More of the same can be a good thing, says Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

The crit­i­cal and pop­u­lar suc­cess of The Dark Knight has kicked up more that a few ed­dies of con­tro­versy through­out the sa­lons of cy­berspace. Across the Ir­ish Sea the tabloids have been giv­ing the Bri­tish cen­sors a kick­ing for grant­ing a film con­cern­ing KNIFE CRIME TER­ROR a sup­pos­edly le­nient 12A cer­tifi­cate. Else­where, box-of­fice boffins won­der why, af­ter its as­tro­nom­i­cal suc­cess in the US, The Dark Knight was only a strato­spheric smash in the rest of the world.

In­ter­est­ingly, few peo­ple have both­ered to re­mark on the fact that a se­quel has been re­ceived with sig­nif­i­cantly greater en­thu­si­asm than its al­ready ad­mired pre­de­ces­sor. For many years The God­fa­ther Part II was put for­ward as the only fol­low-up to im­prove upon an al­ready worth­while orig­i­nal. While fans of 1935’s Bride of Franken­stein (the great­est film ever made) may have fumed at this glib un­truth, it can’t be de­nied that, un­til quite re­cently, the movie se­quel was one of the most unloved and undis­tin­guished of artis­tic forms.

Bride of Franken­stein and God­fa­ther II stood apart for the same rea­sons: both saw the orig­i­nal di­rec­tor re­turn­ing to the ma­te­rial (James Whale and Francis Ford Cop­pola, re­spec­tively) and draw­ing heav­ily from the nov­els that in­spired their break­through movies. One could, thus, view both pairs of films as halves of one rea­son­ably co­her­ent whole.

Un­til the mid-1980s, it was more com­mon for se­quels to be di­rected by some ris­ing hack who, like as not, re­garded the gig as no more than a con­ve­nient step­ping stone. Steven Spiel­berg di­rected Jaws. The ap­palling Jaws 2 was di­rected by a French­man named Jean­not Szwarc who went on to helm such no­to­ri­ous calami­ties as Some­where in Time and Santa Claus: The Movie. That’s right. Hard though it may be to be­lieve, Jaws 2 is nei­ther the worst nor the sec­ond worst film on Szwarc’s CV. That de­gree of un­der­achieve­ment should be re­warded with a hat­ful of medals.

Many Star Wars fans rate The Em­pire Strikes back as su­pe­rior to (sigh) Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope, but, know­ing that Ge­orge Lu­cas had al­ways planned to tell his story in a cy­cle of films, it is hard to view Em­pire as a tra­di­tional se­quel. The In­di­ana Jones films were de­rived from the tra­di­tion of pulp film se­ries, so they must, also, be re­garded as a some­what ex­cep­tional case.

The point at which the fol­low-up be­came prop­erly re­spectable was, surely, in 1986, when James Cameron, then a promis­ing rookie, con­founded grim ex­pec­ta­tions of a de­layed Alien se­quel with the clam­orous, thrilling Aliens. Four years later he re­vamped the core el­e­ments of his own Ter­mi­na­tor and de­liv­ered the over­pow­er­ing Ter­mi­na­tor 2: Judge­ment Day.

Since then, aware that more need not mean less, gifted film­mak­ers have knocked to­gether such markedly su­pe­rior se­quels as Spi­der-Man 2, Toy Story 2 and The Bourne Supremacy. Next week, Hell­boy II: The Golden Army comes your lucky way. Suf­fice to say, it knocks Jaws 2 into a cocked hat.

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