This week’s Roundtable topic was suggested by site editor Mike Attebery, who will be joining us as a guest blogger. These days, it seems like all Hollywood produces anymore are sequels and remakes. Some of them are good, but many are terrible. Our Roundtable hashes out some of the best and worst of the sequels.
Since he chose the topic, we’ll let Mike lead the way:
- Best: ‘Ocean’s Thirteen‘ – It’s safe to say that probably no one thinks this is the absolute best sequel involving Al Pacino. Nonetheless, this is a sequel that does everything right, while managing to make amends for ‘Ocean’s Twelve,’ which is a classic example of a second film taking an axe to the hull of the USS Franchise. ‘Twelve’ took the cast of the 2001 Vegas caper and transplanted them in Europe, where they proceeded to act like totally different characters. (Couldn’t have had anything to do with the script starting out as a non-Ocean film but getting the last minute “search and replace character names” revamp, could it?). This one wisely returns the gang to Vegas, where their mission isn’t greed, but rather that most basic of cinematic motivators: REVENGE. Just as importantly, tireless contrarian Stephen Soderbergh was convinced to bring back the signature glitz and style that he’d purposely avoided in ‘Twelve’ (much to its detriment). He again allows the spirit and energy of Sin City to shine through in all of the camera moves, color, flash, and razzle dazzle on screen. Most importantly, this film brings back the fun. From smirking, strutting, scheming Clooney, to scene stealing, scenery chomping Pacino, everyone seems to be enjoying themselves here (except hotel critic David Paymer). And the audience does too. As far as my collection is concerned, the Ocean’s series is comprised of ‘Eleven’ and ‘Thirteen.’ Some overseas outfit is rumored to have made a cheap knock-off installment – but like other such films, that one just doesn’t count.
- Worst: ‘Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me‘ – Talk about a punch-in-the-face mojo-smasher! The original ‘Austin Powers’ was the first disc I purchased when I bought my first DVD player. Having tried to make it through my freshman year in college without a VCR or any of my beloved Laserdiscs, gaining the ability to again watch movies in my dorm room – starting with that original, witty comedy – made for innumerable repeat viewings. Then came the summer of ’99, which was destined for infamy, first with the release of ‘Star Wars: The Phantom Menace,’ and then with the release of the second ‘Austin Powers’ film less than a month later. On paper it sounded perfect, what with the assortment of returning cast members and newcomers like Heather Graham. What could possibly go wrong? Well, just about everything! From the obnoxious and never-ending retreads of gags from the first film, to the more troubling – and in my opinion fatal – decision to drop the series’ signature wit and style and run with the gross-out humor that had been overrunning the box office since the runaway success of ‘There’s Something About Mary,’ this thing is a 95-minute exercise in torture! Never-ending scenes of the revolting Fat Bastard (ANOTHER Scottish Mike Myers character?!!) take up more screen-time than that allotted to Austin himself. And then there’s that scene on the toilet… I can’t even get into it. The whole thing is just awful and unforgivable. Three years later, Myers seemed to get the message when he delivered the toned down third installment, ‘Austin Powers in Goldmember.’ That one limits the gross-out touches to the title villain’s habit of eating pieces of his own peeling skin. But by then, the damage was already done. ‘The Spy Who Shagged Me’ is a textbook example of the second installment in a series turning your stomach and bringing the other films down with it. Yuck.
- Best: ‘Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back’ – George Lucas is an idea man. He thinks almost exclusively in big picture terms, which doesn’t always make him a good director. On ‘Empire Strikes Back,’ George turned over the helm to Irvin Kershner, and made an absolutely fantastic movie. There’s just no getting around it, ‘Empire’ is brilliant. It takes the already strong characters and story of ‘A New Hope’ and turns them into something else. Something better. It helps, of course, that we were already on board. By the time ‘Empire’ rolled around, we were already friends with Han, Chewie and Luke. We mourned the death of Obi Wan Kenobi and we fell in love with Princess Leia. But ‘Empire’ turns a few of the characters around, makes them face tough choices and even makes us begin to doubt them. It leaves our heroes in peril and forces them to deal with some really big issues. It also leaves us with far cooler heroes than we had in the first film. Luke takes matters into his own hands, Han stays slick right up until he’s frozen in carbonite, and even Leia shows that she’s got a bit of a badass side. If I were to tell ‘Empire Strikes Back’ that I love it, it would look back at me, grin, and reply “I know.”
