Can we live up to last month’s hype?
You made it to the third edition of the Movie Watcher’s Club! Maybe. I’m not certain. This may very well be you’re first time reading this series. Hell, this may be your first time on Holyfield. No matter the case, welcome to the club. We are following up last month’s horror film list with our second themed month (third if you want to count “staff favorites” as a true theme). As the title suggests, sequels are the theme.
Before we get into it, I want to note that we are strictly speaking about the second movie in a series. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, for example, does not count and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers does. The third or greater film in a series does not count; only the second film.
With that defined, let’s ask an important question: what characteristics are needed for a sequel to succeed? Why do films like The Godfather: Part II and The Dark Knight work and films like Grease 2 and Caddyshack 2 fail? There is a great article published a little over two years ago on Screencraft that addresses these two questions. It outlines the “Ten Commandments of Writing a Great Sequel.” The following are the key takeaways from the article:
- If the original film doesn’t warrant a sequel, do not make it.
- Simply do not remake the original movie and provide a fresh storyline for the characters, as the audience most certainly wants a fresh take.
- Continue to develop the characters and progress their arcs while embracing the mythos and world in which they inhabit.
- The sequel is only as good as the new antagonist.
I strongly recommend you read the full “Ten Commandments” article; however, you can probably tell just by these bullet points why a film like Aliens works so well and why the ensuing Die Hard movies fail — I mean, who’s better than Han Gruber, really? Unfortunately for the Die Hard 2: Die Harder fans reading this, you’re favorite film did not make the list. Just as the previous two articles, keep in mind that this is a list of staff personal favorites, not a “best sequels of all time” type of list. So, without further ado, let’s get into our movie choices!
22 Jump Street (2014)
Directors: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Writers: Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, Rodney Rothman, Jonah Hill, Patrick Hasburgh, Stephen J. Cannell
Stars: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Ice Cube
22 Jump Street is a sequel I expected to have lukewarm feelings towards but ended up being infatuated with. Perhaps it was the boyish charm and comedic timing of the film’s two colorful leads, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, or the clever first go-round callbacks turned into jokes that drew me in. Whatever the case may be, the film was a hit in a way that took me by complete surprise.
Where the franchise goes from here is anyone’s guess, but should we see future entries under the Jump Street moniker and 22 serve as any indication of what’s to come, we’re all in for a riotous, gut-busting treat.
Rush Hour 2 (2001)
Director: Brett Ratner
Writers: Ross LaManna (characters), Jeff Nathanson
Stars: Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, John Lone
The second film in the Jackie Chan, Christ Tucker-led comedy is a classic because it continues with and builds upon the success of the first installment. Rush Hour 2 picks up where Rush Hour ended, as Carter and Lee are on vacation in Hong Kong. Surprise, surprise, a new case finds them there, as a bomb goes off in the US Embassy. Inspector Lee (Chan) and Detective James Carter (Tucker) have great chemistry in the face of everything going wrong in their pursuit of uncovering a currency smuggling investigation that is further complicated with the involvement of the Chinese Triad.
No, this isn’t a classic. But it has just as many memorable quotes as the crowd-favorite comedies we herald. Combine that with the choreographed action scenes, especially those that feature Jackie Chan, and you have a classic, easy-to-watch, easy-to-entertain sequel. Rush Hour 2 and director, Brett Ratner, added just enough to prove the second film was bigger and better, but not too much to separate it from the classic first film.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Director: Irvin Kershner
Writers: Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas
Stars: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
It’s rare for a sequel to take everything good about its predecessor and improved upon it. It’s even rarer for a sequel to do something entirely different, and come out ahead. That’s what The Empire Strikes Back did. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time and the perfect example of a great sequel. A New Hope is what started it all but it The Empire Strikes Back established this series as one with tremendous staying power.
Written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan with Irvin Kershner in the director’s chair, Empire took everything that made the groundbreaking original film great and made it better. Luke was given nuance and consequences for his reckless behavior. We see Han grapple with his leadership role, while Leia thrives. Darth Vader is more than just an imposing force of evil as we begin to chip away at his shell. Plus you know, the pivotal “Luke, I am your father” thing. That was kind of significant.
