eleven sequels that bettered the originals

So this is officially The Summer of the Sequel. As many as 27 being released by the combined might of the major studios according to these guys. Now, while the likes of Transformers redux and The Hangover reheated hold no particular artistic merit, the sequel is not always such a bad thing. Here is my list of revisited titles that were even better than the films that spawned them:

After the Thin Man
After the Thin Man
The set up here is slightly over complicated, but the events leading up to and immediately following the first murder are handled expertly, so much so that the viewer is left guessing the identity of the guilty party until the very end. The Breezy dialogue is delivered effortlessly between the protagonists while the amount of booze consumed, incredibly, outdoes even the original. Nick can sniff out the crime without having seen the murder, the victim or the crime scene all whilst stinking drunk, and Nora can more than hold her own at a table of hardened crims – at one point ordering a memorable ‘whisky with a champagne chaser’. Hardly surprising that another four Thin Man films followed this one before the franchise came to an end.

The Empire Strikes Back
The Empire Strikes Back
Beware of any film that ends with a celebration and boy, the self congratulation at the finale of Star Wars is so complete you’d be forgiven for thinking the whole Empire had crumbled. So it’s something of a surprise that this film opens with the formerly triumphant rebel forces hiding out on a block of ice and getting so badly thrashed in the first set piece that they barely make it out alive. Morale-wise things go downhill from there and the film is all the stronger for it.

Luke must ‘unlearn what he has learned’ and face demons beyond the wilds of his imagination while Han and the rest of the Falcon crew manage to stay ahead of pursuing Imperial forces by their wits alone, only to be finally betrayed by a soi dissant old friend. In contrast to the ending of the original this is a real downer – Han in carbonite and Luke without a hand – but it also has the audience begging for closure with the third and concluding part of the saga.

Evil Dead II
Evil Dead 2
Sam Raimi effectively revisiting his original but this time with a budget. It’s a superior film as it embraces schlock wholeheartedly and the laughs can be very entertaining…the battle Ash has with his own hand is a masterpiece in existential film making too – Jean-Luc Goddard eat yer heart out.

From Russia With Love
From Russia With Love
Outside of the great opening scene and timeless theme tune Dr No was so lacklustre it could have sunk the franchise. Thankfully the sequel delivered in spades and the series lives on, for better or worse, to this day. A trio of lethal super villains (Blofeld, Grant and Rosa Klebb) face off against Connery and the always wonderful Pedro Armendariz in the finest city on Earth before chasing them through the Balkans and finally Venice via, what else, the Orient Express.

The Godfather part II
The Godfather part II
I know it was you, Fredo.
The original may well have opened with a fabulous wedding but the sequel goes one better and opens with a funeral…and a funeral that features a killing at that. Effortlessly threading the early life of a young Vito Corleone starting anew in America with Michael’s efforts to expand into Cuba & Las Vegas while struggling with an errant brother and an increasingly loveless marriage.

So many wonderful moments: Vito’s heartbreak over the sickly infant Sonny; a young Clemenza pointing a gun at a silhouetted cop; the silent court appearance of Frankie Pentangeli’s brother, Roth’s ‘Moe Green’ story and of course, Andoliiiiiiiiiiiiiini.

Hour of the Gun
Hour of the Gun
Starting right where Gunfight at the OK Corral left off and heading directly into a post-fight court scene, the first twenty minutes open up a festering psychic wound that pollutes the morality of the entire film. Director John Sturges tries to distance himself as far as possible from the usual two dimensional portrayals of the principal characters: Ike Clanton, at least to begin with, is shown in a very balanced and almost sympathetic light while Earp is accused by his friend Holliday of being a murderer ‘no better than me.’

Since the revenge cycle of this story is so familiar to the Western myth as to render the narrative almost irrelevant, the strength of the relationship between the two protagonists is what really elevates this film. Garner is cold and expressionless throughout, egged on by Robards’ comic cool and the result is a rather touching fidelity between two men facing the inevitability of old world certainties changing around them.

Lethal Weapon 2
Lethal Weapon 2
I admit I’m setting the bar rather low with this one as the first film was really quite poor but perhaps that’s what makes this sequel such a delight. The plot is nothing special but the pacing and exposition are. Each scene reveals a little more about the story but without clunky foreshadowing or red-marker-pen explaination and without compromising the rhythm of the script: the opening car chase, bomb stand-off and introduction of Pesci as comic relief all appear to be gratuitous but are essential in the march towards the third act. Moreover up to the final two minutes it really does look like the bad guys are going to get away with it, which is praise indeed for standard Hollywood fare.

Manon des Sources
Manon des Sources
A tough call as Jean de Florette is such a strong movie but I think this just pips it. Shot at the same time as it’s predecessor and thus with the same crew, this has the same sumptuous look and depth but the layers of passion and heartbreak just give the sequel the edge.

It may lack Depardieu in a central role but the relationship of Manon and Ugolin as the former slowly destroys the latter is mesmerizing, while the final revelation is so earth shattering that it’s a wonder Souberyan does not drop dead on the spot.

The Road Warrior
The Road Warrior (aka Mad Max 2)
Where the original meandered, this sequel hits the ground running. It is never really made clear what sort of world the original Mad Max is set in. There is obviously order and peace: cops are paid and disciplined, Max does not want for food and is able to take his family on picnics. Yet gangs run wild and often without consequence. Is this the fraying edge of a society about to go under or just an underpopulated and unlucky corner of the outback?

From the outset of The Road Warrior however we are left under no illusions that the world as we know it has ended. Humans have descended to a state where a can of dog food is a prize delicacy and the most sophisticated weapons, in a nod to Einstein’s adage about World War IV, are crossbows and steel boomerangs. The competing societies that George Miller peoples the film with: the self-sufficient yet marooned proto civilization and the increasingly base and lumpen thugs that surround and imprison them, form a terrific duality that, along with an impressively brassy soundtrack, powers the movie towards a sensational climax.

Sanjuro
Sanjuro
The story goes that Kurosawa was gulled by the studio into making this, a second chapter in the life of wandering ronin previously seen in Yojimbo. Quite why he should somehow feel ashamed is beyond me – this has as much of a complex plot as the first film and it’s action sequences more than match the original (the final face off between Nakadai and Mifune being the first among equals) but it’s told in a much lighter manner and thus shrugs off a lot of the density of its predecessor. Comic moments are drawn out from scenes all the way through and it’s a delight to watch the protagonist’s comedy foil, in the shape of the prefect’s aging wife, steal every scene she’s in.

Toy Story II
Toy Story 2
Where the first story dealt with Buzz Lightyear’s growing realisation that he is not in fact the hero of Star Command, rather a hollow piece of molded plastic the sequel plays a wonderful trick of existentialism in reverse. Unlike Buzz, Woody has always presumed he was a stuffed toy but after being stolen by a malevolent collector he is revealed as the long lost star of his own TV show, his face adorning everything from cereal boxes to yoyos, and he allows himself to imagine life beyond the pure love of a single child. In fact he is even – by way of a Japanese Toy Museum – offered immortality: forever adored by waves of visiting children.

Watching him decide between two fates – pure love that will lead to inevitable abandonment or ever-lasting ‘For Display Only’ life is riveting stuff.

Honorable mentions

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Unique in that it’s a sequel to both a movie and an episode of a TV show.)
Superman II
Police Story 2
Aliens (sometimes better than Alien, depending on what mood I’m in)
The Dark Knight
Return of the Fly
Bride of Frankenstein also merits a mention as it features a great villain and the final ten minutes are superb but doesn’t quite beat the original