Barely a month goes past in movie land without a sequel to an existing film being released. In an ever increasing number of cases, that sequel is likely to be the third or even fourth iteration of the original concept.
2015 already has a number of films which have been or are due to be released, which are direct sequels, such as; Avengers: Age of Ultron, Furious 7, Insurgent, Jurassic World, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, and Terminator Genisys. Many of these films are part of long running series, and some (like Star Wars and Jurassic World) are sequels that have been made several years after the previous film. Terminator Genisys is a complicated one as it appears that it is both a prequel and sequel within the same film.
If a film has achieved box office success or has at least been well received by the movie-going public, it will most likely spawn a sequel, prequel or spin-off. The public enjoy films which involve characters, locations, and plots that they are familiar with, and will generally be willing to pay to see something related to a film they have already seen- even if said film has been released years, even decades, after the original flick (e.g. Star Wars prequels). This however does not guarantee that the film will be a success, and very often sequels do not reach the same standard of the original.
Sequel Successes – Toy Story
If we look at the Toy Story series, it’s clear that sequels can be successful. I have not met a single person ho does not like the Toy Story films. It is probably because it brings out the inner child of all adults and plays on a suspicion that we have all had, that our toys come alive when we aren’t around. The original film, released in 1995, made over $360M worldwide and was seen a revolutionary for its’ effects. The toys looked like toys and they behaved in a way that was believable for a toy to behave. It was almost inevitable that a sequel would arrive, and sure enough in 1999, Toy Story 2 was released and ended up making over $510M worldwide.
Whilst box office figures do not mean the film was better than the first, Toy Story 2 expands on the relationships between the main characters of Buzz Lightyear and Woody, tugs at the heart strings when introducing other characters like Jesse and Bullseye, and throws in the threat that every toy fears- being forgotten. It is an engaging and emotional story, but packed full of jokes for all ages and is genuinely fun to watch. And of course as a Star Wars mad fan, I was always going to love the Vader/Luke reference between Buzz and Zurg. In my opinion, Toy Story 2 is much better than the original. The established characters are developed, new characters, both good and bad, are introduced in their own unique ways and fit perfectly into the story, and the sense of adventure that was there in the first film is back with added zest!
2010 saw the release of Toy Story 3, even though it had been almost 11 years since the release of its’ predecessor, it managed to draw huge audiences and made over $1 billion worldwide. This is one of the few examples where box office success does go hand in hand with a really good film. Loved by the public and critics alike, Toy Story 3 has everything that the first two had and more. Andy is now older and is leaving for college, having decided to get rid of most of his toys as he has grown out of them and is moving on in his life. This results in the toys being given to a day care centre and encountering other toys which at first appear to be very welcoming and kind, but turn out to be evil and under the command of Lotso, a huggable bear with a strong hatred of humans (after being cast away and forgotten by a previous owner).
This film has more of an adult theme with scenes involving an ongoing romance between Buzz and Jesse, simulated torture of toys, and the heart pounding terror of what inevitable death scene for the main cast when they were trapped inside the incinerator. The sense of fun and novelty however remains, with lots of jokes for everyone, and of course a happy ending for everyone’s favourite toys. The third installment is by far the better film, even if the decision to have it released in 3D was a bit misguided- you didn’t need the gimmick to feel you were in the room with these toys, because the animation and story already made you feel a part of that world.
I should probably mention that I have some bias in this section- Captain America is my favourite superhero, so I was more than happy when it was brought to the big screen by Joe Johnston. Johnston has had mixed success in the past, having directed films such as Jurassic Park 3 and Jumanji, so I was a bit apprehensive when it was announced he would direct Cap’s introduction to the MCU.
I need not have worried, Captain America: The First Avenger, whilst not an amazing film in its own right, perfectly captures the origin story of one of Marvel’s most loves characters. It would have been very easy to have the creation of the super soldier Steve Rogers and his ‘thawing’ as just an introduction or flashback, meaning the majority of the film would have been in the modern day. Focusing on the human nature of the origin of the character was what set this film apart from the existing MCU films so far. Iron Man/Tony Stark, Thor and the Incredible Hulk are not relatable characters. They are all removed from the every day person, Stark with his intellect and billions of dollars, Thor with his godly magic, and Banner with his Jekyll and Hyde transformation.
Cap is a superhero that feels more human than any other, so while it was good to see him kicking Hydra’s ass and becoming the hero he was meant to be, the true heart of the film is his humanity. You see the love grow between Steve and Peggy, and you feel the loss as much as Steve does when Bucky falls. When he awakens in the present, he is lost, a real man out of time. There is no happy ending for Cap in this film. Even though this is a superhero film, it is the man and the emotion that makes the story compelling.
