by Rob Douse
Sequels have always had a polarising effect on fans of any given series: Cynical people will tell you that the only reason sequels exist is to make money; stupid people will tell you that splitting both the last Harry Potter and Twilight films was totally justified and not at all a blatant cash grab; and normal people will tell you that a sequel has the potential to expand on an established narrative and further develop themes and characters laid down in the original.
There are, however, some sequels that can’t be explained by logic. They are the films that no one wanted to do or even knew what to do with, and they were made fully in the knowledge that they would only ever be viewed by insomniacs and stoners at 3am on the free movie channels.
Do you have any idea how bad a sequel has to be for early-90’s Jean Claude Van Damme to turn it down?
This list celebrates those brave few who soldiered on even after everyone told them to stop; even after the budget ran out; even after most, if not all, of the original cast had abandoned the series; even after everyone stopped watching.
Note: I’ve also provided odds for a successful chance of redemption when the series is inevitably rebooted.
I was in two minds about whether or not the Death Wish sequels should make the list, because, despite the fact that they destroy everything the original tried to create, they are also insanely brilliant. I mean ‘killing someone with a football’ brilliant.
The original film was a harrowing tale of vigilante justice starring Charles ‘Not sure if frowning or sun is in my eyes’ Bronson and directed by Michael ‘nobody knew I was a director before those insurance adverts’ Winner. After the brutal rape and murder of his daughter and wife, respectively, mild-mannered architect Jack Kercy (Bronson) goes absolutely bananas with a gun and starts shooting everyone wearing a leather bomber jacket and talking jive. Which was just about every one under the age of 25 in 1970’s New York. By the end of the film Kercy is wanted for a considerable number of murders, but slips away into the night, never to be heard from again.
Look, I’m not going to defend rapists, here. They rank among the worst creatures in society, right up there with paedophiles and parking attendants, but it evidently became apparent to the writing staff that the only way to keep the audience on side with a man whose body count had started to rival the Black Death was to force him to breaking point in every film. The problem was that any rational man who had suffered as much loss as Kercy would either have killed himself or turned himself over for justice and counselling. Neither of those scenarios would have made a compelling film, though, so instead…well, let’s just examine the cover for the original Death Wish and 1994’s Death Wish V: Face of Death, (I am absolutely serious,) and see if there’s any subtle differences…
Ignoring the fact that the latter Bronson looks like he is auctioning off those pistols on Cash in the Attic, the cover pretty much shows everything that went wrong with the series. Every new film started with Kercy trying to escape his past and start over, and every time the narrative took a shit all over his plans by having people close to him die in increasingly contrived ways. In Death Wish III: Death Wears a Moustache, Kercy snaps after his friends wife dies of a fractured arm. I mean, she sustained the injury during a gang attack, but it could have just as easily been the result of a fall in the rumpus room. What then?
The point is that the tragedy that originally forced Kercy to take action was a simple case of wrong place, wrong time; it played on the very real fear that something like this could happen to anyone, which made him even more of a relatable everyman. Again, in Death Wish 3, his fiancé dies after her car rolls down a hill and gently bumps into another, parked car before bursting into a ball of flames. I’m not saying that it couldn’t happen, I’m just saying that, for a production that doesn’t involve Wile E. Coyote in any way, it added a cartoonish level of violence to what was original a deadly serious series. By Death Wish 5 I expected his wife to be killed after Barry Chuckle turned around with a set of ladders and knocked her out a window.
That brings me to my other problem with the sequels: the only thing more unbelievable than an architect being able to single-handedly wipe out hundreds of mercenaries and street gangs is the idea that a man Charles Bronson’s age, (and with a face like a sex-killer’s flesh-mask) could manage to get engaged to a procession of progressively younger and more attractive women. Let me put this in context: By the time Death Wish V: Face of Death came out Charles Bronson was seventy-three years old. In the film, he is engaged to an ex-supermodel, despite the fact that 1994 Charles Bronson looked like a burlap sack stuffed with porridge:
Or, I dunno: maybe supermodels are into pillow-faced men with badger furs on their head.
