Thursday, April 26, 2012

Part Two: The Demanding Sequels

In the history of Hollywood, there has been one challenge that is the aspiration of every single filmmaker in the business. It is not creating an ideal film, while that may be an obvious goal, for movies are movies. They are either bad or good, plainly stated, am I right? For those fortunate good ones, who go on to accumulate great box-office receipts, the filmmaker can go down one of two paths: enjoy the wealth and begin a different project, or make a sequel. The latter choice seems to have become the path most traveled by in recent years, which have given us delightful continuations of beloved animated features, such as Shrek 2 and Toy Story 3. Then, there are those live-action sequels, which, unfortunately, are usually not so great. In fact, they have been known to be quite horrendous, disappointing the thousands of followers who were expecting much more after the watching the first film. This list could be endless, but for the purpose of this post, I will be analyzing two sequels that were released in 2011 that I have watched recently. One is an example of a bad sequel and the other is an example of a good sequel. The Hangover Part II and Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, respectively. Note that this is completely subjective for the most part.

It has become a well-known fact that The Hangover was ingeniously original, that it brought a shockwave upon the comedic universe of film that simply shocked and awed viewers. The theatrical trailer could not prepare them for the hilarious antics that would ensue nonstop throughout the film. The moment Ed Helms, who plays Stu, the source of reason of the trio, woke up on the floor of his trashed hotel suite, with an unexplained chicken in the background among other confusing items, the movie was making a landmark in cinema. Every single event that arose on account of the gang's drunken night was a total surprise and subject for mass laughs. (Mass laughs? Was that used correctly?) The entire film was flawless, so to speak, and really revolutionized comedy. Only for a short while, evidently. Two years later, Todd Phillips releases the second part of his supposedly-planned trilogy. (Oh, you read that right. The third, and hopefully final, part of the boozy saga is out May 24, 2013. More of that later.) Considering the revered emotion used to describe the first part, you could guess I was expecting a whole lot from the sequel, as were many other admirers out there. (I dislike the term "fan". It sounds rather obsessive, don't you think? "I'm your biggest fan." Yikes.) The idea that it was highly-anticipated is proven by the outrageous profit it gained at the box-office, more than $450 million. As you're probably already aware, people did not get their money's worth. Far from it. And it was more dreadful taking into consideration the amount of expectation people had. If you haven't seen it, which you are most likely benefiting from, you may be wondering just what was so bad about it? Well, I'll tell you. Right now.

The main problem with The Hangover Part II, which really accounts for the entirety of its awfulness, is that they recycled much too much of the original film's jokes. The reason Heather Graham didn't return in the sequel was because he director did not want to overdo the baby jokes, as it would probably be played out the second time around. Apparently, that was his only worry, because he repeated literally every other punchline as in the first. One "joke" that was especially degenerated was Zach Galifianakis and his Wolf Pack. In the first, when his character, Alan, was making a toast to Doug, he mentioned the Wolf Pack once and only once, and it brought out a few laughs. Here, however, it was far overdone, appearing in nearly every scene. Perhaps my intensified irritation with this humor roots from my general dislike for Zach Galifianakis. I think he is a complete moron, both on-screen and off, as well as pompous from all the attention he got playing in The Hangover. After all this fame, he thinks he's a huge star who can reject Mel Gibson's presence on set because he feels "uncomfortable". Really? (I had to bring that up, even though they say that he didn't contribute to not using Mel Gibson. I know what happened, and it aggravates me deeply. Back to the movie.) Anyway, the film is basically a copy of the original and was not as appreciated because it was no longer original. Todd Phillips had already made The Hangover, he couldn't just cheat and paste that script in the sequel, and simply change the setting and some of the characters' situations. (I feel that I am babbling up to this point, and apologize if I sound incoherent.) Overall, the issue with The Hangover Part II is that they relied so much on their first work of brilliance that they felt confident enough to bullshit the story and include jokes that take way too long to end. Which, as I've said before, make them unfunny. This is a major mistake made by many sequels, and, while it is hard to rejuvenate that magic they concocted with the first part, they shouldn't copy and paste. In this case, recycling is a bad thing.

