Let’s be real — most movie sequels straight up stink. Something about the combination of more money with the studio mandate of “more of the same, please!” is desperate and toxic. And yet, on occasion, you’ll find the rare sequel that deserves its existence. Even rarer still is the sequel that actually bests its predecessors. Let’s get into some of those, shall we?
The Dark Knight
Batman Begins is like a friend who has an idea for a board game. The Dark Knight is like a friend who takes that idea, hones it, shapes it, creates well-rounded, easy-to-follow rules, casts the pieces out of pro-grade steel, and mass produces copies for everyone to enjoy. In words that are not insane board game metaphors, The Dark Knight takes the ideas presented in Batman Begins and runs with them further than the original could’ve ever even conceived. Plus, uh, Heath Ledger’s Joker is a pretty good performance, I guess. I mean, whatever.
Home Alone 2: Lost In New York
It’s rare that a sequel that goes bigger is better. Yet by moving the action and emotional stakes outside of a self-contained Chicago home and into the big, bad New York City jungle, screenwriter John Hughes and director Chris Columbus tap into something far more primal, more fun, more touching. I watch this film every single Christmas like a present I can’t get enough of; the original film remains unwrapped.
X-Men: Days Of Future Past
The first two X-Men films are truly x-cellent. The third one… well, if you decide never to tell anyone about my “x-cellent” pun, I’ll decide not to go into the third one. Yet it wasn’t until Bryan Singer’s 2014 return to the franchise that it truly reached its peak. This film manages to root a potentially confusing time-travel plot into easily digestible and identifiable human emotions and stakes. It does everything: I was moved to tears of laughter in the Quicksilver sequence, and I was moved to tears of pathos when the two Xaviers met each other.
Crank: High Voltage
The first Crank is a fun romp that explores a stupidly simple idea pretty well. The second Crank is a bonafide absurdist action masterpiece. It takes the ideas of the first film, throws them into a postmodern blender, messes with the very form of film itself (Godzilla fights? Jerry Springer-esque talk shows? Chev whistling the score of the movie itself?), and comes out looking borderline revolutionary. This is a film that ends with the main character on fire flipping off the audience, and the audience going, “More, please!”
Toy Story 3
With each Toy Story film, a wrinkle of emotional complexity and maturity is added. Granted, the first one deals with feeling inadequate and unwanted, so the fact that the third one deals with a very literal acceptance of death (holding hands while plummeting into a furnace? Are you deliberately messing with us, Pixar?) is less of an out-of-nowhere surprise and more of an inevitability. Toy Story 3 is the ultimate culmination of the thesis laid by Toy Story — it recognizes the necessity of the previous films while simultaneously lapping them.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
In the history of film, has any other movie managed to make you cry with a simple “thumbs up” gesture? How did James Cameron do it? Well, by balancing incredible action thrills with still-holds-up-to-this-day visual effects with the very necessary emotional center of a troubled child who needs a friend. It’s this balance that the first one lacks; it’s this balance that makes this one superior.
Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade
Raiders Of The Lost Ark is great. Revolutionary, even. But it’s a touch sloppy. The Last Crusade, on the other hand, is a well-oiled machine, providing thrills, humor, and emotional catharsis often all in the same beat (Indy’s father umbrellaing the birds into the Nazi’s plane is a perfect example of this). Plus, when it comes to horror-moments-that-traumatize-you-as-a-kid, I’ll take choosing the wrong Holy Grail over looking at the ark any day.
Which sequel works the most for you? Which one do you find unnecessary? Also, get in on the ground floor of my Twitter now, before the inevitable gritty reboot.