As you can probably tell, I love the first Cap film. By the time Captain America: The Winter Soldier, was released in 2014 we already had sequels to both Iron Man and Thor, as well as the first Avengers film. The MCU had taken a more serious turn and Cap had settled into doing what he was made for. The Winter Soldier sees Steve working as an Agent of SHIELD, carrying out espionage style missions. He appears to have been practicing his fighting style and outmatches everyone he comes across.
The film begins in a very action-heavy way, but then moves towards underhanded tactics and political maneuverings as it is revealed that Hydra has been seeded deep into SHIELD for decades and has taken over. Remnants of his past come back to haunt him and he discovers the best friend he thought dead, is still alive but has become a brainwashed super assassin working for Hydra.
The film requires a few supporting characters to keep the viewer interested in things other than Cap and the Winter Soldier. To be honest, nobody really cared about the downfall of SHIELD while watching this film- some of the set pieces were fantastic yes, but they were all just background to the battle between Steve and Bucky. In their first encounter, Steve is reeling from seeing his best friend alive and is just managing to hold his own against Bucky. You feel the hurt, not just physically, that Steve is going through as he defends himself. He does not want to fight Bucky, he wants to understand what has happened to turn him into this monster.
Captain America: The Winter Solider, is the best sequel within the MCU and in my opinion one of the best films of recent years. While it is a superhero at its heart, the modern espionage feel is gripping, and events such as the downfall of SHIELD have had repercussions throughout the MCU. The Winter Soldier improves on a great comic book film while grounding a fantasy character in reality.
The Bourne Series
I have never been a huge Matt Damon fan. I do like Good Will Hunting but that’s because Robin Williams makes that film great. Dogma was a film that was different and had an interesting take on religion, but Damon wasn’t all that great in it. Ocean’s Eleven and subsequent sequels had the potential for Damon’s character of Linus to be really interesting, but he never had a chance to grow fully and settled for being a shy and bumbling expert pickpocket trying to impress his pals. He acts like a child for most of his screen time, especially when being rescued from a jail cell by his mother.
The Bourne Identity (2002) changed all that though. It might be because his character doesn’t require much emotional depth, at least initially, or that he spends most of the film confused, but I believe Bourne is Matt Damon’s best performance. There are plenty of films out there which depict ex-special forces people trying to leave that world behind and being inevitably drawn back into it, but The Bourne Identity approaches this in a slightly different way.
Jason Bourne works for Treadstone, a secret government department which appears to be training elite killers to take out necessary targets that may hurt the nations interests. After a mission gone wrong, Bourne suffers amnesia and cannot remember his previous life short of having a certain amount of muscle memory for things like different language and fighting techniques (or what ever the situation calls for, it appears). Treadstone are scrambling to cover up the failed mission and bring Bourne in or take him down before it gets out of hand, while Bourne himself is trying to figure out what happened to him and stay ahead of the killers sent after him.
The film keeps you on the edge of your seat, as at any moment Treadstone agents could catch up with Bourne and Marie. The fight in Bourne’s apartment and the mini chase through Paris are pulse racing and action packed, and even though you know he will probably come out of them ok, it is still nail biting stuff. Ultimately Bourne tracks down Conklin, the guy from Treadstone that sent him on the mission which started this whole thing, and learns that it was Bourne himself who set the mission up. He remembers from a flashback that he couldn’t kill the target because there were children in the same room and he tried to flee the scene. He does not kill his commanding officer, instead he warns him not to follow and knocks him out.
Even at the culmination of the Treadstone encounter the film is throwing twists at you, you see another assassin travelling and preparing for a hit, and you naturally assume that he has been sent to kill Bourne like the others, however ends up killing Conklin. The film ends with Bourne reuniting with Marie and seemingly living happily every after, meanwhile we see a committee meeting discussing the closure of the Treadstone programme and the beginning of something called ‘Operation Blackbriar’.
The films spawned a new type of action film, with close quarters combat, and fast-paced, sometimes hard to follow camera movement. I’m fairly certain that Casino Royale, the Daniel Craig James Bond reboot, was heavily inspired by the Bourne Identity in terms of its actin sequences as they both have the same gritty, personal feel. The Bourne Identity has a few appearances from some big names like Clive Owen, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox and Julia Styles, but none of them draw any light away from Damon’s portrayal of a rogue agent with a heart of gold.
