Around the forty-minute mark of Die Hard 2, John McClane realizes he’s dealing with another bunch of hi-tech, well-organized terrorists. “Oh, man,” he mutters to himself. “I can’t fucking believe this… How could the same shit happen to the same guy twice?”
Yeah, dude, you nailed it.
For herein lies the problem with most sequels: any semblance of plausibility is ignored while repetition is passed off as entertainment.
But what do I know? Die Hard 2 was a massive success, its $240million box-office take outstripping its predecessor. I doubt anyone prefers it to the fresh feel of McClane’s barefoot, vest-wearing heroics at the Nakatomi Plaza, though.
I’m hardly rocking the boat by declaring most sequels mediocre, although the drop off in quality can sometimes border on the astonishing. And yes, that does mean I’m still irked by those unforgivably lousy follow-ups to the wonderfully lowbrow Porky’s.
Sequels, however, remain ever prevalent and insanely popular. Look at the awkward, unnecessary and defiantly un-gay Top Gun: Maverick. It wiped the floor with its 2022 competitors. But why do we flock to such fare, especially given the original came out more than thirty-five years earlier?
It’s because we prefer recognizable or semi-recognizable stuff, even though this might very well result in a poor outcome. Better-known things, you see, reduce uncertainty and make comprehension easier. In other words, we like safe, lazy decisions, especially as we’re often unaware of making them. Why spend fifteen bucks at the cinema to watch a flick that might be challenging or disappointing when you can reconnect with something you already enjoy? Familiarity can be so comforting. That’s how the likes of Jurassic Park and Halloween became franchises, despite there being little left to say after the first outing.
However, the existence of such spirit-sapping crap as Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, Basic Instinct 2, The Next Karate Kid, Arthur 2, Jaws 3-D and every subsequent Police Academy outing doesn’t mean I’m against all sequels.
Just ninety-nine percent of their unimaginative, cash-grabbing ilk.
From Russia with Love (1963)
In the history of cinema, few movies can match the significance of Dr. No as it introduced a certain spider-squashing James Bond. Not even a wet, bikinied Ursula Andress majestically rising from the surf can distract us from… from… What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Bond, and his suave, sophisticated poise. Dr. No is a perfectly acceptable slice of 60’s art, its best bit arriving when 007 reveals a hitherto hidden coldblooded streak by being acutely aware of the lack of bullets in the gun of a trigger-happy enemy. “It’s a Smith & Wesson,” he coolly says with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, “and you’ve had your six.” He then shoots the guy without fanfare and puts another bullet in his back while he’s on the floor. Satisfied, he pulls off the silencer to blow on it.
The inevitable sequel followed and Bond mania ensured Russia made its $2million budget back forty times. Shame it’s so average. It’s got a tiny plot, a forgettable Bond girl, a lack of good lines, mediocre locations, an unfortunate fondness for back projection, and an average villain in the form of the blonde, burly Grant (Robert Shaw). A lot of it plays like a spoof, especially its daft mask-wearing start and the bit where a periscope is used to see into the Russian consulate. However, I did like a man-hating minor character by the name of Colonel Klebb (Lotte Lenya). She’s a short-haired, stone-faced, no-nonsense Soviet defector. Her SPECTRE duties involve having a ridiculous, poison-tipped bladed shoe (which must count as the ineptest weapon in the Bond canon), occasionally wearing Coke-bottle glasses, and fondling the knees and hair of any nearby Bond girls. Oh yeah, she also gets to thoroughly check out the suitability of potential assassins by slipping on a pair of brass knuckles and sneakily punching them in the solar plexus. After doing this to the half-naked Grant and being impressed by his mild wince, she pronounces him ‘fit enough’ for the job before marching off â no doubt to a lesbo strip bar.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
This follow-up to the mighty Planet of the Apes is one helluva strange beast. It starts off like a bad case of simian deja vu, repeating the final five minutes of its predecessor before speeding through one well-worn episode after the next.
Then it goes bananas.
Astronaut Brent (James Franciscus) turns up on a rescue mission about ten minutes after Charlton Heston has found the half-buried Statue of Liberty. Weirdly, he not only looks like a younger version of Chuck but sounds like him, too. What are the chances? And just like Chuck, the members of his crew don’t survive the 2000-year trip into the future. Luckily, however, Chuck’s hot, mute girly Nova (Linda Harrison) happens to wander by on horseback. She starts to take the newcomer to where she last saw a bored-looking Chuck in the Forbidden Zone. Of course, they get captured by those militant, hot-headed gorillas, thrown into a cage and threatened with having to star in another unnecessary installment.
