After The Raid 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, changing the formula looks like the way forward for modern movie sequels.
In this cut-throat, recycled, creatively-diminishing world of movies in which we live, we’ve come to accept that reheated movie sequels are part and parcel of the climate; that they are something that most of us could live without, but which all of us have begrudgingly come to accept. Because when you think ‘sequel’, you also think ‘diminishing returns.’ You think of the number-crunching, the strategised franchise-planning and maybe, just maybe, of the exec who’s going to take all your delicious money and use it to live like a West Coast-tanned Jordan Belfort.
It was only a matter of time before creatives were forced to figure out a sequel formula that’d cease disappointing the cinemagoers
In the wake of the franchise boom that began in the late-70s and early-80s, a boom which never died but is in fact still growing incrementally, movie sequels have found themselves churned out in an almost industrial manner, to the point where the franchise goldmine that is the superhero genre can now produce one movie of a series each year. Sequels to successful films are, for the most part, produced so regularly because they offer an almost guaranteed profit for the studio, with the hired creative talent there to do their best with a fundamentally under-developed story. Naturally, sequels often fail to top or even match the original for quality.
In film, this is called the sequel curse, and it was only a matter of time before the hired creatives were forced to figure out a formula that would cease disappointing the cinemagoers – after all, a constant barrage of bad sequels could only eventually lead to increasingly cynical audiences shunning the studios’ precious franchises. Two recent movies, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Raid 2, broke this ‘sequel curse’ by quite probably bettering the films they followed. For them, the key to making these things work, which had obviously eluded Hollywood for so long, came down to one thing: originality.
There’s a tendency in sequels to follow the lead of original film, but only very rarely has it worked. Look to almost any major franchise, and you’ll find fan-baiting rehashed dialogue, returning characters placed in the same-old circumstances and a plot that echoes the original’s (or repeats it wholesale; see The Hangover Part II. No, wait – don’t). By trying to refresh what worked about the first film makes the sequel almost redundant; narrowing the scope for new possibilities by simply emulating what’s gone before, the sequel instead accepts its own inferiority.
Execs don’t realise that what audiences enjoyed about the first film was its originality, not necessarily the original idea itself
It’s why we remember Rocky and not Rocky II, why The Lost World will always come second to Jurassic Park, and why the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels just don’t hold a candle to the ridiculous panto swashbuckling of Curse of the Black Pearl. The people behind all of these films and more assumed audiences wanted more of the same. What they didn’t realise is that what audiences enjoyed about the first film was its originality, not necessarily the original idea itself. And by doing something original once more, a movie sequel stands more chance of qualitative, and subsequently financial, success.
Take recent MCU entry Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which took big-bosomed war hunk Steve Rogers and changed his genre, planting him in a conspiracy thriller that bore no resemblance to the nostalgic paean to old movie serials that was the first movie. Going back, Die Hard with a Vengeance topped the Die Hard-aping Die Hard 2 by altering the concept, turning an action sequel into a buddy comedy-cum-mystery thriller. Looking back even further, The Godfather Part II improved upon The Godfather by changing the structure, having two separate stories of Italian-American criminal life run concurrently to form a rise-and-fall tale more powerful than its individual parts.
More on Cap 2’s changing style: Marvel becomes political with The Winter Soldier
It’s a fresh perspective that sequels truly thrive upon. The Mission Impossible franchise has (mostly) benefited, with each new movie helmed by a different director and starring, with the exception of grinning actor-turned-Burj Khalifa-abseiler Tom Cruise, an entirely new cast. Critics and audiences alike seemed shocked at how successful Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was, but they shouldn’t have been – director Brad Bird brought his unique vision to the series and embraced the franchise’s inherent ridiculousness in a way that previous films hadn’t. New director, new cast, new tone, new film.
Following The Raid with two more hours of Rama going lone ranger against an enemy horde wouldn’t have been half as interesting as what The Raid 2 actually is
The Raid 2: Berandal is the latest example of how modifying the concept from film-to-film can keep a movie series fresh. The film, which some of us at Screen Robot are calling “the greatest action movie ever made,” is virtually nothing like The Raid. By expanding the story into a gangland epic, The Raid 2 becomes its own beast, separate from the original but linked to it through its lead character. By taking The Raid’s good cop Rama (martial arts-superstar-in-the-making Iko Uwais) and placing him in Jakarta’s underworld as an undercover agent, the character, as well as writer-director Evans, is forced to react in new and interesting ways.
Of course, Evans’s Raid movies aren’t exactly masterpieces of storytelling, but following The Raid with another two hours of Rama going lone ranger against a horde of enemies – as would have been the obvious sequel path – wouldn’t have been half as interesting as what The Raid 2 actually is. We’ve seen The Raid; why would we want to see something that exists largely to recreate it? (Coincidentally, that’s been cited as one of the major reasons why Dredd, released not long after the very similar The Raid, flopped at the box office.) There’s never been such a thing as a ‘sequel curse’ – only lazy film-making. Along with The Winter Soldier, The Raid 2 shows Hollywood where to take its sequels from now on.
More from film: It’s a Wonderful Life and the problem with sequels
Featured image: Entertainment One
Inset images: Marvel; Paramount