I am really looking forward to seeing The Shape of Water when it released in Feb in the UK. It’s an original film from a fantastically creative film maker and it looks amazing. I must confess though, I am more excited for The Predator, Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War.
This year there are more than 30 sequels coming out at the cinema and I am sure that I will watch a good portion of them. Although, the way sequels are treated is funny. Fans and movie goers in general, myself included, lament the lack of original movies coming out but we love to see the on-going adventures of characters we know and love. The trick to making a sequel successful is to make it interesting and fresh while not affecting what has gone before or changing what is at the core of the character.
If we look at a couple of movie series that have multiple sequels we can see where some have succeeded and others have failed, at least in my opinion. Now I am going to discount any series based on books (Harry Potter, Hunger Games etc) as they have a template to work from.
To end on a positive note let’s start with two film series that I mostly enjoy but have followed a very similar path and as a result are at a low point. The Terminator and Alien.
They both start with a small sci-fi horror concept, one a haunted house the other a slasher film. Each gained attention and success by creating a complete world and just dropping the viewer in them. The follow ups take that concept and instead of treading the same ground, up the ante. Aliens and T2 are examples of perfect sequels being great movies in their own right, while building on what was established in the first films. James Cameron being the director and creative force behind each is a testament to his talent.
Unfortunately, after that is where its starts to fall apart. In both cases the third film in the franchise tries to do something new, without really respecting the characters that have been established. Both T3 and Alien 3 have uneven tones and do not feel like extensions of the stories that have already been told. In my opinion Alien 3 is a better film that T3. This could have just been a wobble overall but the issues continue.
The fourth instalments in each series (Terminator: Salvation and Alien: Resurrection) are jumps forward in time and force story telling conceits to keep certain characters in play. Both ignore key elements of the past films in favour of trying to standalone. They are shallow and forced. I would even go as far as to say that both have a negative effect on the films that have come before by taking characters in a poor direction.
In both cases this should have been the end. Profits and credibility were low but there was going to be more. In recent years, we have had Prometheus (and Covenant) and Terminator: Genysis which have both tried to rewrite the history of what has come before. I would suggest that that the result is mostly negative and in some ways insulting to fans of the series.
As I say, both are at a low point now but I am sure we will get some form of movie continuation at some point. The only thing I can hope for is that we get a sequel that is honest to what the heart of the franchise is about.
On the flip side is a series of films that have reinvented themselves to become one of the biggest money makers of recent years. Much like Alien and Terminator the Fast and Furious films start with a small and tight concept. It was nothing new but it was fun did better than expected, it was bound to get a sequel. The following two films try different approaches but always keep the core fun, if daft, elements in play … and fast cars, lots and lots of fast cars. The fourth film in the series is the most interesting for me, it goes back to the beginning but starts to grow the focus of the first three. They move from underground racers being involved in crime to crime stories centred on core characters that happen to be excellent race drivers.
This is taken to the next level in 5, with the addition of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. 5 through 8 are crazy crime action movies. They have massive set pieces and explosions, and they took a middling franchise into one of the most successful of the 21st century.
Another example of knowing your franchise but keeping it fresh is the Mission Impossible series. Each film since the first in 1996 has had a different director that has brought a different tone and feel but they have kept the similar sense of fun action and big stunts. Doing so they have gone from strength to strength, with the 6th instalment coming in 2018.
I know that these are very different beasts and that the F&F and MI series is are more pulp action nonsense overall. However, there is something very important that the Terminator and Alien franchise can learn from them. People want to see these characters do what they do. It’s why Bond has 25 films, why Rocky never started MMA, it’s also why people get so frustrated with the Hellraiser franchise (that’s a blog for another day).
As movie goers, we cry out for new and fresh concept and characters and stories. These will always excite and intrigue us. However, let’s be honest, as some studios have shown over the decades, if you put time, effort and money into a well thought out sequel you will satisfy fans and bring in new people as well as make a ton of cash.