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25 Blockbuster Threequels: Did They Sink Or Save Their Franchises?

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist May 2, 2013 at 3:04PM

A lot's been written over the years about sequels -- when they go right and bring us a welcome return to characters and themes we'd flocked to see the first time out and, more often, when they do not, and instead deliver diminishing returns in everything except box office terms. But what of the second sequel, the so-called "threequel"? It's a franchise entry that presents its own specific challenges -- is it the conclusion to a trilogy (like "The Dark Knight Rises") or just the continuation of a franchise (such as "Die Hard With A Vengeance")? Does it have lost ground to make up after a disappointing second entry ("Mission: Impossible 3") or are expectations at an all-time high following a mark II triumph ("Return of the Jedi")? This weekend, we all get to see whether "Iron Man 3" rises to or sinks beneath its particular set of challenges -- you can read our judgement here -- but it's a situation with pitfalls Marvel head Kevin Feige, for one, was fully aware of.
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X- Men: The Last Stand
"X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006)
Franchise: X-Men
How Threequel-y Was It: One of probably many films literally hate-fucked into existence, this franchise extension, teased at the end of "X2: X-Men United," was the product of Fox utilizing an accelerated shooting schedule and an orgy of completed scripts in order to beat Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns" to the big screen. They didn't have a director, script or cast when they started promoting the release date, a good two months before "Superman Returns," which meant they eventually had to approach Brett Ratner, the Guy Fieri of directing, to bring back the merry mutants. What resulted was even more busy than the usual threequel, with Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) resurrected as the Phoenix, Magneto (Ian McKellen, pimpin') joining up with underground mutant Morlocks, and a weaponized cure to turn our heroes into regular citizens. The first two films had a distinct sexuality, while this one features a cuckolded Rogue (Anna Paquin) trying to get her cheating man back by taking the cure, a de-powered Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) somehow going turncoat on best friend Magneto, and a Phoenix that is so hyper-sexual it turns off horndog Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) until she finally has to be put down by his claw. Along with kooky gender politics, there was also the needless deaths of several characters, the suggestion being that this installment would change everything, despite those deaths immediately being called into question before the end of the film. Just in case.
Where does it rate in the franchise (to that date)? 3/3 Worst, though slightly more competent than "X-Men Origins: Wolverine."

Ocean's Thirteen
"Ocean's Thirteen" (2007)
Franchise: Ocean's Eleven.
How Threequel-y Was It: While the first two films had style and wit to spare, they were open acknowledgements that director Steven Soderbergh took these as a paycheck in order to fuel his independent experiments, and by the third film, no one was in doubt that this was just for the money. But as far as threequels go, this one isn't bad, still suffused with the bright colors and sexy movie-star glamor that made the first two cable favorites. And while almost literally every side character from the first two films is back, the picture never feels bloated or overly complex, defaulting to that boozy, laid-back vibe provided by George Clooney and Brad Pitt in the leads. But there's certainly no tension here: the crew unite to take revenge for ailing buddy Elliot Gould after his casino is shut down by villain Al Pacino. But Pacino is decidedly dialed-down as the baddie, and driving him to financial ruin doesn't have the same feeling as it did knocking off Andy Garcia's sniveling jerk in the first two films. Moreover, Gould casually mentions his casino being eliminated by Garcia in the first film; why repurpose one minor motivation for the first film, and turn it into the major, and only, driving force in the third? This merely cemented the feeling that the gang was simply in it for the cash this time around.
Where does it rate in the franchise: 3/3 Worst, though they're all around the same level.

Rocky 3
"Rocky III" (1982)
Franchise: Rocky
How Threequel-y Was It: This was the point where Sylvester Stallone was the biggest star in the galaxy, and the line separating star and character had almost vanished. Taking on directing duties for this installment, Stallone tells you everything you need to know in an opening montage that rivals Eisenstein. Glimpsed are sequences of Stallone-as-Rocky (and possibly Stallone-as-himself repurposed for "Rocky III") filming advertisements and appearing on kids' shows, Rocky enjoying the spoils of fame as he makes sweet love to wife Adrian (Talia Shire). Meanwhile, a new challenger is rising, and in snippets we glimpse supervillain Clubber Lang (a peerless Mr. T) laying waste to his opponents, loudly crowing about his desire to dismantle the Italian Stallion in the ring. The sheer force of Lang's jabs seem to almost rattle the frame, dislodging the domestic bliss of Rocky and Adrian, as Survivor's "Eye Of The Tiger" wails on the soundtrack like you're hearing it for the first time (which moviegoers were at the time). The montage closes in on Adrian's drunk brother Paulie (Burt Young) as he stumbles into an arcade and hurls a flask at a real-life Rocky pinball machine, sending the glass crashing to the floor in slow motion over the credit "Directed by Sylvester Stallone." Sublime.
Where does it rate in the franchise (to that date): Controversially ranked by Gabe 1/3 but probably 2/3 to everyone else.