Onto the next example: the decent, and even good, sequel. Among my three preferred films of 2009, Sherlock Holmes is an exhilarating, stylish film made all the more fantastic by its inventive director, Guy Ritchie. After he defined his unique flair to cinema with films such as Snatch, he assumed the role of remastering the traditional literary classic Sherlock Holmes. The special "flair" I am referring to is the director's quick-breath, slow-yet-fast-motion cinematography that simply pulls the viewer into the action. Transforming the elegant Sherlock Holmes into a bare-fisted-fighting, eccentric genius, with the strange choice of Robert Downey Jr. to complete this adaptation, Guy Ritchie struck gold with the film, producing a Golden Globe for his leading man, as well as the success needed for a sequel. Based on my own deep admiration for the film, one can imagine my anticipation for its next installment. And, boy, am I pleased to say that it was just as good as the first, if not a little less great. In other words, the first was clearly much better, but that does not diminish this one's achievement. Allow me to elaborate.

When encountered with the challenge of creating a sequel that is just as good, or even better, than its first film, which was very well received (as with The Hangover and Sherlock Holmes), for some reason the director and/or writers seem to be overwhelmed by such a daunting task. Hence, producing disappointing lackluster films with dull plots, which make the audience lose interest in the franchise altogether. In Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the film loses none of its original sleek intrigue, nor does it ensnare itself into a puzzling plot that was crafted in attempt to increase the so-called "intellectuality". (The latter has occurred before, I'm sure. Perhaps with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest...? As much as I enjoy that franchise, they really had me confused.) Anyway, the sequel to Sherlock Holmes retained its excellence, incorporating a consuming plot as well as an iconic villain from the literary series, the nefarious Professor Moriarty. (Nefarious?) Jude Law returns as Holmes's trusting partner-in-crime, Dr. Watson, who was a lot less bumbling in this installment, as he was physically involved in many of the battle scenes. (Battle scenes. I make it sound like a Lord of the Rings epic. Momentary note.) Sherlock Holmes himself, of course, is just as eccentric and scrappy, as well, if not more so. Here, we have a little hiccup, for Robert Downey Jr. portrays Sherlock Holmes even stranger than in the first, perhaps overdoing it a bit. This observation was made by my dad, who, like me unfortunately, has begun to dislike Robert Downey Jr. and his pompous manner in real life. Therefore, the observation may be subjective. Either way, nothing could disturb the marvelous quality of the film. As I read some reviews of the film, I've noticed a similar negative remark about the film: too much Guy Ritchie-flair. To that, I say that this is a Guy Ritchie film, after all, and that his trademark rapid-movement sequences are not at all stale. Watching this film is just as if I'm watching a film unattached by any previous blockbuster-hit, which shows just how great it is. Disregard the critics, as this is far from disappointing, especially compared to the usual sequels that are produced.

The art of creating a watchable sequel is, indeed, a strenuous task. It requires the ability to start afresh and not rely on one's initial success to reuse, since it was so good the first time around. Also, before actually making a sequel, one must decide whether the story lines were already squeezed dry, for if they were it is painful to watch a sequel where certain characters are demoted to corny, unnecessary additions and jokes have been extended to a point where they are no longer jokes, but sad moments in the movie. That moment when you realize that a movie you once loved has past its expiration date, and it's time to walk out of the theater. Or turn off the television. Of course, sequels of varied genres are different, as well. For instance, to make a sequel for a superhero/epic/fantasy movie is simple, just include a new villain or continue from where you obviously left off. For a comedy, however, the writers must maintain that hilarious element, or people will just make a mockery of it. Just ponder over that next time you finish watching a movie you believed to be absolutely fantastic. While you may be thinking that a sequel would really make your day, remember that it's difficult to meet the expectations of viewers. Because we really are a bunch of bastards. Have a magical evening.

Here are some more bad sequels:
American Pie 2
Transporter 2
Rush Hour 2
The Mummy Returns
Mission: Impossible 2
Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, & Blonde
Ocean's Twelve
Batman & Robin
Scary Movie 2
Little Fockers
Cars 2
Grease 2
Son of the Mask
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Pink Panther 2
Iron Man 2
Analyze That

And some good sequels:
The Godfather Part II
Toy Story 3
Shrek 2
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Batman Returns
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Sex and the City 2 (in the worst way)
American Reunion
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
X-Men: First Class (actually a prequel, but it was great)

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