We see these characters in similar situations, though with consequences for the same actions they were rewarded for previously. Han’s trust in his shady counterparts lands him imprisoned and in the hands of a bounty hunter. Luke’s confidence costs him his hand, and almost his life. There is no major victory in this film. In fact, it’s a series of defeats. Beyond these themes, with the popularity of the first film, the budget was significantly larger this time around, allowing the producers to indulge in greater world-building tactics. We see the snow-covered Hoth, a floating city on Bespin, and the swampy abyss of Dagobah. With these fun, new locations came important characters like Yoda, Lando, and Boba Fett. Brackett and Kasdan, like few others have done before or since, took a legendary film and took it beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.
Grumpier Old Men (1995)
Director: Howard Deutch
Writers: Mark Steven Johnson, Mark Steven Johnson
Stars: Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, Ann-Margret
John Gustafson (Jack Lemmon) and Max Goldman (Walter Matthau), or more affectionately known as “Putz” and “Moron,” are back and up to their old tricks again in Grumpier Old Men, the sequel to the 1993 box office smash Grumpy Old Men. While the sequel is very formulaic and pretty much a retread of the previous film, it also retains its heart and comedic charms as the two main leads show us once again why they were Hollywood treasures and paired so often together.
This film starts six months after the original left off, with John and Max still fighting and grandpa (played hilariously again by Burgess Meredith) still drinking beer and eating bacon every meal (be sure to also catch him in the post-credits as his one-liners and the outtakes are downright hilarious). This time around, it’s Max who has his eyes set on the small Minnesota town newcomer (Sophia Loren). Can he woo her? And what sort of shenanigans will the duo get into this time?
What made the first film great was the cast and their synergy. The addition of a love interest for Max is perfect and it shows as Grumpier Old Men is a heartfelt, genuine, hilarious and more than worthy sequel to its predecessor.
Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)
Director: Anthony C. Ferrante
Writer: Thunder Levin
Stars: Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Vivica A. Fox
Before you scroll past this, just hear me out. For those who are unfamiliar with the series, SyFy took a very SyFy idea and smashed two things together in an effort to instill some kind of over the top disaster movie that SyFy is kind of known for overseeing. The difference between those SyFy movies and the first Sharknado movie, though, is how completely unseriously it took itself. Even in the marketing, you know what you’re in for. The first film is fun. It’s not good at all with bad acting, terrible effects, and scientific explanations that sound like a sixth grader just learned how tornados work. It gained a minor cult following, probably just based on the title. Since the original, the company has released a new installment every summer since.
Sharknado 2 doubles down on everything and accidentally makes a comedic masterpiece that is a combination of gratuitously violent slapstick, a smorgasbord of delicious cameos, and a love letter to disaster/horror films past and present. Where the first movie seemed to just be tongue-and-cheeking its way through a run of the mill disaster flick, Sharknado 2 opens with one of the main character dramatically losing a hand, the other one dealing with what I can only describe as “Sharknado PTSD.” Everything is unadulterated comedic chaos from that point forward.
What makes The Second One so special is its use of cameos. My favorites being Richard Kind playing a Mets fan who steps up to stave off the Sharks attacking Citi Field. Keep in mind his character is also supposed to be an iconic player from back in his day which makes everything he does all the goofier. Al Roker playing himself on Good Morning America taking the sharknado attack on New York City very seriously is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.
There are also great homages to Kill Bill, The Evil Dead, Snakes on a Plane, and many others. Best of all, the cast really steps up their game. Tara Reid actually comes across as a badass, Ian Ziering gets way more believable all things considered, and more importantly, the dumb movie that got by on clearly not caring actually attempted to care and embrace the absurdity of their concept. It’s the lone high point of the series that you can completely unironically enjoy.
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writers: Quentin Tarantino, Uma Thurman
Stars: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen
Quentin Tarantino isn’t for everyone. I can readily accept that. His films tend to follow a unique pattern and have the same unique watermarks that are as polarizing as any other filmmaker in the United States. There will be a lot of blood, a lot of cussing, and a lot of eyebrows raised about the path of the plot. It’s a journey, and usually one off the beaten path. So given this strange, albeit enticing, approach to making flicks, one particular movie in his repertoire usually doesn’t lead to the endgame of “sequel-necessary” so to speak.
Kill Bill, the revenge noir two-parter featuring Uma Thurman and a samurai sword, is just the type of movie to stray from that above statement. Kill Bill Vol. 2 transitions from the end of the first movie smoothly as a continuation of Uma’s lust for blood and vengeance. The first volume laid the foundation of pain and treachery brought upon her, and the second volume closes the book of her journey in satisfying, yet brutal, fashion.
