In the week that trilogy-capper The Dark Knight Rises is released, I thought it might be fun to look back at some past threequels which not only failed to meet the high standard achieved by their forebears, but did so by a wide margin. Not that I think Christopher Nolan has delivered a turkey to your nearest cinema – that seems almost inconceivable at this point – but it might help to deflate a little of the hype and expectation in which Rises is lavishly smothered.
There are LOADS of crappy Part IIIs of course, but I’m only looking at those that followed a strong original and a decent (or even great) part two; the second sequel thus ruining any legitimate chance of the trilogy being acclaimed as a whole. So films like Return of the Jedi, which are relatively inferior to their predecessors but still perfectly respectable entertainment, are disqualified.
TDKR follows Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, both very fine films in their own right. But will they go on to become an acclaimed trilogy? Early reviews suggest Yes, but I won’t find out until later today. (Oh, and who else thinks it’s a shame Batman Begins has Batman in the title? It would be much more fitting if all three had gone with the Dark Knight moniker. Could Nolan pull a ‘Lucas’ and retroactively change the title to The Dark Knight Begins? Too similar to The Dark Knight Rises, maybe. Can Batman both Begin and also Rise as well? What does he do in the middle chapter then? Just exist? So Part II should be re-titled The Dark Knight Is. Or maybe The Dark Knight Descends. Or how about The Dark Knight Emerges? Oh alright, I give up.)
Anyway, back to those dodgy threequels…
Where else can one start but here? The Godfather and its immediate follow-up were models of intricate plotting and superlative performances masterfully woven together by their director. But Part III frequently succumbs to flabby plotting and occasional stretches of dullness, interspersed with a masterclass in How Not To Act from Sofia Coppola. It’s not a complete loss – Al Pacino and Andy Garcia are on great form – but it’s a long way off the first two. Mind you, so is pretty much everything else.
2. The Final Conflict (1981)
The Omen and its sequel Damien: Omen II are both very enjoyable horror romps. The original stands up remarkably well today thanks to Richard Donner’s pitch-perfect direction and its fantastic cast, while Part II amusingly ups the ‘accidental’ deaths and gore. But Part III fumbles the ball badly. The series’ trademark set-pieces are very ho-hum compared to what’s come before, while the plot (concerning the End of Days) is a load of old twaddle. It’s a disappointingly tame end to what was otherwise a memorable franchise, though on the plus side Sam Neill is brilliant, and it’s still better than the made-for-TV Part IV and the pointless 2006 remake.
Look, no-one’s suggesting Stephen Sommers’ horror-adventure pastiches are misunderstood classics. But I’m on record as being a bit of a fan of his 1999 Mummy remake, with its old-fashioned heroics and swoony star pairing of Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. The first sequel, 2001’s The Mummy Returns, lost some of the original’s charm in the onslaught of special effects, but kept enough of what worked to make it a fun ride. Sadly, Rob Cohen’s belated Part III has absolutely no charm whatsoever. Weisz bailed, and replacement Maria Bello couldn’t replicate the chemistry she shared with Fraser, who looks as if he was just waiting for his cheque to clear. And let’s not even get started on those Yetis.
4. Shrek the Third (2007)
A catastrophic drop-off in quality occurred somewhere along the way between Shrek 2 and 3. The first two films are great fun. This third entry was a complete snoozer. It was followed by Shrek Forever After, which was only marginally less snoozy. Perhaps the novelty had worn off by the time Part III emerged, but I think the problem is simpler than that: an unfunny script that can’t find anything new to do with its characters. If you really want a Shrek trilogy, bundle parts I and II together with last year’s spin-off Puss in Boots, which was actually quite fun.
5. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Blade: Trinity (2004)
Batman Forever (1995)
Superman III (1983)
Finally, here’s a few comic-book franchises that slipped up on their way to trilogy status – take your pick. Evidently there is a long-standing tradition for superhero threequels to shoot wide of the mark. I would argue that none of them are especially terrible (well, alright, maybe Blade 3); in fact they are quite enjoyable in parts. But all pale significantly in comparison with their respective parts I and II. Sometimes a change of director is to blame (a Bryan Singer-directed X-Men 3 would almost certainly have been a far better sequel than the bland Brett Ratner one we ended up getting), but in the case of Spidey 3 and Supes 3 the fault lies with pressure from the studio/producers who wanted the film to be made in a certain way, and the end result just doesn’t quite come together. On this evidence, it’s a brave man who takes on the challenge of making the third film in a superhero saga; but in Nolan we trust.