Some of the films we’re going to talk about on this list we like a lot. Some of them we don’t, but we should be clear: this isn’t a worst sequels ever collection, or anything like that. Instead, it’s a look at the sequels that had some narrative or emotional impact on the ending of the film they followed. So, a happy moment becomes a sad one. A character you’ve rooted for is chucked away. That sort of thing.
Fortunately, it’s a rare phenomena that we’re talking about. Yet there is still this little lot…
[THERE ARE, INEVITABLY, SPOILERS TO EACH OF THE FILMS WE DISCUSS, AND THE FILM BEFORE THEM!]
Blair Witch 2: Book Of Shadows
The marketing campaign that helped power The Blair Witch Project to box office gold in 1999 was ingenious. Most notably the first film to successfully use the internet to build up interest and attention, much was made of the is-it-true-or-not mechanic underpinning the film. Certainly the presentation of the film had an authenticity to it, that made it all feel real. The problem was, nobody told the team behind the dreadful sequel.
Blair Witch 2: Book Of Shadows presents the first film as a fake. A fake that has put the town of Burkittsville on the map. Yep, it pretty much whitewashes the first movie, suggesting that it was all made up, and it’s only Blair Witch 2 that’s genuine. It’s a bold approach certainly, but it also never works. It rides roughshod over the original’s mythology, happily taking the piss out of it, but not in a Scream-esque way. And so when things start going wrong, this is but one reason why you don’t really care. They’ve made it as if the original simply didn’t matter, and by the time they come to try and do something about it, they’ve long since lost us.
Has there ever been a more respectful passing of a movie franchise from one director to another as James Cameron taking on the Alien mantle from Ridley Scott? Cameron’s Aliens expanded the ideas and foundations that Scott had carefully laid down, and he came up with a hugely satisfying story that picked things up expertly. He also introduced to us, and got us to root for, a collection of characters in one of the most downright exciting and brilliant sci-fi films of the 1980s.
Much has been written on the muddled mess that Alien 3 became. Passed between several directors who each took a stab at developing the movie, Fox eventually handed the film to David Fincher, for his then feature debut, although at no point did you get the sense that it trusted him with it. The result is a fascinating mess, but a mess nonetheless.
However, for those of us who had walked out of seeing Aliens breathing out with relief when Newt and Hicks survived, the callous five minute opening sequence of Alien 3 was an insult. Both characters – two brilliantly rounded characters, remember – were simply knocked off in their sleep. In truth, they were probably knocked off in a boardroom, but at the very least, you’d think that if they were going to die, there’d be something more to it. Not so: Hicks’ death was confirmed on a computer screen. Newt got an autopsy – which Carrie Henn got to watch at the film’s premiere, whilst Signourney Weaver sat next to her, squeezing her hand – but two majestic characters were basically pissed away. It makes rewatches of Aliens no less brilliant, certainly, but that last act just a little futile, narrative-wise.
If Alien 3 added a melancholy postscript to Aliens, it’s hard to know where to begin with Alien: Resurrection. Alien 3, for all its problems, at least built to something. There was the grim inevitability of Ripley’s self-sacrifice, the only way to protect us from the festering alien inside her. She died, so that we may live. Her story had come to a natural end.
A few board meetings later, and it was all change. With a writing team that included Joss Whedon amongst its number, a convoluted way to bring Ripley back was concocted, instantly making a mockery of what the ending of Alien 3 stood for. Notwithstanding the tonal jar of Resurrection against the three films before it, logic went out of the window in favour of pumping out another movie to fill the box set.
There are certainly merits to Alien: Resurrection, of course. Compared to the Alien Vs Predator films that followed, it’s close to a masterpiece. And yet at least there was a clear intention to the Alien Vs Predator movies, and that they understood what they were and what they weren’t. Alien: Resurrection had pretentions of adding to the Alien 3 story, and in doing so, it undermined what should have been one of the Alien series’ true defining moments.
Highlander II: The Quickening
Highlander II is the kind of film that nobody, nobody would take a bullet for. The original movie had seen the end of The Immortals, had seen Connor MacLeod become mortal. As we were told lots and lots and lots of times, “there can be only one”. And by the end of Highlander, that had been made perfectly clear.
To everyone but those involved with Highlander II, anyway. Because there couldn’t always be one now. In fact, there were two. In fact, more than that, the entire mythology that the first film was based on, leading up to that ending, is written/ignored/not bothered with by the end of The Quickening. It’s a terribly bad film that tries to do terribly bad things to the one before. It nearly manages it, too.
One of the finest motion pictures of the 1980s was clearly Rocky IV, a movie that epitomised the decade in a very succinct – and hugely entertaining – 89 minutes. At the core of the film was Sylvester Stallone resolving the Cold War by beating Dolph Lundgren’s iconic Ivan Drago to a pulp in the middle of Moscow on Christmas Day. It was uplifting cinema, with some of the most sage movie dialogue you could want to hear.
Stallone, in his screenplay for Rocky IV, clearly made a decision to avoid real life at some point, in favour of a streamlined fight between the good American man and the cheating Russian giant. And yet Rocky V, in its opening scenes, took away some of that victory. For Stallone brought the realism back, with an added dose for good measure, by introducing brain damage into the mix.
Had this been at the start of Rocky II, back when the series had its feet still somewhere near the ground, it would have made sense. And in truth, being battered by a man capable of 1850psi would leave you with a few residual stings. But Rocky V followed battles with Clubber Lang, Hulk Hogan and Ivan Drago. It seemed a bit weird to get a fit of normality and real life consequence at this stage.
Fortunately, Stallone learned his lesson, and Rocky Balboa had the Italian Stallion claiming his pension, whilst fighting the current world boxing champion of the world (albeit one with a slight injury). That’s a bit more like it.
Muppets Most Wanted
This is only a mild one, but it’s still worth noting. For anyone with any feelings at all towards the Muppets, the moment at the end of the 2011 reboot, where the seemingly-unloved felted ones walked out onto Hollywood Boulevard to discover legions of adoring fans was goosebump good. It was the ending that the Muppets deserve.
So then: how brutal is it that the follow-up of sorts, Muppets Most Wanted, begins by pulling that wonderful ending apart? That we learn all the people screaming their love for the Muppets were extras, and that actually, they’ve all gone home, leaving a bunch of Muppets standing there and the cameras still rolling? It’s a harsh way to start a film – albeit leading into a quite brilliant opening number – and makes the ending of the movie before tinged with just a little added sadness. Boo.
The Descent Part 2
How much the ending of The Descent is contradicted by The Descent Part 2 depends which version of the original you saw. In the US cut, Sarah does indeed seem to make it out of the caves, pushing her way triumphantly out of the soil and jumping into her car to drive to safety. She’s not entirely unscathed by her ordeal, but she’s alive. In that case, doing a sequel where Sarah goes back into the caves stretches plausibility, but is at least possible.
But in the original UK cut? Sarah never made it out of the caves. She couldn’t have simply dug her way back out to the surface, because she was a couple of miles down. The scene in which she reaches her car and confronts Juno’s ghost is revealed to be a fakeout, one of several hallucinations Sarah sees before her inevitable death at the hands of the crawlers. That ending – the better ending! – is totally negated by the existence of the daft sequel. [Sarah Dobbs]
Also: There’s Halloween: Resurrection, which undermined the generally fun Halloween: H20.
Ignored for the purposes of this article: Crank 2. Granted, it may screw around with the ending of the first film, but it hardly seems to matter. Plus: Statham.
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