First Among Sequels – Twelve Underrated Follow-Ups

Another look at one of Mostly Film’s most popular posts, where contributors picked the best of the-ones-after-the-famous-one

gfSit down, Sofia. You won’t be needed here.

Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (Marv Marsh)

bqtcm0_ceaeqqhtKinda hot in these rhinos…

Back when Jim Carrey was still a film star, in fact, back when he was the hottest comedy star on the planet, someone had the bright idea of shovelling five million dollars into his bank account. Jim was doubtless quite pleased about that and when he found out that all they wanted in return was another hour and a half of him strutting and gurning away as Ace Ventura he was happy to oblige.

As origin stories go it may lack something in the way of radioactive spiders or being summoned from hell by the Nazis but Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls should not be ashamed. Its birth may have been crude, cynical and unfortunate but once with us it lived up to all that early promise.

It is not a good film, of course it isn’t. It is a ludicrous, stupid film that might even be a bit racist (I confess to not recalling if I was offended. Someone please tell me the correct position on this) but it deserves to be remembered and appreciated because in the thick of the ludicrous stupidity is a scene of such brilliant ludicrous stupidity that sixteen years on I still smile if somebody mentions it. If I’m honest, it is usually me that mentions it but there you go. The scene is a naked Jim Carrey forcing his way out of the rear end of a mechanical rhino while a family on safari witnesses the miracle of birth in the wild. It’s the circle of life, man, and here it is:

Die Hard 2: Die Harder (Philip Concannon)

die-hard-2It was around this point Bruce decided to get the train home

“How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” Bruce Willis might sound quite taken aback by his habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but as soon as John McTiernan’s peerless Die Hard became a hit in 1988, it was inevitable that he would quickly be stepping back into the role of John McClane. Die Hard 2 won’t win any points for originality (the subtitle in particular reeks of laziness) but it successfully replicates the elements that worked in its predecessor with enough wit and energy to ensure they don’t feel too stale. We’re in an airport rather than a tower block on this occasion, but once again McClane must save hundreds of hostages (including his wife, naturally) from a highly efficient team of villains, and while William Sadler is no Alan Rickman, there are plenty of cracking supporting turns (from Dennis Franz, John Amos, Tom Bower and primo-sleazebag William Atherton) to compensate. In fact, there’s very little that Die Hard 2 actually gets wrong. The film is efficiently directed by Renny Harlin, tightly paced (it’s actually a shorter film than Die Hard) and the frequent set-pieces are as spectacular, exciting and violent as one could ask for. Ultimately, it seems this underrated picture’s most grievous crime is its failure to be as good as Die Hard, but let’s be honest, how many films wouldn’t wilt under such a comparison? Taken on its own terms, Die Hard 2 still stands as one of the best action films of its era.

Alien: Resurrection (Indy Datta)

alien-mainNo, really. You’ll look back on this film fondly. You or your mutant children

I’ve seen Ridley Scott’s Alien too many times to really believe it’s perfect (see Kristin Thompson’s “Storytelling in the New Hollywood” for a cogent analysis of its brilliance and its narrative incoherence), but in every way that matters, it’s perfect. Then there’s the sequels. Some people think Aliens is “that rare thing – a sequel that’s better than the original” (in those exact words), but for me, its main achievement is its hugely influential production design. Alien 3, contrary to what some others might tell you, is unfuckingwatchable – there’s barely a shot in it that doesn’t make my eyes bleed. But the blame for killing off the series is usually laid on Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien: Resurrection, which I come to praise, not to bury. I might not persuade anyone, because most of what I like about Resurrection seems to be what the fans hate – if the original alien was a quasi-supernatural unstoppable existential threat, Resurrection represents the culmination of the series’ travel in the direction of classic science fiction, and its taming of the very concept of the alien. What was once an embodiment of the dark places inside our minds and hearts has become a space-lizard in a glass cage, the subject of our experiments. And, bitty and episodic as it is, and as full of missteps as it is (Dan Hedaya’s full-body wig and scenery chewing, that sacrificial negro moment), it’s also full of incidental pleasures – Darius Khondji’s sensuous cinematography, that underwater chase sequence, Winona Ryder at the peak of her manga heroine beauty. The pathetic ugliness of the final human/alien hybrid serves as the grimly tragicomic punchline the series deserved – if only Fox had left well enough alone. As if AvP wasn’t bad enough, we now have Prometheus to look forward to.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (Jim Eaton-Terry)

