(Yesterday began our analysis of some of the best movie sequels of all time. You might want to start there, if you missed it, for the explanation and number 10-6.)
And numbers 5-1?
5. Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Gremlins was great. It was creepy, funny and fun. Gremlins 2 completely derails the first film in favor of just flat-out, anything-goes, having a blast. Every moment of the film is director Joe Dante rolling around in his love of movies. Martin Scorsese appreciates movies the way sophisticates appreciate wine. Dante appreciates them the way 10-year-old boys appreciate Pop Rocks & Coke. Dante even has a great time lampooning the first film (e.g. trying to explain the “rules” of caring for the Mogwai – don’t feed them after midnight – sends the other characters in to a barrage of questions like, “What if it’s eating on a plane before midnight and passes in to a new time zone?” “What if it eats before midnight and gets food lodged in its teeth that only comes out after midnight?”)
Chances are if you love Gremlins you will think this movie is just weird for a little while because you’re waiting for a typical “more of the same, only more so” sequel. But a moment will come – and it will come – when it clicks and Dante gets you to eat the Pop Rocks and Coke at the same time and you will be immersed in the pure joy of this movie.
4. The Dark Knight – superhero films lend themselves to sequels. Freed from the burden of the origin story and ‘don’t upset anybody’ committee thinking that dominate potential franchises, they tend to open up creatively with the second installment. Several superhero sequels could arguably take this slot. What truly elevates The Dark Knight (besides Heath Ledger’s performance, and that motorcycle) is the depth of metaphor in the film about duality – the struggle inside all people between order and chaos, control and rage. Less a superhero film than a myth, it even has the courage to have an almost action-free ending: a literary ending instead of a cinematic one dedicated to underscoring its central motif. A work of art masquerading as a blockbuster action movie.
3. The Empire Strikes Back – George Lucas makes Star Wars: a perfect, beautiful creation that touched people in ways that few creations – not just films, any artistic creation – have. How is it possible that the sequel would be even better? The sequel focuses on the cinematic elements that threatened to derail the original, with screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan brought it to help. A tighter film, better written, and – again – made you feel like the first film was incomplete without this. The characters got refined, the humor gets funnier, the legends get richer, the action gets more intense.
2. The Godfather, Part II – Okay, don’t freak out on me. I know. Why is this in the number 2 slot? Everyone knows Godfather II is the greatest sequel of all time. And it’s pretty damn great. Godfather II is gorgeously filmed and has some of the most powerful moments of the two films. It also, though, is virtually incomprehensible, plot-wise, and is in some ways unnecessary. The final shot of The Godfather tell us everything we need to know about Michael Corleone’s fall from grace. Godfather II walks us through his fall in heartbreaking depths, but still only really elaborates on what we already know to be true. So while it’s magnificent on its own terms and arguably the best cinematic creation on the list, it’s not quite the best sequel. That honor goes to…
1. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior – Mad Max was one of the best films to emerge from the anything-goes Ozploitation films of 1970’s Australia. It’s a fairly good action film, very basic, raw and cheap. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior develops so far beyond the original film it’s stunning to think it’s the same filmmakers and only a couple years later. Road Warrior moves the central character from a simplistic “society’s goin’ to hell”/ biker revenge setting in response to the gas & oil crises of the time to a fully envisioned post-apocalyptic wasteland; the excuse for revenge in the first film becomes soul-deep scars from which Max seems he cannot possibly recover. Movies don’t get much leaner and meaner than this. Stories are legendary of the injuries among the stuntmen, including one stunt which was so dangerous that the driver had to prep for emergency surgery beforehand (God love ya’, Australia). Like Dark Knight, it often feels more like myth than movie, with sparse dialogue (Max speaks maybe 100 words in the entire film), universal themes and the finale of the film is the greatest car chase ever made (yes, I’m sticking by that ). In comparison with the first film, a staggering achievement, and one hell of a movie. Watching it, you see a western, a myth worthy of Joseph campbell, pure filmmaking, and a perfect capsule of the fears and psychology of the time in which it was made.
Take a few minutes to look at this first few minutes of the film (it is, frustratingly, missing the prologue which sets a tone of sadness and melancholy that enriches the scene immeasurably).
Film overview by the Yale Film Club: