Cast back your mind over thirty years ago, before the onset of this godless, profane century, to the comparative innocence and joyful day-glo palate of the Year of Our Lord 1991. My college pals and I were attending the historic Tara theater in Savannah, along with a significant percentage of the coastal town’s population.
The movie was Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
If you were not yet born, or too young at the time, it is impossible to describe for you the frisson en masse experienced that evening. The entire audience was enraptured by the intense, rapid action unleashed upon the screen. There was whooping and screaming, like one hears on a roller coaster as it inches up a dizzying peak, before the inevitable sheer drop, and the nauseating pull of inertia toward the next height. Fun nausea. The kind that makes young girls shudder and seek shelter in the nearest shoulder. Giddiness. From a movie.
Those of us acquainted with the Schwarzenegger cyberpunk milestone The Terminator, from the classic sci-fi year of 1984, were served a smorgasbord of elements both familiar and fresh. Everything we loved about the original was surpassed, by leaps and bounds. Our curiosity about the fictional fate of our world was not only sated, but new worlds of intrigue and action were opened to us faster than we could fully absorb them. The expansion of the story we knew was cleverly expanded upon, in an organic way that made us feel as though we were discovering new chapters somehow long since written.
Two years prior, I’d had a much different experience, which culminated in the very first time I ever stood up and yelled at a movie screen. The film was Back To The Future II, which, despite its meager charms, felt like ninety minutes of square pegs being forced into round holes. Tertiary characters from the first film were played by different actors, breaking the continuity. Relatable nostalgic settings were shuffled aside in favor of Airplane!-style gags about the then-distant future of 2015.
Most egregiously, at the close of this chapter laden with obvious setups for unmade installments to follow, there was a brief sequence of clips from the Old West-themed Back To The Future III, subtitled COMING 1990.
At which point I stood up in my seat, and, in a pathetically cracking seventeen-year-old voice, heckled “NO WAY”, as the young lady who accompanied me did her best to hide her embarrassment.
By contrast to T2, Back To The Future II felt like the result of talented moviemakers being proffered dumptrucks full of cash to continue a story that was already comfortably concluded.
Trainspotting and Badder Santa are two of my favorite films of all time. In the past fifteen years, both have received sequels. I myself have seen neither. Why is that?
Could it be because in both cases, the original story was satisfactorily completed, and seeing the lives of the characters continue beyond that would only subtract from that satisfaction?
Take Badder Santa, for example. This is a film with a well-earned place as a perennial Christmas classic, due in no small part to the particularly heinous attitudes of its characters towards the holiday. Its pitch-black humor comes not just from a legitimately intoxicated lead actor, but from a massively talented director, in the form of the mercurial Terry Zwigoff. The lion’s share of the gut-laughs are delivered by the diminutive Tony Cox, playing one half of the most horrifically awful married couple one can imagine. How awful are they?
Well, the wife drives a van into Bernie Mac’s gut, just before the husband touches jumper cables to his ears and fries his brain. Granted, Bernie’s character was extorting the pair, and the couple eventually end up behind bars, but despite the fact that all of this was actually very funny in Bad Santa, reuniting with Tony Cox’s larcenous dwarf in a sequel seemed a far less humorous prospect.
To wit, everything I’d see on screen in Bad Santa 2 would run counter to my own feelings about how the characters should be handled. And since Zwigoff was replaced by the director of Mean Girls and Mr. Popper’s Penguins, that seemed more than likely. So I never did see Bad Santa 2. From what I’ve heard, I didn’t miss anything.
Now, take the sequel to Trainspotting, from 2017. In this case, the director and cast all returned, because Danny Boyle isn’t exactly what you’d call an auteur, and only Ewan MacGregor enjoyed continued success following the 1996 original (ironically, thanks chiefly to Star Wars). The story is loosely based on a 2002 novel by the same writer as the first, Irvine Welsh. Even still, I never bothered with the film or book. Why is that?
Maybe because I’d experienced all the emotions I’d needed to with the first film, and had no desire to muddy or diminish those emotions with another go-around. Plus, whereas the soundtrack to Trainspotting (covered over two discs) was organic and showed great insight by utilizing pop songs handpicked to match mise-en-scene, a sequel disc would invariably be laden with bands eager to climb aboard the gravy-train of a sure thing. Producers and labels would vie to position music acts from their own stable for maximum visibility and profit. You know, like casting Lady Gaga in a fucking Joker sequel and making it a musical, because you think you can turn a hit into a bigger hit by selling downloads instead of the finite experience of a decent film. Something every studio exec invariably experiences; the sudden onset of we-know-better-itis.
