poorly recycling a couple old plots from the original TV series into a torpid and turgid mess. The writers went back to the drawing board -- plucked one of the best villains from the history of the original series -- and actually constructed a NEW story around the latest encounter between the Enterprise crew and Khan Noonien Singh (Khan to his friends and sworn enemies). The 2nd entry in the Star Trek series re-ENERGIZED the franchise -- and unlike the first film -- the actors appear to be ENJOYING themselves. From the iconic "KHAAAAAAAAAN!" to the surprisingly tear-inducing demise of Spock -- "Wrath of Khan" is often (and justifiably) listed as the favorite Star Trek film by Trekkies, Trekkers and non-labeled moviegoers alike.
05. Toy Story 2
Pixar changed the animated landscape with the first "Toy Story" film back in 1995. Touching both children and the inner child in everyone -- that mix of humor and drama with a generous helping of nostalgia made "Toy Story" one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year -- as well as one of the most lucrative. After "A Bug's Life" -- when Pixar announced their next film would be a sequel to "Toy Story" -- many groaned. Why mess with perfection? When working in the animated field - the possibilities are virtually limitless -- so why rehash this toy tale? However -- "Toy Story 2" was a totally new adventure that actually mined new dimensions of character development, as Woody and Buzz became that much MORE "real" to audiences. The stakes were higher, the action more dynamic, and the poignancy of certain moments has rarely been equalled by most live-action features.
"Aliens" truly stands out on ANY list of sequels for many reasons. The directing chores being transferred from one visual virtuoso (Ridley Scott) to another (James Cameron) -- at the time -- was almost unheard of. Following up one melded genre film (sci-fi/horror) by converting the sequel to ANOTHER genre (sci-fi/action) -- also bucked a trend set in cinematic stone for almost 60 years. As cathartic and satisfying as any film of the 80's -- it was the movie that cemented Cameron's reputation post-Terminator and also nabbed a Best Actress nomination for Sigourney Weaver.
03. The Dark Knight
"Batman Begins" was the sorbet that cleansed our palates of the bitter aftertaste of the Schumacher debacle “Batman & Robin”. Grittier visuals, a cast of (mostly) highly accomplished ACTORS as opposed to STARS (we’ll overlook Katie Holmes), and a writer/director team that truly honored the spirit and the psychological depths of Batman and his accompanying universe. "TDK" lifts off from the origin film and transports the legend of everyone's favorite Dark Knight to new heights with a mesmerizing performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker (who artfully took the baton handed off from Romero to Nicholson to him -- and then proceeded to club all previous portrayals of the killer clown with it), as well as an underrated turn by Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two-Face. Perhaps one of the only superhero films that generates true tension, suspense and even a startling jolt or two -– it’s clear why this picture went on to become one of the biggest hits of all time.
02. The Empire Strikes Back
"Star Wars" (sorry, I refuse to call the 1977 film “A New Hope”) ushered in the era of epic summer fantasies -– transporting an entire generation to another galaxy with astounding special effects, instantly iconic characters and a story that was both familiar and fresh all at once. EMPIRE built upon the foundation that Star Wars put forth – and added a new pastiche of new worlds (Hoth, Dagobah, Bespin) and characters (Yoda, Lando…even Boba Fett). A movie that dared to embrace the Dark Side -- and the rare audience-pleaser that leaves our heroes on the precipice of tragedy. From the opening ice planet battle that rivals Saving Private Ryan in its sheer intensity and spectacle -– to the closing light saber duel that still stands out as the best of all six "episodes" -– there’s a good reason many fans pick EMPIRE as their favorite SW film.
01. The Godfather II
To this day, a debate rages on over which Godfather film is better. The advocates of the first film point to Brando and Caan, the proponents of the 2nd film point to the more challenging parallel storylines of a young Vito Corleone and the true descent into Hell by Michael Corleone. Regardless of which side of the fence you may fall -– one can’t deny the epic storytelling, stellar performances and masterful direction that led to this being the first sequel to win Best Picture honors. The one thing we can all agree upon -- both GF films were 1,000 times better than the cinematic carcinoma that was "Godfather III".
Ah, the number 3 -- a magic number everywhere but when it comes to motion pictures -- wait, I'm already writing the next article!
Talk About it Here!