Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Ask JKM a Question: Which sequel would you replace?
This morning, a reader, Randal Graves, noted in the comments section for “Ask JKM a Question: What Sequel would like to see?” that he would like to see a replacement for Conan the Destroyer (1984), the sequel to Conan the Barbarian (1982).
That funny yet interesting remark got me thinking of a great question, which I know pose to all of you. Which movie sequel would you like to see replaced, and why?
And even more: what would you replace that (bad) sequel with?
For me, the answer at the top of my list has already been provided by another reader, Carl, also this morning.
Carl mentioned Return of the Jedi (1983), and that’s also the very first sequel I would like to see replaced, in part because it features a rerun central threat (another Death Star), in part because it represents the beginning of crass commercialism aimed right at children (The Ewoks) in the franchise, and in part because Harrison Ford gives the worst, most checked-out performance of his career as Han Solo.
Also, the love triangle is wrapped up all neat and tidy in ROTJ by the revelation that Luke and Leia are siblings. Yet we never see the emotional weight of this revelation in terms of Luke’s feelings. Leia may be his biological sister, but it is clear from Star Wars and Empire that he has romantic feelings for her. Does he feel guilty about his romantic feelings now? Does he merely suppress them? Do those feelings make him realize he can't understand love or human connections, and must therefore practice Jedi-style asceticism?
Return of the Jedi’s answer? Next scene!
Anyway, there’s this pervasive by-the-numbers or superficial quality to Return of the Jedi that makes it -- for me, anyway -- a crushing disappointment. I would “replace” it as a sequel with a Star Wars entry revealing a new technological menace from the Empire, and featuring Wookies (already established in the universe) rather than the Ewoks. I'd also grant Harrison Ford something – anything – to do, that might engage his interest. I know the actor wanted Han Solo to die heroically in the third film, and I believe that fate would actually have been a good call, adding a layer of tragedy and “balance” to the rebel victory over the Empire.
Although I can argue all day the artistic merits of Alien3, I fully realize a number of readers here would disagree with me on that particular film, and replace that sequel too. They would do so, I imagine, with a film that allows Newt, Hicks and Bishop to survive, and thus form a kind of nuclear family with Ripley. I’m not unsympathetic to this desire, but I still appreciate the searing nihilistic artistry of Alien3 and the last-temptation of Ripley/Passion of Joan of Arc imagery. If I had to replace any Alien sequel, I’d actually replace Alien Resurrection (1997) instead, which always plays like a grossly unsubtle -- and French -- cartoon.
So, after Return of the Jedi, here are my three choices for sequels to be replaced:
Species II (1998). When I watched the original Species (1995) for the first time, I had the distinct impression that the film – while not perfect – might legitimately launch a great genre franchise and also a “movie monster” that would achieve the same level of popularity as The Terminator, the Predator and the Alien. More so, it would present the first female “monster” in that new pantheon. As an otherworldly beast, Sil looked great (thanks to the Giger-inspired design), and as a human she was...smoking hot. A good sequel could have introduced more information about Sil and the alien race that sent her DNA “recipe” to Earth. It could have deepened the Species universe significantly. Instead, the 1998 sequel was cut-rate and bargain basement: poorly edited and acted, and utterly lacking any degree of charm. And charm – in other words, Natasha Henstridge – is one quality that made the original more than your average creature feature. A great opportunity for franchise-building was sacrificed at the altar of gore and special effects.
Halloween II (1981). I know a lot of people enjoy this horror film, and rightly so. It’s not that it’s a terrible horror film, by any means. However, it is this franchise entry that adds the “reason” or motivation behind the Shape’s relentless pursuit of Laurie Strode. And that's the thing I'd like to replace.
Turns out, according to this sequel, that Laurie is Michael Myers’ long-lost sister, and that Michael is hell-bent on killing family members. After Laurie is out of the picture, Michael even goes after his niece, Jamie, next.
As a critic and as a viewer, I always enjoyed Michael much more as a villain when we had to speculate about his reasons for being “The Shape.” Was he a developmentally-arrested kid playing trick or treat pranks? An embodiment of Laurie’s Id? Just a psycho? Or actually, a supernatural force let loose on Haddonfield?
With that creepy white Shatner mask cloaking his real visage and true motivations, we could project upon Michael any idea that scared us the most. When Michael in Halloween II simply because a murderer of his own family members, ambiguity and terror were sacrificed. “The Shape” became much more understandable, and thus less scary. The remakes by Rob Zombie – while commendable as the personal vision of a unique film artist – traveled further down this (unnecessary) road of humanization, making Michael an abused child. If I could replace Halloween II (1981), I’d make a similar film, but one that omits the Myers back story and motivation.
Superman III (1983). I will readily acknowledge that this Superman film boasts some intriguing and fun moments, especially the duel between drunken Superman and wholesome Clark Kent, now split into two. But Superman II (1981) was an epic adventure pitting Superman against Kryptonian criminals, and featuring an emotional love story between Clark and Lois.
Following up that particular tale with Richard Pryor’s comedy antics and Robert Vaughn’s “coffee magnate” villain results in massive disappointment. The comic book universe of Superman was rich enough that a new direction could have been vetted, but one which didn’t play as so damn insulting and even inconsequential. I would have liked very much to see the next chapter of the Lois/Clark relationship, definitely. Instead, Margot Kidder had a cameo appearance at the start of the picture, and was then unceremoniously shuffled off. Finally, if a comedic villain was absolutely necessary, why not feature Mr. Mxyzptlk?
Return of the Jedi, Species II, Halloween II and Superman III.
Those are my choices of the moment. Now you’re up. Which sequels would you replace, and more importantly, what would you replace them with?
A reader, Chuck, writes: "I know you have been busy and, frankly, I was not sure if you still have time for “Ask JKM a Quest...