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The Sequel Dilemma: What Does It Take to Convince You To See a Sequel to a Really Bad Movie?

I can’t help it. I am kinda excited to see Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. I know the first Ghost Rider was terrible. I sat through it. However, there’s still a little part of me that’s yearning to get a look at what Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor have done to the series. After all, the pair helmed Crank, perhaps the quintessential “very silly, very exciting” action movie. And, to be fair, there have been any number of movie franchises that have recovered from a near catastrophic instalment to offer something new and exciting and engaging.

I should be honest here. I’m not expecting a masterpiece about a former stunt rider played by Nicolas Cage who can turn into a flaming skeleton and can wreak all sorts of havok. I don’t expect the movie to redefine my movie-going experiences or anything. I’m just looking for a gleefully cheeky grindhouse action movie experience, similar in tone and quality to Nicolas Cage’s Drive Angry, released last year.

The trailer leads me to suspect that Neveldine and Taylor might have found some joy in the ridiculous idea of a free-wheelin’ demon on a kick-ass motor bike causing all manner of chaos while punishing those wayward souls in dire need of punishment. After all, the worst part of Mark Steven Johnson’s adaptation of the character was how completely devoid of any energy or enthusiasm it was, treating its subject matter as some sort of weighty meditation on the universe. As I’m sure Freud would say, somethings a flaming skeleton riding a motorbike is just a flaming skeleton riding a motor bike.

Why am I excited, though? After all, the low-rent C-list comic book character had his shot at fame five years ago, and that proved a fairly large-scale disappointment. Part of me is very skeptical, and it’s a familiar feeling. It happens every time that news breaks about a sequel or a relaunch of a movie that wasn’t necessarily very good the first time. And, yet, despite the experience of having been disappointed before, I sometimes get excited about these films, despite myself? What does it take to get me excited about a franchise that has already broken my heart?

It’s worth saying that sequels and follow-ups can salvage an earlier misfire. Last week alone, The Muppets managed to single-handedly erase the decade-long tarnish of Muppets From Space on the careers of everybody’s favourite talking puppets. Last year, Rise of the Planet of the Apes managed to make us all forget about how poorly Tim Burton had mismanaged the Planet of the Apes reboot from a few years back. We’re all eagerly anticipating the sequel to JJ Abrams’ Star Trek, a movie that reversed a downward spiral seen in Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek: Nemesis. These movies succeeded in financial terms, but they also succeeded with audiences – audiences who had soured on earlier instalments suddenly found their interest in these movies renewed.

This little piggy came home...

What does it take to generate that interest in an idea that has already worn itself out? Is it as simple as a change in those involved behind the scenes? After all, the character and actor in front of the camera and Ghost Rider haven’t changed – it’s still Nicolas Cage, who is by turns brilliant and terrible in movies both brilliant and terrible. I’m not sure that it’s a change in production staff that makes such a big deal, as I didn’t know who Rupert Wyatt was before watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes. After all, creative talent doesn’t necessarily translate universally.

Bryan Singer was the perfect director for X-Men, with a strong career behind him, but was very much the wrong director to try to salvage the Superman franchise with Superman Returns. Similarly, while I loved Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer, I can’t get too excited about The Amazing Spider-Man at the moment. On the other hand, while Matthew Vaughn had proved himself a skilled British filmmaker, I don’t think anybody would have pointed to him as the ideal candidate to rejuvenate the X-Men franchise with X-Men: First Class after the double disappointments of X-Men III and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Magnetic appeal...

Is the addition of a talented cast in front of the camera? After all, The Muppets managed to bring a very talented human ensemble to supported the eponymous puppets. While Jason Segel, Amy Adams and Chris Cooper might not have blockbuster appeal, they are three very consistent and respectable actors – their involvement is certainly an indication of quality. Similarly, the Ghost Rider sequel adds Idris Elba and Ciaran Hinds to support Nicolas Cage. Even if neither actor has an unblemished record, they are two superb performers.

Perhaps it isn’t anything to do with the cast and crew. Perhaps it’s all to do with publicity. After all, while I tend to watch movies I am truly excited about from pre-production, it’s common for trailers or interviews or advanced reviews to catch my attention. I wasn’t really expecting much of X-Men: First Class or Rise of the Planet of the Apes until I saw the trailers for them. Similarly, despite a strong cast and crew, the screenshots and trailers were the first sign that something had gone horribly wrong with Green Lantern.

It's not easy being green...

And it works the other way as well. The casting of Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, along with Martin Sheen, had been enough to pique my interest in Sony’s upcoming Spider-Man reboot. The trailers somewhat killed that excitement, giving an indication that Sony wanted to make the franchise “darker” (both aesthetically and philosophically). The notion of a secret conspiracy involving Peter Parker’s parents and the promise of a bitter “emo” Spider-Man were enough to dampen my enthusiasm at least as much as Garfield’s seeming comfort in the role intrigued me.

After all, it’s at those points we start to see a movie really come together. Once the studios start releasing footage and once people start seeing it, that’s when we get an idea of how all these disparate elements are coming together. Earlier failures built on similar premises might have made us wary of engaging with a movie’s charm “on paper”, so I think that it’s the post-production stage where you get to judge whether a follow-up might redeem a failing franchise. After all, it doesn’t matter what the pedigree of those involved might be, it’s once you start to get a sense of how they might come together that you can really judge if a movie might somehow change a series’ trajectory.

He rides again!

And, to be honest, I quite like what I’ve seen of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance so far. It seems pulpier, cheekier, less self-important and more gleefully ridiculous. I might have the mentality of a twelve-year-old, but I love the little epilogue to the trailer:

What if you have to pee while you’re on fire?

It’s awesome.

Yes, it’s very silly. Yes, it’s very juvenile. On the other hand, it seems like the cast and crew are treating the subject matter with all the weight and seriousness it deserves. There’s nothing wrong with being a pulpy and cheesy action movie, and it seems that Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor realise that.

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3 Responses

  1. Interesting post with interesting question, Daren.

    I totally agree with you on The Rise of The Apes…that was one great movie compared to Burton’s movie.

    To answer that question, the only thing that can assure me to watch a sequel of bad movie is the trailer and the cast. If the trailer convince me that it will be good then I will watch it. There are also the actors factor. I will watch whatever movie where Cumberbatch, Cillian and Paul Bettany are in it…sequel of a terrible movies included

  2. Looking at the back of a newspaper in the train this morning and seeing the ad for Ghostrider I was thinking the same thing. Although I sat through the first one and did not like it I am curious to see what this new one is like. It’s also because I watch almost anything Cage is in.

    Personally I liked Muppets from Space and wasn’t too fond of the new one 🙂

  3. The major factor is if the franchise is well-loved by a core audience but there’s a movie (even if it’s the first one) that is a mis-step such as “Green Lantern” or Ang Lee’s “Hulk.” “Star Trek” overcame “The Final Frontier” with the sixth film that looked to return the series to what fans wanted. The same can be said for the James Bond series, that had several bad movies but recovered by either offering a film that returned to the roots of the series (like “For Your Eyes Only”) or by recasting the role of Bond. The problem is if a bad movie is made that is an original work and for some reason a sequel is commissioned. Why would those who disliked the first film watch a follow-up?

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