On the latest episode of the B-Movies Podcast, tipping the scales at a full-bodied 97 episodes, William “Bibbs” Bibbiani and I discussed the details of both the upcoming Star Trek movie, called rather dumbly and colon-free Star Trek Into Darkness, as well as Kevin Smith’s stated plans to make a Clerks III. On both, we debated briefly the need for such movies, and where the stories could possibly go. Star Trek Into Darkness still has decades of a pop cultural past, granting it myriad ideas to plunder, so coming up with a fun story for that one was kind of a no-brainer for a dyed-in-the-wool Trekkie like myself. But the story – indeed the function – of a Clerks III was something we had to ponder very closely. Sure, there is more to do with the characters of Dante and Randall and Jay and Silent Bob, but you may have been able to sense in my voice a note of trepidation. I have faith in Smith, and I’m sure he has some very salient directions he will be able to take the characters (I liked Bibbs’ idea of making Dante and Randall the older managers of new slackers who resemble their younger selves), but I feel Smith will have to tread lightly in order to seem like he’s not lazily cashing in on familiar characters.
Sequel fatigue is a very real and very dangerous trap in Hollywood. The vast bulk of sequels, no matter how good they really are, often have the commercial stink of audience exploitation on them. Most “first films” in franchises (and how sad that audiences themselves – and not just marketing execs – refer to film series as “franchises”) are usually perfectly fine stand-alone pictures. Sequels assuredly up the ante (and I’m sure you have a few “second film” favorites from The Empire Strikes Back to The Dark Knight), but they must necessarily lack the initial impact of their original counterparts, as they have lost the elements of surprise and originality.
Some films, however, directly warrant sequels. The filmmakers often plan a character so complex or a scenario so interesting that continuing that character or conceit in a sequel is not only natural, but kind of warranted. It’s a delicate balance, but it’s possible to complete a character’s story for one film, while teasing out a further unresolved issue to be tackled in a future film. One must balance, of course, between a film that teases and a film that spends way too much time “building up,” so to speak, without a resolution. If one pushes too far in the latter direction, the audience is going to feel jerked around rather than kept aloft.
There are many films, of course, that fans would love to see sequels to, and I’m sure the sequels would do well, although not all of them are necessarily warranted. The following films, however, are not only films that, I feel, would produce some killer follow-ups, but would also be logical progressions. The films I have selected below not only are personal favorites of mine, but also have more story that can be told, more ideas to explore, more world to expand on. Here are movies that I would love to see sequelized.
(Note: Since I bring the film up all the dang time, I’m going to refrain from mentioning Peter Weir’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World in this article. Just assume, dear reader, that I wrote an elegant passage on it already, that you were duly impressed, and that we all agree on the film. This will save us some time.)
The Golden Compass (dir. Chris Weitz, 2007)
A multi-million dollar fantasy franchise in the making, The Golden Compass, based on the famed novels by Philip Pullman, was a hugely imaginative and gorgeous movie based on a truly original fantasy novel well beloved by its fans. It presented a world wherein all humans are accompanied by spirit animals, called dæmons, and a vast conspiracy to sever children from their souls, ultimately doing damage to the great ineffable force that connects all humans. The story followed a young girl who battled this conspiracy, and talked to witches, mystics, and other travelers on her quest. The Golden Compass was well-received by critics, although it was rejected by audiences, and it failed rather miserably at the box office. I have read all three books in the original series that includes The Golden Compass, and while the first book was the best (the later books, especially the third, get really preachy), I’d still like to see this gorgeous and imaginative world brought back to the screen. I sense I never will.
Salt (dir. Phillip Noyce, 2010)
I’m surprised, actually, that Phillip Noyce’s Salt isn’t more popular. I found the film to be a daring and awesome spy thriller with a sexy lead and some amazing action set pieces. The story is delightfully twisted and contains some genuine surprises. It’s one of the better spy films of the last decade. I can’t say why, but not too many people signed on for Salt, and while it has no real detractors, its fans are largely indifferent. I won’t give away too much of the story except to reveal that Angelina Jolie plays a CIA spy who is accused of being a Russian double agent, and the (rather suspicious) lengths to which she goes to stay on the lam after the accusation. There are fights, bombings, and some wicked surprises that you will not see coming, and laud for their audacity. The film entire ultimately ends on a cliffhanger that amounts to the end of an origin story. Evelyn Salt flees the scene, ready to be tapped for future spy endeavors. I like the characters, I liked the film, and I’d love to see Evelyn in a sequel. Indeed, I don’t think I’d even mind if Evelyn Salt became a female antidote to James Bond, sticking around in the cultural consciousness for decades.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (dir. Shane Black, 2005)
Shane Black’s Christmastime noir is, these days, considered to be a mild classic, and it has a vocal legion of fans and defenders that I happily include myself among. The film is about a snarky PI (Val Kilmer) who teams up with a scoundrel thief posing as an actor (Robert Downey, Jr.) to investigate scandalous goings on in the seamy underbelly of L.A. showbiz. The film is awesomely witty and very funny. And while the story did indeed conclude at the end of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the characters were so memorable, and the humor so biting, I got the impression that these people would team up again, and continue their business of private detecting and cracking wise. What’s more, the characters all constantly talk about their favorite pulp noir author, a Raymond Chandler-type behind dozens of cheap detective stories. It should only extend from there, then, that these people would become the stars of their own series of pulp noir movies.
