Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tuesday Talkback - What do you want in a sequel?

I didn't get out to the movies this weekend, but I saw a lot of reviews that basically said the same thing about it - that they basically took the first movie and moved it to Bangkok. Having seen the trailer, I wasn't too surprised by that because it revealed the set-up was the guys wake up after another night of being plastered, can't remember anything and have to retrace their steps.

Not having seen the movie, I feel like that's potentially the laziest excuse for a sequel they could have come up with. It would be like if Back to the Future part II had sent Marty again into his parents' past where he somehow put his own existence in jeopardy again. (Sidebar: I think BTTF part II's decision to "give the audience exactly what they liked about the first film" by sending Marty and Doc back to that same night in 1955, but with an entirely different complication to resolve was rather brilliant.)

But perhaps this is a case where execution trumps concept. I can't really say until I see it.

But what do you expect from a sequel? Do you want essentially the same film in a new box (like the various Friday the 13th sequels and it's ilk?) Do you want an entirely new take on the concept, such as how Aliens went in a very different direction from Alien? Do you want a continuation of the first film that elevates the series mythology to a more epic level, like Empire Strikes Back?

What do you love about sequels and what do you hate?


  1. I expect respect and consistency for the rules established in the original. For example, Highlander 2 - The Quickening destroyed the initial premise (Immortals destined to fight throughout the ages for 'the prize') by adding, "oh, by the way they are from an alien planet and if they come back to earth Connor is immortal once more."

    Want to run that by me again? Just awful.

  2. Terminator 2 is still the best sequel ever made for me. It took the same concept, but added all these extra character complications to make it a whole new story.

    Aliens would come in a close second for the same reason. Same enemy, same basic idea, totally different character complications.

  3. I always thought the genius of Aliens is that you know what's coming, and Cameron KNOWS you know, yet he still managed to make it scary as f*ck by

    A) Creating charcters you care about, whether you want them to live (almost everyone) or die (Burke). If you don't invest on these guys, the movie has no impact.
    B) Multiplying the danger by multiplying the aliens.
    c) Complicating it even further with the failing nuclear reactor as a literal ticking clock.

    If we have to have sequels, let's go on another journey. If there's no journey to go on, leave it be. The writers said on Jeff Goldsmith's "Q&A" podcast that The Hangover is a Procedural, in the vein of CSI. Certain things HAVE to happen. I appreciate a lot of those types of show, but the thought of applying the constraints of the formula to a movie bugs the bejesus out of me. I know we were never going to get a Hangover 2 which was significantly different from the first, but... if it's the same movie in a different locale, what's the point?

  4. I expect a totally fresh and new plot in sequels. I want to see major character development and growth. I want the same kind of great writing that made the first one addictive. I want a continuation of the same universe. (IE: Not the crapfest that was JJ Abram's Star Trek. WORSE STAR TREK MOVIE EVER! My dog could've written a better script. And you can tell JJ I said that.)

    What I usually get in sequels - the exact same movie as before but with more boobs.

  5. If i were a professor in film school who needed to teach a class on how to make the perfect franchise, I would hands down go with The Toy Story trilogy. It might be the best and most complete film series (aside from films based on previously created material) ever. And there's several things that make it's sequels perfect. A) The adventure continues, but is not a complete rehash of the first film, while expanding the world. B) Each film could stand on it's own as a complete film without needing the other films. C) Emotional connection and resonance to the characters.

    Now, I remember being skeptical before seeing Toy Story 2, because the first film was so brilliant, there's no way Part 2 could live up to it. How I was wrong. The opening sequence was genius, and could have worked as a fantastic opening sequence, had the first film not existed. Buzz in his Space realm needing to save the day in a great action sequence, then cut to REALITY of him being a Toy. Then it takes a slightly different take on the lost toy that Andy's Room has to save, by making the PROTAGONIST get kidnapped. And just when we the audience thinks how horrible that is... we're friggin' introduced to the whole series of toys WOODY (who's always had a Hand-me-down complex) is the STAR of! And despite the fact that the evil-toy-store-owner/collector stole him, we're kinda okay with our new friends from Woody's Roundup. And with these with these new toys reminding Woody that Andy's gonna grow up, we're like, crap, they're totally right... maybe Woody SHOULD go to the toy museum in Japan! But then we also have the dramatic irony of knowing his old friends are actually on their way to rescue him.

    10 years later, I was just as skeptical as going into part 2, if not more so, since not only were the first two films just so fantastic, but that in almost every other franchise, part 3 is ALWAYS a terrible let down. So, with the expectations lowered dramatically, I had no idea the film would BLOW ME AWAY. It was the perfect part 3, using the set ups and character development of the first two to take you on an emotional journey. Where the first two films were about saving one lost toy, this was about the danger of them ALL being lost, and the central question of, now that Andy's grown up, WHO WILL PLAY WITH THEM? That question is really the life force that keeps them "alive" (and I snicker at the fact that I'm talking about toys as if they actually do "live"). They even took the film to the dark hour of the soul, where death is very real even for things made out of plastic. But this film was a perfect catharsis of letting go, but also moving on. And it's funny, because as complete as the series is, it STILL left the doors open to more (even though i hope not) films.

