You may get no indication of it for all the things we’ve said over this year, but we do try to be optimistic about the future of mainstream film. Every once in a while a film will break through the cracks and prove that daring cinema is still possible under the studio’s thumb. Sometimes that comes out as a detriment to a studio, such as with the like of The Lone Ranger, a film which seems an outlandish miscalculation on the part of a studio machine. Eric D. Snider’s Pitch Meeting for the film shows all the reasons it should not have been given the go-ahead. It was quite frankly destined to failure, but it’s a film I’m very happy exists, not least because I found it more free-wheeling in spirit than any of the more clinically manufactured sequels we’ve been plagued with recently.
There have been times when I have wanted to declare full scale war against sequel culture, a mindset obsessed so much with what comes after the end credits that they’re willing to dilute the buzz that comes with a film’s definitive close. There’s something thrilling and truly cathartic about a film’s ending that most viewers take for granted. People ignore that this is truly the last time they’ll ever see these characters or feel the sweep of this world or story, and in many cases we’ve become quite attached to these entities.
Even in a film I recently found mediocre, Stella Dallas, a saccharine 1930s melodrama about a golddigger wife who turns out to have had a heart of gold all along, the ending of her literally giving up her daughter so she’ll have a better future away from her nonetheless built a chasm in me because of how it didn’t necessarily cop to the cliche reconciliation of a happy ending. I felt the film’s all-is-swell handling railed revoltingly against the text’s bitter nature, but the ending stood up. Sequel culture negates that thrill, mollycoddling the audiences with further adventures that keep their favorite characters and worlds alive at the expense of any tension implied by an ending. When Iron Man 3 ends, there is no thrill, because we frankly know he will return in The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
I must maintain, though, that sequels can be done well. I look at Fast Five and Furious Six, the two most recent films in the Fast & Furious franchise, and I realize that all their insane thrills wouldn’t possibly exist if they hadn’t been beyond the fourth installment of a franchise. That series’ long endurance has filled in the cathartic element that was missing from the series in the first place. We’ve also seen the positive effects of sequel culture in the indie stream, Richard Linklater’s Before series using the nine year period between sequels to replicate that tension of a definitive ending within a sequel environment. I can even justify the existence of films like Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness and even Insidious: Chapter 2, because each of those films is built for a fanbase eager for them and has potential to shape culture in a new direction. Whether it succeeds in steering culture in a *better* direction is up for discussion.
There will inevitably be sequels with little to no justification for their existence, and every year we can count them up to at least ten in number. The year’s not totally over, so there’s obviously room for more to join these ranks. Even I question the genuine necessity of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, though there’s clearly a desire amongst fans for it. I might’ve even included The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in there just to spite those at the site that liked it, but there’s no sense starting an overextended trilogy if we’re not going to finish it. For now, though, we have 10 sequels that we would’ve been much better without.
Film Misery’s 10 Least
Necessary Sequels of 2013
A Good Day to Die Hard
After Bruce Willis had an above average year in 2012, it feels an unfortunate reminder of his regular trade of action heroes to be brought back to John McClane, or rather the hollow shell of John McClane. It should be noted how poorly this works even as a sequel to Die Hard, because gone is the light energy, confined stakes, and even the attitude that made John McClane such an idolized figure in the first place. Don’t we remember McClane as a guy in humorous disbelief at the high stakes he constantly finds himself in? Here he’s just a serviceable killing machine, which is really the sole function of this film. It exists for the sake of violence, but they forgot that violence isn’t what made Die Hard a fan favorite.
Grown Ups 2
I did not see Grown Ups. I will not see Grown Ups 2. To some degree it escapes me how any self-respecting human being would willfully watch these films. Then I see interviews of people on the streets saying how great they *still* think Adam Sandler is and I sigh in pity for humanity. Forgetting the fact that the first film is by all accounts dreadful, the sequel (from every response I’ve heard on it) serves absolutely no purpose, even in a narrative sense. While the first film had at least some semblance of a narrative, Grown Ups 2 is just an amalgam of different stupid happenings, with the closest throughline being a joke about a possibly transgendered fitness instructor. Poor taste = big money, apparently.
