Friday, September 10, 2021

Top Ten Things: Disappointing Movie Sequels

What up, my nerds?  Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at!

Today I'll be talking about a heartbreaking cinematic experience that makes me die inside a little bit and eats away at my very faith in humanity - the disappointing movie sequel.  You've been there; a beloved film classic gets a new chapter, you get all excited in the pants area, you rush out to buy a ticket, you plant yourself in that dark theater, trembling with anticipation, and then.......Two hours later the lights come up and you say, out loud, to no one in particular, "What the absolute fuck did I just watch???"

Then you go home and it hits you: that aforementioned beloved film classic has now and forever been defiled by the ineptly-produced, soul crushing twaddle that followed.  It's like winning the SuperBowl and then crashing your car into a ditch on the way to the after-party.  It's like buying your wife a diamond necklace and then dragging it through the shit-filled drainpipe at the end of Shawshank Redemption.  It's like flying to Paris, visiting the L'Ouvre, and defecating all over the Mona Lisa.  And now you're out ten bucks and bubbling over with resentment.

Okay I might be overstating the emotional effect of these crappy films, but you get where I'm coming from.  Here now are the Top Ten Most Disappointing Movie Sequels (Note: To avoid this piece devolving into a Star Wars/Hobbit/Prometheus-bashing session I have not included any prequels - sequels only).....

10. Mission: Impossible II

Our first entry is the 2000 sequel to the very successful Brian DePalma-directed adaptation of Mission: Impossible, starring Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt.  Released in 1996, MI was a taut, suspenseful and pretty cerebral update of the TV show, featuring enough action set-pieces to please the summer popcorn crowd but enough character stuff and intricate plot to elevate it above the usual dreck.  I consider it one of the better offerings of that summer.  Fast-forward four years and Tom Cruise was back for the sequel, directed by John Woo and loaded with action and Wachowski-influenced fight scenes.  Problem was the story wasn't very compelling (a scientist develops a bioweapon which is then hijacked by a former colleague of Ethan's who plans to cause a mass infection so he can then sell the antidote at inflated prices), the action owed way too much to The Matrix, the central love triangle was tedious, and the villain (Dougray Scott) was more annoying than menacing.  Also where the first film was very smartly constructed, this one felt dumbed down and full of fan-service moments.  For example, in the first film Ethan uses latex masks to impersonate different people.  These masks are hyper-realistic and make Hunt indistinguishable from the real person.  I'd imagine such a sophisticated disguise would take considerable time to prepare and fabricate, not to mention you'd have to know that the guy you're impersonating is supposed to be in a particular place at a specific time for the ruse to work.  However in the second film, Hunt and Dougray seem to just have masks like this on-hand, ready to wear on the fly.  So clearly this gimmick was only thrown into the movie because it was used in the first one.  Overall I just found MI2 very uninteresting and kind of a generic action film with the MI name slapped on it.  Fortunately a) the series found its footing again with MI:3Ghost Protocol, and beyond (Man does this series have legs), and b) Dougray Scott opted to be in this film instead of playing Wolverine.  We all dodged a bullet there.


