Friday Favourites: Five threequels that blew it

The Dark Knight Rises posterIn 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…


The Godfather Part III Poster1. The Godfather Part III (1990)

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.


The Mummy Tomb of the Dragon Emperor poster3. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008)

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.


Batman Forever5. 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.

Friday Favourites: 10 sequels we should all pretend don’t exist

A few weeks back I suggested ten films that deserved a sequel but sadly never received one. The flip side of this would be a list of sequels that were made, but shouldn’t have been. This is a much harder task, given the sheer volume of sequels that disappointed or just didn’t measure up to the original; but here for your reading pleasure are a few of my choices of follow-ups that not only disappointed but utterly stained the film from whence they sprung.


Batman & Robin poster

1. Batman & Robin (1997)

Easy one, this. A genuine contender for Worst Sequel of All Time: a pun-drenched, painfully poor script from Akiva Goldsman; headache-inducing camerawork; the camp, dayglo production design; and a cast that couldn’t be more ill-suited to their characters. Result: franchise crash and burn (until Christopher Nolan’s 2005 reboot, anyway).


2. Aliens vs Predator: Requiem (2007)

Regular readers will know of my love of the Alien franchise, so this really was a heartbreaking moment for me. Regardless of whether you count it as a sequel to the original tetralogy or its immediate predecessor, AvP, this is a follow-up so genuinely unpleasant (tedious characters, tedious plot, nasty action) it just shouldn’t be watched. Even the studio realised this, hence the film’s cinematography being so dark it’s practically unwatchable anyway.


3. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

How the mighty have fallen. That Richard Donner’s original comic-book masterpiece should have given birth to this load of cheap old tat is unthinkable. Christopher Reeve is reliably excellent as usual, but he’s the sole reason for watching this poor excuse for milking a cash cow dry. Two words – Nuclear Man. I mean, what? Incidentally, what is it about part fours that consistently make them so much worse than any other sequels?


Jaws: The Revenge poster4. Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

Speaking of which, here comes another part four from 1987 that shits all over its classic 1970s forefather. Witness the inept direction and nonsensical plot: the way it tries to replay key moments from Spielberg’s film but completely fails to make them work. This is the film about which Michael Caine famously commented he hadn’t seen, but he had seen the house that it built – surely the only positive thing to emerge from this travesty.


5. Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

I don’t even remember what Exorcist II was about. All I can remember was a) it was a bizarre mess; b) there were quite a lot of locusts;  and c) Richard Burton popped up. Probably best just to leave it there, to be honest.


6. Omen IV: The Awakening (1991)

Oh hello, another eye-gougingly awful part four. Seriously, if you’re a filmmaker asked to take on a third sequel to a great original – just leave well alone. This film was in fact a TV movie, an attempt to resurrect the Damien franchise that should have been left dead and buried after part three. Miraculously, it reached some cinemas in Europe. I pity the fools that paid money to watch its miserable attempts to stir up terror.


7. The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior (2008)

In which a warrior rises, apparently. Yes, I did watch this. No, I shouldn’t have. I quite enjoyed the first film – a bright and breezy sword-and-sandals actioner which tipped its hat to the slightly camp fantasy adventures of the 80s typified by Conan the Barbarian/Destroyer and the like. This direct-to-dvd follow-up looks like an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess, but on a lower budget. It does however win points for its hysterically funny giant invisible scorpion at the end, which looks like it might have been created on an Amiga 500.  But what’s with all the pointless Greek mythology references?


Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End poster8. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

If I’ve learnt one thing from this article, it’s to fear sequels that are released in a year ending in 7. They are certain doom. Still, at least it wasn’t a part four (On Stranger Tides – which, in point of fact, was slightly better than part three). At World’s End was a near three-hour long barrage of noise, gloom, CGI action and general melancholic tedium. Despite the high volume levels, it’s the closest I’ve ever come to nodding off at the cinema (not counting the Alien Trilogy all-nighter, which saw me briefly flag at around 6am in the middle of Alien 3).