- Worst: ‘Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones’ – No, not ‘Phantom Menace’. Technically it’s a prequel, but I forgive it much more than ‘Attack of the Clones.’ I can completely respect that Lucas was trying something with ‘Phantom Menace,’ and I feel like creative people should have the freedom to explore. He explored with ‘Phantom Menace’ and what he found was an awful flick. After the first of the prequels, Lucas had to know that despite financial success, he had failed artistically. Did that stop him, though? No. He went on to make ‘Attack of the Clones,’ which was far worse, in parts, than ‘Phantom Menace’ ever was. Take, for example, the famous sand speech. Keep in mind, this is future Darth Vadar talking. “I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth.” Great, thanks George. Now I’m no longer afraid of the amazing bad guy you created, I’m just annoyed by him. I will say, though, that Ewan McGregor is actually pretty good in these films. He’s the only one of the impressive cast that even comes close to pulling it off. Some actors need great directors to spur them on. Ewan McGregor just needs himself. George Lucas is an idea man. He thinks almost exclusively in big picture terms, which doesn’t always make him a good director. Sound familiar?
- Best: ‘Aliens‘ – “In space, no one can hear you scream” was the clever catchline for ‘Alien,’ and it delivered on its creepy promise in spades. A masterful, moody exercise in horror, Ridley Scott’s sci-fi thriller pushed all the right buttons and remains a genre classic. A sequel was hardly necessary, but director James Cameron attacked the project with gusto. Instead of trying to imitate the original, he reinvented it, transforming an atmospheric, slow-burn chiller into a high-octane action flick. This is one tense, badass movie! ‘Aliens’ not only got the blood pumping with dozens more skulking, acid-dripping creatures terrorizing and killing a fleet of marines, it also gave birth to the renegade female action hero. Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley took on the mother of all monsters with the immortal words, “Get away from her, you BITCH!!” One critic dubbed her “Rambolina,” and Weaver’s tough, ballsy portrayal (laced with tender maternal undertones) earned her a token Oscar nomination for Best Actress. The film also lofted Cameron into the Hollywood mainstream. Its gritty, pulsating style still packs a punch today. ‘Aliens’ may not outclass its predecessor, but it’s so much more fun!
- Worst: ‘Psycho II’ – You don’t mess with a classic, plain and simple. I didn’t like the Broadway musical ‘Wicked,’ because it changed the way I looked at that sacred American icon ‘The Wizard of Oz.‘ (The Scarecrow in love with the Wicked Witch of the West? Come on!) And now every time I watch Alfred Hitchcock’s immortal ‘Psycho,’ I can’t shake the image of a hand thrusting a butcher knife into Vera Miles’ screaming mouth 23 years after Norman Bates entered the asylum! Whoever decided to make ‘Psycho II’ was loonier than Norman himself. A completely unnecessary sequel, this sleazy attempt to continue and exploit Hitchcock’s most notorious film does its best to cheapen the events and characters that made ‘Psycho’ so riveting. The original may have been the first “slasher flick,” but it was artfully made and brimming with Hitchcockian touches. Sadly, the sequel follows the same blueprint as other bloodbaths du jour, such as ‘Halloween‘ and ‘Friday the 13th.‘ Why Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles consented to appear in it is beyond comprehension, and a direct slap in the face to the Master of Suspense himself. No matter how bitter Miles’ character might have been, she would never go to such drastic lengths to put Norman back in the asylum. (Nor would she become such a shrill, vindictive harpy.) And the misguided twist ending nullifies the original’s entire premise, putting a ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?’ spin on ‘Psycho’ it doesn’t deserve. Shame on you, Universal!