9. The Godfather part III

The Godfather and its sequel are considered all-time classics of American cinema.  In the early 70s Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo created a richly detailed underworld inhabited by flawed-but-gripping three-dimensional characters, and somehow made us all sympathize with a family of hardened, violent criminals.  The first two films helped launch the careers of Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, and won boatloads of awards.  I still consider the first film to be one of the two greatest gangster movies of all time (Goodfellas being the other).  Taken as a whole, the two movies were like a great double album; Parts I and II complemented each other and became two halves of a complete saga.  But then in 1990 Coppola was coaxed into making a third installment only because he desperately needed a hit movie (He had made a string of box office flops, beginning with 1982's One From the Heart, which made just $600,000 on a $26 million budget - yikes).  The script was hastily thrown together by Coppola and Puzo, and the film was rushed into production for a Christmas release.  Add to that two casting conundrums.  The first involved Robert Duvall, who demanded a salary on par with Al Pacino's.  Rather than meet Duvall's figure, Coppola wrote Duvall out of the screenplay and inserted George Hamilton as the Corleones' new Consigliari.  Sadly the other casting substitution would be even more problematic.  Just before production Winona Ryder, cast as Michael's daughter Mary, dropped out of the movie and was replaced by Coppola's own daughter Sofia, who later proved to be an accomplished director but was very definitely no actress.  Given the importance and symbolism of the Mary character in the film (Mary represents Michael's last hope at going totally legit), Sofia's inability to give anything resembling a strong performance nearly sinks the entire film.  Aside from this though The Godfather 3 contains a convoluted, meandering plot, far too many new characters, and an Al Pacino turn bordering on self-parody.  Were GF3 a standalone gangster movie it would be considered okay.  But as a sequel to two of the all-time great films it's a disaster.

8. Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions

In 1999 the Wachowski Brothers released a sci-fi/action milestone, The Matrix, which combined mythic fantasy with cyberpunk futurism.  Starring Keanu Reeves, The Matrix tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world run by self-aware machines that keep all humanity imprisoned in sensory deprivation tanks and plugged into a virtual reality while farming them for bioelectricity.  Reeves' character Neo is woken up by Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne), the leader of a human resistance, and trained to bring down the machines and free humanity.  The first film was a box office smash and a major achievement in computer-assisted special effects, influencing martial arts and action movies for the next decade.  A sequel was inevitable, and in fact the Wachowskis shot parts 2 and 3 back-to-back.  Unfortunately the two-movie arc turned out to be a nearly indecipherable mess, with more questions raised than answers given, and multiple fight scenes between invincible characters (I'm not sure which was more boring, Neo vs. Mr. Smith in Reloaded, or Kal-El vs. Zod in Man of Steel).  Also in the end basically nothing was resolved, as it was revealed all this had happened before and would happen again.  So why did we just waste a combined seven hours watching this trilogy?  It just seemed like the Wachowskis weren't prepared to flesh out the first film into a full trilogy, and so they just threw everything they could think of at the wall hoping something would stick.  In the end Reloaded and Revolutions were examples of ongoing stories best left unexplored.

7. Superman III

The first two Superman films, flawed though they were, served as prototypes for the big-budget comic book movie.  Christopher Reeve perfectly embodied the ultra-heroic Man of Steel, and directors Richard Donner and Richard Lester each created a thoroughly entertaining superhero romp pervaded by a sense of wonder and excitement.  Then in 1983 came the third installment, a screwball comedy starring Richard Pryor as a bumbling computer programmer and Robert Vaughn as a Lex Luthor knockoff with designs on controlling the world's finances.  Superman himself is almost a third wheel in this movie, used mostly as a plot device and exploited by the Pryor and Vaughn characters to the extent that he actually goes "bad" during the second act and starts wreaking havoc.  Tonally it's a far cry from the character's near-perfect interpretation in the first two films and in contrast to the lush, epic quality of the original Superman, everything about this one screams "B-movie," from the goofy set-pieces to the cheesy effects to the low-rent villain.  Superman III was obviously more an attempt to capitalize on Richard Pryor's popularity, than to continue the exploration of the Superman mythos.  While it made money, it fell far short of the success enjoyed by the first two movies, and signaled the beginning of the end of this franchise.