What makes this sequel more gripping then any other film sequel is the rounding out of the story arc that was started in the first movie. It is the linear path of focus that Uma’s character portrays that resonates through the screen that honestly makes this the most straightforward sequel I’ve watched. She sets a plan in motion, then finishes that plan, regardless of the curves of the road that only a man like Tarantino can pave. It’s gritty and brutal, yet it hits at the heart of any other viewer that feels like there needs to be more justice for those that have been wronged before. I doubt any normal bystander would think exactly that type of vengeance with as many swords. But hey, to each their own.
Back to the Future Part II (1989)
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writers: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Stars: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson
Back to the Future is one of the most iconic movies of all time, which made it all the much harder for its sequel to live up to its billing. The first movie of the series brought unforgettable characters (Marty, Doc, Biff) and references to enjoy for generations to come. Back to the Future Part II took many of the same concepts from the first movie and built on them almost flawlessly. Part II picks up where the first movie left off, with Doc taking Marty and his girlfriend, Jennifer, to the year 2015.
What makes Part II so great is not only the way it builds on the characters and events of the first movie, but also how culturally relevant the film remains throughout the years. Almost 30 years after its release, Part II has set technological expectations, however unrealistic some of them may be. 2015 has come and gone, and true hoverboards, self-tying shoes, and flying cars may not exist yet, but each of them is getting closer to reality, thanks in large part to Back to the Future Part II.
Part II is a crucial movie in the trilogy not just because of its cultural relevance, but because of how well it stands as a sequel to the first one. It uses the same premise, but it adds a new wrinkle to the story. In this case, the wrinkle involves one Biff Tannen and a sports almanac. The characters are the same, the relationships are the same — aside from incest. Back to the Future Part II didn’t go overboard with its plot, it stuck true to its lovable, quirky characters, and it added new wrinkles to what made the first movie such a massive success. On top of that, Robert Zemeckis created a movie that, for decades to come, would be revered by old and young people alike as we race to accomplish the technological advancements displayed in the movie.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green, Philip K. Dick
Stars: Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas
Two reasons why I am selecting a film still playing in many theaters. First, Akshat selected my personal favorite. Second, I didn’t get a chance to write a review when the film Originally came out; this is as good an opportunity as I’ll get.
To simply put it, Blade Runner 2049 is brilliant. Similarly to Back to the Future Part II, director Denis Villeneuve was tasked with a very difficult task in following in the footsteps of one of the most iconic science-fiction films ever made. Blade Runner is beloved by many, including myself, and its sequel was tasked with addressing an important sequel commandment: does Blade Runner truly need a sequel? Honestly, it didn’t, but I am ecstatic that the second film was made.
Blade Runner 2049 had a bonkers budget of $150 million, and the viewer saw that budget put to good use. This film may very well be the most visually stunning film I’ve ever seen. Exceptional visual effects, a visceral, heart-pumping score, and relatively scarce on the dialogue — forcing the viewer to figure out the narrative via the actions of scenes as they occurred instead of being beaten over the head with explanatory dialogue — honors all the key elements of the original film. To be fair, the dialogue in Blade Runner 2049 is more explanatory than the final cut of Blade Runner; however, the theatrical release of the original film did have voice-over dialogue to literary explain what’s happening to the audience.
The sequel is set 30 years after the events of the original. It depicts the story a bioengineered human named K (Gosling), who discovers the remains of a once-pregnant replicant and investigates who this replicant is as well as if the child is still alive. I don’t want to give away much more because I want everyone to watch this film. The story is excellent, the acting is top notch, and Denis Villeneuve added another excellent film to his filmography. It’s a worthy successor to the original, adding a fresh twist to the ethical and existential quandaries of this world. Blade Runner 2049 is a modern day masterpiece.
So, you excited to not only watch these sequels, but also the originals? I know I sure am! Don’t forget to check out the list, and others from the Holyfield on Letterboxd. Next month’s list, similar to October, is going to be an obvious choice: holiday films. However, there is going to be a twist that hasn’t been done yet in this series. And if you’re wondering what that twist is, the clue is actually somewhere in this article. Stay tuned for December’s list and go watch some movies!