- Best: ‘Gremlins 2: The New Batch’ – The first ‘Gremlins,’ an occasionally mean-spirited horror-comedy produced with gleeful impishness by Steven Spielberg, was a sizeable hit in 1984. Director Joe Dante, who liberally mixed silliness and scares, created a wonderful critique of small town America and our own obsession with technological innovation by unleashing a small army of scaly, mayhem-prone beasties (and one very cute fur ball named Gizmo). Years passed. In 1990, the gremlins and the mayhem returned. This time, Dante, given unparalleled creative control, set the action in an ultra-modern New York City high-rise. What resulted was one of the most original and off-the-wall sequels in Hollywood history. Forgoing the atmospheric moodiness of the first film to large scale Tex Avery theatrics, ‘Gremlins 2: The New Batch’ might be Dante’s most accomplished work. Sometimes it feels like we’re getting a peek inside the director’s brain, as monster movies and cartoons clash violently, and pop culture references zip by, mixing with sharp, of-the-moment satire. It’s also full of really wonderful, full-tilt performances. John Glover is Daniel Clamp, a Trump-like tycoon. (The tag line for the Clamp Chinatown facility: “Where business gets oriented.”) Christopher Lee is a Frankenstein-like geneticist. Tony Randall is Brain, a super-smart leathery gremlin. And original stars Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates and Robert Picardo do their best to keep up with the madness. In one of the movie’s most transcendent moments, reviewer Leonard Maltin appears on the Clamp Entertainment channel critiquing, of all things, the first ‘Gremlins’ movie! (He was an outspoken critic of the first film’s mixture of violence and laughs.) Maltin gets attacked by a pack of bloodthirsty gremlins, and any detractor of this boldly visionary sequel should get the same treatment. Dante himself has called it “one of the more unconventional studio pictures ever,” and he’s right. ‘Gremlins 2’ shows you that the opportunities in a sequel lie in not attempting to slavishly reproduce the first film, but in the unlimited power a successful film can give you, which includes making a movie that’s really, really weird.
- Worst: ‘The Two Jakes’ – Director-star Jack Nicholson, producer Robert Evans and writer Robert Towne thought that they were making ‘The Godfather, Part II.’ Unfortunately, they were really making ‘The Godfather, Part III.’ In this ill-advised sequel to ‘Chinatown’ – in and of itself not a bad idea, exactly – private detective Jake Gittes (Nicholson) is living a life of spoiled opulence in post-World War II Los Angeles. He plays golf, he catches guys cheating on their wives, and everything is hunky dory. (The “second Jake” is Jake Berman, played by Harvey Keitel.) The dullness of Gittes’ life is reflected in the movie’s dullness, odd for a movie that had its share of behind-the-scenes warring (including writer Robert Towne being replaced by Nicholson as the film’s director). Not even an ace cast (which includes Meg Tilly, Madeleine Stowe, David Keith, Ruben Blades and Eli Wallach) can save this tedious, visually uninteresting bore. A third movie was written and planned, but never saw the light of day after this slop. Maybe if Nicholson wasn’t so old, maybe if Towne had directed, maybe… Well I guess it’s too late for that stuff now. ‘The Two Jakes’ is now nothing more than a cinematic footnote. If you want a truly wonderful thriller well, forget it, that’s ‘Chinatown…’
- Best: ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban‘ – When it comes to the ‘Harry Potter’ movies, viewers divide into two camps. There are those who expect each film to be a line-for-line faithful illustration of J.K. Rowling’s labyrinthine books, and those who just want them to be good movies regardless of how much of the original text needs to be sacrificed. Those in the former camp tend to love the first two films by Chris Columbus, which are so slavishly devoted to the books that they crawl along at a snail’s pace. I found them virtually unwatchable. Many Rowling fans rose up in arms about the many liberties taken by the ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ adaptation, which admittedly chops out and rearranges many portions of the original novel. But as a movie, it’s a quantum leap improvement over its predecessors. ‘Azkaban’ is fleet-footed and visually dazzling. It has a much richer and more compelling story, even if a few paragraphs of Rowling’s prose didn’t make it to screen. Perhaps most importantly, director Alfonso Cuarón elicits much better character interaction among the cast, who were stiff and wooden under Columbus’ guidance. This is the first movie where they actually feel like real people, not just pawns being moved around to serve Rowling’s plot. While the later sequels have also been mostly decent – or at least better than the first two entries – none has quite lived up to the standard of ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’, which easily stands out as the best film in the series.