6. Rocky V

There's a reason the fifth Rocky film is widely considered "the one that never happened."  Released in 1990, Rocky V picks up right where Rocky IV left off - Rocky has just defeated Ivan Drago, but is now suffering from brain damage due to years of in-ring abuse.  Let me preface things by saying that, when you think about it, Rocky IV is a pretty awful film.  Let's be honest, half the movie consists of musical montages, which to me says they didn't have enough material for a full-length movie.  Even aside from that, the half-assed subplot with Paulie and his talking robot is cringeworthy, Apollo's death was handled absurdly (surely Ivan Drago would've faced criminal charges), and the idea of Rocky surviving, and even winning after 15 rounds with this Russian superman is utterly ridiculous.  But at least Rocky IV is entertaining and has nostalgia value, and it made a fuckton of money.  Number 5 on the other hand is dull, features a dreadful performance by Stallone's son Sage, and ends with a glorified bar fight.  Plus the movie starts out with a rubbish plot contrivance where Paulie has somehow granted Rocky's accountant authority over all of Rocky's money, which he has blown on bad business deals.  So now Rocky's poor and has to move his family back to the old neighborhood.  Nevermind that Rocky could easily make all that money back with endorsements, commercial gigs and personal appearances (Fighting is out of the question due to the brain damage).  Instead Rocky manages a new fighter, who is then turned against him by a greedy Don King-esque promoter.  The story builds to the aforementioned bar fight, which isn't a tenth as much fun as the climactic fights of the previous four films.  Of course Rocky wins in the end and all is well (except that he's just exacerbated the brain damage and is still poor).  Jesus, what a terrible film.  Amazingly though, Sylvester Stallone completely redeemed himself and the franchise 16 years later with Rocky Balboa, arguably the best Rocky since the original.

5. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

What is it with Part 5s?  The original Star Trek film series, while somewhat inconsistent (evens vs. odds anyone?) featured four films in a row that were intriguing at worst (The Motion Picture) and transcendent at best (Wrath of Khan), and culminated in an incredibly enjoyable fourth installment that incorporated wonderful humor while restoring the ST universe somewhat back to normal.  So Trek 5 was set to be something of a new beginning.  The crew had a brand new Enterprise, Spock was alive and back to his old self, and the series seemed primed to finish on a high note.  And then everything went horribly wrong.  After Leonard Nimoy directed Treks 3 and 4, William Shatner refused to participate in further films unless he was also given the director's chair.  He came up with the story as well, which went through various rewrites and was clearly not yet ready to be filmed, not to mention the studio was reluctant to give him adequate funding to fully realize his ideas.  The result was a sloppy, barely coherent narrative with awkward humor, laughable continuity, chintzy special effects that made the original TV series look posh, and an anticlimactic finale that left several threads dangling.  Star Trek V was to be the final movie in the franchise, but creator Gene Roddenberry refused to end it on such a down note, so as with the Rocky series, all efforts were made to create a fitting sixth entry.  Luckily The Undiscovered Country succeeded in every way The Final Frontier failed, and we all got the Original Cast sendoff we deserved.

4. Robocop 2

The near-perfect 1987 sci-fi thriller Robocop sported amazingly over-the-top action violence, political and social satire, strong performances, and a poignant resurrection parable about an unlikely savior.  It's an unqualified classic that still holds up to this day (and for fuck's sake didn't need to be remade!).  Naturally when a sequel was announced I was beyond excited for it.  Then I went to see it, and I was no longer excited.  Robocop 2, directed by Empire Strikes Back auteur Irvin Kirshner, manages to fall horribly short of expectations on almost every level.  Aside from a few darkly comedic moments, the second film is a major drag with a cynical, mean-spirited outlook.  The filmmakers created a less likable, more confused version of the protagonist and a pretty forgettable set of villains (save for the horribly sadistic little kid who curses like a sailor but then gets a tearful death scene in which we're suddenly supposed to care about him), while presenting a needlessly complex storyline involving OCP searching for a criminal they can turn into the next Robocop (which really makes zero sense), an intra-office power struggle, a corrupt Mayor, a silly street drug called Nuke, and multiple resets of Robocop's programming.  That this film is so pessimistic isn't that surprising given it was written by Frank Miller, but it's still pretty unpleasant to watch, where the first Robocop was great fun despite the violence (which is deliberately excessive to convey a humorous tone).  It's like this sequel didn't know it was supposed to be sorta funny; instead it comes off as nasty and bitter.  I had a hard time caring about any of the characters this time around, and it doesn't help that most of the interesting personalities were killed off in the first movie.  In the end almost nothing gets resolved, except that the second Robocop is destroyed.  The city is still a crime-ridden mess, the corrupt OCP still runs the show, the police force is still on strike.  I guess the plan was to settle everything in Robocop 3?  Yeesh, just typing that title made me shudder.

