Like many people in the last couple of months, I was watching The Watcher on Netflix. A pretty creepy story, inspired by real world happenings, within a case that has been left unsolved – with the perpetrator never have been found to this day. And while The Watcher stays true to the source material… the fact that the show has been renewed for a second season is a bit confusing. What will it then be based on? Will it completely make up a fictional spin-off as a continuation? And did we really need this continuation?
I oftentimes ask myself this exact same question. I remember watching The Last Exorcism and being like – well, it’s the last one. Well, no, it wasn’t. Maybe it’s just me, but walking into Cineworld back in 2014 and seeing a poster for The Last Exorcism 2 made me laugh quite a lot. And it’s especially funny because the people who creatively selected the title very likely were not trying to be humorous. But naming patterns are beside the point. What I am trying to look at here is when we should and when we shouldn’t have a sequel.
There needs to be enough potential not only for a deeper dive into the world, environment, or lore of the original but enough creativity to do it in a different way. For instance, you have the Star Wars original trilogy or the Indiana Jones original trilogy – every single one of the sequels had a different take on the atmosphere, the plot structure and the main tropes. They followed different formulas, and while they did have lots in common, the sequels didn’t feel like a cheap copy. The same goes for at least Die Hard 2 – same Bruce Willis, but quite a different setting and formula. And an extreme case of this would be Cloverfield. Had Cloverfield 2 and Cloverfield 3 been huge monster attacks city found footage style of films, just like the original, there would have been no need for them. However, the second film is actually a very smart psychological thriller, and the third film is set on a spaceship – doing drastically different things. Which is great! And same goes for Twin Peak’s third season – which was released 25 years after the second season, and yet it took things in a completely different direction while indeed retaining some of the original’s best characteristics. Totally justified, in these cases, to have a sequel.
However, most sequels don’t really tell a different story and don’t really advance it past the same formula as the original. Taken 2, for instance, drops Liam Neeson in a different city but doing the exact same thing. American Psycho 2 taints the memory of the original. Terminator 3 just copies the best moments of 1 and 2 without delivering anything even remotely close to the experience of watching the first two movies. Most, if not all, films in The Conjuring’s universe and umbrella brand are pretty much all the same in terms of structure and content, save for different characters, costumes and locations. The same goes for Jurassic Park III, and don’t even get me started on stuff like S Darko or Titanic 2.
There needs to be enough conflict left at the end of the last movie in order to really justify a follow-up. Otherwise, the sequel would feel very forced to justify its existence. When the conflict is already pretty much maxed out as part of the previous entry – for instance, some saving the world sort of story that Marvel movies like to go for – there is little left to top that in the sequel. Unless, of course, it’s saving the world part two – but that ties into another argument I made earlier about forced part twos.
The reverse is also applicable – if the conflict is already resolved, then any attempt to either bring it back to the maximum point or to create a new conflict with a very similar arc to the original’s is again going to be a little dodgy. The newest Star Wars trilogy is a pretty good example of this – with the First Order a pale imitation of previous iterations of the Empire and Palpatine’s return very much feeling forced and unnatural. It’s not at all a flawed approach in case the arc creates a fully different experience or veers in a different direction – but relying on the same framework and tropes in order to just deliver more content is not the best.
This is one of the elements that most sequels bank on – their central characters. If the original is successful in creating a character or bunch of characters that audiences really like, then that alone provides the motivation for filmmakers to continue making films with them at the centre of the action. For instance, The Godfather Part II and III are built around Michael Corleone, but around a Michael Corleone that keeps changing and developing in both his ways as well as his aspirations. However, in most cases, the sequel stories feel forced – because the story is built around the character instead of it being the other way around. Even so, some of these sequels manage to pull it off as the character evolves, shows different facets and faces growth. However, again, in most sequels, the character behaves in exactly the same way as before and undertakes little to no development.
Also, sometimes the discrepancy between the central character’s endpoint from the original film and their starting point in the sequel is very striking, to say the least. For instance, Neo seems all-powerful at the end of The Matrix – it seems like it will be just a matter of time until his enemies are defeated. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case, as the struggle is still very much alive, if not more intense than ever before, in Reloaded and Revolutions. And let’s not even talk about Ressurections, shall we?
The bottom line
Look, I’m not saying that sequels are inherently a bad idea. Some might argue that certain sequels managed to surpass the original. Others might argue that, even though it might be difficult to justify the existence of some sequels (think some of the many Rocky, Rambo, Die Hard, Mission Impossible sequels), they will still be a treat for some fans no matter what – and possibly also commercial successes at that. I certainly see that point, and I agree with it in a number of cases. But that doesn’t change my opinion that some sequels out there should really never have existed. I’m sure you have a few in mind, too.