I tend to instinctively groan at the idea of a movie remake. And I balk when I hear the word “sequel”. Every time I read about or see a trailer for one, I lament the death of creativity and curse Hollywood for mining its past for a quick, easy, bankable buck. “Hollywood is collapsing!” I say this fully knowing that there are lots of great movies still being made. Hell, 2007 was an amazing year for film. But still, the very notion of a sequel conjures images of producers sitting in a board room, smoking their fat-cat cigars, looking at a movie’s opening weekend numbers and deciding there’s still more cash to grab from that cow.
The flip side of this coin is that some of my favorite movies are remakes and sequels. If you think about it, remakes are really a part of our oral tradition. The passing on of story from generation to generation is part of our culture. Remakes are an adaptation of retellings. The stories change with the generations telling them. How often and in how many ways have we seen Dumas’s Three Musketeers? In literature, in plays and in film, it has been adapted and retold since its first serial publication in 1844. And sequels? I think when a part two comes out and adds to or trumps the original, it’s the creative forces rising above the producers’ challenge of merely cashing in on the previous movie’s success and making something that can stand on its own. Yay art!
So with this in mind, here is a list of what I consider great sequels. This isn’t an exhaustive list, nor is it in a particular order. And I’ve made some loose rules to keep certain “sequels” off the list because they were part of a series that were designed for inevitable part twos (Kill Bill 2, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, etc.). Now, without further ado, part twos that currently stand out in my mind as favorites.
This was my favorite superhero movie until Batman Begins came out. Now that title is up in the air. But that is neither here nor there. This sequel jumps leaps and bounds above its predecessor. With Spider-man’s origin story out of the way, Sam Raimi and company put together a movie that really explored the mantra from the first film: with great power comes great responsibility. What happens when the hero decides he doesn’t want that responsibility? Not only was the story really tight, but the special effects were worthy of all the praises that were lavished upon them. Swinging around the city with Spider-man was exhilarating to watch. And with a fully fleshed out bad guy, this movie struck every note it set out to hit.
Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest
I remember walking away from the first Pirates movie thinking how much fun it as and how great it is to have a swashbuckling tale for my generation. What I love about Dead Man’s Chest is that once everyone on board realized there was going to be more of these movies, they stepped up their game and created an incredibly complex plot for a relatively simple story. There were twists, turns, backstabbing and all sorts of plot lines flying around and that’s exactly why I love it. It would have been easy to keep the story simple again and just have another adventure for Jack Sparrow. But writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio stepped up their game and, along with director Gore Verbinski, took the Pirates series from great to epic. And, come on, who didn’t sit slack-jawed at Davey Jones?
Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Were I ranking these sequels in order of my favorites, this one would definitely be in contention for the number one spot. In high school, college and into my early twenties, I was obsessed with this series. And while I love them all, Evil Dead 2 is probably my favorite of the three. Where Evil Dead was a great horror movie (not to mention a great example of how budding filmmakers can put together a feature-length film without consistent financial backers) and Army of Darkness played a heavier hand towards comedy within a horror/fantasy setting, Evil Dead 2 was a perfect mixture of horror and comedy. From the reintroduction of the cabin in the woods (using new footage because they couldn’t get the rights to their first film) to Ash having to lop of his hand with a chainsaw because it was infected (rumor has it, when Bruce Campbell and Kurt Russell were working together on Escape from L.A., Kurt Russell told Bruce Campbell that his favorite scene in Evil Dead 2 was the hand-infected scene and the clearly dubbed “work shed” line over it), this movie was the perfect recipe for a cult classic. Gore, horror, comedy and a lot of Bruce Campbell doing his thing makes this a killer sequel.
Bryan Singer knocked it out of the park with this one. Much like Spider-man 2 (or any superhero movie or sequel, really), the X-Men sequel was freed from the burden of introductions and explanations, allowing room for the plot to do what it needed to do. One of the things that continues to impress me is that, try as I might, I can’t really tell you what the story is in this movie. There really isn’t one. Things happen and they lead to a logical conclusion, but it’s nearly impossible to summarize what X-Men 2 was about. And in that, I think one of the movie’s strengths shines through. Sometimes you just want to watch superheroes do superhero things. And in that, this movie delivers in spades.
James Cameron took Ridley Scott’s creation and made it his own in Aliens. This installment was an excellent blend of action and horror as Ripley, awakened from a deep slumber, eventually lands on the alien planet to help a group of marines kick ass and take names against the all but invincible aliens. The best part? Bill Paxton’s line as Private Hudson: “Game over, man! Game over!” Classic. I still use that line. Geiger’s art comes alive on the alien planet, further exploring the bio-mechanical and sexual undertones of his designs. It all adds up to a great movie and my favorite in the series.
Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey
This may be a total guilty pleasure but I love this movie. It literally has everything. Heaven, purgatory, the future, the past, princesses, Sir James Martin of the Faith No More School of Theology, Primus, air guitar to eliminate pollution, Evil Bill and Evil Ted, the Good Robot Us’s built by Station (an alien that can split itself in half to be more effective) and The Reaper. Oh how I love The Reaper. Brilliantly portrayed by William Sadler, every line he delivered had me in tears and is totally quotable. The movie’s parody of The Seventh Seal was hilarious. And to top it off, it’s one of the few movies that I not only tolerate Keanu Reeves, but I actually like him in it! Like I said, maybe a guilty pleasure, but come on!
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
This is one of those few Arnold movies that you don’t love ironically. Arguably, it’s the best Arnold movie ever. James Cameron took his original Terminator and stepped it up in all the areas for this sequel. This movie is probably most famous for its spectacular special effects, mainly with the T-1000. ILM raised the bar for film’s use of CGI from this movie on out. And that’s saying something. But it wasn’t effects for the sake of effects. The effects enhanced the story and the story called for better effects. Outside of being a landmark film for CGI, it was an excellently fleshed out action movie that introduced the phrase, “Hasta la vista, baby” into America’s lexicon for years to come.
Dawn of the Dead
I’m talking George Romero’s sequel to Night of the Living Dead, not the 2004 remake of the sequel. Clearly the best entry in the original trilogy, Romero saw an opportunity to expand upon the zombie genre he helped create and use the zombies to provide biting commentary on society. Mainly taking place in a mall, the zombies walk around the shopping plaza mindlessly while heroes eventually move into the mall and set up their new life. Dawn of the Dead’s commentary on consumerism was made effective by Romero’s ability to use the idea of zombies not as the main focus, but as an external influence that forces the human characters to behave in ways that demonstrate our uglier sides. Great, great movie.