3. X-Men: The Last Stand

In 2000, Bryan Singer helped usher in the modern comic book movie era with his understated, poignant X-Men adaptation.  That film introduced a whole new audience to Marvel's team of special-powered mutants and created a bona fide movie star in Hugh Jackman.  The openly gay Singer also added a level of subtext about our society's struggles with discrimination and homophobia, while preserving the Martin Luther King vs. Malcolm X parallel present in the Professor X-Magneto relationship.  The film still holds up as a strong beginning to the series.  Singer topped himself in 2003 with the arguably superior X2, which saw the good and "evil" mutants unite to fend off a common human enemy, and kicked off the legendary Dark Phoenix storyline, wherein Jean Grey becomes uncontrollably powerful and unstable.  The stage was set for an epic conclusion to the trilogy, but then Bryan Singer dropped out of the third film in favor of directing the tepid Superman Returns.  Added to that, one of X-Men's stars, James Marsden followed Singer, and his role in X-Men 3 was reduced to a cameo (during which he is unceremoniously killed in the first fifteen minutes).  Taking over the director's chair was much-maligned journeyman Brett Ratner, who proceeded to make a rushed, sloppy, overcrowded jumble of a film, with major characters being killed off left and right, new characters left basically unexplored, and a horribly botched Dark Phoenix resolution (Wolverine kills Phoenix?  Really??).  X3 has some good scenes but fails to come together as a whole, and its skimpy 100-minute running time doesn't leave enough room for all the threads and characters to be dealt with (newcomer Angel for example is essentially a throwaway character).  The results were so bad in fact, that upon returning to the franchise, Bryan Singer opted to make Days of Future Past so the continuity could be somewhat cleaned up (There are still numerous story holes, but whatever).  X-Men 3 was yet another threequel that failed to bring its trilogy in for a proper landing.  I'd love to see a Singer edit if such a thing were possible.

2. Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Speaking of low points (and I mean LOW), the beloved Indiana Jones series nearly got ruined in 2008 when Spielberg and Lucas released the fourth film, Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Think you could make the name a little longer guys?).  Set 18 years after the third movie, Crystal Skull forgoes the mystical flavor of the original trilogy in favor of a 1950s sci-fi paranoia theme.  Instead of battling Nazis, Indy now goes head-to-head with the Russians, joining in the quest to find a mysterious alien skull supposedly linked to an ancient alien civilization in South America.  The science fiction elements somewhat betray the tone of the series as it is, but this story is so utterly convoluted, with the purpose of the skull never clearly defined, Indy's new sidekick Mac changing sides every twenty minutes, Shia Lebouf showing up as Indy's long lost son, and even Marion Ravenwood returning to the fray.  The film's climax consists of the Russian villain (played by Cate Blanchett) finally claiming the skull and placing it atop an alien skeleton inside a "temple," which activates a secret spaceship mechanism and fries her brain, literally.  The entire 30-minute chase sequence leading up to this is completely pointless because the heroes and villains arrive on the scene at the same time, with the same objective.  If the chase sequences were at least entertaining that would be something, but the filmmakers subbed out the gritty, realistic, exhilarating practical stunts so prevalent in the original trilogy for sterile, CG-enhanced sequences with nary a sense of danger or suspense.  Case in point Lebouf's sword duel atop a moving Jeep.  Not one bit of this scene looks real and at no time are we ever on the edge of our seats.  Nearly the entire third act of the movie is so full of unnecessary digital effects it looks like a Warner Brothers cartoon.  Lucas showed his hand in the first shot of the film, really.  The Paramount logo dissolves into the opening shot, as is customary for Indy movies, except this time it's not a majestic mountain but a tiny molehill, out of which pops a CG gopher.  Yup, an Indiana Jones movie begins with a computer-generated critter.  I should've immediately known something was wrong.....