Chance for Redemption: Achieved
Death Sentence (2007) sees Kevin Bacon administering vigilante justice in a variety of brutally realistic ways. It’s pretty much exactly the same as Death Wish but, much like cheeseburgers, adding Bacon makes everything better and, most importantly, it was based on a book by the same author as Death Wish, so at least we know that when he picks a theme he sticks with it.
Let me start by saying I love Mel Gibson. Apocalyptica is one of my favourite films and I really respect a man who stands by his convictions, even when those convictions are utterly racist, sexist or insane and even when those convictions could lead to actual, legal ones.
Don’t you just love it when a picture does all the work for you.
The first Mad Max (which I think was originally called The Road Warrior) starred a fresh-faced, considerably more Australian Gibson as a traffic cop in an ultra-low budget, slow-boil action movie set in a post-apocalyptic future. The limited funding was hugely aided by the fact that most of Australia looks like the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, at the best of times.
The titular Max (Gibson) is a man of few words but bountiful amounts of leather. He gets really Mad™ after a gang of outlaws murder his wife and child and, also, most of the police force he works for. At this point he goes full Jigsaw and murders every member of the biker gang in the most elaborately vicious ways possible (for example: offering a man the chance to live if he is willing to saw his arm off before he burns to death).
The first sequel actually did exactly what a good sequel –as explained in the intro– should do: using the inflated budget to improve upon everything that made the original great. I have no beef with Mad Max 2; it is literally one of my favourite films. I’m here to talk about Thunderdome. Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome decided that what the previous Mad Max films had been lacking was a roving gang of child-thieves (the most annoying of all the thieves) and copious amounts of Tina Turner in full Tina Turner mode. The whole thing was a stupid over-exaggerated mess, with mutants suddenly roaming around looking suspiciously like concept drawings for Total Recall characters.
I couldn’t find a photo of Tina Turner in Thunderdome, so here she is doing some normal, Tina Turner stuff, instead.
Chance for Redemption: High
Slated for a 2013 release, Mad Max: Fury Road is being directed by George Miller, (who helmed the originals,) and will star Tom Hardy, whom you may recognise as Bane from The Dark Knight Rises and whom I recognise as the most likely reason I will give if I ever break up with my girlfriend.
Honourable mention goes to Hollywood’s Hunky Ryan Reynolds
If you’ve not seen the original Universal Soldier then do yourself a favour and fork out the requisite £1.82 it’s going for on Play.com (seriously, I just checked: go buy it.) For those of you that have seen it, you’ll be aware that it’s pretty much Van Damme’s opus, so far as nailing all his signature Van Dammerisms is concerned. This film had it all: the spunky female reporter-come-love interest, the rain-slick fight in the mud during a thunderstorm and, of course, JCVD’s unsettling eagerness to do things with no clothes on that people usually do with their clothes on.
This is actually from Timecop, but it’s a perfect example of what JCVD is all about.
Universal Soldier’s plot involves an elite group of soldiers killed in action and subsequently re-animated, before –in a twist no one saw coming– proceeding to have PTSD flashbacks that cause them to go insane and murder innocent people. The film also stars man-mountain, Dolph Lundgren as the antagonist; possibly the only man with a more impenetrable accent than Van Damme and a jaw line so straight you could use it as a spirit level to fit some shelves.
Also, he’s like ten feet tall. Stack those shelves as high as you like.
The first film was a classic brainless action flick and made enough money that every sequel afterward just went, ‘ah to hell with it: let’s just do that again,’ right up until the series reached a singularity with JCVD reprising his role in Universal Soldier: Return; an almost play-for-play rehash of the first film. The series is a brilliant example of the worst kind of sequel rubbish: the kind that just remakes the original, whole-cloth, and expects no one to notice, (also known as the basis of Lady Gaga’s entire career.)
