Here’s the Thing: Making a Good Sequel

By Joe Strange

So here’s the thing, recently Neil Blomkamp has placed his upcoming Alien 5 (Which I’m really hoping isn’t the title: Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Alien Resurrection-One of these things doesn’t belong here) on the existing Alien timeline, his entry into the series will take place after Aliens, the second in the series and one of the best sequels of all time.

I’m not actually going to talk about Alien 5 all that much, though I will say that I’m cautiously excited; I loved Blomkamps directorial debut District 9, but I wasn’t too keen on Elysium, and, in case you guys didn’t know, I really, really love the first two Alien films, so someone who’s batting 50/50 (is that the right vernacular? I’ve no idea) in charge of doing what Prometheus couldn’t does make me a little nervous.

Now, with my own trepidation out of the way, I’d like to jump back to 1986. James Cameron’s Aliens hits cinemas, a sequel to Ridley Scott’s incredibly paced, unbelievably atmospheric and damn good film Alien from 7 years before.

Alien was a tense, terrifying, butt-hole clenching horror, but more than that it was an incredible slow burn, that built everything up to a fantastic finale. So it was a bold, a very bold, move for James Cameron to turn around and say ‘What if, now hear me out, what if, it was an action movie?’

But boy did that pay off? To this day that original/sequel combination is my favourite choice for a tandem series watch, and you guys know how much I love superhero movies.

There’s this unspoken understanding that a sequel should be of the same genre of the original, to highlight the awesomeness of the first instalment you should have similar events happening, except they should be bigger, better and with references to the original. This is actually played both with and to in 22 Jump Street. The sequel to 21 Jump Street plays out a lot like the original, there’s a lot of the same ideas and themes going through the sequel, though some of the places are swapped (again) but more importantly all of these things are bigger, better and (as the film likes to remind you) more expensive.

What Aliens got right wasn’t what you’d assume makes for a great sequel. This isn’t just the story of one woman surviving a terrifyingly efficient killing machine, there are more players, more pieces and more enemies. In that sense, the sequel to Alien actually acts like a sequel, (How do you counter more aliens? With more guns,) but in doing this it’s no longer the same film as Alien.

It becomes an action movie, but thanks to the development of Ripley’s character, the shift towards a maternal focus (for, strangely, both the antagonist and protagonist) and a familiar atmosphere, setting and enemy makes it abundantly clear that this is the next step in the franchises evolution.

But Aliens isn’t the only example (thank god) of a series making a departure from its roots to further the story, characters or themes.

Iron Man 2 is the least successful in the Iron Man trilogy, and I believe that in part that’s because it’s very similar to the original, it plays out in a very familiar way. Hell, even the big bad at the end is a dude in a suit that’s a Stark design. The difference? It’s bigger, there are more players, and it’s all more expensive.

Jump forward to Iron Man 3, the most successful of the trilogy, and it’s a total departure from the first two. The big bad isn’t a dude in a suit, it’s the absolute opposite, it’s dudes who can tear the suits apart. Of course, there are the obligatory ‘more players, bigger, more expensive’ change, but they’re a different kind of antagonist, and this is a different story. Iron Man 3 isn’t just about Stark being in a suit and being held accountable for his past, it’s about him finally overcoming his past, and realising that beneath that armour he’s still Iron Man. All this wrapped in a story that is much more personal than Iron Man 2, and has much more of an investigation feel.

In the Marvel vein, I couldn’t forget to mention Captain America: The Winter Soldier. You see, Captain America: The First Avenger had audiences split, some loved it for the refreshing tone and 40’s setting, it was more heartfelt than the other Marvel films we had seen up until that point. But there were complaints of it being boring, dragging on and I once heard someone saying that the love story was the weakest out of Iron Man, Thor and itself. (Seriously?).

But Cap 2 not only turned the entire Marvel Universe upside down, with the revelation that Hydra is alive and well, it didn’t retell the same story like Iron Man 2 did. Instead it was the progression of Steve Rogers, a lad who longed to be part of something bigger, to be part of the country’s security in the original, comes out of the sequel cautious of organisations, betrayed and a little confused. It’s a great sequel because it tells a further story, instead of just retelling the same one again.

And at the end of the day, we want sequels to do just that, to build on the world, the characters and the story that we fell in love with, not just tell it again, I mean come on, this is the era of Netflix and DVDs, we can just rewatch the original if that’s what we wanted.

So what about you? What are some of your favourite sequels? What makes a good sequel to you? Or are you completely anti-sequel all together? Leave a comment below!




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