9. Ocean’s Twelve (2004)

Steven Soderbergh’s sequel to his highly enjoyable 2001 caper remake is a textbook lesson in How To Destroy Everything People Liked About The First Film. Here, the plot isn’t clever, it’s stupid; worse, it cheats by going back on itself and changing the rules. The plot point about Julia Roberts’ character looking quite like Julia Roberts is also gobsmackingly irritating, to the extent that you want to punch the film repeatedly in the face. ARRRRGH! *punches film in face*


10. Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990)

Let’s finish with another part four, shall we? Going down the prequel route, this unwanted drivel purports to show us how Norman Bates became the man we all loved to be scared of. In doing so, the film completely misses the point of Hitchcock’s classic original: that horror can be found lurking in the most ordinary and benign situations – even behind the eyes of a seemingly nice young man like Norman. Just awful.

Friday Favourites: 10 films that deserved a sequel

In these days of franchises dominating the box-office and films coming with sequel-friendly endings as standard, it’s interesting to look back at some that could or should have had follow-ups but, for whatever reason, didn’t.  Sequels can be a good thing (no, seriously): they can provide an encore for popular characters, deepen or embellish the world from the original, or offer an opportunity to fix things that didn’t work first time around. Sometimes we’re left wanting more, and though we know in our heart of hearts a sequel is as likely to disappoint as not, that doesn’t stop us dreaming. So here are a few of my dream choices for the sequel treatment:

1. Flash Gordon (1980)

Flash Gordon poster

“The End?” The final scene’s tease in Mike Hodges’ adaptation of the classic comic strip promised a sequel that tragically never materialised. Yes, it’s as camp as hell, but who wouldn’t want to see a follow-up with more dodgy acting, crazy set designs and a rocking Queen soundtrack? Just think: more Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan! Could the world have survived it?

2. Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

Of all the films produced by Steven Spielberg geared towards younger audiences, this is perhaps the most overlooked. The Goonies has the biggest online clamouring for a sequel, but this introduction to the master detective was an enjoyable (if rather unfaithful) adventure mixing Conan Doyle’s familiar ingredients with a strong dash of Spielbergian fantasy,  a decent cast and a killer closing shot. A follow-up would likely have disappointed, but been welcome nonetheless.

3. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

Another Sherlock Holmes adventure, this time with a man born to play the lead role: Peter Cushing. This was Hammer’s attempt to continue their run of successful literary horror adaptations following The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958), and retained the core team of Cushing, Christopher Lee and director Terence Fisher. It’s a gorgeously gothic take on the classic novel, and Cushing’s performance was terrific. Alas, no official follow-ups were made, despite the abundance of source material – though Cushing did get to reprise the character in a 1960s BBC TV series.

4. Galaxy Quest (1999)

Galaxy Quest poster

This pitch-perfect satire of the Star Trek phenomenon was enjoyed by both fans and non-fans alike. The strong cast (Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman) and clever story (about the has-been cast of a once-popular sci-fi TV show being forced to live through an episode for real) made it an ideal choice for sequelising (is that a word?). Unfortunately it didn’t sell as many tickets at the box-office as it should, and any thoughts of a Part Two were placed in hypersleep.

5. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

The curse of sci-fi comedy struck again with this adaptation of Douglas Adams’ ever popular series. With four published sequels from the author (and a fifth completed by Eoin Colfer), all the first film had to do was capture the audience’s imagination; the sequels would practically make themselves. The only problem: the film failed to find an audience in America. The Guide was quietly shelved.

6. Unbreakable (2000)

M. Night Shyamalan’s follow-up to The Sixth Sense was a slightly eccentric spin on the superhero genre, and arguably a few years ahead of its time. As the film ends the stage is set for an epic showdown between the hero (Bruce Willis) and the villain (Samuel L. Jackson).  Probably one of those films that’s best left as a one-off, but the mind still lingers on what might have happened next.

7. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon posterUnusually, Ang Lee’s arthouse blockbuster is already a sequel: an adaptation of the fourth book in a five-book series.  It took over $100m in the US alone and further adaptations of the series were promised, but never came to pass. A shame, as its epic mixture of mythical action and doomed romance would almost certainly have justified a second visit.

