Darren Aronofsky has officially signed on to direct the sequel to the crap-tacular X-Men Origins: Wolverine. At first I thought it was a joke. Did he see the first one? Wouldn’t he rather be doing another gritty art-house film instead of getting involved with this riffraff? But then excitement kicked in. Wait a minute—Wolverine is still an intriguing character… what if there’s a chance Aronofsky will bring that art-house sensibility and do the character justice this time? I think with this pedigree there’s no doubt that Wolverine 2 will be vastly better than the first attempt. This got me thinking: how often has a sequel not only been as good (or slightly better) as its original, but destroyed it? Destroyed in such a way that there’s almost no reason to watch the original again because its quality is so underwhelming in comparison. Turns out, I could think of at least eight rare examples.
Keep in mind that I’m avoiding the most obvious choices; these are vastly superior sequels to generally weaker originals. No Godfather Part II or Toy Story 2 & 3 here. And in case you’re wondering, I don’t think The Dark Knight destroys Batman Begins (or the Burton films for that matter).
Ace doesn’t go through any major epiphanies in this sequel. He doesn’t change a bit from the beginning of the first one to the ending of this one. Even the jokes remain largely the same. Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls is deceptively more of the same—except it’s all wrapped in a more satisfying package. The production values trump the bland, cheap feel of the original. This is an epic comedy, from the opening Cliffhanger parody to the monster truck chase through an African jungle. There’s more freedom with the humor; Jim Carrey’s antics are taken to possibly the most bizarre and uninhibited he’s ever been allowed to go. This movie is what happens when you take a hilariously twisted animal lover out of the sparse city and place him in the literal animal kingdom. How could we ever revisit the original again?
It’s the story that made this one so special. Wong Fei-Hong’s profound journey to, uh… drink a lot of booze… and then… fight a bunch of bad guys…. Okay, we’re not returning for the story; we’re returning for some of the most incredible fight choreography ever committed to film. This is Jackie Chan at his best, perfectly utilizing his signature blend of martial arts and humor. The fights are unforgettable not just because of the impressive choreography; they are injected with a creative playfulness, anchored by a performance that is equal parts Bruce Lee and Charlie Chaplin. Oh, and I demand you find another movie with a more purely entertaining fight scene than this one’s seven minute final showdown!
Whether or not this film is the best in the series is up for a different discussion. However, there is certainly no greater leap in the series’ quality than between the first two movies and Prisoner of Azkaban. I mean, have you seen the Christopher Columbus ones recently?? I’m pretty sure there’s better and more imaginative CG to be found in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. What made Prisoner of Azkaban something special comes down to one element: Alfonso Cuarón. He made the wizarding world feel organic—a living, breathing reality that simply existed around the story instead of wasting time to stop and focus on computer animated spectacle. And in one of the most imaginative sequences of any Harry Potter film, Cuarón went beyond the book to include an energetic time-shifting set piece. Sure, it was a little too Back to the Future—but at least it brought a swift jolt to the heart of a film series on life support. Prisoner of Azkaban was vastly better than the visual audiobook of the first two movies; it brought cinema to Harry’s world.
I blame a scarred childhood on these little creatures. It’s hard to say whether it was the original or the sequel that frightened me more back in the day—but returning to these movies with a fresh outlook now, it’s clear to see that Gremlins 2 is the better movie. I think it comes down to self-awareness. Gremlins 2 knew when it needed to be scary, when it needed to be funny, when it was a satire, and when it needed to even make fun of itself. The cooking show scene is side-splittingly hilarious, whereas the moment when a gremlin unexpectedly leaps out of a computer monitor and sinks its teeth into a guy’s neck is poop-your-pants scary. Part of the reason it all works better this time is that the puppets look incredible; by comparison the ones in the original Gremlins look like cheap props you’d find in a Halloween store. An excessive amount of money was pumped in to make this sequel, and the movie is even self-aware enough to make this obvious. By the end, there are thousands of gremlins popping up and hundreds of one-second sight gags everywhere the camera turns. With each consecutive scene Gremlins 2 tops itself over and over, thereby becoming something so much more than its boring-by-comparison original.