- Worst: ‘Gremlins 2: The New Batch’ – Yes, I’m deliberately choosing the movie that Drew picked as his best sequel for my worst. He knew I was going here. I was a huge fan of the first ‘Gremlins’. So much so that I marched out to the theater to see ‘Gremlins 2’ in the very first screening of its first day of release. I couldn’t have been more excited. And I couldn’t have been more let down. Holy crapknockers, this movie was just not at all what I wanted a sequel to ‘Gremlins’ to be! Where the first movie was a twisted dark comedy, ‘Gremlins 2’ is almost wall-to-wall smirking ‘Looney Tunes’ gags. The gremlins talk, dress up in goofy costumes, and even sing and dance. Ferchrissakes, they sing and dance! I felt like Joe Dante decided that he hated the first movie so much that he wanted to thoroughly deconstruct and mutilate every single part of it. In the years since its release, ‘Gremlins 2’ has accumulated its share of defenders, and Drew is obviously one of them. I’m willing to admit that my initial reaction was probably colored by my expectation that a ‘Gremlins’ sequel might actually be vaguely like ‘Gremlins.’ Maybe this truly is a work of subversive genius. It’s entirely possible that if I were ever to revisit the picture, I might have a very different response to it. But I doubt I’ll ever know. I just can’t bring myself to watch it again. The memories are too painful.
- Best: ‘Before Sunset’ – My favorite sequel doesn’t feature superheroes or special effects. Instead, it’s a quiet gem of a movie that makes me like the original even more. In ‘Before Sunset,’ we revisit star-crossed travelers Jesse & Celine. It’s ten years after their first meeting, but both still think about their one perfect night together strolling the streets of Vienna ‘Before Sunrise.’ We learn that they did not meet again as they had promised, but that their brief encounter still haunts them both. In fact, Jesse has written a book loosely based on their night together and is in Paris on the last leg of his book tour. It’s no coincidence that Celine shows up at his reading. Jesse has little more than an hour before his plane leaves, and the movie follows the couple in real time as they stroll through Paris catching up. Julie Delpy’s Celine is luminous and Ethan Hawke’s Jesse is charming underneath his hipster scruff. They both have done a lot of living and some growing up since their last meeting, but their connection is still palpable. The conversation flows naturally and entices you to eavesdrop, although this time around it’s tinged with a bit more regret than optimism. Like the first film, the ending leaves room to wonder what the future holds for this relationship. It’s a fantastic, grown-up date movie that left me hoping for a third installment.
- Worst: ‘An American Werewolf in Paris’ – I’m not a horror movie fan, but ‘An American Werewolf in London‘ is campy, gory perfection covered in awesome sauce. It manages to be both funny and genuinely scary in parts, and the effects still look great 30 years later. Sadly, the sequel, ‘An American Werewolf in Paris,’ is a big disappointment. (And not just because Tom Everett Scott is not a Pepper.) While the plot of the original keeps it simple – boy meets girl, boy turns into werewolf, and tragedy ensues – the sequel involves nonsense about hedonistic werewolf nightclubs, a pharmaceutical werewolf serum and a dumb happy ending. Part of the fun of the original was that it was shot on location in London and the surrounding countryside. The movie has a great sense of place and the locations serve to ground the outlandish story with a sense of realism. (OMG! There’s a werewolf running loose in the tube station!). The Paris version, on the other hand, was shot in generic European locations and soundstages. I’m sure it’s lovely, but Luxembourg is not Paris. Worst of all, the sequel falls far short on the special effects. The CGI effects are beyond horrible and don’t hold a candle to the cinematic make-up artistry of the first film. Even the lovely Julie Delpy (star of my favorite sequel) cannot save this mess of a film. There’s not much to like here, but it should be noted that Julie Bowen from ‘Modern Family’ has the movie’s best lines in a mildly amusing cameo as an amorous coed.
We know that you’ve got opinions on this too. Tell us your best and worst sequels.