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1985)
I’m not sure if the stars of the 1985 original would still be game for a sequel, but a continuation of the Remo Williams story is something all fans of cheesy ‘80s action films have been asking for for years. It’s perhaps behind only The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension! and The Rocketeer as the most requested sequel to a famously stalled film franchise. Fred Ward played a cop who was gunned down and left for dead by a bad guy, only to be revived and secretly re-branded as a new kind of spiritually attuned supercop. Joel Grey played his Chinese mentor, which is less racist than it sounds (Asian eye makeup notwithstanding). The film is most certainly corny, but that’s okay, and was intended to have a sequel anyway (hence the title), so why can’t we indulge in this one? I’d rather see another Remo Williams film than, say, a remake of [insert obnoxious remake here]. A bold-faced and good-hearted hero, absent of grit, and enjoying his ultra-capable powers? We need more of those. Something fun and old-fashioned.
Band of the Hand (dir. Michael Paul Glaser, 1986)
I know. I know. You’ve never heard of Band of the Hand. To be fair, it is really obscure. And to be even more fair, it’s not en entirely great movie, possessed, as it is, with enough dumb-looking dated ‘80s style and clichés to make even the most stalwart and chronologically sensitive of critics giggle a little. What it did have, though, was a really cool premise that can easily be carried into a new story. A team of deadbeat criminal teenagers are, in lieu of prison, sent into the wilds of Florida to learn survival skills and the importance of teamwork from a grizzled-yet-optimistic teacher, intent on proving his new extreme brand of rehabilitation. Once trained, the team moves into the inner city to investigate and to do battle with the local drug cartel. The film is a bit harder-edged than its ’80s premise would belie, and features appearances from a few notable actors including Laurence Fishburne, Lauren Holly, James Remar, and a very young John Cameron Mitchell. I would elect a reunion of the same actors, and an analysis as to whether or not this extreme brand of rehabilitation panned out. Maybe the kid criminals-turned cops are still cops. Maybe they relapsed. I’d love to see.
From the Desk of William Bibbiani:
Witney left out another key piece of news from this week’s B-Movies Podcast, the upcoming sequel to Alice in Wonderland, Tim Burton’s loose and disappointing adaptation of Lewis Caroll’s classic fantasy novel that reinvented a world of imagination and wonder into a humdrum action adventure with a coincidentally female protagonist. While we were intrigued by the possibility of Clerks III, and had fun playing J.J. Abrams’ little guessing game with Star Trek Into Darkness, here was a film that warranted no sequel no matter how much money it made. The story was over, even though there are vast swaths of Carroll’s imagination untouched, and therefore unsullied, by the prospective franchise.
I have a zen attitude towards sequels. There was a time when the expression “Sequels Suck” held water. But in the last decade or so there have been so many follow-ups to hit, even beloved movies that many of them – perhaps by design, perhaps by dumb luck – ended up being great movies. The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2 and X2: X-Men United are each at least arguably better than their predecessors. Some would say the same thing about Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and The Bourne Ultimatum. Both Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 managed to at least match the original animated classic in quality. But even if you move beyond major blockbuster entertainment, films like Before Sunset – a follow-up to Richard Linklater’s classic 1995 indie romance – manage to continue the story of their protagonists in an organic, satisfying way. Before Sunset overcame the sequel stigma and turned out to be one of the best films of 2004.
The important thing when planning a sequel is to remember that there has to be somewhere to go. The characters need to be able to grow, and the story needs to evolve naturally from their journeys. Taken 2, almost universally reviled as one of the worst films of the year, wasn’t actually that bad, but it failed this test anyway. The film began with Liam Neeson’s daughter, Maggie Grace, still suffering from the trauma incurred in the first Taken, and then forced to overcome those fears when the situation reverses, and she herself is responsible for saving her kidnapped parents. Contrived? Certainly. So was the original. But unlike the original, Taken 2 veered away from the main character’s relevant journey and turned into just another action movie, with Liam Neeson taking charge for the climax even though, from a story perspective, it was supposed to have been Maggie Grace’s time to shine.
