In Defence of Sequels

By Joe Strange


Recently Hollywood has been getting quite a bit of heat from audiences with regards to only focussing on sequels and reboots. On the surface it’s not hard to see why, 2014 will see over 20 film sequels, from Xmen to How to Train your Dragon, from Paranormal Activity to the Expendables, sequels make up a lot of our blockbuster and well funded entries.

Seven out of the ten top selling films of all time are sequels of some sort, with only Avatar, Titanic and Frozen being exceptions. Despite the fact that these follow ons do very well, the cries for originality aren’t easy to ignore, people want new stories and new characters to explore. But studios can bet on sequels to successful films bringing in a good amount just off of the buzz of the previous entry, there is a certain amount of safety in numbers it seems.

I say why not have both?

I adore well built worlds and stories, it’s one of the reason I play video games, and definitely one of the reasons I watch films, and after reading this article on why we shouldn’t care so much about new IP’s in gaming I realised the same applied to film, to an extent.

Often, in stand alone films, things get cut and we miss out on really effective character development or growth. This really pulls me out of the entire experience, in my eyes if I’m going to be buying into the story I really should be able to buy into the characters, which is hard to do when their development is so rushed and contrived.

One of the reasons I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe is because I know what a huge scope the studio has. Every film is another piece of a bigger story, and most remain a solid story within themselves. What these sequels allow the studio to do is to take their time with characters, to develop them slowly, gradually and effectively.

Because he’s had the most time to evolve, I’ll use Tony Stark as an example. In the first film we see an arrogant playboy, who has a crisis of belief and begins righting his wrongs. In the second instalment we see him fighting to keep his creation, as well as getting a look into his fear of mortality, he comes out the other side of the film with a new appreciation for those around him and his own life.

In the Avengers we see a return of the cocksure attitude, but he’s once again questioned, not by himself or his imminent death, but a new friend. He takes this on board and is ready to sacrifice his life for a greater good.  Come Ironman 3 we see him for the first time doubting his ability to survive in a world suddenly full of gods and heroes, and finally see the hero as a human.

Can you imagine fitting all that into one film? Or two? It’d be a rushed mess. With sequels we get a much more comprehensive look into the characters and their motives. It’s what is so attractive about television series.

I didn’t care much for Avatar, the story was dreadfully worn and the characters weren’t anything special. Sure it looked lovely, but that doesn’t carry a three hour film. The thing I liked about Avatar was the world that James Cameron built, and when Avatar 2 was rumoured to be more of a documentary on Pandora, exploring its wild life and what not, I was excited. I would have happily accepted that as a sequel, but I’m not sure it would have flown so well as a series introduction.

I don’t want people to think that I don’t want good standalone films, some of my favourite films of all time have no surrounding mythology or story, they’re not part of a bigger picture or universe, they’re just bloody brilliant films. I realise that sequels can go incredibly badly, but when they go right, like Marvel’s Phase 2 or Xmen DOFT, they’re a fantastic boon, not only to the box office, but to the universe that’s been created. If we don’t encourage smart, creative development, what on earth are we doing?

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