Commentary: Don’t judge movie sequels and remakes by originals

BY TOMMY MORGAN JR. | APRIL 05, 2010 7:30 AM

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Sequels tend to suck. So do remakes.

There’s not much of a surprise there. Sequels and remakes come at times when Hollywood has run out of original characters or is just trying to cash in on major trends. This is why there are six Star Wars movies, 11 Star Treks, and why there will soon be eight American Pie movies (the eighth being American Pie 4 — wrap your mind around that).

This weekend brought the release of both a sequel and a remake, Why Did I Get Married, Too? and Clash of the Titans.

Because of their status as updates to old stories, neither film seems to escape the taint of its predecessor, and each is being weighed and measured in the critical landscape on how it holds up to or improve upon the originals. Married, Too? in particular can’t seem to escape the echoes of the past. A review by the New York Daily News’ Elizabeth Weitzman highlights this, comparing it not just to 2007’s Why Did I Get Married but to the entirety of Tyler Perry’s body of work and his “formula” for filmmaking.

Now, to me, Perry’s films are about as hilarious and heartfelt as Norbit was thought-provoking and soul-stirring. Clash of the Titans, if its original is to be considered, has nowhere to go but up.

However, neither movie should be examined on the basis of past glory or previous sins.

I had long been one to judge a sequel on how it holds up to the original, until I saw Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day. Compared to the original, Saints 2 is just not a good piece of filmmaking or storytelling, and it was treated as such with its limited release and wide critical panning.

In his review of the film, Roger Ebert could not stray away from the original, and he even uses a documentary about it to make his case against the second film. Equal time is devoted to Boondock Saints and that documentary, Overnight, in Ebert’s review as is given to Boondock Saints 2 in and of itself.

On its own, though, it’s not a bad film. Like “At the Movies’ ” A.O. Scott, “I will not defend it as a good movie, but I have to say, I had a pretty good time at it.”

This isn’t to say that films haven’t benefited from subpar originals. Crank: High Voltage won audiences over in a way the first one never really did and without the two hours of walking around with talking trees that was Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Return of the King wouldn’t have seemed nearly as good as it did (in large part because it wasn’t). The point is, those movies never should have been judged by their elders in the first place.

In often times misguided quests for meaning, there is a tendency to overlook the fact that Hollywood is, first and foremost, in the entertainment industry.

Not every movie (not even most movies) contains some higher truth or other piece of cinematic brilliance meant to make the American Film Institute drool and clamor to put it on a “Best of” list somewhere. Movies were created to entertain, to provide a diversion from the at-times nihilistic void of life. If a movie questions that void or challenges us to approach it in a different way, then that’s a good thing. Even if it does that, though, the movie still has to be worth watching.

Many sequels and remakes certainly meet that requirement but are blown off just because the original was something to which they couldn’t live up.

Really, this principle should extend to all movies in regards to other movies. Sure, Hot Tub Time Machine will probably never be mistaken for the 21st century’s Citizen Kane, but if it entertains us, hasn’t it done its job?

If Clash of the Titans and Why Did I Get Married, Too? are bad movies, they’re bad movies. Nothing can be done about that. But if they’re only bad in the light of their predecessors, then maybe they’re not really so terrible.

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