If popcorn cinema in 2013 has been defined by one thing, it's been "Sharknado." But if cinema in 2013 has been defined by two things, it's "Sharknado" and... a glut of unnecessary and unwanted sequels. Think about it: "A Good Day to Die Hard," "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," "RED 2," "Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters" "Despicable Me 2," "Kick-Ass 2," "Planes," "The Smurfs 2," "Grown Ups 2." These aren't just movies that are creatively unnecessary, they are movies that it's hard to imagine anyone wanting (though in the Sandler movie's case people bizarrely did actually show up, to humanity's shame). Even "Monsters University," arguably the year's best sequel/prequel/spin-off, wasn't one that seemed that creatively in demand—it was better than expected, but hardly essential. This week sees yet another sequel few were clamoring to hit theaters: "Riddick," the third movie in the series started by 2000's "Pitch Black" and continued with 2004's "The Chronicles of Riddick" (you can read our review here). And it got us thinking about other egregious examples through the years.
A couple of qualifiers: one, there are no direct-to-DVD releases here, so that means "Road House 2: Last Call," "Another Midnight Run," "Christmas Vacation 2: Uncle Eddie's Island Adventure," "Cinderella III: A Twist in Time" and "Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia" are all disqualified (yes, those are all real movies). Also, tv movies are discounted, so sorry, "The Birds II: Lands End," "Splash Too," "Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby" and "Home Alone 4: Taking Back the House." Maybe, just maybe, we'll have an unnecessary sequel to our unnecessary sequel piece and talk about some of these movies; there has yet to be a truly great analysis written about "Darkman III: Die, Darkman, Die" and we think we're up to the challenge. But enough about what's not on the list, here's what is...
“Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid” (2004)
Wait, What? Yes, “Anaconda,” the marginally enjoyable creature feature that starred a before-her-prime Jennifer Lopez and an after-his-prime Jon Voight (also: Ice Cube) got a full-fledged theatrical sequel. The producers of this culturally insensitive mess adopted the “hey, if it’s a sequel we should just pluralize the title” angle taken by James Cameron’s “Aliens” and the goofy subtitle approach taken by things like, oh, “Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams.” If only the movie was as pleasurably nonsensical as the title (it’s not). Directed by Dwight H. Little, a kind of Orson Welles of unnecessary sequels (having also directed “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” and “Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home”), ‘Anacondas’ is completely free of even the most bargain-basement charms, with a plot that’s cobbled together from a dozen other movies (including everything from “The African Queen” to “Deep Blue Sea”) and performances so wooden and self-serious that it makes the literally winky performance by Voight in the first movie seem like a perfectly calibrated feat of refined subtlety. The plot involves a crew of ragtag scientists and roughnecks who travel deep into the jungle to retrieve the titular flower, thought to have unheard-of medicinal properties. Guess what else the orchids do, though? Make really big fucking snakes (yes, this is the “explanation” for the first movie’s giant reptile). Maybe the “Sharknado”-obsessed cultural climate would be kinder to 'Anacondas' than audiences were in 2004, but it’s tough thinking anyone would love such a boring, gloomy, Tara Reid-free affair. Possibly even more shocking than “Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid” itself is the fact that it spawned two additional direct-to-television sequels: “Anaconda 3: Offspring” (2008) and “Anacondas: Trail of Blood” (2009), both of which directed by a man named (I shit you not) Don E. FauntLeRoy.
Is It Worth Watching, Like, At All? No. Not at all. The teaser poster for the movie, featuring a swarming mass o’ snake, is way more effective and memorable than anything in the actual movie.
“More American Graffiti” (1979)
Wait, What? The tagline for the first “American Graffiti,” George Lucas’ unexpected, pre-“Star Wars” smash about young kids drag racing and carrying on, was “Where were you in ’62?” If you were to ask someone, “Where were you in ’79?” The answer would undoubtedly be: Not watching “More American Graffiti.” Released after Lucas’ success with “Star Wars” (this was in between the first film and “Empire Strikes Back”), the movie is sour from the start, with a Vietnam-set sequence set to Martha and the Vandellas’ “(Love is Like a) Heat Wave.” The sequence is shot like one of the racing sequences from the first film, with two helicopters speeding along a river. Whoever thought that the perfect way to recapture the loose, hangdog fun of the first movie was to set it against the atrocities of the Vietnam war was sorely mistaken and the filmmaking (it's written and directed by bit player Bill L. Norton, with Lucas, by then running his own empire, relegated to producer) is just as horribly tone deaf, going as far as to recreate the boxy, television presentation of the war for added realism/horror. Because, you know, watching Charles Martin Smith bumble through entrenched combat is the height of hilarity. “More American Graffiti” is the anti-“Before Midnight,” where we revisit characters that we wish we were never, ever around again. Take, for instance, the aggressively sexist stuff that Ron Howard, who was so charming and lovable in the first movie, says to his now-wife Cindy Williams. At one point he assures her that, “You’re more than a mother, you’re a wife.” Immediately after he tells her she can’t go to work. Yeah: ick. If the first movie was about the power of nostalgia, this movie is about the dangers of it.
Is It Worth Watching, Like, At All? If you bought the special edition of “American Graffiti” DVD that has the sequel on the other side of the disc (yes, that’s what it’s been relegated to), then you might want to throw it on one night just to see how bad it really is. Also, the music is pretty good if you cover your eyes.
“Blues Brothers 2000” (1998)
Wait, What? Nothing screams “unnecessary sequel” like a prolonged period of time between installments. And yet the nearly 20-year gap in between “The Blues Brothers” and “Blues Brothers 2000” is arguably the least of the film’s worries. The movie is dedicated to three members of the original cast who died in between (notably one of the original Brothers, John Belushi) and feels like a film displaced in time, less edgy and contemporary than the original and way, way worse for wear. The plot, taking place immediately after Dan Aykroyd gets out of jail, involves everything from Russian gangsters to an adorable orphan, careening from one sequence and musical number to the next with little in terms of narrative or character arcs. The movie just kind of ambles along, not in the cool, jazzy, free-associative way that everyone hoped, but in the Jesus Christ is this ever going to end?? way. Director John Landis, who also helmed the original, has been outspoken in recent years about how much the studio monkeyed with the project, but he has to take at least part of the blame—for the slack pacing, for the '70s-variety-show staging of the musical numbers, for the atrocious performances (John Goodman tries admirably to fill in for John Belushi but never quite pulls it off). Maybe most baffling is the subplot involving Joe Morton from “Speed” as the illegitimate son of the Cab Calloway character from the first movie, who regularly places phone calls to find out Dan Aykroyd’s whereabouts, until he finally joins the band for some reason. Just awful.
Is It Worth Watching, Like, At All? We say no, although Landis is adamant, even when bashing the movie, in saying how great the musical numbers are. The music might be great but the numbers themselves are just as clumsily staged as the rest of the movie. If you want to see Aretha Franklin perform “Respect” in a Mercedes dealership, though, this is the movie for you. We repeat: just awful.