8. The Untouchables (1987)

There’s little suggestion of further stories to be told at the end of Brian De Palma’s take on the Al Capone story, but after the edge-of-the-seat climax I was actually rather keen to see where Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and the other surviving Untouchable, George Stone (Andy Garcia), went next.  Who knows? They might have assembled a new team and taken on other crime syndicates… *enters the land of imagination* *forgets to finish article* (the same applies to Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential (1997) with Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce)

9. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

Master and Commander poster

From a personal perspective, it’s simply criminal that a sequel to Peter Weir’s adaptation of Patrick O’Brien’s seafaring saga was never greenlit. Unquestionably the finest dramatisation of naval warfare during the Napoleonic Wars (a rather narrow genre, I grant you), the excitement, monotony and sheer terror of life aboard ship was superbly brought to life. Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey and Paul Bettany as Stephen Maturin made a fantastic pairing. With at least another 18 novels left to adapt (this film merged two entries), and Crowe publicly stating his desire to reprise the role of Aubrey, one can only wistfully hope there is still time to pull a follow-up together.

10. The Italian Job (1969)

And finally, how can I not mention the film that will forever be engrained on the British public consciousness? THAT ending, as Michael Caine proclaims to have an idea as to how to retrieve his team’s stolen loot from the bus balancing on the edge of a cliff in the Alps, has come to define this country’s irresistible urge to support the underdog, the loveable rogue, the cheeky chappie – even if he is a common thief. We desperately want him to succeed, but we’ll never know if he did.  It’s a terrific ending; a sequel showing what happened next would simply have robbed the film of a major part of its charm. Still, it did deserve a sequel, right?

Friday Favourites: 5 Dodgy Taglines

I do love a good film poster. It seems to be something of a dying art, sadly; so many these days are just Photoshopped headshots of the cast looking serious/pensive/awestruck. They remind me of Joey’s acting class from Friends: in order to act like you’ve received some bad news, he tells his students, just try and divide 232 by 13 (cue prolonged quizzical expression). Where’s the excitement? Where’s the passion? Where’s the beautiful, swooning, scantily-clad woman being carried away by the monstrous creation?

Anyway, one of the best things about a poster is the tagline: a line of text that promises anything and everything in order to seduce us in to seeing whatever they are trying to sell. Some are memorable for good reasons (sci-fi and horror flicks tend to attract particularly enjoyable examples), others… not so much. Here are five slightly suspect attempts to sell a film:

Whoever wins... we lose.5. Whoever Wins… We Lose.

Film: Alien vs Predator (2004) 

Well, at least it was accurate – audiences were the ones who lost out if they handed over their hard-earned cash to see this disappointing intergalactic battle. Proof that honesty is not always the best policy.


Amazing!4. Amazing!

Film: Forbidden Planet (1956)

To be honest, I’m rather fond of this one. Back in the 1950s it seems a single simple word was sufficient to dazzle punters (although there are plenty of examples of more hysterical efforts). Still, even by the standards of the time it’s a pretty lame effort to sell one of the best sci-fi films of its era. It’s got Robbie the Robot, for goodness’ sake!


Earth - Take a good look. It may be your last.3. EARTH – Take a good look. It could be your last.

Film: Independence Day (1996)

You can’t deny this didn’t work – it roped every man, woman and child in to cinemas in the summer of 1996. A bit later on we wondered what all the fuss was about. And then later still we realised it was all a big joke. One wonders if some advertising exec slipped this tagline in to a meeting for a laugh just to see if anyone bit. Of course, they did.


Collide with Destiny.2. Collide With Destiny.

Film: Titanic (1997) 

All in the best possible taste! Or not. Trivialising an infamous cruise ship disaster which cost hundreds of people their lives by carelessly throwing the word Collide around – could you be any less tasteful? Oh, wait – how about re-releasing the film in 3D to profit from commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking?


This Time It's Personal.1. This Time It’s Personal.

