Sequels. Much maligned and mocked. Yet some of the best films ever made have been sequels. Also some of the worst, laziest pieces of crap ever put to celluloid. But those are for later. Today we begin a look at sequels in three categories: the good, the bad, and the contentious, and we begin with The Good. (Of course, I don’t really claim that these are the greatest sequels of all time – that would be impossible to actually prove, but “10 Really, Really, Really, Really Great Sequels” is a crappy title, and this ones’s totally Google search friendly, so we’re sticking with it.)
Here are the criteria by which I’ve selected:
- It must be a part 2; we’re looking specifically at sequels, not entries in a franchise, or continuations of one film broken in to chunks (sorry, Two Towers).
- It must be a proper sequel, not something made 15 years later, or a quasi-remake, or something involving almost none of the participants in the original.
- It must be examined in relation to the quality of the original. It can’t be just high quality, it must stand up to the original and justify its existence.
So, in only a tentatively deliberate order, here are numbers 10-6 of some of the greatest part 2’s, to be continued tomorrow:
10. Toy Story 2 – Toy Story was a revelation in animation and a beautiful story. The sequel seemed, like most animation sequels, sure to be a sloppy cash-in that sullies the memory of original. Instead, somehow, they managed to not only generate the same joy and affection as the first film, they left the audience with the feeling you always hope to feel with a sequel: “Of course! This had to come next! This is what comes next!”
9. Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn – Sam Raimi, best known for the Spiderman films, made The Evil Dead on a shoestring budget and a cursory knowledge of filmmaking. It’s campy, cheap, crass, and pretty good. The sequel is his attempt to make the film again with what he learned. He learned a lot. It’s hilarious, bizarre, brilliant, at moments creepy, and insane fun. It’s like being a party just watching it. It is, in a word? Groovy.
8. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Star Trek: The Motion Picture was thrown in to production to cash in on Star Wars mania. Its slow, ethereal spirituality was not a hit. That should have been the end of Star Trek, and – legend has it – the only reason the sequel was made at all was because the daughter of the Paramount Studios president was a Star Trek fan. It’s lean, smart, and genuinely exciting. There’s no dead weight in the film: it engages immediately and never stops. A Star Trek movie for the non-Trekker. And, come on – Ricardo Montalban.
7. After The Thin Man: The makers of this sequel knew The Thin Man was never about the incomprehensible plot, it was about the deliriously fun interplay between Myrna Loy and William Powell (okay, and Asta, the dog). Still, operating independently of the Dashiell Hammett story that framed the first could have easily gone south; instead, it took what worked and built on it with depth and charm. Watching the film, it’s hard to believe they aren’t really in love with each other, with life, with adventure. And booze. In love with booze. Here’s a selection of moments (sorry about the subtitles).
6. Before Sunset – Before Sunrise was a small indie film by the brilliant Richard Linklater about two travelers who meet one night in Vienna and spend the night wandering the city. Virtually plotless, it explores youth and dreams and the ephemera of the moment, ending on a promise to meet back in that exact spot in six months. Ten years later, Linklater made Before Sunset, returning to the couple, ten years older, as they encounter each other again when she attends his book signing in Paris. A film exploring adulthood, the things we give up, the choices we make. A film so beautiful and complex it makes the original feel like merely a prologue so that the director and cast could wait 10 years and make the real film.