As we all know, Hollywood can’t resist squeezing a good idea for every last drop of its delicious, box office conquering moisture, until what was once a beautiful, golden fruit becomes a shrivelled, disgusting prune.
With Liam Neeson shamelessly reprising his role as ‘special skills man’ once again this month Mark Butler looks back at a host of totally unnecessary film trilogies vomited forth on the back of an exciting original.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room, shall we? Tak3n (yes – that really is how they’ve stylised it) is currently stinking up cinemas on both sides of the Atlantic, where the increasingly preposterous saga is still somehow convincing people to stick along for the ride.
We all know why the original was successful. It was a silly but muscular action flick boasting a committed, game turn from Neeson as a badass-dad, and it had that speech:
Since then, however, we’ve been subjected to two utterly mediocre sequels that were never really needed. The action has become increasingly badly directed, the events more and more stupid (grenades as geo-mapping device being a particular highlight), and the key narrative hook so muddled that the third film is essentially just a crap remake of The Fugitive.
Still, they both hit on a genius idea for marketing: piggy-backing off the first film’s popularity by having Neeson pull a serious face while using a mobile phone on all the promo material:
Face it: the real legacy of the Tak3n trilogy is that it’s conspired to turn Neeson from one of the most gifted, interesting character actors around into a growling, B-Movie pastiche who can only do one expression, appears in increasingly lame and generic trash, and spends his working days punching foreigners in the face.
As a stand-alone sci fi movie, The Matrix is an undisputed modern classic; the kind of groundbreaking, exciting and infinitely re-watchable saga that comes along only once in a generation.
It was a bona fide pop culture phenomenon, and deservedly cemented its place in cinematic immortality at the turn of the millennium. Wowing audiences while leaving us to ponder its mysteries, it ended on a terrific high and definitely didn’t need all the questions answered. But The Wachowskis weren’t done, apparently, and we can only presume that a protesting Neo was silenced somehow.
Say hello to The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix: Revolutions, two totally average and increasingly pretentious action blockbusters that gave us such delights as:
Evil Dreadlock Twins…
Snarky French Dude…
Boring Military Guy…
…and Ergo Man
Yeah. Remember that speech by the Architect? Remember that terrible over-use of naff CGI that now looks incredibly dated? Remember how you sat in that cinema for roughly four straight hours both times, praying that it would get better, and it never did?
The whole wonderful thing dissolved into an unholy mess of ludicrous cod-philosophy and eyesight-threatening kung fu overload before our very eyes. And the final showdown was basically just a giant game of chicken.
The Lion King
At the end of the original Disney spectacular (spoilers!) everyone lives happily ever after. Well, except for Scar. Who got eaten alive by hyenas.
Anyway, the point is that the story was wrapped up in a neat little bow. Simba got his revenge, brought prosperity back to the land, got the girl, and ended up letting that weird monkey raise his own little bundle of joy up to the heavens like he’s lifting the bloody FA Cup.
But Disney weren’t finished there. You can imagine the pitch right now: “Hey guys, we did a terrific job tricking a load of people into seeing an animated version of Hamlet. Why not try putting out a sequel based on an another Shakespeare favourite?”
Hence we got the thoroughly uninteresting Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride a few years later: a loose re-skin of Romeo & Juliet featuring the voices of Matthew Broderick, Neve Campbell and…ahem…Andy Dick.
The music was forgettable. The humour lacklustre. In short, it was everything you’d expect from a straight-to-VHS animated sequel.
And yet, Disney still weren’t finished. And, in somewhat bizarre form, they conspired to create a truly surreal and off-the-wall threequel that is both pointless and impressively crazy at the same time:
That, my friends, is The Lion King 3: Hakuna Matata, otherwise known as The Lion King 1.5. Taking an eyebrow-raising fourth wall breaking approach with a Mystery Science Theater 3000-style frame, Timon and Pumba watch the first movie back on a cinema screen and re-write the action to present themselves as the heroes.
Er…hooray for post-modernism?
The Santa Clause
Starring Tim Allen as a divorced dad who reluctantly ends up becoming Father Christmas after a bit of a festive mix-up, The Santa Clause was the kind of moderately heartwarming family comedy and modest box office hit that you smile and nod politely at, before moving on with your life.
Only some big-thinking studio exec thought they’d hit on the perfect formula for a full-blown franchise.
So a full eight years later Allen returned for a totally weird sequel, taking in a bizarre Avengers-style team of holiday figures including Cupid, The Easter Bunny and The Tooth Fairy, and an evil android Santa that turns Lapland into some kind of horrific totalitarian regime.
Oh, and a few years after that, Allen was back for a third outing, fittingly sub-titled ‘The Escape Clause’.
Cue a daft time-travel plot nobody asked for, a miserable alternate reality which seemingly attempts a withering discourse on the evils of consumer capitalism, and an evil Jack Frost who has the power to freeze people. It got nominated for six Razzies.
Like butter stretched limply over too much bread, Peter Jackson’s thoroughly ‘meh’ Hobbit films have moments of brilliance, sure – but if they’d been packaged as two feature-length flicks as originally planned, or even just a single epic, we’d have been spared a whole lot of tedious filler, pointless love triangles and humdrum ‘character development’.
As a trilogy, it’s a bloated mass of tediously drawn-out narrative and not-much-happening with a few stand-out sequences chucked in along the way.
Oh, and given how little Bilbo actually features, maybe it should be re-titled ‘the serious Dwarf bloke who broods a lot’.
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