d7265eb3a39b3cfb17b4e74e799e50d8I’m ready for my close-up, Mr Dante

There are two kinds of great sequel (there are about 200 kinds of bad sequel, but that’s another piece).  One option is to widen out and expand the canvas of your original film, finding richness in continuing the story and deepening the characters. Godfather II. The Empire Strikes Back. Meet the Fockers.

The second approach acknowledges that the original was complete and uses it as a jumping-off point for a completely different film. Aliens is the perfect example of this model – Ridley Scott did everything worth doing with the concept of being trapped on a
spaceship with a monster, so Cameron’s only available move was to switch genres and explore multiple monsters to the limit. Which is why the second sequel’s failure was built into the title – you can go from a single alien to plural aliens, but you can’t actually cube aliens.

Actually there’s a third option.  You can make Gremlins 2.  Gremlins is a neat little smalltown comedy-horror with a couple of nice ideas and one of my all-time favourite scenes. Gremlins 2 is an insane pile-up of every idea Joe Dante could think of, thrown at the screen in quick succession.  The basic plot (the hero and heroine are now working in a thinly disguised Trump Towers, in dead-end jobs, when Gizmo returns and wackiness, as they say, ensues) is just a loose structure around which to pile gags.  There are pastiches (Gizmo as Rambo against an Alien-inspired spider-gremlin, a gremlin Phantom of the Opera), satires on cable TV (Grandpa Munster wants to be a news anchor) and a frankly bizarre sequence involving the gremlins stopping the film and Hulk Hogan shouting abuse at them from a crowded cinema.

The cast (particularly Haviland Morris, whose IMDB profile will make you weep for funny women in Hollywood) are wonderful throughout, and the closing musical number will haunt your dreams for months.  There’s never been a sequel quite like Gremlins 2, and I suspect there never will be – that combination of a huge budget, supreme technical skill, and utter gonzo disregard for anyone’s sensibilities would be very hard to greenlight now.

Ghostbusters II (Zevemiel)

0cb63ebd8852a4ddaa74f448a68bc6a8What were you expecting? A masterpiece?

While the original is often referred to as being ‘a perfectly told joke’, Ghostbusters II is seen as highly derivative, and possibly even unnecessary. However, it was a huge success on release, coming out only a week before Burton’s Batman. This success was due to The Real Ghostbusters cartoon and toyline keeping the franchise afloat in the intervening years, influencing the sequel’s cartoonier execution. Elements like the omnipresence of Slimer, how the guys’ equipment works, Peter MacNicol’s broadly eastern European art curator and the threat of Vigo all testify to the influence of the subsidiary Ghostbusters industry.

This is countered with Aykroyd and Ramis’ script which brings back lots of the nice ‘zing!’ lines from the original that the cartoon couldn’t hope to emulate on a regular basis. So it’s a best of both worlds scenario in which Ghostbusters II manages to encapsulate the cartoon’s adventurous nature, with the original film’s pithy dialogue and ecto-babble that is Aykroyd’s trademark.

Throughout are some wonderful touches that raise this above standard contractually-obligated sequel territory, such as Egon’s knowing smile after his ‘Do, Re, Egon’ pun, the dancing toaster, the sheer plot brilliance of getting the Statue of Liberty to walk, and Venkman’s post ‘Busters career. Even though the producers were pressured into making the sequel, everyone involved has
gone on record as saying they had a great deal of fun during the production, and that definitely shows through on the celluloid.