Jurassic park 3
"Jurassic Park 3" (1993)
Franchise: Jurassic Park
How Threequel-y Was It: What's striking about those first two "Jurassic Park" films is just how secretly nasty they could be, a surprise coming from Steven Spielberg, known to protect women and children first. As a result, "Jurassic Park 3" begins with some atonal b.s. about a hang gliding kid that would fit quite nicely in the CV of some eighties-era Spielberg wannabe, which makes it no surprise that this third installment is helmed by Spielberg fanboy Joe Johnston. The idea of using a second island in "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" was somewhat tolerable, but then revealing there's another island, with a host of new dinosaurs, seems craven even by genre standards, and a step down from the "Lost World" finale that put a T-Rex in San Diego. Everything feels a bit more off-brand in "Jurassic Park 3," like they're conscious about forcing this into a continued story even if it's the first of the three films not based on a book. Now the raptors communicate. Now the T-Rex fights the Spinosaurus. And Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) isn't enough: he has to have a handsome young sidekick that jumps into the action headfirst. Yeah, guys, Alessandro Nivola didn't happen, and we have contempt for how you tried to make him happen.
Where does it rate in the franchise? 3/3 Worst. Joe Johnston is no Steven Spielberg.

Terminator 3
"Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" (2003)
Franchise: The Terminator
How Threequel-y Was It: The third in this time-spanning franchise opens on an intriguing hypothetical: what if you prevented the destruction of the world, but no one could ever possibly know? As a result, humanity's savior John Connor (Nick Stahl) is now a broke drifter, going from leader of the resistance against the evil Skynet to unkempt vagrant and addict, an element of the film given added dimension by Stahl's latter-day tabloid adventures. The return of the T-100 gives him purpose, and it's great to see a grizzled, broken-down Arnold Schwarzenegger in this iconic role again as he pretends that it's 1992 forever. But the first forty-five minutes of "Terminator 3" play out like "Terminator Dinner Theater," particularly with a needless emphasis on a PG-13 rating. Credit where credit's due: the third film lacks the existentialist dread of the second film and the distinct horror of the first, but director Jonathan Mostow wisely compensates with sheer wall-to-wall destruction. Entire city blocks are felled as Schwarzenegger does battle with an upgraded new villain (Kristanna Lokken, sadly no Robert Patrick), ensuring that if this was going to be a rung underneath the first two films, it would at least be a violent rung. "Rise Of The Machines" eventually closes on a surprisingly downbeat note, one that both effectively honors the spirit of the James Cameron films but also establishes a new status quo, taking the series in a new direction.
Where does it rate in the franchise (to that date)? 3/3 So -- worst. But superior to the later "Terminator Salvation."

We capped our list at 25 out of consideration for your scrolling fingers, but we could have gone on and on. Some of the ones we regret having to leave off include "Jaws 3D" -- after all, "Jaws" was the first blockbuster of them all, and the progressively increasing terribleness of its sequels also set something of a trend. 3D gimmickry, none of the original cast returning, and shoddy effects are what "Jaws 3D" delivers, but, though we're not huge fans of the Rotten Tomatoes system, we do get a snicker seeing how no. 3's appalling 12% is blown, yes out of the water, by Michael Caine's finest hour "Jaws: The Revenge"'s 0%.

"Twilight" too was at one point a trilogy and 'Eclipse' is probably the best of any of them bar the first, as little as that says. "Men in Black 3" scrabbled back some of the goodwill lost on no. 2; "Blade: Trinity" is the least of the "Blade"s but was a little unfairly vilified if you ask this writer; while "Revenge of the Sith" was the best of the "Star Wars" prequels if only because it was the only one that featured something we actually wanted to see instead of more stuff about trade embargoes and galactic tax law. "Goldfinger" is an interesting one to consider as an early proto-blockbuster, and to this day is a high watermark in the James Bond canon; "Army of Darkness" is hardly a threequel at all -- though we do enjoy it greatly, it shares little DNA with the fabulous "Evil Dead" and "Evil Dead 2" except a chainsaw and Bruce Campbell's chin; we're reliably assured that "Resident Evil: Extinction" is better than 'Apocalypse' that came before it, but not as good as the first; while fellow cheapie female-led action horror franchise 'Underworld' went with a prequel for its threequel in "Rise of the Lycans" and managed to keep the fires burning, even without Kate Beckinsale in PVC.

"The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" is terrible, but controversially, we rate it somewhat above the also terrible "The Mummy Returns"; "Beverly Hills Cop 3" is a crime against that franchise; "The Karate Kid 3" is as by-the-numbers a retread of past glories as we've had the misfortune to watch; "Star Trek: The Search for Spock" is often unjustly overlooked, but was a solid third entry back in 1984; "Scream 3" has a couple good set pieces (like Neve Campbell being stalked through a Hollywood set version of her original home), but is largely inelegant and not in the least bit scary, so ranks as the least successful in the entire series; "Robocop 3" is a dull pounding headache of a film in which all vestiges of wit or originality from the original are gone; speaking of which, "Rambo 3" fits the same mold.

There are loads more we left out, especially comedies and cultish favorites that didn't maybe quite fit the "blockbuster" mold, but still, this is a fun game, so feel free to join in below about how you can't believe we skipped "Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles" or whether or not "Look Who's Talking Now" is ripe for reappraisal. -- Jessica Kiang, Drew Taylor, Gabe Toro, Kimber Myers, Rodrigo Perez, Kevin Jagernauth.

This article is related to: Iron Man 3, Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi , Feature, The Dark Knight Rises, The Lord Of the Rings, The Bourne Ultimatum, Transformers: The Dark Of The Moon, Features


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