Chance for Redemption: Achieved
In 2010, some beautiful genius convinced the considerably older principal cast to reprise their roles in Universal Soldier: Regeneration. The great thing about it was that everyone involved knew, since MMA came along, audiences were now aware that a perfectly timed roundhouse kick had as much practical application in a real fight as stabbing yourself and hoping your attacker leaves quick enough for you to phone an ambulance.
With this in mind, they cast former UFC Heavyweight Champion Andre Arlovski as the films antagonist. Andre comes from Belarus, which I couldn’t show you on a map but, thanks to Regeneration, I can tell you that its natives mainly communicate by spitting and pounding your head into the ground. In the language of film, this translates into 100% awesome.
The blood isn’t make-up: he arrived on set like that, every morning.
Ong Bak is arguably the most well-known film starring Thai kick-boxer/human Dragonball Z character Tony Jaa. Jaa is renowned for swearing that all his action scenes are shot without the interference of any wire-fu (i.e. the stuff that made people fly in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). After watching all of Tony’s films, I can say with absolute authority that he is either a liar, or Thai scientists finally crossed the void between man and God, where only emptiness lies; because Tony Jaa is a legitimate monster.
Legitimately awesome, that is.
Even by the standards of choreographed fighting set by Bruce Lee and recklessly insane stunts set by Jackie Chan, the Ong Bak series is irresponsibly insane. If I can give some context to that picture above: that is Tony Jaa, with his leg on fire, about to kick a man in the face. Not crazy enough for you? Try this on for size: that wasn’t a bit of improv following an accident or future lawsuit; Jaa deliberately sets his leg on fire as part of the scene and then kicks a human being in the face. I have a theory that Tony Jaa had a curse put on him by a witch and now he can’t die, so instead he makes awesome karate films taunting the laws of physics and the spirit realm, alike.
Anyway, the original Ong Bak was about Tony Jaa recovering his village’s lost statue head while also being unwittingly entered into several underground fighting championships. Jaa then made pretty much the exact same film in Warrior King, only he replaced ‘lost statue head’ with ‘adorable elephant friend’; essentially creating a live-action Disney movie with 100% more broken bones and real-life Tekken characters.
I’m not joking: the guy on the left looks and fights exactly like Eddy Gordo.
When the time came to make a sequel, Tony Jaa went insane. Literally. There are rumours that he disappeared for months during production, causing all kinds of financial problems, but when he did eventually come back, he bestowed upon the world Ong Bak 2: The Beginning, and a legend was born. The film became an instant classic in the eyes of any man who grew up dreaming of being raised by samurai pirates that would teach him how to make explosives and, um, dance like a pretty lady.
Ong Bak 2 is what you would get if you collated all the market research data from surveys of boys, aged eight to eighteen, asking what could be more awesome than kicking a man while on fire. Presumably, though, some of this data was gathered during the 80’s, as there is an utterly perplexing scene where he frees a bunch of slaves by getting shit-faced and breakdancing through a bandit camp.
“I really put the ‘break’ in breakdancing, haha, get it? Seriously, though: I’ve just real-life crushed this man’s larynx; he needs a doctor.”
More than anything, the film displays what an insanely talented martial artist Tony Jaa is: he had to have learned the fundamentals of at least four or five hugely varied fighting styles for this movie and he switches between them several times during the course of a single fight. It all gets so hectic that I’m still not convinced that in the final scene where –spoiler– he collapses, it wasn’t just the point at which the crew had to stop filming because his body had depleted all its manna reserves and he’d hospitalised anyone in Southeast Asia still stupid enough to stand in front of Tony Jaa after they’ve injected him with the Balverine serum and set all the cameras to ‘karate’.
These same issues created a big problem when it came time to shoot Ong Bak 3. The third and final film in the series suffers from another classic sequel issue: being a sequel. As a standalone film, Ong Bak 3 would have been a perfectly competent, if somewhat tedious, quasi-philosophical martial arts film; more in league with the aforementioned Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon than the, by now, irredeemably insane Ong Bak series. It also didn’t help that, by this point, there was definitely some wire-fu going on, if not by Tony himself then at least by the guy dressed as a crow that can apparently fly around because black magic.