For as hard as we tried, I think we’ve failed on the part of getting Todd Phillips’ #1 fan Alex Carlson to see The Hangover Part III. Admittedly, it would be just too easy for him to figure out his pick for worst film of 2013 that way, and I must also admit that this film was somewhat necessary, if only to ensure that we never get another Hangover movie ever in our lives. What’s made this franchise dreadful hasn’t been simple drunken misbehavior, but offensive misbehavior committed whilst now sober. Mixing up the narrative template doesn’t change that. There’s still no point or desire for these antics. There’s likely a thesis paper on how these films are possibly a masterful contemplation on and emulation of masculinity turned grotesquely flaccid. Whoever has the strength to watch them and write that is probably the bravest person on the planet.
It’s not even out yet, but just look at how little of a whim it took to get this film made. Paramount needed more time to finish Paranormal Activity 5, so they A) invented a Latino spin-off to be released in January, B) pushed that film back to next October and C) threw this facile Jackass prank together for release. The twist? There’s a narrative of Bad Grandpa taking his grandchild across the country for… some reason, and they perpetrate real pranks on unsuspecting civilians. It’s a similar formula to the Jackass films, but without even a sense of camaraderie to them. It’s, again, gross misbehavior simply for its own sake, and it woes me how much reckless abandon brought this film into existence in the first place.
The first Kick-Ass became something of a cult hit back in 2010, engendering all the love that comes with an elementary school girl killing and cussing as a “real life superhero”. The thing about a cult classics, however, is that they usually do not get a sequel. As it turns out, that’s for good reason. There’s nothing new or fresh about this retread, recycling the first film’s violence and vulgarity while losing whatever edge the first film had. Even Jim Carrey wouldn’t have anything to do with it in a post-Sandy Hook world. The film’s poor box office performance thankfully reciprocates that, ensuring no further installments in this primary coloured “reality” ploy.
This may be the harshest card dealt in this entire list, but upon deeper examination it’s occurring to me not just how unnecessary Monsters University is, but how practically evil it is. Let’s seriously consider Monsters Inc. for a minute, something people seemed hesitant to do upon the film’s release. That film’s adventurous, concerned spirit is absolutely absent from the candy coated tone and mood of this negligently simple prequel. Mike and Sulley’s relationship is given no further dimensions, their enemies-turned-friends dynamic falling in line without much effort on either part. We’re also offered no real idea of a world that’s any different from our own. In that respect there’s absolutely no ambition in story or concept, no further character depth, and for all the money spent, the story of Mike and Sulley has been forwarded by zero degrees. All that and they ignore the morality of the first film, when we learned that scaring children was bad. This film is about people aspiring towards tormenting children’s nightmares. What kind of message to kids is that?
In Monsters University‘s favor, there’s an even more inferior Pixar knock-off to take focus off the film’s shortcomings. It still escapes me that this is a theatrically released film, and it disturbs me more that a $50 million animation such as this was originally destined for straight-to-DVD. What does that say of how willy-nilly Disney is in giving the green light to films even on the small screen? The story of a plane that wants nothing more than to be a racing winner… you know, I just realized how many times I’ve typed that exact same sentence, but with car/snail/Thor in place of plane. This isn’t technically a sequel, but it’s the same ugly world as Pixar’s most maligned brand, and it lacks originality and imagination even in comparison to the Cars films.
RED was… mildly amusing? I can’t even tell if I really believe that. The film was built on the assumption that people wanted to see geriatric folks with guns. It was a moderate hit in its day, but what purpose could really be served from a sequel? It turns out not much. Everything about this film looks like it’s struggling to justify its existence, without a dramatic bone in its body to help serve the “humour”. It’s also worth noting that Bruce Willis is now in two films on this list. Not a particularly good sign, but thankfully G.I. Joe: Retaliation had some semblance of a pulse to it, so his year wasn’t completely bust. Just most bust.
The Scary Movie franchise is an anomaly, in that it doesn’t matter how atrociously each installment performs. There will eventually at some point in time be a sequel. The last film came out in 2006, widely revolted critics, but still managed some kind of narrative thread pulling it together. To my recollection, not that it’s something at all worth remembering, I don’t think there was even a plot to this retrograde farce. Riffs on Inception and Black Swan only show just how out of date this film is. And just think, David Zucker once made a film as brilliantly funny as Airplane! How far he’s fallen.
Of all the films on this list, this is the one I have the smallest beef with. Why? Because for all its dim stupidity, I know it only exists to please the kids. And that’s the issue The Smurfs 2 can no longer ignore: kids don’t really like it. They understand the manipulative sentimentality at play. I feel like we’re approaching the end of the era of CG kid-geared idiocy, when kids are starting to feel as though they deserve better than this. Really, we all do.