I've noticed that when it comes to geek movies, sequels are often better than the original. Sometimes WAY better. Which brings us to this week's question:
Discussion after the jump.
I suspect that when it comes to movie franchises involving fantastic worlds of speculative fiction, sequels simply have more room to be. Part of the challenge in this kind of creative endeavor is that you have to introduce the viewer to the world -- its rules, its customs, its conflicts, it players, its reality -- in a way that's completely unnecessary with the latest romantic comedy or World War II movie. As a result, an awful lot of the time in a franchise's opening act is spent showing the main character's origin, or explaining how the world got from where it is in the viewer's reality to that of the film.
Which eats up the minutes, even when it's done really well.
But in a sequel, you don't have to bother with any of that. The audience has been educated and knows what to expect, so you can just tell the story without having to exhaust precious screen time on basic scene-setting. And at the end of the day, it's the story that makes for a good film, not exploding robots or flying super aliens. More story equals a better movie, which is why in my opinion, all the films on this list are actually better than their predecessor.
- The Dark Knight: You can make a great case that "Dark Knight" is not, in fact, better than "Batman Begins". But you'd still be wrong, this movie kicks ass. It features a lot more action in a tighter, more engaging story and, come on, it has Heath Ledger as Joker. Nuff Said.
- The Empire Strikes Back: Most Star Wars fans consider this the best film of the lot, and they've got a great point. I still find myself drawn to the original (and it's just "Star Wars", not "Episode IV", because I am old and cranky and that's how it was when I was a kid so get off my lawn!!), with its innocent charm and wholesome fun. At the end of the day, though, "Empire" is a more mature movie as a storytelling vehicle, as a moving emotional experience, and as dark entertainment. Betrayal, action, awesome lightsaber battles, gut-wrenching plot revelations, whiz-bang giant walking metal monster battles, and not a damn Ewok or Jar Jar Binks in sight. Had Leia been in a bikini in this one, we'd have the best movie of all time, but as it stands we'll just have to settle for best of the franchise.
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: OK, I lied in the intro -- I don't think this movie is better than "Raiders of the Lost Ark", which is one of my all-time favorite films. But a lot of people do. They're wrong, but as a magnanimous guy, I included their misguided opinion onto my list.
- Spider-Man 2: I mean come on, no one's face even gets melted by the hand of God in Temple of Doom, how lame is that?! OK, moving on ... "Spider-Man 2" is just a lot more fun than the first one, which was also really great by the way. But I felt like Peter really came into his own in this film, and I thought Doc Ock was a wonderful villain. At least, he was waaaaay cooler than the apparently-coked-up Willem Dafoe and that ridiculous Japanese robot-movie face mask. By all that's good and right in the world, I hated that thing.
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: Kirk's hairpiece! Khan's ridiculously tanned and muscled chest! Mind controlling ear-roaches! KHHHHAAAAAAAAANNNN! Oh my, I think I need a moment. Clean-up on Aisle Ten!
- Superman II: Were it not for the thrown-logo-as-Seran-wrap, this movie would take the cake easily. You have to remember, at the time we didn't have any really good super-powered fights with convincing special effects, so this was really awesome for a young geek of the era. Watching four Kryptonians duking it out was such a thrill, I still get all psyched up thinking about it.
- The Two Towers: I loved the "Lord of the Rings" books, and TTT always hooked me in the strongest. I still groan with anguish when the narration switches from one set of characters to the next, I get so wrapped up in them. The film ... not so much. I don't know, I need to watch these again, but I think I've just read the trilogy so many times the movies didn't affect me quite as much.
- X-Men II: I think you see the "We don't need no stinking back-story" dynamic at its purest in this movie. Non-stop butt-kicking goodness up one side and down the other. A great super-hero film.
Looking at the list, I think you can make a solid case that any of them are better than the original installment of the franchise, which when you think about it, is pretty amazing. I mean, outside of the "Godfather" series, I think you'd be hard pressed to find more than a handful of examples of other movies where a sequel is better than the first one. I'm looking at you, "Weekend in Bernie's 2".
I still can't believe either of those movies got made.
But, looking over them all, I'd probably put "Khan" and "Empire" as my top two sequels, even though there are others on the list that I liked more as films. But I think those two helped nail the high point of each franchise in such a way that it turned the whole series from just good to legendary.
And in honor of the release of the new Star Trek movie, which I have yet to see (a situation I hope to remedy soon), I am going to go with "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" as my all-time best geek sequel movie.
Which would you pick?