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What Makes a Sequel Worthy of a 'Part 2' Title?

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire February 26, 2013 at 3:54PM

Can something really be the LAST exorcism part 2?
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"The Last Exorcism Part II."
"The Last Exorcism Part II."

There's probably no good title for a sequel to a movie called "The Last Exorcism." A prequel could make sense -- "Before the Last Exorcism" or "The Second-to-Last Exorcism" -- but when a movie so boldly declares its finality, a follow-up becomes an uphill battle. That could be why the producers of "The Last Exorcism" decided to go this particular route with the title of their new sequel, which opens in theaters this Friday: they called it "The Last Exorcism Part II." It's not another last exorcism, you see. It's merely a continuation of the first last exorcism.

The first Hollywood sequel with the "Part II" (or "Part 2") subtitle is also the best -- 1974's "The Godfather Part II." The "Part II" was demanded by the film's writer and director, Francis Ford Coppola. When Paramount Pictures came to him begging for a sequel to "The Godfather" he had three conditions: no studio interference, a million dollar contract, and the title "The Godfather Part II." As Coppola tells it on the "Godfather Part II" Blu-ray commentary:

"The answer was the first condition was fine, the second condition was fine, but this thing, calling it 'The Godfather Part II,' Paramount couldn't go for that because they thought people would think, 'Well this must be the second half of 'The Godfather,' and I've already seen that movie.'"

Coppola insisted and Paramount relented. I'm not sure it was worth staking an entire production on six little letters, or that a "Godfather" sequel would have been ruined by a name like "The Godfather 2" or "The Godfather: Blood in Lake Tahoe" (all right, maybe the last one would have ruined it). Still, the "Part II" nomenclature did make a certain amount of sense, particularly when Coppola chronologically edited both "Godfather" films into a television miniseries called "The Godfather Saga." Coppola wanted to make clear that "Godfather Part II" was a serious continuation of the themes and ideas of the first movie -- not just an attempt to cash-in on the title (although, as he freely admits, that was part of it as well). 

It's interesting that a highly principled filmmaker was the person to invent "Part II;" in the almost forty year history of that sequel subtitle, it has been used almost exclusively by craven studios and hacks to turn one-off movies into uncomfortable franchises, the very thing Coppola was concerned about when he coined the term. There are a few legitimate "Part 2"s -- like Sergei Eisenstein's "Ivan the Terrible Part II," which was actually intended as the middle part of an uncompleted trilogy -- and in sequel-happy Hollywood, there are more of them all the time. The final installments of the "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" franchises were were both split into two parts, the better to maximize profits and stretch a finite amount of source material. 

So when is a sequel worthy of the title "Part II?" After studying a few of the best and worst, here's what I think is required:

1) Some kind of cliffhanger from the first movie that needs to be resolved.

Although Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale would later insist they hadn't intended to make a second "Back to the Future," they at least had the foresight to end the first movie with a cliffhanger -- Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Marty's girlfriend Jennifer (Claudia Wells) fly off into the future, to save Marty and Jennifer's unborn children. The first scene of "Back to the Future Part II" is the last scene of "Back to the Future" which creates a nice sense of continuity and strengthens the idea that what we're watching is actually the second episode of a larger story (even if, because Wells did not return for the sequel, the original sequence had to be recreated shot-for-shot).

Conversely, what cliffhanger remained to be resolved in "The Karate Kid, Part II?" Daniel (Ralph Macchio) won the All Valley karate tournament. He got the girl. He defeated Cobra Kai. What now? Now you spend five minutes reshowing scenes from the first movie, tack on an epilogue that was written for the first "Karate Kid" but never shot, and then throw up a "Six Months Later" title card (to explain where the girl went) and send Daniel and Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) to Okinawa for a thinly veiled retread of the original movie. "Part III" was even more blatantly pointless: Daniel and Miyagi head back to the States, and compete in the same tournament against the same evil karate dojo. But it was all "part" of a grand plan, friends -- a grand plan to sell tickets to the same story three different times.

2) Lots of returning cast members and creators.

"The Godfather Part II" had trouble bringing back a few of its characters -- Coppola couldn't come to terms with actor Richard Castellano, for example, so the part intended for Clemenza was rewritten as a new mobster named Frankie Pentangeli. But it still followed the continuing story of Michael Corleone, his wife Kay (Diane Keaton), his consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert De Niro), and his brother Fredo (John Cazale), amongst many others. And, of course, Coppola returned as writer and director, and brought back many of his key collaborators, including co-writer Mario Puzo and cinematographer Gordon Willis.

On the other hand, "Meatballs Part II" brought back none of the original cast from "Meatballs" for another wacky comedy at another summer camp. If you went to the movie looking for the work of director Ivan Reitman or co-writer Harold Ramis you were sorely disappointed on that front as well.

3) A minimum amount of rehashing.

Laugh if you want -- and if you watch the movie, you will -- but "Hot Shots! Part Deux" is a great sequel. Since the first "Hot Shots" spoofed a movie that never got a sequel of its own ("Top Gun"), co-writer/director Jim Abrahams shifted his returning cast (Charlie Sheen, Valeria Golino and Lloyd Bridges) to a spoof of high body count action movies like "Rambo: First Blood Part II" (whose laugable "Part II" title, was almost certainly the inspiration for "Hot Shots!"' highfalutin French one). The results manage to capture the spirit of the first movie's humor without recycling its premise or its gags. That's important if you're going to sell the audience on a "Part 2" -- you can't just remake "Part 1."

In contrast, "The Hangover Part II" provided an almost insultingly blatant retread of the original film: awkwardly shoehorning its inebriated heroes into yet another improbably elaborate night of bachelor party debauchery that none of them can remember. The only thing more ridiculous than the same three men getting into the same kind of forgotten trouble was the idea of labeling the whole sad affair "Part II" as if original "Hangover" screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (who didn't write the sequel) had it all in mind from the beginning. 

What is your favorite "Part 2" sequel? What's your least favorite "Part 2" sequel? Tell us in the comments section below.


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