What follows are films that, for character reasons, would yield an excellent sequel. There are other stories to tell in these universes, whether or not they’d be a big summer smash. The film industry is a business, first and foremost, and they’ll green light a sequel to any movie that makes money – like Alice in Wonderland – whether it’s a good artistic idea or not. But we can dream, can’t we? We can dream…
Rushmore (dir. Wes Anderson, 1998)
Whatever happened to Max Fischer, anyway? Wes Anderson’s bittersweet coming of age comedy, about an overachieving teenager whose grades never matched his ambitions, took Jason Sc hwartzman on a memorable journey of first love, first heartache and first failures. The character’s ambitions and bravado, always balanced by a sea of character flaws, led him to almost destroy the lives of the adults in his life before finally bringing them together at the end by embracing the eccentricities of circumstance and age. But as an adult, without the formalities of a school curriculum to bind him, I can’t help but imagine Fischer encountering a new series of problems to challenge and change him. Did he become a local politician, transforming his community to meet his own unusual standards of perfection, or has the world beaten him down, refusing to play along with his strange schemes and threatening his dreams of artistic and social change? Is he a struggling artist, an award-winning playwright, a discontented barber or the President of the United States? If Wes Anderson ever decides to tell us, I’d be fascinated to find out.
The Incredibles (dir. Brad Bird, 2004)
Brad Bird brought the superhero genre into the Pixar realm with 2004’s spectacular The Incredibles, about a family of extraordinary individuals forced to deal with an ordinary existence, hidden from the public eye. The story kicked off with a series of lawsuits that forced “supers” into hiding, and the film – later reassessed by many as a curious Ayn Rand allegory for children – did a remarkable job telling the story of how they came to embrace, once again, the aspects of their lives that made them special. Bird has been hounded by sequel requests for years, often claiming that that he’s waiting for the right story. If he’s looking for a new place for these superheroes to go, he’s already on the wrong track. The real question is whatever happened to the supervillains in The Incredibles’ universe. Did they settle down with blue collar jobs of their own, or have they been laying in wait for a decades, impatiently awaiting the day when superheroes would return and complete them? Superheroes define themselves by saving the world, but how do supervillains define themselves? By superheroes, naturally, the yin to their yang. Follow The Incredibles’ largely unseen rogues gallery, and allow them to grow into fully realized people, with our without the influence of their arch-enemies. Call it The Terribles.
The Aggression Scale (dir. Steven C. Miller, 2012)
We’d have to wait a few years for this sequel, or recast the lead, but I’d really like to see what happens to young Owen, played by Ryan Hartwig, after the events of Steven C. Miller’s The Aggression Scale. The plot is a rather clever one: a family man steals from the mob, who show up at his house and murder the whole family one by one in an attempt to retrieve the missing funds. The twist is that his son (Hartwig) is a sociopath, well on his way to becoming a serial killer in the ensuing years, and fights back in a way best described as “a f*cked up Home Alone.” After developing an unexpected kinship with his normal sister Lauren, played by Fabianne Therese, he survives the encounter, but where does he go from there? Do Owen and Lauren take to the road, surviving based on their wits, or will they wind up in foster homes, sharing a dark and dangerous secret all their own? Will they be tested by violence once again, or will they be the source of the next wave of mayhem? I got a pseudo-sexual vibe off of their relationship by the end of The Aggression Scale, so perhaps they eventually fall in a strange kind of love. Perhaps Owen goes off on a killing spree and Lauren, long separated by the foster system, has to find him and discover if there’s a method to his madness, or take Owen down herself in a tragic finale. There are lots of places to go with these characters. I hope I get to see them again someday.
Dredd (dir. Pete Travis, 2012)
One of the happiest surprises this year was Pete Travis’s Dredd, an adaptation of a comic book Hollywood already screwed up before (in 1995’s Sylvester Stallone vehicle Judge Dredd) that turned out to be a hardcore action thrill ride, the kind we haven’t seen since the heyday of Carpenter, Hill and Verhoeven. Dredd kept the story small, focusing on a single day in the life of the dystopian police officer, dealing with events that challenged him but didn’t threaten to change the fate of the entire world. I don’t think another Dredd would need to go that far to expand the character and the universe further. Dredd (Karl Urban) is a character with strength of conviction, even though his totalitarian views may disagree with most of the audience. He’s a character who, like Sherlock Holmes and Batman before him, could be placed in any intriguing moral and criminal dilemma and make intriguing choices, particularly with his more emotional partner, Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), by his side to offer different solutions to the same problems. Come up with any futuristic crime spree and let him loose. Or, introduce the fan favorite villain Judge Death, whose ideas about law enforcement are even more extreme than Dredd’s own. (Death’s philosophy: citizens can’t commit crimes if they’re already dead, so kill them all just in case.)