The case for movie sequels (and how to stop making bad ones)

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Keanu Reeves recurring role in the John Wick franchise gets more critic cred than his blockbuster Matrix franchise because of the quality sequel. Courtesy Lionsgate Keanu Reeves recurring role in the John Wick franchise gets more critic cred than his blockbuster Matrix franchise because of the quality sequel. Courtesy Lionsgate

Conventional wisdom says, “The problem with Hollywood is they’re out of ideas. It’s all sequels and remakes. Maybe more people would see their movies if they stopped making sequels, reboots and whatever soft reboots are.”

On its face, this is a perfectly reasonable demand. As ticket prices get more expensive, moviegoers want their money’s worth, and who wants to waste time on something they’ve already seen? We get it, Jason Statham, you’re really good at kicking. Slow down, Disney, we spent long enough collecting all your movies the first time around. We don’t need any more “shared universes”; it’s hard enough keeping up with Marvel, the one that’s actually good (most of the time).

Here’s the thing: Original ideas aren’t inherently better. The belief that they are is a kind of selective memory on the part of the audience and a convenient scapegoat, when the problem of making more good movies and fewer bad ones is a much deeper issue. So far this year, in the pages of C-VILLE Weekly, we’ve reviewed 13 movies, three of them sequels or remakes (and next week will likely be The Fate of the Furious, strap in). Not a single one of them even comes close to being the worst of the batch: Beauty and the Beast was familiar and unnecessary but overall pleasant, Kong: Skull Island was even more unnecessary but showed some genuine spark of inspiration, and John Wick Chapter 2 was a technical and atmospheric masterstroke.

Meanwhile, take a look at some of the so-called “original” movies we’ve reviewed this year. Life was a vomitous head cheese made from the trimmings of Alien, Gravity and somehow Little Shop of Horrors. A person watching Table 19 could have predicted every punchline and plot twist. The list goes on: The Great Wall, Gold, Patriots Day, Split (which tragically could have been great). If anything, there was more originality to be found in the sequels and remakes. Very often, a studio buys a script, combines it with another script, rewrites everything to be more familiar (safe) and releases it. Non-franchise movies are subject to the same machine, but at least with the latter the filmmakers can get straight to the point without excessive introductions and exposition.

Sometimes franchises are forced into existence because of immense pressure due to massive success. But even in cases such as Paranormal Activity or Ouija, those on-the-cheap sequels are the tentpoles that allow Blumhouse Productions to bankroll risky endeavors like Get Out, Creep, The Gift and more. Going back even further, some of the most impressive achievements of the last two years were Mad Max: Fury Road and Pete’s Dragon.

That said, the Fast & Furious series became great once it ditched the bro-cop vibe and started jumping between skyscrapers, but it could just as easily turn back in this unstable market. Here are two tips to keep Hollywood production companies on course as they continue to remake and serialize every conceivable intellectual property:

1) Make them only if the story demands it.

The John Wick films work because they are made by the stunt and fight team from The Matrix and are rooted in a fun yet completely malleable mythology, and they should keep making them for as long as everyone involved is physically able. The same cannot be said The Matrix itself—the sequels made the innovation of the original feel tired and redundant. The Wachowskis prioritized exactly the wrong aspect of their own creation, and the expanded narrative felt bloated instead of exciting.

2) Stop forcing them through just because someone with enough money says go.

Netflix, Hulu, Platinum Dunes and even China are partially responsible for the glut of franchises no one wants but always seem to stick around (Transformers, Mission: Impossible, the never-ending wave of horror remakes). I’d love to see a Bill & Ted 3 as much as anyone, but my biggest fear is that one of these players comes along with $100 million but demands it be made within a year. That would be the worst possible thing for both fans and studios.


Playing this week

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213

Beauty and the Beast (and Sing-along), The Boss Baby, The Case for Christ, Chips, Get Out, Ghost in the Shell, Going in Style, Kong: Skull Island, Life, Logan, Power Rangers, Smurfs: The Lost Village

Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000

Beauty and the Beast, The Boss Baby, Get Out, Ghost in the Shell, Going in Style, Kong: Skull Island, Life, Logan, Smurfs: The Lost Village, Your Name., The Zookeeper’s Wife

Here’s the thing: Original ideas aren’t inherently better. The belief that they are is a kind of selective memory on the part of the audience and a convenient scapegoat, when the problem of making more good movies and fewer bad ones is a much deeper issue.

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