Have you had enough sequels yet this year? Granted, there aren’t as many follow-ups this year as there were last year or in the banner year for sequels that was 1989, but there were still plenty to choose from. Most of these continuations of stories that really didn’t need continuing were inferior clones, knock-offs, or new directions for films that probably had logical conclusions.
But there are always exceptions to this rule of sequels generally sucking and with Second Coming: Cinemas Greatest Sequels kicking off at the TIFF Bell Lightbox tonight (and running through August 31st) there’s finally a chance to relive not only some stellar original works, but also their sometimes equal, sometimes superior, and in a couple of cases “slightly inferior, but still pretty great” follow ups.
The series comes rightfully anchored by the greatest sequel of all time: the week long run of a restored 4K transfer of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II just in time for the film’s 40th anniversary. Originally not keen on making a sequel to his original epic take on Mario Puzo’s crime saga centering around different generations of the Coreleone crime family (which screens tonight at 9:30pm), Coppola approached the new project with a great degree of trepidation. The care and thought that went into this now time shifting narrative that traces the young days of Vito Coreleone (played as a young man by Robert De Niro in the role that would shoot him to stardom) and the current struggles of new boss-in-training Michael Coreleone (Al Pacino). Not only would The Godfather Part II go on to win six Academy Awards, it did something even more unthinkable by unseating what was once considered the greatest film ever made to that point in history (remember, this was a time before people truly came back to appreciating Citizen Kane) to become the new reigning champion in brave American filmmaking.
Not all of the sequels and originals can aspire to that level of excellence, but there are a few other great examples of sequels that didn’t suck throughout the series. I’m very firmly in the camp that believes Sam Raimi’s more polished, better mounted, and playful Evil Dead II (Saturday, August 16th, 9:45pm) surpasses his original work of stark, minimalist, supernatural terror (which screens Saturday, August 9th at 9:45pm). Equally benefiting from a more playful tone and a healthy dose of new subtext, 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein (Thursday, August 21st, 9:00pm) blows director James Whale’s original Boris Karloff starring film (Friday, August 15th, 9:15pm) out of the water.
The vast majority of films in the series equal their originals quite nicely. Richard Linklater was somehow logically able to continue a chance romantic encounter in Before Sunrise (Sunday, August 24th, 6:15pm) with the decidedly more introspective and richer Before Sunset (Sunday, August 31st, 6:45pm) before turning the film into a trilogy. Akira Kurosawa’s one-two samurai punch of Yojimbo (Saturday, August 16th, 1:30pm) and Sanjuro (Sunday, August 24th, 3:45pm) are best viewed within close proximity to each other. Ditto Sergio Leone’s Clint Eastwood starring western remake of Yojimbo, A Fist Full of Dollars (Thursday, August 28th, 9:30pm) and its follow-up For a Few Dollars More (Saturday, August 30th, 4:00pm).
Then there are a few films where the follow-up are interesting, but I wouldn’t necessarily call better than the original. The Color of Money (Saturday, August 30th, 1:30pm) finds Martin Scorsese picking up the reigns of Robert Rossen’s The Hustler (Sunday, August 17th, 1:00pm) twenty five years after the first film. Once again bringing back screen icon Paul Newman for one of his greatest roles as pool shark “Fast” Eddie Felson, The Color of Money is almost too flashy to feel like a proper follow-up. It’s very much a product of the 1980s, which while still being a decent enough bit of entertainment, never reaches the heights of the first entry. It did, however, give Tom Cruise his first truly exceptional role as an actor in what remains one of the best performances of his career.
Finally, I wish I could say some nice things about Tim Burton’s Batman sequel Batman Returns (Friday, August 29th, 9:30pm). Curiously low on actually following around Batman (he really doesn’t show up at all for thirty minutes outside of Bruce Wayne chilling in his cave briefly) and more content to pay attention to the villains of his piece (Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman and Danny DeVito’s Penguin), there’s a real meanness and misanthropy that I don’t think entirely works for the material. It’s the same reason why I’ve never been sold on the dreadfully cynical Mars Attacks as being one of Burton’s more unsung classics. Still, I can at least say that for all its flaws, the sequel is far more ambitious and boundary pushing than Burton’s original Batman (Friday, August 22nd, 10:00pm).
To each their own. There’s probably nothing more subjective in criticism and moviegoing than sequels. For however many people are excited to see continuations of their favourite stories, so many of them end up feeling let down by the final results. At least this series manages to remember there are plenty of great examples of decent sequels.
For more information and tickets, please visit the TIFF website.