And, to be completely spoiler free, I was also a little disappointed. I won’t really go into why here. The problem for many sequels, and Age of Ultron was no exception, is that its hard to meet expectations. The Matrix sequels were highly anticipated, and were a major letdown. Big budget action sequels often do stuff like go back to what came before and seemed to work, and then doing more and more of that. Meanwhile, the novelty has somewhat worn off. Take, as an example, the big fight in the middle of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. No one really saw it coming, and it was full of amusing cameos from recognizable actors. Naturally, when the sequel was made (a movie I mostly enjoyed, truth be told), the fight was expanded and made even crazier, as befits a sequel. Was it better? Not really.
But every so often, a movie comes out that is a sequel that is just plain better than the original. It doesn’t happen often, but below the cut are some of my picks for sequels better than the originals.
Ask any James Bond fan which actor was the best Bond, and unless they’ve never been the slightest bit curious about the character’s older films, and they’ll probably say Sean Connery. Ask them what the best Bond movie was, and they aren’t saying Dr. No. Dr. No is a fine first outing, but for many fans, myself included, the best Bond was Goldfinger. How many iconic Bond moments come from this movie? Oddjob’s killer hat. The laser-crotch trap seen above and Goldfinger’s response when Bond asks if Goldfinger expects Bond to talk. It was a bit sillier than the previous two movies, but it set the tone for Bond’s adventures for the next couple decades.
Empire Strikes Back
My wife is not a geek. My wife’s exposure to Star Wars is Episodes I-IV. I keep telling her that Empire Strikes Back is the best movie in the series. That is a true statement. George Lucas stepped away from the director’s chair, and the series took a very dark turn. Two-thirds of the original film’s protagonists spend the movie running for their lives. Luke is getting dark visions of possible futures. Darth Vader goes from being Grand Moff Tarkin’s lapdog to a guy who chokes out subordinates at the drop of a hat. The fight at the end between Vader and Luke, and the revelation of Luke’s parentage at the end of getting his head handed to him. Han’s fate up in the air, caused perhaps by an uncertainty about whether or not Harrison Ford would agree to make another movie. Everything that is potentially wrong and evil in the Star Wars saga comes out here, and it’s not pretty.
The original Gremlins was a suburban satire in which a bunch of green puppet monsters run amok and cause problems. There are a couple serious scenes that fans remember well…all of which are mocked in the superior sequel. Gremlins 2 went off the idea the original Gremlins was far too serious. It was basically a live-action cartoon, with a Donald Trump/Ted Turner stand in having the title creatures running around his giant office building. Christopher Lee plays a mad geneticist. The Gremlins actually interrupt the movie halfway through and need to be threatened by then-relevant Hulk Hogan to put things right (I am told the original VHS version replaced that scene with John Wayne shooting at them from an old Western since the scene depended on being in a movie theater to work). Really, watch the two and see. Gremlins was fun and amusing. Gremlins 2 was hilarious.
Plus, director of both films Joe Dante is on-record for saying he has nothing to do with the proposed upcoming remake and he thinks remakes are a terrible idea. He rocks.
The Dark Knight
Oh, just ask Watson. I don’t think I need to explain why The Dark Knight is a better movie than the already-good Batman Begins, do I? One of the biggest reasons is in the poster image above this paragraph.
Eh, it wasn’t a high bar to jump. There were a couple somewhat decent moments in the third one, but they all involved scenes that didn’t feature any of the three main characters.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
As I said before, sequels are hard. Marvel’s movies are generally fun, but how many of the sequels do people really seem to love? Iron Man 2 was a low-water mark that didn’t have a Hulk in it for the longest time. Thor’s movies are fun but little else. But then Marvel took Captain America and did something different: they totally changed his formula. His first movie was a World War II-style war movie. His sequel was a paranoid-espionage thriller. Great introduction to the Falcon, and events that actually affected the Marvel Cinematic Universe more than anything else so far. Cap had the potential to be the dullest of the solo Avengers due to him being the Marvel equivalent to Superman: the straight-arrow good guy. That’s a hard thing to pull off and still have a compelling hero. Somehow, they managed to give him the best Avengers follow-up. And that’s just awesome.
If you want to make a superior sequel, just do what you have to in order to make the characters awesome, and different while still recognizable. Otherwise, the novelty is gone and you run the risk of just repeating yourself.