2016 is proving to be the year of the sequel - from Bourne, Star Trek and Finding Dory to Ice Age and Independence Day - which has got me to wondering exactly what the ingredients of a great sequel are....
My first thought was to turn to my biggest disappointment, the sequels to The Matrix. They had such a hard act to follow to pick up from one of my all-time favourite films. In thinking about why they didn't work and what I did like about others, a few different themes emerge.
There are a number of films in franchises which I really enjoyed, such as Spiderman, Batman, Bourne, Bond, Toy Story. They have in common with their originals a character, usually (but not always) a genre, and with that a series of expectations which they either meet on steroids or totally subvert. They are not trying to be sequels in story. The key thing is that they are just good films. And they take it up a level, either in production value, character, or simply majestic directing. If they are afterthoughts (a studio recognising that they've inadvertently created a franchise they can milk) they have to trump the original even more so.
Bond is an interesting one. I have to confess to loving pretty much every Bond except for the biggest in the franchise, Skyfall, which added too much in character and back story, trying to achieve so much there that it didn't fulfil expectations of the franchise.
When films try to follow the example of what TV does so well in creating an episodic narrative, it so often falls flat on its face. So what does work? The Harry Potter films could never trump what the imagination had visualised from the books, but they didn't need to because the audience was so invested in seeing how the actors would mature as they grew up alongside the characters they were portraying.
Three Colours works beautifully because each successive film is totally a film in its own right. The sequality, if you like, is in mood and poetry rather than plot, each one enjoyable for its art independently and together.
If it's a franchise, it's got to be bigger and better than the last. If it's episodic, the previous episode has to be brilliant and this one has to take me further into its own universe - in character and world - or completely subvert one or the other.
I could keep on writing... but let's leave something for the sequel...and I was excited to see what the experts in the Met Film School team had to say on their favourite sequels of all time...
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Amedeo Beretta, Postproduction, VFX & Animation
With studios committed to push existing franchises, original stories became a rarity. However, some sequels offer surprising insights. How to Train Your Dragon 2 builds on the success of the previous instalment and delivers an emotionally resonant experience sprinkled with evocative atmospheres that range from euphoric to downright gloomy and terrifying.
The Empire Strikes Back
Stewart Le Marechal, Head of Met Film Production
This may well be a very clichéd answer but this was the most impactful sequel for me. It's not necessarily the best ever but for a seven-year-old boy it was mind-blowing. Out of the mad, fun space opera that was Star Wars we got taken into murkier, richer territory with Empire. Combine that with the, now copied ad infinitum, best reveal in the galaxy and Han Solo somehow managing to become even cooler than I could have possibly imagined, it really is the perfect sequel!
James Harding, Postproduction
James Cameron decided to write Aliens as an action thriller, a real departure from the tense sci-fi horror that Ridley Scott imagined in Alien. His choice opened Ripley's steely character to a whole new audience, taking the fear of a single cunning xenomoph and instilling a sense of urgency and desperation of being overpowered by an army of them. By reinterpreting the franchise, Aliens doesn't compete with the success of the first but capitalises on its premise of survival against all odds.
Danny Kelly, Marketing
This film double downs on the French New Wave style of its predecessor, this time taking place in near real time, featuring some audacious long takes in which the couple dwell over the conflicting emotions of being over the threshold of 30. Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Kim Krizan and Director Richard Linklater (Boyhood) all share writing credits; showcasing a sense of collaboration, gender balance, passion and trust that is so rarely seen in cinema, and the results are all the deeper and compelling for it.
The Godfather 2
Thomas Peck, Admissions
The film completes the transformation of Michael Corleone from patriotic solider to ruthless crime boss, telling his story alongside his father's rise to power as an immigrant in 1920s New York, developing and expanding on the story and themes from the first film, the world of the mafia, respect, family, sin etc. Plus, for the first time ever on screen, it pairs together De Niro and Pacino, two of the all-time great, Italian-American actors. Sometimes more is more.
Evil Dead - 2
Sam Lucas, Admissions
Such a unique sequel. A parody and a remake at the same time, It managed to build on the horror and gore of the original while adding a comedic spin. It's Sam Raimi doing what he does best with Bruce Campbell in the role he was born to play! A genuine trailblazer of a movie that laid the groundwork for horror-coms such as Braindead and Shaun of the Dead.