When I was a lad, the adage was that there were no good sequels. Which is weird because when I was a lad Empire Strikes Back, Aliens, Godfather 2, Mad Max: The Road Warrior, Evil Dead 2, and The Wrath of Khan all existed, and each one proved without a doubt that that adage was wrong.
However, that is not to say that there aren’t bad sequels out there, because there are lots. There a metric fuck-ton of movie sequels that solely exist because a movie made a heap of cash and someone realised that doing the same thing could lead to more cash. And when that’s the motivation behind a movie’s existence, it can be seen in every single frame.
So how, class, do you do a sequel right? What makes a great sequel a great sequel?
The main thing to think about is whether your movie need a sequel. Does it end in such a way that the story needs to be continued? Does it happen in a world that is ripe for exploration?
Let’s take Die Hard as an example, as it is definitely a movie that has got too many sequels. Die Hard is a closed circle of a movie. It does not end on a cliffhanger and it does not offer up a world of stories. It is the simple story of a lone hero fighting terrorists. By the end of the movie he has proven his worth, rekindled a romance with his ex-wife, and taught a stranger that sometimes shooting people is okay. The end. Done. Wrapped up in a neat little package. And yet there are four sequels and only one of them is pretty good. The one that is good is Die Hard With a Vengeance. The one that takes some basic ideas from the first i.e. McClane’s a bum and the baddie’s big plot is actually a smokescreen for a different plot, and runs with it. It is entertaining but essentially could have starred any action hero in the lead or with half a day’s work been rewritten as a Lethal Weapon sequel. And that for me makes it good. They take a sprinkling of the original and then subvert it when possible, removing most of the lone hero angle in favour of a city wide police force of help. When they tried to rehash the Die Hard formula beat for beat we got Die Harder, which is actually pretty shitty. And then later they turned McClane into an invincible super hero for parts 4 and 5 and completely missed the point.
Look at Aliens, Khan, and Empire (and, to an extent, Terminator 2). Great sequels that retain a feeling of the original while subverting it with new ideas, genre shifts, and altered character dynamics. They do not trot out an identical scenario and hope for the best. Plus all four follow movies that have presented a world that you would be happy to stick around in for another two hours or so. The trick is to add onto an existing story and enrich it.
Something to avoid would be the Prometheus problem. That garbage movie made no fucking sense and when questioned about it, the creators said, “Oh, well, things will become clear in the sequels.” Nope. That’s not how it works. You don’t get to make garbage on the promise that you’ll get a sequel. You make a strong movie with rich themes, likable characters, and an intriguing premise, and then you are gifted a sequel because the viewing public cry out for more. Then you try not to balls it up. A sequel should be earned but also needed. A great example of this is Bridesmaids. A fantastic ensemble comedy but when Kristen Wiig was asked to make a second one she said, no, the story has been told, there’s no need for a sequel. And then she moved onto other things. It would have been easy to rehash the same thing over and over *coughTheHangovercough* but Wiig was smart enough to see it was game of diminishing returns and the best idea was to grab the exposure the movie got her and take it someplace else.
Next time, class, we talk threequels, because the third time is not always the charm.