    I could go on, but I'll save the thesis.

  6. The real problem of Hangover 2 came not because of a rehashing of the same plot from the first, but because of a lack of character arcs.

    *****Spoilers for Hangover 1, Mild Spoilers for Pt 2 (most of which you gather from the trailer and logical guessing anyway)*******

    In Hangover 1 --
    --Stu is in a controlling relationship with his girlfriend who he's about to marry. That's a high stakes relationship, because we as the audience know he's about to ruin his life. By the end he will regain control of that life and plan a date with someone who seems like a genuinely good person. (This provides good external and internal conflict - trying to maintain a lie is external, slowly realizing his drunk self obviously wanted to sabotage that lie is internal). Huge conflicts, huge stakes.
    --Alan is a social fuckup who has no friends. By the end he will not only have made some "friends", he will also (although somewhat misguidedly) channel his social inability into being more like Phil.
    --Phil hates his family. It's such a quick comment but he in the beginning he lives for getting away from them. By the end he hugs his wife and kids and his wife even says "where's my husband."

    As subtle as those arcs are, they exist. Particularly Stu's arc is incredibly satisfying at the end when he tells his (now ex) gf that "This ain't working!"

    In PT 2 --
    --Stu is marrying an amazing girl who's father is a controlling dick. Despite the fact that it would suck to have a douchie in-law, it doesn't seem like the kind of move that will ruin Stu's life. Also, they try to force internal conflict by having Stu wonder what's wrong with him but it's a cop out because nothing's wrong with him, he just keeps getting drugged. And since he doesn't talk to his fiance throughout the adventure, that bit of external conflict loses it's steam as well.
    --Alan acts like a mean kid the whole time. Whereas at the end of 1 we think that he may have finally found some friends in this Wolfpack, this one constantly makes us question why these guys would ever put up with him. His motivation in the first is to find friends, his motivation in the second is to keep them all to himself. That addition of selfishness sours his motivations significantly.
    --Phil doesn't really mention his wife and kids at all in this one (aside from having his baby when he brings up their next bachelor party). His sole purpose is to tell Stu to calm down and to tell Alan it will be all right. He has no real flaw in the beginning and he has no character arc throughout.

    When all is said and done, I would have forgiven a retelling of a similar plot. But what the writers imagined as being a "higher stakes" situation was completely undermined by neglecting each character's personal stakes. And that is the real challenge of any sequel: to explore new flaws that have been revealed since the first movie ended.

  7. JNow - Awesome post and I totally agree. The Toy Story trilogy is perhaps the best example of how to do a trilogy that tells a larger story while allowing each chapter to stand alone.

    James - Great breakdown of the two Hangovers. I'll be interested in revisiting your comment after I eventually see the second film.

  8. The movie did what it was supposed to do.

    I once got upset and stomped my feet at Michael Bay only being interested in making eye-candy films with quick cuts and flashy CGI. Then I realized that type of film has a place in the industry because people like it. It may not be what I want, but it's what many other people want.

    To compare The Hangover: Part II to solid films with character arc and deeper meaning is an injustice to the type of film that it is. That would be like comparing softcore porn to hardcore.

    The question people should really be asking is this: Did I laugh? That's really all they cared to make you do.

  9. I laughed out loud maybe 4 times and the rest of the packed audience wasn't much more enthusiastic. I enjoyed it for the most part, but it could have been a lot better.

    Which one would be hardcore? I wouldn't do an injustice to the film by comparing it to something totally different. I compared Pt 2 to 1. That was the point of this post -- asking how the sequel can rise above the original's shadow. Pt 2 failed to do that in my opinion. Not entirely because of character arc, but such details add up.

  10. THE HANGOVER was/is all hype. It's 2 hours of not-funny. It's slow, boring and stupid and I can't remember laughing once -- and I do laugh pretty easily. But halfway through, after I think not cracking a smile even once, my wife and I were looking at each other like, "What the F...?" I think she then called me an idiot for picking the movie and duly fell asleep...

    "The funniest movie ever made" -- MY ASS!

    I'd say "God help us all if THE HANGOVER is considered the pinnacle of comedy", but comedy already died when Judd Crapatow was declared the King of Comedy. Oy vey...

    The idiots who've so far ponied up the $200 million box office pull are the white equivalent of the idiots who keep Tyler Perry and the Wayans very wealthy men.

    (Man this got me riled up... I think the blood sugar's low...)