Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Why Comedy Sequels Never Work

Damnnnnn Nick, back at it again with the unpopular movie opinions (sorry). But yeah, there's no real anecdotal intro I can write that can soften the blow of what I'm trying to prove. I truly, personally believe that all comedy sequels are failures that never work. I guess I should ask you first, name me the 5 best comedy sequels that equal or surpass the original film in your honest opinion. Go ahead I'll give you time to think. Pretty hard to come up with huh? I can hardly think of any (I'll get to the ones that did come to my mind later on). I think we should first start with what I think makes a sequel good in general, regardless of it's genre.

The best sequels are the one's that aren't actively trying to recreate the charm of the first film. They are contributing new and great memories, stories, and moments while using the framework of the established characters and world from the first film. This involves a continuation of a story that was left unanswered (Empire Strikes Back), development of a character or insight into their background that wasn't established in the first film that helps deepen said character (Empire Strikes Back), introduction to new environments that feel fresh yet fit into the established world (Empire Strikes Back), and new obstacles that aren't forced or contrived that up the ante and present the protagonist with a new challenge (Empire Strikes Back). I'm only using Empire as a goof, but I also think it's one of the best executed sequels of all time. I think it's also exhausting and redundant to list all of the great sequels in movie history, there are lists and lists of them and its been proven that it can be done (I am of course speaking of sequels with original screen plays and not of franchises that were adapted like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings). And while there are plenty of good examples of successful sequels, there are far more cases of failures. It's not easy to make a good sequel, you can be blinded by the success of the first film and attempt to capitalize on it's charm, or studio execs get in the way and try milking all of the marketability of the first film and it compromises the integrity of the sequel. So why is it nearly impossible for a comedy to accomplish what I previously listed? Because they have the huge handicap of having to accomplish all of that AND still be funny.

A lot of comedies are remembered for their jokes or their funny situations. There are seldom memorable comedies that have better characters/stories than the actual humor they produce. So if a lot of a comedy's success are based off of jokes, that means the sequels will try to capture the same essence of the best jokes of the first film. The problem is, what makes a joke successful or funny is the element of surprise. You're not expecting the joke to happen so that's what makes it funny. It catches you off guard, it goes beyond what you expect, it pushes the limit. So if you're watching a comedy sequel, you're expecting the same jokes or something similar to when you saw the first one. Now the jokes can be pushed further, refined, or executed better in the sequels, but the fact remains that you're either expecting it to happen, or you know exactly what happens before joke reaches the punchline. Duplicating the jokes can do well for fan service, but at the end of the day it just isn't the same as when you saw the first joke for the first time.

What's even worse is when a comedy sequel is made for a film that was made more than ten years ago. As we evolve as a society, so does our humor. Movies are a great time capsule for displaying what we as a culture thought was funny at that point in time. It makes movies more endearing, and some can be held up from it, but if you try and replicate 1970's humor in 2016, I guarantee it'll come off as extremely stale. We find these older movies still funny because of their sentimental value or that we're cognoscente of the context and time in which the film was made. Some movies had humor beyond their time (Monty Python and the Holy Grail) but trying to replicate any of that today without a new age spin would definitely fall flat amongst audiences. The movie is better off rebooting itself and taking the same story and/or characters and placing them in the context of today.

Now there are exceptions to the case (as there always are), but we call them outliers for a reason. They say it's physically impossible to lick your elbow, but I've met someone who can do it. So nothing is exempt from possibility. But I can at least explain how or why some of these sequels pulled it off. The Austin Powers films are some of the most fun and charming parodies I've ever seen. While it does have an "up the ante" style of jokes for each of their films, I think they present enough different scenarios and different characters that make each film distinguishable and memorable from one another. Not to mention there is an unfinished story in each film that makes sequels basically necessary. Despite all of this, the third film in the franchise Goldmember gets some flack for not being original enough (I still enjoy it past its flaws). Exhibit B: Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. Now let me be clear, objectively this isn't a fantastic movie. The humor is pretty shallow, the characters aren't the most interesting, and it's filmed and presented like it was made for Comedy Central. BUT when people talk Harold and Kumar they're always talking about Guantanamo and not Escape from While Castle. Why? Because this movie is almost completely different from the first. White castle was just as crude, but it was a lot more subdued and in a situation more trivial than escaping from the government. The sequel throttled everything about the first to an whole new level, and it is able to not only escape the shadow of the first, but become the staple movie of the franchise. And even though I say it's not objectively a "classic" amongst other comedies, I still find it very memorable, very funny, and very enjoyable to watch on multiple occasions, which is all the really matters. My last example is 22 Jump Street. A movie that uses the same scenario as the first film but yet manages to stay funny and fresh. That's because the movie is so meta, and so aware of what it is and what its doing that it's just funny to see it comment on it's own cliches and exploits. It's original because no other film has really done that to this extent. The end credits of the film hit the nail on the head for what I'm talking about. It gets a pass on retreading the first film because it basically tells us it's retreading the first film. I would say I prefer the first slightly, but I know many who love this one even more. Now they're making a 23 Jump Street and I'm not so sure it can make magic happen a third time, but we shall see.

Other comedy sequels that are received as "Good" are usually because they can be carried by the main actor or ensemble. Does anyone remember anything from Anchorman 2? I remember watching it (thrice) and I can't tell you a single thing that happens in it. It got good reviews, and I thought it was funny enough, but it tried too hard to be that unpredictable and spontaneous movie that was the first Anchorman. Ghostbusters 2 was a great film but it doesn't nearly come close to the first. It was elevated by an insanely original concept and an insanely talented cast of characters. Plus I feel like when it comes to Ghostbusters, the jokes aren't as memorable as the story and characters themselves. I could go on with examples but I'll just be saying the same thing over and over. What I'm trying to say is that a comedy sequel can still be considered "good", but nine times out of ten it's not nearly as memorable as the original, or it leaves a bad taste in your mouth when you think back on it.

It seems like every time a comedy sequel is announced, everyones loses their minds and gets extremely hyped for it. I don't understand how we haven't been conditioned to this point to expect a disappointment. I remember how excited I was for the Hangover 2, only to be almost insulted with a carbon copy of the first film. I don't even know how they made a third (oh wait yes I do the second made record amounts of money). Ever since that movie, I have been distrusting off all future comedy sequels, and don't expect too much from them. It's better this way in my opinion, it makes the genuinely good sequels an extremely pleasant surprise! Some people prefer to be perpetually optimistic towards everything in life, but I personally feel like I can ruin things based off of expectation. I mean maybe people are beginning to learn. The internet was so excited for Dumb and Dumber To and Zoolander 2  to come out, and not only did they fail critically, but they were box office duds as well. There will always be hype surrounding a successful film sequels upon announcement and first trailer, but I think beyond that people know what they're getting themselves into. This was an extremely pretentious piece to write about, but I feel like it's important that it be said in one form or another. There are a bunch of film givens that are well known (video game movies suck, too much CGI kills a film, Nicholas Cage is always the best and worst thing about any movie he's in) and I feel like this should be added to that mix. Hopefully one day consumers will stop accepting mediocre sequels and advocate and support movies that dare to be different (A la Deadpool and R-rated blockbusters). For now though, we have Now You See Me 2 to look forward to! An unintentional comedy sequel set to answer all the questions you had after the first one such as,"Why?" and "Wait Mark Ruffalo was a magician too? I thought he was the cop trying to stop the magicians? Wait what?" Spoiler alert