Every year around this time you start to hear critics and bloggers complaining about the surfeit of Hollywood sequels and the industry’s overall lack of originality. (This is probably the seventh consecutive Year of the Sequel.) But it’s time to simply accept their inevitability and recognize the standouts while avoiding the failures. We took a look at the second (and third and fourth) installments scheduled for release this summer in an attempt to predict their worthiness. Then again, the theaters are air-conditioned, so you’ll probably want to make up your own mind.
MEN IN BLACK 3, (May 25)
True sequel or disguised remake? The former. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are back. They even started production without a completed script, which is perfectly in line with the “well, why not?” mentality most franchises hit once they get to a third installment.
Raised stakes? It’s difficult to say, since the first Men in Black featured aliens who are out to eradicate mankind. Then the second one featured aliens — who are out to eradicate mankind. And the third one? The aliens are out to eradicate Jones’ Agent K (but we’re guessing also mankind). The concept of going back in time to the ’60s and seeing a young K (Josh Brolin doing his best Tommy Lee Jones) might help broaden the character a bit, but this is a role defined by taciturn unflappability, so where else is there to go?
Hit or miss? Miss. The early trailers are a whole lot of “seen this before,” and no movie that has begun without a third act written has ever been any good. Like, say, Men in Black 2.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, (July 3)
True sequel or disguised remake? Technically neither, but the latter sounds kinda right. This is a complete reboot, but Sony knows that we’re only seven years removed from the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies, so they’re banking on familiarity, but also wanting to distance itself from the original three films (this one is touted as “the untold story”) and start fresh with new stars (Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone). Why? Because if Sony didn’t use their Spider-Man movie rights, they would have reverted back to Marvel, and then Spider-man would be free to join the Avengers AND THAT WOULD BE AWFUL, RIGHT?
Raised stakes? The trailers hint at a mystery involving Peter Parker’s dead parents, who are barely mentioned in passing in the original movies, and a connection between them and the new villain (Rhys Ifans’ Dr. Curt “The Lizard” Connors). It does seem to indicate a slightly more personal story and not just, “I’m fighting my best friend’s crazy dad.” Getting into the whole “Who were Peter Parker’s parents?” thing adds some dimension to the character. And it looks as though Garfield and director Marc Webb are going to have a little more fun with Spider-Man as a character. Comic book fans know that when Peter puts on the mask, he transforms into a motor-mouthed gadfly who has a one-liner for every moment, to the point where it annoys other heroes. Maguire and Raimi didn’t really show that side of the wall-crawler, so expect a funnier (if a little dick-ish) Spider-Man this time.
Hit or miss? It’s a tough call. The first reaction is, “Of course, it’s Spider-Man,” but it is going to be tough to shake the “we’ve seen this” impression. But it IS the first Spider-Man movie in 3D, so there’s that.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, (July 20)
True sequel or disguised remake? Sure, The Dark Knight‘s billion-dollar box office haul guaranteed another installment, with or without the original crew’s involvement, but director Christopher Nolan has clearly been building towards something beyond “Insert new villain. Rinse. Repeat.” And everyone else in the cast is back on board. So this is a true sequel, and a franchise rarity.
Raised stakes? Absolutely. In Dark Knight, Batman faced a villain who wanted nothing more than anarchy. Now, with Tom Hardy’s Bane, he faces a foe that is his physical match (or superior — have you seen what a beast Hardy is?) and his intellectual equal, and also has a very clear and direct purpose. He wants to topple Gotham’s elite, which leads him to possibly uncovering the city’s wealthiest businessman’s unique moonlighting gig. Nolan clearly has a plan. The original movie was about Bruce Wayne discovering his calling. The second saw him sacrificing his heroic image for the greater good. This time? He may have to literally die for Gotham’s sins. That’s a pretty impressive arc — if it’s true, of course. Nolan has indicated that he sees these films as a self-contained trilogy with a definitive end, but we won’t know until we see it.
Hit or miss? You know the answer to that.
THE BOURNE LEGACY, (August 3)
True sequel or disguised remake? Definitely in “disguised remake” territory. Universal desperately wanted Matt Damon to return as the amnesiac spy for a fourth outing (totally ignoring how neatly Bourne Ultimatum wrapped things up), and came close to closing the deal. When it fell apart, they charged ahead with the notion that the movie will instead focus on a totally separate globe-hopping assassin played by Jeremy Renner.
Raised stakes? The trailer contains the giggle-worthy line “He’s Treadstone without the inconsistencies” (read: “He’s Jason Bourne, ONLY BETTER!”), so the fact that Renner’s character can, presumably, remember his home phone number sorta makes him a little more formidable than the hero who was always running to catch up. We guess.
Hit or miss? It will probably be a fun ride, but the Bourne connection may prove tenuous and ultimately unnecessary. And the trilogy was just so tight that it may be hard to get audiences to care about a whole new character.
THE EXPENDABLES 2, (August 17)
True sequel or disguised remake? Just as the original was a throwback to the steroidal action films of the ’80s, so part two obeys the ’80s action sequel prime directive and simply throws more gasoline on the fire.
Raised stakes? Not particularly, no. The objective isn’t the point, is it? These guys have names like Toll Road and Yin Yang and Tool. You’re liable to step in deeper soda puddles on your way into the theater. All they need is a target. Another bad guy, another army of faceless grunts. Let’s do this.
Hit or miss? It’ll deliver what it promises: carnage and quip. But it won’t win over anyone who didn’t like or didn’t bother to see the first one.