Saturday, September 14, 2013

What are the best sequels of all time?

As a general rule, the original is almost always better than the sequel.

Sure, it’s a blanket statement – but sometimes blanket statements are rooted in fact.

Still, there are a few sequels that not only equal the original but, in some cases, surpass it.

What are they?

I’m mighty glad you asked.

10. The Dark Knight: This film gets a lot of accolades – and many of them are because of Heath Ledger’s death. Still, almost all of those accolades are deserved. This is the grittiest and most realistic Batman flick of the bunch. Bale’s performance is the strongest in the middle arc, Harvey Dent’s downfall and death lends a quiet gravitas to the film and Ledger’s role as the demented Joker was not only Oscar-winning but Oscar-worthy. It’s too bad the final film in the trilogy was such of a letdown.

9. Superman II: This summer’s Superman travesty reminded me that there were two good Superman flicks -- a long, long time ago. Christopher Reeve’s original effort and the vastly superior sequel are the only two "good" Superman movies. The sequel strayed from the straight Lex Luthor formula and introduced us to a villain that could actually hurt Superman. The film is grounded in emotional realism despite the fantastical elements – and the performances are chilling and winning at the same time.

8. Rocky II: The original Rocky has the pedigree, but it’s the second Rocky that has the happy
ending. I know a lot of fans were kind of miffed that Rocky didn’t win that first bout. This was a sports movie, after all, the underdog is supposed to get all the glory. The second film in the franchise does a good job of exploring Rocky’s sudden fame, Adrian’s birth mishap and Apollo’s troubles while still giving fans something to root for. When Rocky finally does win the title, fans jump to their feet – the triumphant score soars – and fans everywhere wipe a tear from their eye. This is the zenith of the franchise, even if I do have a soft spot for Rocky eradicating communism in Russia.

7. X-Men 2: Calling the first X-Men movie a creative miss isn’t being mean. Sure, the movie was hampered by some heavy-handed writing and it was handcuffed by the fact that it had to introduce a lot of off-the-wall characters to a mainstream audience. Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan pretty much save the first movie from tumbling into mediocrity. The second film in the original trilogy, though? Wow, what a difference. The story was more cohesive. The acting was more impressive. The action sequences were pretty much as awesome as you could imagine. Jackman again steals the show, but he has a little help from the supporting cast this time around. The most impressive standout is the conflicted Pyro – a character that manages to anchor the younger set.

6. Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan: There’s a running joke with Star Trek fans: The even
numbered movies are good and the odd numbered movies are bad. It’s pretty much true. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a hodgepodge of all things terrible. That’s why the fact that the sequel – despite a few plot holes – is so good is really quite befuddling. Wrath of Khan looks at aging, friendship and the hearts of men as Kirk – who doesn’t believe in the no-win scenario – is confronted with a death he can’t stop and realizes that there really are no-win scenarios. Sure, Spock’s death is turned around a film later – but that doesn’t stop that scene in the engineering department between Kirk and Spock from being the emotional touchstone of the entire Star Trek franchise.

5. The Two Towers: The three Lord of the Rings films should really be considered as a whole. The Fellowship of the Ring is the best standalone movie, but The Two Towers is my favorite all the same. The middle flick has so much going on that it’s a wonder it wasn’t five hours long. From Gandalf’s resurrection, to Sam’s quiet realization that the quest will probably take his and Frodo’s lives, to Aragorn embracing his destiny, to Merry and Pippin growing up, to Gimli and Legolas forging a friendship where only war had been before, to Arwen realizing that she cannot leave Aragorn, to the final battle scene at Helm’s Deep and the final march of the ents, the film is virtual perfection. It’s too bad Jackson can’t weave the same magic with his Hobbit trilogy.

4. Aliens: The first Alien movie was a quiet horror movie that was filled with suspense and dread.
The sequel ratcheted everything up a notch – including letting Ripley turn into one badass action hero. Ellen Ripley was a female to be feared from the beginning, but she’s what a lot of today’s action heroes should aspire to be (whether male or female). The supporting cast in this one is just as good as the original – Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton being solid standouts – but the overall scope of the movie was so much grander than the original you can’t help but love the science fiction twist in the storyline.

3. Terminator 2: Judgement Day: The first Terminator flick was more of a cult hit than anything else. Sure, it launched Arnold Schwarzenneger on us as an action hero – but the movie wasn’t overly memorable in the grand scheme of things. How much difference a few years makes. The sequel to the science fiction action flick is better than the original on just about every front. Sure, you miss Michael Biehn, but the true heart of the movie comes from a young John Conner teaching a robot how to love. Not only is Linda Hamilton’s physical transformation something to behold in this film, but the special effects were awe-inspiring at the time (and they still hold up). When I look back on this film, the true shame is that Edward Furlong never lived up to the potential he showed in the movie – because the film itself still stands up today while Furlong has faded into mediocrity.

2. The Empire Strikes Back: I love the entire Star Wars franchise (the newer prequels to a limited
degree) but my all-time favorite is The Empire Strikes Back. After the introduction of the universe in the first film, things start moving pretty quickly. You have the gripping opening on Hoth, the introduction of a charming puppet, the expansion of the Han and Leia relationship, the tearjerker ending with Han being frozen in carbonite and the ultimate reveal in movie history: “No. I am your father.” This film has lightsaber battles, air fights, scoundrels and off-the-cuff humor. There’s nothing better.

1. The Godfather Part II: Sure, the original is a classic – and it’s practically perfect in its operatic glory – but the sequel actually improves on a flawless original. Not only does Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone grow in menace and stature in the second flick – but Robert DeNiro’s flashbacks as the young Vito Corleone are chilling. The Godfather has a stellar cast, including Robert Duvall, Talia Shire and Diane Keaton. It’s the whacking of Fredo, though, that will forever mint this film as one of the best ever.  When you can’t trust your brother, who can you trust?

Honorable mentions go to:

Dawn of the Dead: The original is still one of the scariest moves ever put to film. The sequel,
though, manages to transcend the genre. This wasn’t just a movie about zombies eating people. It was also a commentary on human consumption and greed. Great film.

Clerks 2: The original will go down in film history because of the way it was made and the reception it had. The sequel is just as funny, though (funnier in some instances) and Kevin Smith’s riff on pop culture is always a welcome viewpoint.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: If The Wrath of Khan is Star Trek at its best in the drama category, then The Voyage Home is Star Trek at its best in the comedy category. A film about the Enterprise traveling through time to save whales could have failed – but it didn’t. Not only did it succeed, but it surpassed most of the other films in the original franchise.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: I’ve enjoyed most of the Indiana Jones films – but this one is clearly the standout. Whoever thought of pairing Harrison Ford with Sean Connery should win an award.

Spider-Man 2: The first Spider-Man had a naïve quality to its storytelling. The second one gets a
little cocky – and it’s the better for it. Super hero movies are at their best when the villain actually has a voice and isn’t just a caricature.

Lethal Weapon 2: The first movie is iconic. It’s the second movie, though, that has the most heart. Plus, once you introduce the dynamics of Riggs, Murtaugh and Leo – there really was no turning back.

Beverly Hills Cop 2: Much like the Lethal Weapon franchise, the first movie is iconic. It’s the second movie, though, that manages to surpass the original with legitimate emotion.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: An argument can be made for any of the follow-up movies (sans Chamber of Secrets) to be on this list. I went with the most stylized one. This movie signifies the darkening of the Harry Potter world in a fantastic way and the travails of growing up (whether you're magical or not).

What do you think? What’s the best sequel of all time?


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