The recent release of the prequel “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” got me thinking about the very odd sequels to the original 1968 “Planet of the Apes” and about sequels in general. Sequels are common in both literature and movies these days, but they can be especially treacherous in movies because the writers and directors can completely change between films, and consequently the “vision” of the original film can be destroyed along the way.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there are a number of sequels out there that it can be fairly said completely miss the point of the original film. And when I say “completely miss the point”, I mean that the sequel typically kills or undoes or ignores everything that made the original film a classic in the first place.
Since I’m already in a movie mocking mood due to recent participation in the first Twitter “Mock the Movie”: Sands of Oblivion (and the upcoming follow-up this very evening: Atom Age Vampire), I thought I’d share a short list of sequels that completely miss the point!
The usual warning: to explain why the sequels are clueless, there are spoilers below!
We start the list with the one that got my started on this post:
1. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). I really shouldn’t have to summarize the plot of the original “Planet of the Apes”, but here goes: astronauts, including Charlton Heston*, crash land on an unknown planet; thanks to time dilation, thousands of years have passed since their departure. They run afoul of society of apes who keep primitive, mute humans as slaves, and all are killed except Heston. The existence of a speaking, intelligent human threatens to overthrow the rigid ape society, and Heston must escape before he is killed. Fleeing into the “Forbidden Zone” where no apes have ever gone, he confronts the ruins of the Statue of Liberty — he has been on Earth all along. Human civilization has been annihilated by nuclear war, and the apes have supplanted us.
The movie is a haunting statement about the inexorable pressure of evolution — and how readily humanity can lose its place at the “top” due to its own self-destructive nature.
Enter the sequel, “Beneath the Planet of the Apes”! Heston and his girlfriend, wandering the “Forbidden Zone”, stumble across a secret human civilization. Turns out that humanity hasn’t been destroyed, but instead evolved into a race of super-douchebag psychic mutants! So that haunting feeling of human civilization being annihilated from the first film? Gone! The threat that, if we don’t change our ways, we will be replaced? Gone! But humanity retains its self-destructive nature: the damn mutants worship a friggen’ nuclear bomb. Why? Because fuck you audience, that’s why! By the end of the film, the apes have marched on the “Forbidden Zone”, which pretty much negates all of the social and cultural issues that made it forbidden in the first place. As a final “screw you”, Heston’s character decides to launch the nuke in the end, destroying all humans and apes alike. Why? Because apparently humans are really sore losers.
2. Halloween II (1981). The first “Halloween“, direct and co-written by horror master John Carpenter, was an instant classic and pretty much single-handedly spawned the entire “slasher” genre of horror films. The story is simple and to the point: crazy inhuman lunatic Michael Myers has escaped from a psychiatric hospital on Halloween, and returns to his childhood home to murder all sorts of promiscuous teens. He is pursued by Dr. Loomis, his psychiatrist, who is well aware of the threat Michael poses and wants to put a stop to it. In the climax of the film, just as Michael is about to shish kabob Jamie Lee Curtis, Loomis shows up and empties a revolver into the killer’s chest, knocking him out of a second-story window. The nightmare is over — isn’t it? The very last scene shows that Michael’s body is no longer lying below — the night will continue…
After the success of the first film, “Halloween II” was made, also co-written by Carpenter but directed by another. Overall, the film is not super shabby — so why would I say that it misses the point? Two things stand out. First, the amount of gore in the second film far surpasses the first, and the scariness is way, way down. The first film is brilliant because the truly horrifying parts are saved for the climax, and most of the time is spent building tension.
For the second point, I’m recall an interview I read a long, long time ago that I think was done with the director of the film. In it, he criticizes the open-ended conclusion of the first film, and explains that he wanted to provide closure to the Michael Myers story. That completely misses the point of the first film’s ending — it intentionally doesn’t give closure so that the audience remains unsettled! It’s kind of like saying, “Hey, I’m going to make a sequel to ‘Old Yeller’ where it turns out the dog didn’t die.”
