Sequels aren’t always good, but the movie-loving teenager who continues to take up space inside my soul will always be excited by them, especially the mere concept of sequels, i.e. “more of what you love (if all goes well).” These days, when it does go well, like with last summer’s Live Free or Die Hard, it’s a nice surprise. When it doesn’t, like with 2002’s Men in Black II, you almost forget what you liked so much the first time around.
This summer there will be a new Indiana Jones movie in theaters, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It’s a big deal in the world of sequels, seeing as how there hasn’t been a new entry in this series since 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Expectations are high for some fans, who might have preferred that Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Harrison Ford stopped after three films, but the Indiana Jones series was never structured as a trilogy like the two sets of Star Wars movies. Nothing was resolved in Last Crusade that was first brought up in 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, except for the deaths of more Nazis.
My expectations for Kingdom aren’t that high, but that’s because I’m no longer at an age where the quality of a summer blockbuster affects the quality of my summer; I’ll take it for what it is once I see it. Back in 1999 I wanted The Phantom Menace, the first new Star Wars movie in 16 years, to be good, but I knew it wouldn’t capture my imagination like the original trilogy did. How could it? I was 23 in 1999, not 6.
I still like that first trilogy, but by the time I hit college The Empire Strikes Back (1980) was the only one that completely “worked” for me as an adult. Star Wars (1977) is still a giddy hybrid of genres, but the bad acting is hard to overlook once you’re older, and even as a child I thought the construction of a new Death Star in Return of the Jedi (1983) was a tired idea. Most fans hated the Ewoks, but I was aggravated by the intergalactic equivalent of a new Walmart.
Similarly, Raiders of the Lost Ark is the only Indiana Jones movie that holds up as well as it did when I was under five feet tall. I saw all three Indy movies two summers ago at a Chicago theater that was celebrating Raiders‘s 25th anniversary, and I found that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) was better than I’d remembered — Kate Capshaw and Ke Huy Quan’s characters no longer got on my nerves — while Last Crusade was more ho-hum than I’d remembered — it doesn’t really get going until Sean Connery shows up 45 minutes into the thing.
The second Star Wars trilogy featured a new generation of characters and was made for a new generation of 12-and-under fans. Lucas wasn’t trying to exclude older fans, but he wasn’t going to bring back Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia, either. A new Indiana Jones movie is a different thing, however — Spielberg and Lucas are bringing back Han Solo, except his name is Indiana Jones and he’s a senior citizen now.
You heard me. When Harrison Ford last played Indy he was 46. Now he’s 65. Thanks to videotapes and DVDs passed down from their fathers, I’m pretty sure a new generation of grade-school males will be interested in seeing a new Indiana Jones film, but the theme of mortality will almost certainly be a part of this new entry, if only on the periphery, and that’s something the original generation of fans will be able to zoom in on, whether willingly or not, in a way the grade-school generation can’t. And shouldn’t. (Seriously, kids, enjoy your youth.)
Speaking of another action star now in his 60s, Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo hits theaters later this month. If you’re thinking, “Wasn’t Rambo the title of the first sequel in this franchise?” you’re correct. Let’s go back …
In 1982 First Blood was released. Based on a novel by David Morrell, it introduced Stallone as Vietnam veteran John Rambo. A friend’s husband recently told me that First Blood, in his opinion, is one of the best films of the past 35 years. I’ve never seen it all the way through. Now I have to.
In 1985 Rambo: First Blood Part II was released. First Blood was a modest success in the U.S., grossing $47 million, but with international grosses included it made $125 million. Rambo, on the other hand, was huge, grossing $150 million here, $150 million abroad, and making Sylvester Stallone the number-one box office star of the year (Rocky IV also came out in ’85). Rambo became an icon of right-wing American machismo, a Green Beret who won the Vietnam war single-handedly in round two. Even President Reagan used the character as a metaphor in some of his speeches at the time.
In 1988 Rambo III (“Rambo Goes to Afghanistan”) was released. As Rolling Stone or some other magazine I was reading back then pointed out, technically this one should be called “Rambo II: First Blood Part III.” Semantics aside, the second sequel was assembled as another 800-pound gorilla, but it bombed, at least in America, where it only made $32 million. But once the foreign grosses had been tallied Rambo III had earned $189 million, ensuring more restful nights for Stallone on top of his giant pile of money.
This brings us, 20 years later, to Rambo. Originally it was to be called “John Rambo,” which made sense in light of Rocky Balboa, Stallone’s 2006 attempt at resuscitating a once-successful franchise character without resorting to the less appealing title of “Rocky VI.” (Less appealing from the standpoint of marketing executives, I should say. I personally miss the overabundance of Roman numerals in sequel titles.) Somewhere along the way, however, “John Rambo” was shortened to Rambo, or “Rambo III: First Blood Part IV.” Got all that? Does Stallone? He’s not a dummy, but I bet math wasn’t his favorite subject in school. Then again, judging by the dialogue he often writes and speaks in his films, English isn’t his forte either.
In other sequel news, I can’t be the only one who noticed that the follow-up to 2004’s Alien Vs. Predator is called Aliens Vs. Predator. Where’d that extra S come from? And why? Yes, the 1986 sequel to 1979’s Alien is called Aliens, but that’s because there was an army of aliens in that sequel. I’ve seen parts of Alien Vs. Predator on TV, and I know I saw more than one alien. More than one predator too. And in Aliens Vs. Predator, there’s more than one predator, right? So why not “Aliens Vs. Predators”? If you’ve seen the latest sequel/spin-off, please leave a comment and enlighten us all.
One more for this week — the sequel to Batman Begins is actually going to be called The Dark Knight. I say “actually” because I was almost certain the title would’ve been changed to “Batman: The Dark Knight” by this point. Good for you, Warner Bros., for not following the bad example of sequel titles like The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Like no one knew that was going to be a Jurassic Park sequel. Don’t talk down to me, Universal. I went to two colleges.
But maybe, just maybe, it had something to do with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World and the fact that two films based on that novel had already been made prior to The Lost World: Jurassic Park‘s release in 1997. And maybe, just maybe, it’s because the Conan Doyle estate is so powerful that it can destroy us all, just like that new Death Star they’re building a few miles up the road. (I hear this one has a food court. Wow!)