Joker was a surprise hit for success-famished DC, even though it cribbed liberally from Scorsese classics like King of Comedy and Taxi Driver. Remember how all the singing and musical acts made it so popular with audiences? Me neither, unless you count the oft-imitated bit where Joaquin Phoenix dances jauntily down city steps. And that’s a hell of a stretch for an argument.
No points for guessing where all the marketing bucks for Joker 2 (whatever the fuck it’s called) will go. Ten gets you twenty you’ll hear more about the songs than the movie itself when it comes out, good or bad. I presume bad.
Let’s move on.
Before he was happily married, and before I unwittingly revealed myself as an incompetent sort of third-wheel dullard, Jim Goad and I used to have these hilarious arguments about movies. In particular, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, which both of us found to be the absolute pinnacle of tedium. “It’s four hours of Al Pacino sitting in a chair,” he offered, in a criticism I’ve plagiarized countless times since. I’d mention that the trumpets cause my eyes to roll back into my brain, as Nino Rota’s score incessantly sputters towards some sort of Pagliacci-esque sad-clown poomphery. The whole goddamn thing is as cliche as a cornicello worn over a “wifebeater” when it comes to Italian culture in 20th century America, and making matters worse, the wannabe Tony Sopranos up north treat it like their own personal Talmud.
When we got to the sequel, Jim hated it, but not for the reasons you might think. Jim hates sequels. He hates numerals in movie titles, typically Arabic, but especially Roman. Jim fucking hates Star Wars for popularizing Roman numerals, and as counterpoint, I would offer that the practice goes back to Godfather II, in 1974. But I think Jim sees sequels as an obvious weakness of the writer in the refusal to conclude a single story, as well as a bare-handed cash-grab. I would counter that both Godfather and Star Wars were intentional installments of previously fleshed-out, long-form sagas, and confess that at heart, I’m a dumb sucker for a good saga.
On one occasion when the subject briefly drifted to the Indiana Jones movies, I defended them by explaining that they meant to pastiche the amorphous, free-wheeling, in medias res style of 1930’s adventure cliffhangers. Sequels were typically stand-alone, with only brief acknowledgments of prior chapters for seasoning, much like Sherlock Holmes or James Bond novels. Titles were crafted to inspire intrigue and wonder, such as Temple of Doom, which skirted sequel shibboleths in practically every way to massive success, and which I’d still enjoy today if not for the appearance and opening credit of hideous, stinking, ruinous virago bitch Kathleen Kennedy.
This June, Kennedy’s unholy vengeance upon Hollywood and George Lucas continues apace with the unwanted fifth Indiana Jones outing, subtitled Dial of Destiny, words too banal even for a black-and-white 1950’s game show. (The title sucks. Whether or not you hated the movie, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is still an intriguing title.) Just as she did with Star Wars under Disney’s aegis, Kennedy has crammed an “idealized” version of herself into this sure-to-be-brilliant sequel, in the form of a C-U-Next-Tuesday British “comedienne” who gets to tell Indy how lame an old man he is, and that his contributions to world history no longer matter. Apparently the script is so rock-solid and brilliant, time travel is utilized to fit it into Jones’s legendary life of manly adventuring. If all that sounds awesome to you, rather than buying a ticket, please eat huge amounts of poison.
As a handful of you know, I myself am currently producing a sequel, to my 2008 animated movie John’s Arm: Armageddon. In the early 2000’s, I home-made three shorts as sequels to the first John’s Arm cartoon, with two and three numbered in Roman, and the fourth (arbitrarily) as Arabic. I did hamstring myself as far as sub-titles; although “Armageddon” was the name of the unfinished John’s Arm side-scroller video game and could thus be re-used, I couldn’t do the same with “Armcandy”, “Brothers In Arms” or “Armed and Dangerous”. I also knew that I couldn’t get away with the same early-2000’s style of Flash-animated, gross-out, offend-everybody chaos as my original movie. So, what then?
First, I had to rediscover why I wanted to make the movie at all, when it all but guarantees literal years of punishing, unpaid labor. I had to rediscover the uniqueness of what I’d created, from the ground up. Because truthfully, I have one true goal in mind for the project.
To make it rain cash.
To squeeze out maybe a year of my own miserable existence wherein I don’t have to beg for or freak out about money. Where I don’t have to feel lower than dogshit because I’m fifty years old and not “gainfully employed”. Where I’m rewarded for both my unique talents and the specific skill sets I’ve honed, with something tangible, with which I can pay for basic material necessities and needs.