1. Alien 3

Finally we arrive at what I consider the most appallingly unsatisfying sequel to a good (nay, great) movie I've ever had the misfortune to sit through.  The original Alien emerged from humble, low-budget beginnings to become a massive unexpected sci-fi/horror hit, and is now considered one of the most influential movies of its type.  Even those who haven't seen it know the pop culture visual of the malevolent creature bursting out of a man's chest amid a spray of blood and innards.  Alien was also groundbreaking for establishing Sigourney Weaver as the first female action hero, Lt. Ripley.  The sequel, Aliens, went one better by returning Ripley to the alien planet, flanked by a team of badass space marines and ready for all-out war with the army of monsters.  The result was a breathtaking roller coaster ride of sci-fi horror action, which stands as one of the most intense movies ever made.  Aliens seemed to end the two-film series with a perfectly adequate, logical conclusion, but it made so much money the studio went to work prepping a third film, to be directed by David Fincher from a script that wasn't even completed by the start of production (Red flag anyone?).  I was as excited for Alien 3 as I had been for any sequel since Return of the Jedi.  Would the aliens find a way to Earth as they had in the Dark Horse comic series (Hardly a stretch since the first teaser included the tagline "In 1979 you learned that in space no one can hear you scream.  In 1992, you'll see that on Earth, everyone can hear you scream."  What a sleazy bait-and-switch.)?  Would Newt grow to become an invaluable warrior as her mother-figure had?  Would Ripley and Hicks become romantically involved?  Would Weylan-Yutani (the corrupt fictitious corporation behind Ripley's original mission) finally get their hands on an alien specimen?  Yeah, none of this was really explored in Alien 3.  Instead the filmmakers recycled the story structure of the original (Single alien on the loose in a confined space kills all the humans, and Ripley has to stop it), except they set it on a prison planet where all the characters look the same and are more or less interchangeable.  Already they set themselves up for a miserable failure of a sequel, but to compound the stupidity they killed off Newt and Hicks in the first minute of the film.  Yeah that's right, Newt, who was the basis for Ripley's entire character motivation in Aliens, and Hicks, her only remaining adult companion, are both dead before the opening credits are over.  Congratulations guys, you've already lost my interest.  Reportedly Michael Biehn was so upset over not being included in Alien 3 he demanded the same salary he got for Aliens, just for the studio to use his likeness.  Anyway, Ripley crash-lands on the prison planet, makes friends with the doctor, who is then killed in the first hour, and spends the second half of the film trying to kill the alien without any available weapons, leading to twenty minutes of interminable, repetitive chase scenes.  Oh, and she finds out she's got an embryo inside her so she chucks herself into the furnace at the end.  Jeezus Christ this movie's a bummer.  I can't think of another sequel that fell so short of its predecessor.  Other than some decent acting and Fincher's trademark visual flair, Alien 3 has no redeeming qualities.  The story is essentially both a reset and a retread, and the filmmakers hit literally no new notes with this continuation.  Appropriately David Fincher has more or less disowned this turd. Couldn't happen to a nicer film.  There have certainly been worse movies, more offensive movies, more unimaginative movies, but for me Alien 3 felt like such a betrayal of anyone who loved Aliens.  "Yeah, remember that movie you all treasure?  Forget it, everything in that one doesn't matter."  It's like following up a filet mignon with a chocolate-covered cyanide capsule.

Well that wraps up this edition of Top Ten Things.  Any sequels I missed?  Let me know in the Comments section.  Join us on Facebook, MeWe and Twitter, and subscribe to us on YouTube!

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