With with arrival of Marvel’s stunning sequel CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (our review here), Screen Relish has been inspired to put together a list of not so much our favourite sequels, but follow-up films that seriously put their opening effort to shame. Something Anthony and Joe Russo’s frosty sub-titled superhero sequel does in spades when going up against Joe Johnson’s THE FIRST AVENGER!
Of course, pictures like THE GODFATHER PART II, ALIENS and EVIL DEAD II are a bone of contention as it’s argued between fans and film enthusiasts around the world as to which is best. Same for THE DARK KNIGHT, T2 and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. I myself believe Francis Ford Coppola’s second instalment of the Corlone family is a masterpiece but have always had a softer spot for the opening classic. I’m also a preferrer of George Lucas’ STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE. So, rather than including such close calls, we’re going to look at films that really did take it to the next level second time around… and no, reboots and prequels don’t count!
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (2013)
While Gary Ross did a fairy decent job in adapting Suzanne Collins’ dystopian future-set novel of THE HUNGER GAMES, Lionsgate’s passing of the torch to music video director Francis Lawrence seemed a controversial decision given his mediocre (at best) back catalogue. We needn’t have worried, unlike the previous Young Adult phenomenon TWILIGHT (which started poorly and went downhill faster than one of those ridiculously shit CGI wolves), sequel CATCHING FIRE did just that. Fanning the flames for a tense adrenaline-fueled survival thriller with Jennifer Lawrence assuring the further exploits of Katniss Everdeen in Panem will draw even more to see the two-part conclusion, MOCKINGJAY.
HOSTEL PART II (2007)
Eli Roth’s opening European-set shocker was one of the first genre entries to be tagged as “torture porn” and having Quentin Tarantino’s name attached only aided its success. By mixing things up a little for a return in having two plot lines collide, Roth’s sequel remains one of the most underrated of all time and in my mind is a blood-curdling masterpiece. We get a direct follow on to tidy up the first (and admittedly average) film before we follow three female college students who unluckily become entwined with the Elite Hunting Group. There is also the two American guys seemingly conflicted about their plans to buy their first brutal killing. All comes to a “head” in a twisted and unpredictable finale that few saw coming!
X2: X-MEN UNITED (2003)
Director Bryan Singer is credited with bringing the comic-book movie back in a big way after some truly awful early television adaptations. However, the second half of his opening X-MEN adventure almost undid the great groundwork initially laid. A less than stellar script unravelling into a turgid mess that left a bad taste in the mouth. Go back and you’ll how soulless and silly it becomes. As for X2, it truly is a work of art in comparison with a more gripping and emotional storyline, finally getting to real undercurrent of complex characters and true message that source material always wanted to convey. Singer’s sequel set the bar for the superhero genre, one which our next feature was only too happy to challenge a year later…
SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004)
Yes, Sam Raimi’s opening adventure was pretty good. You could even say groundbreaking. Paving the way for the likes of the Marvel movies and many other money-spinning franchises. It was all going reasonably well until the brilliant Willem Dafoe popped up as a bloody Power Ranger! We all struggled to keep a straight face after that. The big box-office business assured Raimi a return and he really did up the ante for SPIDER-MAN 2. Inspired casting in brilliant British actor Alfred Molina as the conflicted bio-technitition Otto Octavius (aided by his maniacal, mechanical extra limbs), proved a masterstroke. Breathtaking set-pieces on top of a fast-moving train and that side clock tower battle? They still astound some ten years on!
It’s worth cutting writer/director/editor/producer Robert Rodriguez some slack as his minuscule budgeted Mex-ploitation thriller EL MARIACHI ain’t too bad for a self-taught young filmmaker. He sold his organs to fund the fantastic little indie project that at times may be rough around the edges but the subsequent money that film made, along with the exposure on how he made it, allowed him to almost retell the same story (yet still continue on) with genuine Hollywood movie talent. DESPERADO is literally insane with some extreme ultra-violence and stunning stunt set-pieces with Antonio Banderas never being better. It’s a shame that his all-star trilogy closer ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO feels bloated and egotistical.
MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981)
Like Rodriguez, writer/director George Miller turned to the medical profession as a way to fund his opening revenge-fuelled Aussie actioner. Although in a more orthodox way. Working as an emergency room doctor, MAD MAX was born and so too superstar Mel Gibson. Such an international hit, Warner Bros. stumped up the rights to distribute and tasked Miller with a post-apocalyptic sequel. What we ultimately got was a masterclass in mayhem and stunt work that has rarely been rivalled. Gibson’s nothing-to-lose and appropriately monikered antihero remains as iconic only because of THE ROAD WARRIOR. A chaotic closing chase through the Australian Outback stands the test of time as one of cinemas most rousing finale’s.
THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2007)
The fact we got a sequel at all to Rob Zombie’s bizarre and intense horror HOUSE OF 1000 CORPES is down to the risk taken by Lionsgate Films. Initially a project financed by Universal Pictures, so disgusted with Zombie’s finished product, the studio effectively told him to take it off their hands for next to nothing. Shopping it around, it finally found a home and a cult following. The sequel is a different beast altogether. Centred around the same characters, seeing them on the run after the first film’s events, REJECTS retains the director’s signature hillbilly horror but almost gets us rooting the despicable Captain Spaulding and family in a Western-style setting. Bill Moseley’s Otis is most certainly the star of the show and he even overshadows his own signature role from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE II. Some genuinely sickening scenes push the limits but boy is it a blast!
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER is in UK cinemas now and the US from the 4th April.