Superman III (Matthew Turner)

superman-3Ugly first thing in the morning? You would be too if you slept in a cape

“I ask you to kill Superman and you’re telling me you couldn’t even do that one simple thing?”

When Superman III came out in 1983, pretty much everyone thought it was a bit rubbish. However, Superman III got lucky, because four years later, Superman IV came along and suddenly everyone realised that, hey, maybe Superman III wasn’t so bad after all. Looking back on it today, Superman III still has some serious problems: it’s too indulgent of Richard Pryor (arguably, it’s at least 50% Richard Pryor vehicle), it relies too heavily on goofy, unfunny comedy moments (Pryor ski-ing off a roof, etc), Robert Vaughn’s Ross Webster is no substitute for Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor (although I still love his delivery of the line above) and Margot Kidder is only in two scenes.

However, once you accept that the film is basically Superman Meets Richard Pryor, it’s actually a lot of fun and has several great moments, the most famous of which are: 1) the junkyard fight where Superman splits into “good” and “bad” Supermen and battles himself to the death or something; and 2) the bit where Pryor’s super-computer turns Annie Ross into a cyborg. It’s also notable for its Superman Goes Bad scenes (brilliantly, the result of cigarette tar-corrupted Kryptonite), which I remember as being pretty scary at the age of 12. Superman stops shaving! Superman’s costume gets a bit grubby! Superman blows out the Olympic Torch! And most disturbing of all, Superman has a rather sexy rendezvous with Pamela Stephenson’s Lorelei at the top of the Statue of Liberty. What exactly happened up there, Superman? Eh?

The Rescuers Down Under (Victor Field)

joanna_004You call that a knife?

1990’s The Rescuers Down Under was the first time Disney made a sequel to one of their animated movies, and the last until Fantasia 2000 (yes, they once did sequels primarily for cinemas instead of video). Releasing it in the US the same day as Home Alone probably wasn’t a stroke of genius.

It’s too bad; admittedly it has even fewer Australian characters than the similarly Antipodean-set Finding Nemo, but on the other hand it kicks the languid 1977 original into a cocked outback hat in virtually every respect. The opening zoom to Cody’s house alone is more impressive than the standard cut-rate ‘70s Disney animation (Disney took tentative steps with computer animation throughout the film, though it still looks organic).

Also, the movie’s romance subplot (Bernard loves Bianca, but their rogueish Aussie guide might have won Miss B’s heart) isn’t allowed to swamp the action – of which there’s plenty, including a waterfall climax worthy of movies with higher box office returns – and then there’s the villain: an evil poacher graced with the looks and voice of George C. Scott who solves the problem of what to do with rare eagle eggs by having his pet goanna eat them? What’s not to love?

Add a minimum of cute kid business, throw in a rousing Bruce Broughton score (unlike the original – or most Disney and Pixar cartoons – there are no songs at all), and you have something that’s a long way from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

Hallowe’en 3: Season of the Witch (Mr Moth)

halloween-3-04Look, a joke’s a joke, but I’ve got to get back – I’m three frames down to Higgins!

An attempt to re-fashion the Hallowe’en franchise as an anthology series, it’s possible that Hallowe’en III – “The Season of the Witch” – is genius. It’s equally possible that it is terrible. It walks the genius/terrible line with insouciant grace, refusing to land on one side or the other.

In the negative corner there are the cheesy 80s touches – killer robots, overblown acting, the leading man’s resemblance to Cliff Thorburn – and the utterly nonsensical Evil Plan, but the positives are strong and make the film well worth seeking out. The core plot came from Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale, though he was dissatisfied with the rewrites and had his name taken off the film, and centres around a sinister corporation with a plan to fill the heads of children with bugs and snakes via cursed masks activated by a hypnotic advert. Oh, yeah, the head of the corporation (Dan O’Herlihy, magnificently unhinged) is achieving this with bits of a stone from Stonehenge, which he transported to the US. Why? Oh, for a bit of a laugh. How? Eh, somehow. Tell you later.

