Sunday, August 16, 2009

Thoughts on movies from an erstwhile movie snob

Why do we have so few movie sequels that really continue a narrative? We're far more likely to see a new group of characters, maybe with a couple of return parts for novelty, go through the motions of the first movie in a series rather than continue the evolution of a character.

The best we can usually hope for is something like Harry Potter, where characters and their interrelationships are developed by being consistently thrust into similar situations over a long period, with enough variation and cinematography flashiness to keep from getting stale. Building up the mythos of a world is what passes for storytelling in a world of focus groups and demographics, and I'll usually stand for it.

But imagine if sequels really took their characters seriously as characters and not props for a plot, for example if Stallone's Rocky Balboa had been permitted to develop the way an individual might rather than getting roped into a series of increasingly unlikely fights for every sequel that rolled around. After all, the story was really about "Hey Adrian!" and the disconnect between being a nice guy and not really knowing what to do (or often being forced to do the wrong thing, for example muscling debtors for a loan shark). Why not pursue what fame adds to the mix rather than ending every flick with a setpiece fight? I mean, other than the fact that even the creators of the film feel that Rocky was a boxing movie.

What happens if James Bond gets fired, loses his access to awesome technology and has to work out a budget? Characters don't really grow unless you change the dynamic under which they're tested, and this doesn't happen if they keep meeting and besting the same challenges over and over.

I don't mean to say that movies don't do this. The Dark Knight took the invulnerable superhero mystique of the first film and destroyed it by making Batman essentially powerless, and, from what I've heard, Babe 2 subverted audiences and market expectations to deliver a truly thought-provoking story (bad move - the movie tanked). And, despite the gaudy horror of the cloying, unwatchable Toy Story 3 trailer, the crew seems genuinely dedicated to closing the "dramatic arc" of sorts of a toy who had been in denial of, and finally comes to grips with, his own mortality (though to be fair they'll probably just introduce a couple of new characters and have another adventure with a few calculatedly somber moments, which is pretty much what we're looking for anyway).

I'm not a snob, and I like most quality sequels even if they don't blaze much new territory (read: the stylish, fun, but mostly unmoving Hellboy II), though I'd like to see some major league sequels really shake up the dynamic of the story and not leave recontextualization to parody comedy shows and webcomics. The whole "reboot" thing (read: a sequel in practice but without the work of having to come up with a completely new plot) is getting old, and sequels that exist only to rehash the plot of the first movie (National Treasure 2: Blah of Blahcrets) are still safely ignorable, so we have plenty of time to turn Hollywood around before the novelty of CGI explosions even comes close to wearing out.

A final caveat: My apology if my points of reference seem to be mainly sci-fi, fantasy and superhero movies. Granted, they comprise the majority of what I watch, but not a controlling one.


  1. In my opinion, one of the most underrated sequels ever is 2010, the sequel to 2001.

  2. You'll have to excuse me - I've been reading Armond White, the critic contrarian with occasional insights (like Robert Xgau but for movies).

    Does 2010 do what I described?


Thanks for commenting - I reserve the right only to delete ads, nonsensical spam or comments indistinguishable from such.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.