[Image courtesy of storyhobby.com]
From Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice to Independence Day 2 and Zoolander 2, we have many sequels to look forward to in the next year. That’s not to mention Alice Through the Looking Glass and – of course – the all female team of Ghostbusters; all with different takes, new directions and just a little of the past. However, before these movies have even released their trailers, so many of them have already been deemed as poor. Yet, I think that the only way to find out for sure is to wait.
So, while we do, let’s explore what a sequel should or can be. On the one hand, sequels could be seen as easy to make – the first movie has already set up the world and the characters. A sequel can end or save the franchise, so it needs to be bigger and better, or does it? The first movie is usually a three act story arch that wraps up nicely at the end. So where can the story go in the sequel? A sequel already exists in the shadow of the first film, and so it is likely that audience expectations will be high. Take Jaws 2 (1978) – it lives in the shadow of the first ever summer blockbuster, yet still manages to be one of the most successful sequels of all time. Siskel and Ebert asked “what more can you do with a story about a shark eating tourists?” Yet, they were still able to squeeze out two more sequels: Jaws 3D & Jaws Ravage.Going in a different direction with sequels can be a good idea to keep the story fresh, but if the tone is too different from what the audience is expecting it can leave fans feeling cheated. A good sequel will stay true to the original whilst at the same time offering new surprises. The sequel is a chance to expand the universe, put the characters through new conflicts, build on the mythology and deepen the characters even more. A movie that showcases this well is Terminator 2: Judgement Day, which is riddled with fantastic special effects and exciting villains. Some sequels can be enjoyed as standalone movies but this depends on the franchise. For example, the James Bond films can be just as appreciated whether you’ve watched one from the 60’s or one from the 90’s. However, The Lord of the Rings series are one continuing story, and so to watch the second or the third film without watching the first would be confusing.
What is particularly interesting to consider is the way that a simple change in cast can result in a massive difference in the way a film is received. I think this is partly because films are so visual in their nature – we want to see the characters as we first saw them. For example, Harry Potter could never be played by anyone other than Daniel Radcliffe. When sequels use different actors it stops the movie from being seen as part of the original, and often fans are disappointed before the film is even released.
When a sequel is presented to us we instinctively compare it to the first movie, and ask whether it is better. Yet, we are unable to make an objective judgement, given the fact that we have already seen the first film and so it will always be in our memories as a point of reference. The question should really be: “was I entertained?” Next year looks like a good year to extend the stories we all enjoyed the first time around, and I hope we can all look forward to them and not be so quick to dismiss.