Only the third of twenty-two Bond films and still, arguably, the best. Dr. No and From Russia With Love seemed to be a warm-up for Sean Connery; in this one he’s grown more comfortable in 007’s shoes—you can tell he’s having a ton of fun with the character, and we have just as much fun watching him. In Goldfinger, all the elements of a great Bond film seemed to click together in a way the series has rarely been able to replicate. The dialogue was witty, the action thrilled, the story constantly propelled itself forward and never let up, and the villain was iconic and intimidating (“No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die”). It also marked the beginning for several very important and recurring Bond staples: the series’ first opening song sequence (“Gollld-fingahhh”), the first appearance of the Q-Branch lab and the first appearance of the Aston Martin. And I’m pretty sure it’s the first time a character has been named Pussy Galore in a major motion picture. As we’re always told in the closing credits, “James Bond will return…” Indeed he will—but he’s never returned with the same impact as he did in Goldfinger.
Okay, so this one might be considered more a “spiritual sequel,” but the same principles apply. Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy is a masterpiece to be sure, but it’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly where vision, craft, story and music truly came together to form a western that can’t be beat. A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More certainly aren’t bad movies, but their reach seems so small, their stories seem so insignificant, that how could anything compare to the almost mythological vastness of part three? In fact, if you could only watch one western for the rest of your life, I’m sure you’d choose this near three hour epic of good vs. evil vs. ugly. This is the one we all remember. The blowing of the bridge, the prison camp interrogations, the three-way showdown in the cemetery, Ennio Morricone’s iconic score… it’s all here. This is the sequel where a director’s vision and confidence finally meet budget and opportunity.
Best action movie ever made? Yep, thought so. Honestly, what would the point even be to choose the first Terminator over this one, aside from picking up on little lines and plot points that parallel each other? Sure, the original had some cool moments and Arnold Schwarzenegger made a great villain—but Terminator 2 essentially, well, terminates it. It’s obvious enough to see where this one is better: the action is bigger; the villain is more terrifying; the characters’ motivations have deepened. But Terminator 2 does what only the most remarkable sequels are smart enough to do—it makes the original even better than it was before. Without changing a word or rule from the original film, suddenly things we’ve seen before take on a whole new meaning; ideas infinitely expand in our minds, and we realize that this is way smarter than any action movie deserves to be. Like I said before, though, the sheer spectacle of Terminator 2: Judgment Day is enough to never watch that lesser product of the ‘80’s again.
I love the original Star Wars. Obviously. But I’ll be the first to say that, even back in the 1970’s, George Lucas wasn’t the strongest writer/director in the world. The interplay between the characters was sometimes wooden, and certain scenes didn’t carry the right energy or weight given the circumstances (the destruction of Alderaan, for example). The fanboy in me watches Star Wars because of the significance it has in my life. The overly critical, movie-obsessed fanboy in me, however, watches The Empire Strikes Back because it is one of the most perfect movies ever made. I don’t need to go into why Empire is so good. We all know what happens in it (although it is almost precisely what happens in this movie that makes it so good). But let’s think about this for a second: Lucas had the least amount of creative input on this movie than he did for any other Star Wars film. The directing and screenplay were left up to those who actually had a knack for these sorts of things. I can’t fully explain how or why everything came together like magic for this movie. Maybe a lot of it came from the excitement and increased confidence after Star Wars did so well that it was like working with bottled lightning. Whatever it was, I’m thrilled it happened. This is the stuff dreams are made of. I can think of no other sequel that adds so much to a saga like Empire did.
What are your favorite sequels that destroy the originals? Will Aronofsky’s Wolvie 2 deserve a spot?
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