And if you agree that “Halloween II” missed the point, I should probably mention “Halloween III“… but, quite frankly, I don’t even want to think about that one.
3. Highlander II: The Quickening (1991). The original “Highlander” was not a perfect film, but was so unique and charming that its cult classic status was well-deserved. It follows the life of Connor MacLeod, one of a group of immortal swordfighters that battle through history, in quest of a mysterious “prize” that will be claimed by the last standing. The film portrays Connor’s immortality as both a gift and a curse, and the “prize”, not surprisingly, includes both the gift of mortal life as well as the ability to read minds, the latter of which he can use for the benefit of humanity.
I believe that part of the reason the first film was so successful was its strong supernatural/mystical component. The origins of the immortals is never really explained, and just adds to their mystique and the sense that they are fulfilling a supernatural destiny.
Enter “Highlander II”. MacLeod is now an old man, and has used his amazing powers to… solve the problem of the ozone layer. If that isn’t a big enough disappointment, the immortals are revealed through flashbacks to be aliens from the planet Zeist. MacLeod manages to grow young again, through means incomprehensible, and by the end of the film it is revealed that the “prize” is really the choice between growing old and dying, or returning home to good ol’ Zeist. Huzzah. Bit of a let-down from saving the world, isn’t it?
So, MacLeod goes from mystical, world-saving superhero in the first film to confused exiled alien in the second film. I get the feeling that the writers of the second film did their background research by fast-forwarding through the first.
4. XXX: State of the Union (2005). Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that the original “XXX” movie is not exactly great cinema. It is entertaining, however, and at least the premise of the film is somewhat clever. Vin Diesel plays extreme sports fanatic Xander Cage, who is infamous for making illegal political statements like dropping a conservative, anti-video game senator’s car off a bridge. Cage, sporting a “XXX” tattoo on the back of his neck, is grabbed by NSA agents and blackmailed into spying on an anarchist Russian criminal organization. Along the way, he becomes a super-spy who actually cares about the mission and the people under his protection.
Cage is obviously intended to be a cooler “James Bond” for the next generation; this is made especially clear by the death of a Bond-esque character at the beginning of the film, who couldn’t cut it against the evil anarchists. The charms of the movie involve the fact that Cage is very good with any extreme form of transportation — be it a car, parachute, snowboard, skateboard, or motorcycle, or some combination of them — and also somewhat naive in traditional spy skills, like shooting a gun!
Its sequel, “XXX: State of the Union”, doesn’t miss the point so much as it ignores the point to try and make an easy buck. Diesel was supposed to return for a XXX sequel, but backed out, leaving some rather embittered backers. Rather than just move on and make something new, they figured, hey: let’s bring in a “new” XXX, in the form of angry, pudgy rap/actor Ice Cube!
So here’s the thing: “XXX” was, in essence, the name — or at least the motto — of Vin Diesel’s extreme sports character. The “X” refers, quite obviously, to “extreme”: as in, “X-Games”. Ice Cube’s character is an ex-Navy SEAL with no obvious connection to the extreme sports culture, and referring to him as “XXX” makes no sense whatsoever! It’s kind of like saying, after Boromir gets killed in the Lord of the Rings, “Congratulations, Faramir — you’re the new Boromir!”
The other point completely missed in making this ill-advised sequel is the choice of Ice Cube. Vin Diesel, whether you like him or not, is undeniably an athletic, charismatic figure who can carry a lot of scenes on the strength of his personality alone. Ice Cube, on the other hand, has the charisma of, well, Ice Cube**. For the filmmakers to say, “Hey, we can replace Vin Diesel with Ice Cube and it’ll be exactly the same!” demonstrates that they really had no clue what made the first film work at all.
So, those are my thoughts of movie sequels that completely missed the point(s) of the original films; feel free to share your own suggestions, and reasons, in the comments!
* I would use his character’s name, but let’s face it: we all automatically think, “Hey, that’s Charlton Heston!” regardless of what role he’s playing, right?
** I tried to think of something really, really uncharismatic to compare Ice Cube to, but the worst thing that kept coming into my mind was, “Ice Cube”.