If you know me, or have read any of my my How To Features, you know I feel very strongly about sequels. I feel especially moved regarding the idea that a sequel needs a reason (outside of money) to exist because, other than sequels, I also feel very strongly about story. Over the next few weeks, I will be presenting a number of lists about movie franchises. The ones that shouldn’t exist but do, the ones that should exist but don’t, and the ones that exist but should have been better.
First, the franchises that should not exist.
Outside of some dumb bits, I really enjoyed Jurassic World. Pitched as a sequel, it actually exists within the sequel/reboot pile of movies. And this is because you can’t make a sequel to Jurassic Park. That story is a closed circle, a phrase which you’ll be reading a lot today. It goes like this: Is Jurassic Park viable as a theme park? Nope; there are no dangling threads left untied or cliffhangers to subsequently resolve. One of the main reasons that Jurassic Park is held in such high is that it is a tightly plotted, expertly paced thriller that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It creates a world, drops you into it, and then pulls you out. Every attempt until Jurassic World to follow Jurassic Park failed because there wasn’t any story involved. The only way to make it work was to rehash the original, which Jurassic World proved can be lucrative and entertaining. Now, studios are already talking about sequels to Jurassic World, and I predict that they’re going to face the same problems trying to find a story any better than what they’ve already got.
Die Hard is such an iconic action film that it spawned its own genre. Any movie in which a lone hero takes on an army of bad guys single-handedly in a single location is usually best described as Die Hard in a train, Die Hard on a boat, or Die Hard on a plane. The reason why it shouldn’t be a franchise is simple: If John McClane manages to overcome insurmountable odds to take down bad guys singlehandedly once, it’s amazing. If he can do it on the regular, then it’s expected. And there’s nowhere else to go with the story. Much like Jurassic Park, Die Hard is a tightly made, closed circle of a movie that gets in and gets out. It doesn’t overstay its welcome. It doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t. It entertains, then it’s out. Adding more movies with congruous plot lines doesn’t increase the wealth of the story, it dilutes it. By the time we get to the fourth sequel, where McClane becomes an invincible superhero, it’s hard to go back to when he was just an asshole in the wrong place at the wrong time, which is exactly what made the original so fun in the first place.
Why are there four of these movies? Jaws is perfect, and much like Jurassic Park, it has a simple job: Be scary and entertaining and endlessly re-watchable (I lied, that’s not simple at all), and it succeeds in every way. It is also a closed circle. The shark terrorizes the town and Brody kills it. Done. There are no unanswered questions. There is no further mythology to explore. The only way to feasibly continue the series is to take Brody and his family to a new location, where they end up in yet another town terrorized by a tiger or a lion or a bear, oh my! The shark plot-well isn’t that deep, and it drains pretty quickly. There is a reason why there is only one good shark film, and that is because Jaws does it so perfectly the first time, and doesn’t leave anything behind for smaller fish to fight over.
The trouble with The Terminator isn’t that you can’t make a sequel to it, because you can, and it’s amazing. The trouble is that in order to make any sequels after T2 you have to ignore the basic conceit of the series, which is that “the future isn’t written, there’s no fate but what we make”. Terminator 3 decides very early on that actually, no, Judgement Day can be delayed, but it is still inevitable, no matter how much fate you try to project onto the dramatic proceedings at hand in each subsequent sequel’s supported script. It renders the message of the first two movies null and void, and robs them of their basic message. By the end of T2, the world and the future have been saved. Let us have that happy ending rather than rehashing the plot of T2 while simultaneously missing it’s basic point. Kyle Reese is undoubtedly rolling in his grave, relatively speaking.
All together now: Closed circle! My favourite movie is The Exorcist (I may have mentioned it before) and yet I have not seen any of the four subsequent installments (or sorta four, depending on how you view Dominion). I haven’t seen them because there is no point. There is no morbid curiosity to satiate, (though, if you haven’t seen the trailer for Exorcist II: The Heretic, stop reading this and go to YouTube, now) and more importantly, there is no further story to tell. One of the greatest scenes in The Exorcist is the ending. If any sequel supports a script wherein Regan is possessed again, the cast and crew involved render the initial sacrifices made to save her in vain. In terms of story, it cheapens our residual feelings held towards the first film by trivializing the death of a character whose martyrdom is the center piece of the original’s climax. Now the scene will always have that slight bitter taste to it because you know that it’s meaningless (much like Terminator 3 does for T2), and skewers its rhetoric on inevitability within an established fictive universe that, up to that point, has been about the complete opposite.