I recently rewatched 2006’s Casino Royale. I hadn’t seen it in many years, and I really liked returning to it. It feels so simple and quaint in some ways. And yet something was nagging at my mind the whole time I watched it. That movie is a brilliant achievement in the James Bond franchise, restoring it to its former greatness. But I don’t really enjoy most of the Daniel Craig Bond films. The series has kind of gone all over the place in its tone over the past decade.
Watching Casino Royale, I asked myself, “Do rotten sequels spoil great previous films?” After all, I know that what I’m watching will eventually lead to misery down the line, even though it’s an enjoyable ride at the moment. So what’s the point of starting down that road?
As I see it, there are three ways to deal with sequels that could ruin their previous films:
- Ignore them
- Accept them and look for their good qualities
- Consider them as nothing more than fanfiction
There are merits to each of these approaches.
Sometimes you can just enjoy a movie as a standalone entity, such as most Bond films. I also like to do that with films like The Matrix, Speed, and RoboCop. Just cut them off after the first film. There’s no need to keep going and ruin the simplicity of the first film.
Other movies can only be seen as part of a larger story. For example, Alien, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Wars, and The Godfather all have sequels, prequels, and other spinoffs that turn them into much more than solitary films. Those additional stories are hard to ignore because they shed light on the events of those films.
Let’s take a closer look at the original Star Trek film series to explain this concept a bit more. Despite its flaws, I find a lot to enjoy in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. And it’s kind of important to watch it to understand that Kirk is now an admiral in Star Trek II. The next two films build exclusively on the foundation of Star Trek II, which itself was built on the foundation of the “Space Seed” TV show episode.
However, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home has a somber ending for me. Not because of anything that film did. It built to a satisfying conclusion where Admiral Kirk is reduced in rank to a captain and rewarded with the command of a new Enterprise-A starship. The trouble is that I know what comes next. In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, we learn that that ship is hopelessly broken. So the triumph of the last film is quickly turned into a cheap joke in the next one. Plus, Star Trek V is just a painful movie to watch.
I have similar feelings in connection to Aliens. I adore the characters in that film. It feels like the survivors and I have a connection by the end of that film. We experienced something truly harrowing together. But it’s all for naught if we continue on to the next film. Everyone dies in Alien3. So who cares if they made it through the events of the previous film? They were doomed, no matter what they did.
It’s easier to ignore everything that comes after The Karate Kid Part II. The films in that series have much more self-contained stories. The point is, sometimes it’s best to just write off inferior sequels and enjoy what came before. Pain is all that can come from acknowledging what they led to. In many cases, it’s not even the original filmmakers’ fault. They were pressured to make substandard sequels, or someone else took over creative control.
Accept Them and Look for Their Good Qualities
With some film series, I’ve come to terms with their sad fates. Superman: The Movie and Superman II will always be cherished classics in my eyes. Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace offer less and less to enjoy. But I’ve learned to accept them for what they are. At least they have a more-enjoyable tone than recent dreary cinematic Superman affairs.
The same is true of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. 2002’s Spider-Man was a solid start for the series, while Spider-Man 2 soared to heights no other superhero film has ever reached, in my opinion. However, the resolution to the conflicts set up in those first two great films came in the form of the lackluster Spider-Man 3. I’ve come to acknowledge the merits of that third film over the years, especially when I learned that it’s a Cinematic Chiasmus. But it paints the other two films in a negative light. Peter Parker’s struggle to win over Mary Jane Watson loses its luster, as does Harry Osborn’s struggle to get out from under his father’s shadow.
As I said before, Aliens can’t help but feel cheaper as a result of Alien3. I can’t really blame the makers of that third film. They had impossibly huge shoes to fill coming after two perfect cinematic classics. I just wish they would have gone in a different direction to preserve at least some of the achievements of Aliens. David Fincher certainly went on to direct much better films.
Consider Them as Nothing More Than Fanfiction
Fanfiction can be a fun diversion, but it has no real consequences. I lump most sequels today into this category. The current Star Trek film iterations take place in their own alternate timeline, so they’re easy to write off. The Star Wars prequels and sequels can be seen in this light, too. I know, George Lucas had a guiding hand in making the prequel trilogy, but it’s clearly inferior to the original trilogy. And the less said about the sequel trilogy the better.
Ghostbusters (2016) also fits nicely in this category. It’s more of a remake than a sequel, and it only bears a passing similarity to its namesake. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is better, but it still feels more like an afterthought than a true continuation of the story.
Each film in the Terminator series after Terminator 2: Judgment Day should be seen as nothing more than fanfiction. Even though I kind of like one or two of them, I see each one as simply failed spinoffs. Especially since James Cameron hasn’t been the guiding hand in any of them.
How to Respond
There are plenty of other film series I could have touched on. There are about a million horror franchises I could have included in here. Plus, Die Hard, The Fugitive, The Hunt for Red October, and Rocky, which have all led to sequels with varying levels of quality. Thankfully, we can be grown-up about it and simply acknowledge that great films are hard to make. Even if not every film in a series can be consistently great, at least we can count ourselves lucky when at least a few turn out that way.
Although I can’t help having my enjoyment of good films soured a little by bad sequels, I don’t have to worry about them too much. I’ll try to just focus on the positive. How do you respond to bad sequels to your favorite films?
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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If you’d like to support the Deja Reviewer, please consider donating a few dollars to keep this site going strong. I’ll even send you an original joke if you do! Try it, and prepare to enjoy a good chuckle.