“What are you talking about? Guyliner and face tattoos are totally badass. Shut up!”
As a successor to The Beginning, Ong Bak 3 fell flat for a lot of people who were expecting another ninety minutes of mayhem. Ong Bak 3 made the same mistake as the live-action Street Fighter film and assumed that what we really wanted to see was what unstoppable warriors got up to when they weren’t cracking skulls and being unstoppable. This meant that a good portion of the third film was devoted to Tony Jaa’s tediously slow recovery following his capture in the last film and subsequent torture, and if you’ve noticed that I’ve never used his character’s name throughout this then it’s because, in this film especially, it became apparent to me that Tony Jaa has just spent the last ten years making films about what life is like when you are Tony Jaa.
And I just want to say: Thank you so, so much, Tony Jaa.
“You’re welcome! Hyaaa! Fwaa! Karate sounds!”
Chance for Redemption: Karate
While there are any number of rumours on the internet about how Tony Jaa is now retired, becoming a monk, on the run from the mob or living on that island with JFK and 2Pac, all you need to know is that he has started filming a sequel to Warrior King and, if history repeats itself, Warrior King 2 should be approximately infinity times more insane that the original. And I would remind you that, in the first Warrior King, Tony Jaa kills two men twice his size by tying elephant bones to his arms.
Pictured: a terrified man about to be smashed in the head with bone gauntlets. Not pictured: acting.
Despite having aged terribly, Highlander is still a brilliant film and one of the few series about immortals that actually bothers to point out the ways in which being unable to die would be completely rubbish (hint: it’s not much fun living forever when you have to watch all your loved ones die every couple of decades.)
In hindsight, this is probably the most deceiving movie cover of all time.
The films also benefit from some truly bizarre casting: hiring Sean Connery, the one Scottish actor who flat out refuses to do any accent but his own to play an Egyptian and then getting Christopher Lambert to play the titular Highlander despite having the kind of impenetrably thick European accent which could have totally been explained by implying he’d spent centuries travelling the world but kind of stood out in the scenes when he’s hanging about with his super Scottish clan. It’s especially fun every time he says, ‘I am Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod’ because the car crash of alliteration and accent makes it sound like he’s raising Cthulhu with a swollen windpipe.
The cast further benefitted from super creepy immortal antagonist, Kurgan, who basically looks like a six foot Frankenstein’s monster made in the image of Christopher Walken (but played by Clancy Brown, who has one of those tall people voices that makes everything they say sound like it’s in slow motion).
In case the Xenomorph body armour threw you off, he’s the bad guy.
Everything was going really well, but the series began to flounder pretty much as soon as the second film saw MacLeod just decide to stop being immortal because apparently that’s a thing you can do, but then becoming immortal again as soon as it’s plot convenient and at some point Sean Connery shows up again, despite dying in the first film, and quickly gets to work dying again in one of the most transparent displays of ‘I’m just here until my cheque clears’ acting and, well, to be honest that’s about all I can remember. Also, the full title of Highlander II is actually Highlander II: The Quickening which is just about the stupidest title I can think of for a film, and annoys me way more than it rationally should. (See also: The Happening.)
Chance for Redemption: Bleak
This is the only series on the list that I actually gave up on watching. Despite a plethora of interesting themes and concepts, the series has become so fractured and convoluted that it’s impossible to keep track of all the canon. On top of the interminable sequels, there was a cartoon and reasonably long-running TV series tie in. Also, Adrian Paul, who plays a new Macleod in the later films and TV series, looks so much like that ridiculously enthusiastic Scottish historian on the BBC that I can’t take him seriously.
Left: Overly enthusiastic Scottish historian. Right: Fictional immortal Scotsman.
I’m pretty sure I got those the right way round… Anyway, the series is now at the point where nothing short of a complete reboot/remake will get it back on track and…oh, well would you look at that: Ryan Reynolds recently signed on to star in a remake of the original 1986 Highlander.
Okay, so maybe unnecessary sequels aren’t all that bad.