The Bourne Supremacy (2004) picks up 2 years after the events of The Bourne Identity. This time focused on CIA agent Pamela Landy as she is tasked with trying to bring Bourne in or take him out, after it is thought Bourne is responsible for the theft of something called the ‘Neski Files’ and the murder of an agent. We know from the start that Bourne was framed and that the person responsible is also now trying to take Bourne out, as well as the CIA. While all this is going on Bourne is struggling with flashbacks from his early days as an assassin on his first mission.
This film feels more human and we see the struggle that Bourne is going through almost all the way through the story. The first shocking thing we see is the death of Marie- during the escape from the assassin trying to take out Bourne, it looks like they are going to make it freedom as Bourne spots the guy out of place and they flee in car. When they get held up in traffic however the assassin uses a sniper rifle to shoot Marie in the back of the head, sending the car off a bridge- when Bourne’s attempts to revive her under the water fail he must leave her behind and make his escape.
After this point the film falls back into the format of the first, with an agency and killers trying to track Bourne down, whilst he tries to simultaneously evade them and learn more about his past. Much of the remaining screen time is filled with Bourne getting out of difficult situations and Pamela Landy trying to find the truth of what actually happened in Berlin and what Treadstone was. Bourne ultimately finds out what happened in his flashbacks and goes to find the daughter of the man he killed to apologise and tell her the truth.
There are plenty of action sequences towards the end of the film, but all of these pale in comparison to the internal fight Bourne is having. As he remembers more about his assassin days, he struggles to come to terms with it and feels he needs to apologise to the people affected by his actions. As a film it isn’t as good as the first, but it is still a very good sequel- an action film with a very human side, which leaves you waiting for the next emotional revelation instead of the next explosion or hand to hand fight. An assassin with guilt, on a mission of redemption may not be a rare thing, but in the Bourne Supremacy you connect with Bourne and urge him to find closure.
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) is the third entry in this series and follows Bourne trying to find out more about the Treadstone programme that made him. He learns that there is a reporter looking into the same programme and sets out to contact and try and learn from him. The CIA are again on the hunt for Bourne-Pamela Landy wants to learn from and help him- as well as the Blackbriar Unit who are simply trying to take him out.
The film quickly settles into the typical Bourne format, with fast paced adrenaline filled action sequences mixed together with political powerplays and government secrets. Bourne discovers that he volunteered for the programme that turned him into a trained killer and learns his real name is David Webb. He ends up obtaining detailed files on Blackbriar and giving them to Landy so that she can get the information out in the open. In a final confrontation between Bourne and a Blackbriar agent, Bourne seeminly killed, but we later see him swimming away in the river he fell to after being shot.
This film gives a conclusion to the Treadstone/Blackbriar investigation by Bourne and Landy etc, and to some extent Bourne’s story as well. He has learned what created him and has severed virtually all ties to that life, so can now move on. It is good again to see that the focus isn’t on just the action and the film tries to look more closely at the world of secret government agencies, and agents involved in brainwashing and mindless obedience. This is still a human film at its core and you feel a sense of relief as Bourne escapes and the agencies responsible for his treatment will have all their secrets exposed and people will be held accountable. It may be the lesser film of the series, but is by no means a bad film. It brings the Bourne story arcs to a neat close, with potential avenues to explore in the future.
The events of The Bourne Legacy (2012) happen at the same time as those in The Bourne Ultimatum, making this a spinoff rather than a direct sequel. I mention it here as it is a good film and fits the same mold as the other Bourne films, but follows a different character. Aaron Cross, played by Jeremy Renner, is an agent from the Black Ops Department, Operation Outcome, which supplies its agents with coloured pills to enhance their physical and mental capabilities. In response to Jason Bourne exposing Treadstone and Blackbriar, the decision is made to eliminate all related assets, including the agents of Operation Outcome.
These events lead to Cross going on the run, attempting to track down more of the pills he has become dependant on, which brings him into contact with Dr Marta Shearing- played by Rachel Weisz- a lab worker who administers the various pills and performs medical examinations on the agency assets. Cross rescues her from those ordered to eliminate her, and together they go on the run. Cue the same routine of escaping by the skin of their teeth action scenes as they are chase across the world. Ultimately they escape on a boat an the ending is left fairly open, maybe for a sequel- who knows?
It is another good action film, and good to see someone like Jeremy Renner as the main action hero instead of playing a backup role, such as in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The Avengers. The Bourne films are good, but don’t have the same getting better with each sequel effect of the Toy Story films. They remain more or less consistent, but the original will always be the best. The Bourne Identity after all set the blueprint for the series, and showed us that an assassin is a human too and makes moral choices even when every attempt to erase their humanity has been made. If you’re looking for action films with feeling and political intrigue, look no further.
So these are just a select few examples of some good sequels, coming soon is Part Two- Sequels: Good or Bad: Bad, very Bad!