Yeah. Money. I’m producing this sequel for money.
But here’s the crucial difference between me, and the Hollywood bigwigs who slap a number after any phrase they deem franchisable. The money only follows if I follow my gut and my heart. Not the inverse.
I have no reason to retrace my own footsteps, nor anyone else’s. I have the freedom of reintroducing the conceptual universe of John’s Arm to the world, meaning I myself get to re-experience it, fifteen years later. The entire surface of animated comedy has shifted, leaving more than a decade of ruins to study for cautionary tales. Prime-time shows and comedians have come and gone, by the dozen.
Oh yeah- and something like a hundred sequels and “reboots” have been foisted upon a weary public by incompetently-headed, agenda-mad studios.
Joe Dirt returned for “part 2”. Independence Day had a laughably pathetic Resurgence, wherein a character who clearly bit the dust in the first blockbuster was hale and hardy (openly gay, too, natch) following a two-decade “coma” (because people totally come out of those). Pee-Wee Herman came back for Big Holiday, the first in his oeuvre to forego Danny Elfman’s signature style of score (for Mark Mothersbaugh, admittedly a fine lateral move), and the second (after 1988’s flop Big Top Pee-Wee) not to use Tim Burton’s goofy-ass direction or Phil Hartman’s brilliant comic ideas (him being lamentably murdered some years previous).
Alien, Predator and The Terminator have all had too many sequels, reboots and spin-offs since the year 2000 to list here. People apparently forgot that Shane Black was the idiot behind 1993’s ludicrous Last Action Hero, and so he was allowed to helm a Predator reboot wherein the mysterious titular alien hunters were on Earth ripping out human spines to enhance their DNA with autism, or something. JJ Abrams, a fucking asshole with shit for brains, was permitted by hideous, stinking, ruinous virago bitch Kathleen Kennedy and Paramount Pictures, respectively, to lay waste both to the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises with five- FIVE!!!– of the most imbecilic, poorly-scripted, unimaginative pieces of cinematic feces in the history of the medium. Literally, movies that even retarded people think are stupid.
For real. Ask one. You can identify retarded people by their vast collection of unopened “Funko Pops”, meticulously displayed in their homes like objects of fine culture or value. The Disney Star Wars movies are so stupid and awful that the zillions of bobble-head toys made to look like their proprietary characters are now being front-loaded into a landfill somewhere, like they were so many surplus copies of Atari 2600 E.T. cartridges in 1983 New Mexico.
[Somewhere around the third proofread of this article, I realized that I’d completely forgotten that Blade Runner, one of my favorite movies growing up, finally got a sequel in 2017. Not only did the trailer do absolutely zilch to entice me, I’d learned to no longer trust Harrison Ford two years prior.]
A Roman numeral after a title once implied prestige, and elegance. Compare the relentless onslaught of superhero movies today to the specialness of 1980’s Superman II. From the very start, it was implied that there was more story to be told. The poster itself even stated, in boldface, THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES.
In more innocent times, Spider-Man 2 and X-Men 2 kindled similar sequel magic, although in both cases (as with the classic Christopher Reeve Superman saga), the third time was anything but the charm. Spider-Man 3 was little more than a naked effort by Hollywood to bring a maverick genius like Sam Raimi to heel, and X-Men 3 became the moviegoing public’s introduction to the cancers of child-grooming and elite pedo-privilege. Bryan Singer was the one who cast ball-grabbing creep Kevin Spacey as fabled archenemy Lex Luthor in 2006’s soft reboot Superman Returns, and if you can look upon either person’s face and not see a diddler of minors hiding in plain sight, oh how I envy your sickly-sweet naivetè.
A point; I could swear I had one. Oh;
In case I didn’t make it clear enough, I know what not to do when it comes to sequels. With enough viewer support, I know how to deliver a proper sequel, not a “Suck-Will”. Because independent productions like this one tend to be glacial, here’s a title image to demonstrate how serious I am and to entice your interest.
If that gets you even a little bit excited and/or curious, please consider joining my Patreon. There will be exclusive updates, merchandise, and ways to buy your way to a walk-on appearance or executive producer credit. This project is underway. It’s happening, as are projects like new Ceaseless Fables interactive content, and One Hundred Percent American. But rent and bills have to be paid before I can set aside the time to produce the animation. That is reality.
However, so is this; the show must go on. Go on… to not suck.