Film: Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

Nothing can beat the third Jaws sequel for sheer outright silliness. Leaving aside the absurdity of the plot (just how does a shark make things personal…?) and the cheap production values, if that’s possible, this tagline must have had people laughing all the way to the fleapit box office in 1987. Still, it delivered exactly what it promised – even if nobody wanted it.

Friday Favourites: Ten Classic Thrillers

Jaws posterThe start of an occasional series: a list of my favourite films, scenes, actors or whatever else might take my fancy. To kick off, here’s a list of ten of my favourite thrillers, in no particular order. I originally published this a few years ago and was surprised to find that it still works for me today. The only tweak I made is the choice of Bond film (the one listed below replaces You Only Live Twice, my original selection). The Thriller as a genre is wide open to interpretation of course: there are plenty of others I could add, but hey – you have to start somewhere, right?


1. The Third Man (1949)

Orson Welles is unforgettable in this truly excellent noir thriller set in a murky post-war Vienna. Harry Lime (Welles) has died in a car crash; old friend Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) arrives in the city to investigate and uncovers more than he bargained for. Superb photography, script and score; probably the greatest British film ever made.

2. Die Hard (1988)

An ingenious premise: Bruce Willis stranded in a skyscraper taken over by terrorists. By keeping the story confined to a single location, director John McTiernan lets the tension (and action) build as cop John McClane (Willis) and his German nemesis Hans Gruber (the brilliant Alan Rickman) try to outwit each other.

3. The 39 Steps (1935)

Arguably Alfred Hitchcock’s finest British film, this is a glorious chase movie. The innocent Richard Hannay (dapper Robert Donat) is forced to go on the run after being framed for the murder of a secret agent. The corkscrew plot, atmospheric Scottish locations and delicious chemistry between the two leads once Hannay gets handcuffed to a reluctant accomplice (Madeleine Carroll) make this a solid-gold classic.

4. North By Northwest (1959)

Another Hitchcock classic, and every bit as good as The 39 Steps. Cary Grant is the innocent man on the run this time, mistaken for an assassin at the United Nations. The epic chase that follows, as he flees across the Unites States trying to keep one step ahead of the mysterious criminal organisation led by James Mason, is memorable set-piece after memorable set-piece.

5. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Steven Spielberg’s recreation of vintage 1930s Saturday morning adventure serials is a fantastic ripping yarn in its own right. This old-fashioned escapism has been imitated many times over the years but has still to be bettered. After starring as the adventuring archaeologist Indiana Jones here, it became Harrison Ford’s signature role.

6. From Russia With Love (1963)

Everyone has their favourite James Bond film, and this list wouldn’t be complete without one. My personal fave is the second of Sean Connery’s outings, when the heady mixture of action, intrigue, fiendish plots, and exotic locales and ladies was still fresh – before the series moved in to more outlandish pastures.

7. Where Eagles Dare (1968)

This fantastic WW2 men-on-a-mission tale (written by Alistair Maclean) has all the ingredients for a classic wartime thriller. A team of paratroopers, led by Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood, is sent into Austria to recover a captured General. Double and triple crosses galore, plus Clint wiping out half the German army with his machine gun – what’s not to like? Brilliant soundtrack from Ron Goodwin too.

8. L.A. Confidential (1997)

Thoroughly engrossing noir tale set in the seedy underbelly of 1950s Los Angeles, complete with femmes fatales and corrupt cops. The dense plot winds up with a thrilling shootout between bad guys and unlikely allies Bud (Russell Crowe) and Ed (Guy Pearce). One of the best films from the 1990s.

9. Jaws (1975)

Before Indy, Spielberg had already redefined popular cinema with this blockbuster yarn about a rogue white shark menacing the small town of Amity Island. The chair-gripping opening sequence is unforgettable, but it really kicks into gear once we’re shark-hunting on the high seas with the 3 Rs (Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss).

10. The Terminator (1984)

Straying slightly into sci-fi territory here, but James Cameron’s tale of the relentless cyborg from the future tracking down the woman who will give birth to the future saviour of mankind is one of the great action thrillers. Schwarzenegger’s powerful presence and minimal acting ability is put to fantastic use, while director Cameron piles on the suspense.