Same Characters. Different Stories
As the sequel tournament at Grantland.com
continues, so too
does the analysis of what makes a successful sequel. The tournament is down to
the final four films, with The Empire Strikes Back facing The Godfather Part II
on one side of the bracket and The Dark Knight squaring off against Indiana
Jones and the Last Crusade on the other side. As previously discussed
, both the
Dark Knight and the Empire Strikes Back are of the sequels part of a larger
narrative. The Last Crusade, however, falls into a different category.
The Last Crusade features a character in Indiana Jones that
was popular with audiences. However, each Indiana Jones film has little to do
with its predecessor or sequel. Instead, each film is essentially a stand-alone
work with a self-contained story.
This type of sequel is often found as part of a franchise.
Horror movies, such as Friday the 13th
and Halloween, are notorious
for this type of sequel. Other films that feature stand-alone sequels include
the Star Trek film franchise and the Rocky films.
The stand-alone sequel works well for the aforementioned
horror films and action films because the stories in those films are generally
less important than the visuals. Additionally, those types of films often
rarely extend into the kind of depth that the larger narrative sequels do.
Instead of relying on story, stand-alone sequels rely
instead on the quality and likability of the characters. If the characters in
these films lack depth or are unintentionally unlikable, viewers will not
respond to film and a sequel will likely be unsuccessful.
The Rocky franchise is one the best examples of character
and action over substance of story. The first Rocky film is probably the best
of the six films, both with the story and the characters. However, it film that
followed got increasingly wonky.
The first film told the tale of down-on-his-luck Philadelphia
boxer who miraculously went the distance against the champ. Not only was the
classic underdog story one that everyone could relate to, it featured a great
cast of characters, including Carl Weathers as the boisterous champion Apollo
Creed, Burgess Meredith as Rocky’s grizzled trainer Mick, Burt Young as the drunk
Paulie and, of course, Sylvester Stallone as the titular figure. These were
characters that the viewer cared about and were interested in watching.
Because of the characters found in the first film, the
sequels, even with increasingly ridiculous premises such as Rocky ending the
Cold War and somehow getting more and more intelligent in each subsequent film,
continued to do well and find an audience.
Inversely, a film such as Batman and Robin essentially killed
the brand of Batman for the better part of a decade. The film had a ridiculous
premise, which has been excusable for superhero films in the past (for example,
every superhero movie ever). However, the good-to-great superhero films, such
as the Watchmen and Christopher Nolan’s Batman series featured characters with
more than one dimension. Rorschach in Watchmen came had a terrible childhood,
which led to him seeing things only in black and white, rather than shades of
grey. In Nolan’s Batman, every character has a story that explains their
behavior and motivation and the one that doesn’t (The Joker
) makes that
character even scarier.
However, the characters in Batman and Robin had no depth. No
one had any reason for their actions and it was basically impossible for the
audience to connect. As a result, that film is often considered not only one of
the worst sequels
all time but one of the worst films
of all time.
When done right, sequels that stand-alone from the original
story can be huge successes. The Indiana Jones franchise has made more than $2
billion dollars and the individual films are considered to be some of the
finest made. Indiana Jones was someone the audience cared about. The same can
be said for the Rocky movies. Starting in the first film, everyone in the
audience could connect with at least one character in the franchise and wanted
to see that person succeed. When the audience can connect with a character, the
film can succeed. Otherwise, the film could turn out to be one of the worst things
ever put on film.
Coming Soon: Sequels Episode III: The Failures