Beneath then seems to realize its depiction of topsy-turvy evolution, naked racism, and chic loincloths places it firmly on the same old ground. Abruptly it introduces ‘traumatic hypnosis’ and a telepathic race of underground humans. This lot look like a bunch of slimmed-down Teletubbies that happen to spend their lackadaisical days worshiping a giant golden dildo. No, hang on, I mean an operational nuclear bomb. Anyhow, they have extreme mental powers and can inflict all kinds of terrifying visions on transgressors. This includes the apes, who’ve just launched an invasion of their territory. Meanwhile, Nova’s almost drowning, the Teletubbies are pulling their faces off, our Charlton Heston lookalike has got into a fight with his predecessor making it appear that Chuck has split in two and is trying to beat himself up, the apes have slipped on negligees and are dancing to Spirit in the Sky… All right, I made that last bit up but, believe me, it would’ve blended in perfectly with this hairy mess.
Apparently, Twilight Zone stalwart Rod Serling (who co-penned the original Apes story) had his script for Beneath rejected. I suspect it would’ve made a better film. Oh well, at least this bonkers, nihilistic sequel isn’t dull. Plus, it does its best to show both the apes and humans’ faith in the worst possible light, drawing a line between religion and the most appalling violence. Its biggest surprise (apart from those fucked-up Teletubbies) is that it topped the American box office.
Magnum Force (1973)
Prominent New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael famously had a bug up her arse when it came to Clint Eastwood, whether he was in front of or behind the camera.
The silly bitch.
Now I don’t think too much of Clint’s hugely successful post-Unforgiven output, but his early stuff (Good, The Bad, Kelly’s Heroes, Outlaw Josey Wales) is fucking top notch. Anyone that misses or downplays his enormous contribution to cinema must have an agenda. Ms. Kael, however, laid into pretty much all his films, especially the runaway, hugely influential hit, Dirty Harry. ‘Dirty Harry is obviously just a genre movie, but this action genre has always had a fascist potential, and it has finally surfaced,’ she wrote. ‘Dirty Harry is not about the actual San Francisco police force; it’s about a right-wing fantasy of that police force as a group helplessly emasculated by unrealistic liberals.’
Kael’s review of the controversial, rabble-rousing thriller helped fuel the early 70s debate about Miranda Rights, on-screen violence, moral decay, law and order, spiraling crime rates, police brutality, vigilantism and all the rest. The makers of Magnum Force obviously took note of the ballyhoo and cleverly turned it around. Hey, they thought, why not put our ‘fascist’ hero up against a real bunch of judge-jury-executioner types?
And so, Harry finds himself facing a rogue quartet of black leather-clad motorcycle cops. We know they’re fascists because they dress so coolly. This charming lot, apparently based on Brazil’s real-life, so-called ‘death squads’, takes no prisoners. They murder mobsters, pimps, drug dealers and anyone else who dares break the law with impunity, actions that are set against a backdrop of burnout cops, ineffective courts, contempt toward the DA and public outrage about lenient sentencing (“Fuck the courts!” bellows one placard-holding protestor early on). The entire flick is peppered with dialogue that seems to be riffing on the uproar surrounding its 1971 forerunner. Listen to Harry’s partner speculating about who is behind the slayings. “Maybe it’s Harry,” he says tongue in cheek. “No one hates hoodlums as much as he does.”
Well, all right, I guess there’s some truth in that sly observation. Harry still prefers to shoot villains first and maybe read them their rights later. Look at the way he deals with an airport hijacking. It’s almost comical how quickly he dons a pilot’s uniform to outwit the unstable hijackers, not even considering negotiation before blowing them away. Later, after being shown an impressive array of dead baddies in the morgue, Harry’s boss opines: “Someone’s trying to put the courts out of business.” Harry’s response? “So far you’ve said nothing wrong.”
Magnum Force is just a question of how far Harry is going to take things. We know he walks on the wild side but is he going to embrace all-out darkness? This possibility is intriguingly mooted when he unknowingly meets the rogue cops at the firing range and is impressed by their shooting. “When I get back on Homicide,” he says, almost fluttering his eyelashes at them, “I hope you boys will come and see me.”
Harry, are you teasing us?
Written by right-winger John Milius and the upcoming Michael Cimino, Magnum Force never shies away from its gun fetish or rabid law and order stance. That doesn’t mean it’s not a terrific watch. It boasts hard-bitten dialogue, a cool score and smart bursts of action, such as a swimming pool slaughter, a naked, drugged-up chick plunging off a balcony, a head-on car-motorbike collision and a bloody terrific finale on an abandoned aircraft carrier. Harry remains a slick operator and effortlessly charismatic, a chick magnet in one scene while needling his tight-arse boss the next.
Magnum Force is easily the best Dirty Harry sequel, only a notch or two below the original. Admittedly that’s not saying a lot when you’re dealing with shit like Sudden Impact and Dead Pool, but Magnum Force moves at a cracking pace and never forgets to entertain during its two-hour running length. It also rang the box-office bell louder than its predecessor. Best of all is how it manages to have its cake and eat it; by condemning and rejecting the rogue gang’s philosophy and extreme methods, Harry appears liberal.
Take that, Kael.