With that hot buzz for Before Midnight from Sundance warming the expectant hearts of even the coldest cinephiles this winter (it'll win more fans in warmer temperatures next month at SXSW), I've been thinking about movie sequels. Why do we get them, how we receive them, and whether or not we need them.
The first and usually sole reason of "why" is money. Humans are creatures of habit so it's an organic reality that nearly every artform indulges in sequels (whether they're named as such or not) and has since long before "branding" was a term people without business acumen understood. Branding is so common and catch-phrasey now that even non-sequels feel like sequels. What is, for instance, each new Johnny Depp and Tim Burton collaboration but an endless series of sequels Johnny & Tim: Now...Vampiric. Johnny & Tim: Now... Caloric... Now... Johnny & Tim: in Garish 3D. Usually sequels make enough money to suggest that Hollywood should make them forever and preferrably split each sequel up into two parts to double investment. And, if they can control costs, make them for everything that was successful.
But what kind of sequels should be made?
Maybe it's the edge-of-my-seat expectant bliss/wracked nerves regarding Before Midnight (dare I trust the critics who've already seen it? Critics are least trustworthy, I find, during the heat of festival mania and during the heat of awards season when constant conversation/groupthink and jetlag/movie-binging are most likely to affect them.) Maybe it's my now comical tries at seeing Yossi (things keep going wrong and I still haven't seen it!) which is the ten-years later sequel to the charming Israeli gay drama Yossi & Jagger (2003). The point being that I've decided that my absolute favorite kind of sequel is the "let's drop in on these characters again for no particular reason" When these films are done right it feels like they're done for the art of it, to illustrate what changes and insights the passage of time brings. And because we love spending the time with the characters. Now of course this doesn't always work out. The Evening Star was a big letdown for anyone expecting Terms of Endearment 2. But in concept, why not revisit one of the most indelible characters of 1980s cinema?
Come to think of it this stance also helps explains my super-intense abiding love for Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) which is a sequel of the traditional kind (i.e. this will make TONS of money!) but which I would rank -- easily -- near the tippity top of a list of the greatest sequels ever made. And that's largely because of the authentically shocking evolution of character. The Sarah Connor therein is nothing like the one we met in 1984 but once you're past the 'what the hell!?'reveal the new one feels like a natural progression nonetheless to traumatic events from the first film. And it immediately shows how lazily written most characters are in sequels where nothing between films has ever affected them. Big blockbusters so rarely feel that deeply rooted in actual human drama.
What kind of sequels do you long for?
Which film characters would you love to drop in on again?