This weekend, I tried to make a list of ill-conceived sequels that ruined the original movies, but found it hard going. There are so many obvious examples that leap to mind, but most of them can be dismissed, forgiven, or explained away. This left me without an article and once again back to the blank page and the fear that Amazon will remove Greatsociety from their Kindle subscription service whatever thing, and I’ve come to rely on the eight cents a month I earn from that bullshit. Without that eight cents, I won’t be able to pay my monthly hooker. Who, yes, is a white mouse in a tiny adorable tutu. Because that’s all you can get for eight cents. But that’s all I need. Just put her on my penis with a string tied around her and let her scramble for freedom. Hauntingly similar to how I treat all of my girlfriends.
To appease the Kindle gods, I’ll write, instead, about my long journey (one hour on Saturday) rationalizing the existence of some horrible sequels.
Probably the first bad sequel that leaps to mind is Highlander II. It is, without a doubt, the most stunningly ill-conceived sequel ever made. Suddenly Ramirez and MacLeod are alien rebels on the run from the evil ruler of a faraway planet? Virginia Madsen is the head of a terrorist organization devoted to removing a magical shield that is saving the Earth from being fried to a crisp because the Ozone layer melted away in 1994 (just three years into the future at the time the movie was released)? There are just so many inexcusably bad moments, from Ramirez becoming a millionaire by selling his earring to the whole absurd battle to shut down the ozone shield (it needs so much power to shut down that it may destroy the Earth, but MacLeod takes care of that by redirecting his Quickening). We end with MacLeod winning the rebellion against the evil ruler and returning to his home planet with Madsen.
I left the theater confused and appalled and, a few years later, this became one of the first films to enjoy a “fan edit” where the whole alien thing was removed and the events on the planet Zeist were unconvincingly re-edited to give the impression that they occurred in the distant past on Earth. Which fails to work with the first film’s continuity but, at least, is slightly more palatable. I think.
The thing is, with the Highlander franchise, it’s tough to point fingers at Highlander II. Let’s be honest here – Highlander sucked. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. I watched all the movies. I’ve marathoned the TV show multiple times. I even sat through Raven and the cartoon version. But there’s nothing good about the franchise. It’s one huge pile of wildly embarrassing shit. The only highlight in the entire franchise is in season two of the series where Duncan goes through hell and high water to rescue his girlfriend and unofficial ward and, in the fourth episode of the season, they both escape certain death only to be gunned down by an anonymous mugger. Tessa dies, and Richie wakes up immortal, and Duncan moves to the Pacific Northwest to brood while we’re left wondering what the fuck just happened.
So, given that the franchise has been nothing but a wrong turn from day one, Highlander II barely registers on the radar. Not for the list.
The elephant in the room, of course, would be the Star Wars prequels. But it’s pointless talking about those. Any discussion of the Star Wars debacle ultimately starts to feel like one of those conversations you have on late, drunken nights about how Hitler had some good ideas if you ignore the whole Jew thing.
The Alien franchise (and the sister Predator franchise) have become notorious, lately, for fucking themselves with sequels. But that’s another case that doesn’t quite show up on the radar because it’s turned into such a stream of shit. For Predator, the B-grade sequels are all sort of fitting because the original was a B-grade Schwarzenegger vehicle anyway. It’s not like it set any sort of standard or rose to any great level. Like the original Highlander, Predator is kind of a clunky outing. It’s tied together by one-liners and a few memorable scenes. I would even go so far as to argue that Predator 2 and the fifth film, Predators, were better outings than the original.
The Alien franchise, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. Oddly not because of the watershed moment of that first movie, and the wave of clones that are still being made because of it. Lots of fans complained about Alien 2. Certainly, Alien 3 pretty much wiped its ass on the core fans. I find the franchise fascinating, though, because it blindly stumbled onto something with those first three movies. Each movie is so keenly representative of its decade it almost feels like some sort of crazy masterplan. The moody, stalking thriller of the 70’s gives way to big budget bubblegum action in the 80’s which fades into the self-reflective bipolar mania of the 90’s. Even Alien: Resurrection has a place if you take it as a late 90’s satire of the Alien franchise. In fact, that fourth film is greatly misunderstood. So, given that the Alien versus Predator films are technically listed as part of the Predator franchise, the Alien franchise, so far, has maintained 100% integrity.
Star Trek fans often point to Star Trek V as a fatal misstep. When I wrote my defense of Star Trek V, though, I hope some of those people took it to heart. It’s not a terrible movie and, considering that the classic Trek franchise came to a rather satisfying end in the next movie, then I have to let the classic Trek films stand – warts and all.
The Next Generation film era, though, is potentially worthy of my list. I can’t think of a film franchise that went so far off of an established course. It’s not like Serenity where, basically, you had to blaze a new trail, and therefore could stray slightly from the Firefly universe – which never, really, established itself. Besides, we all went into Serenity knowing that Whedon had squeezed a five year storyline into two hours. We went for closure, and nothing more.
With the TNG movies, though, you’ve got seven successful years of TV episodes to build on. The cast are beloved, and well known. Yet we open up in Generations with strangers, and they remain strangers – to us and to each other – throughout the TNG film era. Even the high point – First Contact – tacks bizarrely off course and, ultimately, fails as a story.
So we’ll put the TNG movies on the list. The debate is whether or not they count as their own sub-franchise. If so, the “exempt because they’re all shit” argument I’ve used for the other examples above disqualifies them.
Die Hard is another potential candidate. Or, specifically, Live Free or Die Hard. Die Hard 2 (as Die Harder has since been rebranded) and Die Hard with a Vengeance both stand fairly well on their own. It’s a rather nice trilogy. Taken as a whole, John’s journey from a troubled Christmas in LA to despair and self-loathing in New York is an interesting arc.
Then, a decade later, they pull the dead horse out of storage and kick it some more with Live Free or Die Hard, which only pays the vaguest lip service to John’s journey from the previous films and brashly relies on absurd special effects and CGI versus the wonderful character-driven storylines of the first three movies. John’s no longer the tough as nails cop caught in the middle of an impossible situation with no shoes or shirt. Now he’s leaping onto jet planes like some modern day Roger Moore.
So let’s add Live Free or Die Hard to the list.
One that is cut and dried and ready-made for my list is Ghostbusters II. Whoever put that together should be ashamed of themselves. We open up and learn that the ghostbusters are living in disgrace, having been accused of staging the events in the first movie’s finale. So we get the supernatural threat – some silly old ghost in a painting who would have been eaten alive if Zuul was still around – bringing the gang back together. The solution this time around is not a balls-out battle with an ancient Sumerian god. Instead, it’s a lesson about how we all need to be a bit more friendly to each other. And maybe sing along to pop songs.
And, as I drift onto page four of this Word document, I’ll wrap it up. Any other examples you all can think of?