With the nagging hook of the advert’s sinister jingle (“Three more days to Hallowe’en, Hallowe’en, Hallowe’en..”) and O’Herlihy’s laughter ringing in your ears, it’s even possible that this goofy, ramshackle curio could find a way to unsettle you by its bleak, downbeat end. Sadly, it proved unpopular with audiences, and Michael Myers returned for the fourth instalment. Hallowe’en III is, then, the shape of things that never were.

Wayne’s World II (Paul Shuttle)

waynesworld207Unkillable by conventional weapons (Unlike the last guy)

Consider The Hangover, Knocked Up, Tropic Thunder, and every Adam Sandler movie in existence: all box-office success stories, yet not a single one was revolved around a character you’d volunteer to spend another two hours with. More accurately, none of them had a Wayne Campbell or Garth Algar. Where other leads existed solely as a means to a comedic end, these unlikely heroes were – in poster speak – a Head-Banging Good Time. They were never cruel or unkind; never brazen about their (limited) ambitions. If anything, they remained in awe of the lives they found themselves in. Wayne had never wanted more than to make a great show and hang out with his best friend, and we kinda wanted that too. I sure do miss you, Dana Carvey.

The reason Wayne’s World 2 works is that it has something believable to hang its story on. A lot of sequels are either directionless, or hopelessly blown up beyond their original scope – Harold and Kumar 2 was particularly guilty of that, and indeed a great many other crimes against cinema. Here, the story felt like a natural thematic progression. From a film that centred on taking a cable-access show to the big leagues of Rob Lowe’s barely-repressed homosexuality, came a sequel about the genesis of a music festival, as prophesised by the vision of Jim Morrison. If the creation of Waynestock felt ridiculous, then it was no more so than anything else they ever accomplished. Tia Carrere falling for Wayne? He’s great and all, but come on.

Still about music then, but equally concerned with grounded characters we loved in recognition and good humour. Even discounting that wonderfully observed Morrison cameo, we have a Kim Basinger subplot that circles any number of tawdry 80s thrillers (“Take you where? I’m low on gas and you need a jacket”), and the appearance of Del Preston to relay the story of Ozzy Osbourne’s brandy glass of brown M&Ms. His tale is not just a familiar one, but one written with a keen eye to the absurdity gifted by retelling and mythology. Of course there was a Bengal Tiger standing between Keith Moon and the sweets. Of course Keith Richards can’t be killed by conventional weapons. If you want to know why Wayne’s World 2 hasn’t really aged, then the key is in those kind of details: it was as though Myers was not so much writing the script, as simply channelling these folk stories, steeped in the great traditions of rock ‘n’ roll.

Yes, before he was a green ogre on the longest career slide imaginable, Mike Myers was born to be the moustachioed construction worker of the Illinois Village People, and if Wayne’s World 2 was created for no other reason than to realise that fantasy, then it was a film worth making. It’s a lot like The Godfather 2 in that respect.

Short Circuit 2 (Emma Street)

SHORT CIRCUIT 2, from left: Johnny Five, Michael McKean, 1988, ©TriStar PicturesNumber Five. It’s … one … louder

In Short Circuit, Number Five became alive. I’m not clear on how the combination of munitions robot and a lightning strike produced the miracle of life but I’m sure it was totally feasible. He convinces enough people he’s not just a weapon with a face to avoid getting blown up and drives into the sunset with Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy to start a new life in Montana.

Guttenburg and Sheedy were too busy farming, rescuing ponies or having decent acting careers to appear in Short Circuit 2. The role of Main Character Who Isn’t a Robot fell to comedy Indian sidekick Fisher Stevens who is manufacturing mini Number Fives in New York.

The film contains a jewel heist, some bad guys, a laughable street gang, romance and scenes where an 1980s computer displays phrases like “CHECKING VAULTS…” in lime on black lettering with a font size of 350.

But the best bits are where Number 5 struggles to understand humanity and become accepted. He is horrified when a dodgy businessman tries to sell him, denouncing the idea as slavery. He enters a confessional looking for answers and is told by the priest that he is accepted by God and possesses an immortal soul only to be chased away when the priest sees his true face.

After reading every book in a book shop, he takes just two – Pinocchio and Frankenstein. Unlike Shelley’s monster, Five overcomes the prejudice around him and proves he’s a person just like us. Only nicer, obviously.

Meet The Fockers (Jim Eaton-Terry)

circle-of-trustThe circle of trust is by invitation only

So far we’ve been fairly conservative with our under-valued sequels. Most of them are mildly disappointing entries in beloved franchises: we’re not really stretching the boundaries of critical consensus

Until now.

I love Meet the Fockers.  Meet the Parents is a reasonable entry in the post-Farrelly wave of embarrassment comedies, lifted by Stiller’s ferocity and the first and best of Owen Wilson’s blissed-out cameos, but it’s holed below the waterline by the obvious fact that Robert de Niro, once the greatest screen actor of his generation, can’t do comedy at all.  He’s never less than toe-curlingly bad in the whole film and the only thing that makes it watchable is that, unlike in Analyse This, he doesn’t have to pretend to cry (The fact that he made it to 1999 without revealing that  he bunked off lesson 2 in acting school is surely the greatest tribute one can make to De Niro’s charisma).

Meet the Fockers, however, lessens the load on De Niro by bringing Hoffman and Streisand into the mix, and from the moment they appear the film takes flight.  Yes, the plot is atrocious and the whole thing with the illegitimate child makes you want to hide under your chair, but whenever the Fockers are onscreen it’s charming, frothy and incredibly funny.

My feelings about Meet the Fockers are best summed up by Director Jay Roach who, in a recent interview with Johann Hari*, explained: “I gave you Barbra Streisand with whipped cream on her breasts.  I gave you Hoffman on the toilet.  I gave you Blyth Danner’s sexual awakening.  I gave you De Niro in a lactation device.  I even gave you a toddler saying “asshole” repeatedly.  What more do you people want from me?”

*[Ed – This may not actually have happened. Ask Lynn Barber. She keeps a diary.]

Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights (Niall Anderson)

dirty-dancing-havana-nights-2004I’ve … had … the injury of my life …

Dirty Dancing is not a good film. Even its most fervent fans will shrug and give it up after a while. But they do so knowing that the cockroaches will be watching it long after humanity has departed the earth. The main appeal of the film lies in its wonkily spunky heroine and its half-nerd half-god hero. Its longevity, however, has to do with the disparity between the era in which it appeared and the era it portrays. From the mid-80s to the mid-90s – from Back To The Future to Forrest Gump, roughly – Hollywood was minorly obsessed with pre-Zapruder America: the infancy of the Boomers.

Dirty Dancing fits into this template exactly, but it stands alone in being pretty much the only Boomer-flattering film aimed squarely at women. Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights repeats the trick but ups the stakes, which is exactly what you want a sequel to do. In the first film, you only have to have heard of rock & roll to know which side is going to win. Havana Nights transplants a similar culture clash to pre-revolutionary Cuba, where the lovers’ success is entirely dependent on the success of Castro’s uprising.

Ideologically, then, this is entirely the opposite of the first film, where music is an expression of revolutionary individuality (however soft). In Havana Nights, dance is entirely a communal experience, and its revolutionary significance is much easier to believe. Also, the dancing is just better. If you don’t believe me, watch this:

Mostly Film welcomes any suggestions for underrated sequels we missed…

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One thought on “First Among Sequels – Twelve Underrated Follow-Ups

  1. Disappointed you didn’t segue from Hallowe’en to Wayne’s World with a ‘And talking of Michael Myers…’ gag. One of the things I like most about Wayne’s World II is its unashamedness in repeating several of the same gags from the first film (eg the subtitles in marital arts movies gag).

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