Sequels that fail to live up to their predecessor are automatically setting themselves up to be hated. But sequels that are truly loathed by everyone are an increasing rarity. Thanks to the MCU, even if something isn’t as good as a previous entry, it’s tolerated so people can follow the story. There’s always a chance the next entry will be better.
Yet back in the era of the 80s and 90s era blockbuster seasons, if people didn’t like a sequel, they let everyone know. I remember when this movie was first released in theaters and I remember the enormous backlash. Besides Roger Ebert, everyone hated this movie. Unlike the classic first film, Speed 2 barely broke even at the box office and was critically derided. It was rated number one on Complex’s 50 Worst Sequels of all time and helped kill the “Die Hard in an X” genre of action films.
But…how? And why?
While I didn’t remember the film being particularly good when I first saw it back during its initial release, I also didn’t remember it being particularly bad. Yes, Keanu Reeves’ presence is greatly missed. Yes, Sandra Bullock is a charming actress but isn’t given much to do. But it features one of the greatest character actors of all time, Willem Dafoe, at his most unhinged and the idea of an action film set on a ship isn’t a bad idea. Steven Segal turned that idea into Under Seige, one of his few tolerable films. The first film is one of the greatest action films of the 90s, but I couldn’t think of a reason its sequel would be one of the worst films of all time.
But it remains on the IMDB Bottom 100, so people’s disgust at this movie hasn’t waned with time.
The original Speed is one of those “so dumb it’s brilliant” ideas. The script could have been written on a cocktail napkin, but it’s one of the tensest thrillers I’ve seen.
It works because everyone involved gave the material everything they had. Keanu Reeves is the perfect John McClane stand in, someone just as scared of the bad guy as his hostages. Sandra Bullock’s Annie is a perfect foil to him – she wants him to be the hero when she knows he’s in over his head. Dennis Hopper provides some comic relief but extreme menace to the film, and the stunts really did have me at the edge of my seat.
But what about Speed 2?
It follows Annie (Sandra Bullock, introduced in this movie terrifying a driving instructor played by Tim Conway) and her new boyfriend Alex (Jason Patric). He surprises her with cruise tickets, and they disembark for a vacation filled with the cheese and campiness that can only be found on a cruise ship. Their cabin neighbor is John (Willem Dafoe), a former employee of the cruise line who was fired after he fell ill with copper poisoning. He plans on hijacking the ships autopilot so he can steal the valuable diamond collection on board (I think) and crash the ship for revenge.
Already, I had an issue with this set up. One of the many things that worked about the original is that Keanu Reeves and Dennis Hoppers’ characters knew each other. They had a back story together. Hoppers’ vengeance plot was just as much about showing Reeves that he was the smartest person in the room and had planned every last detail. It seemed impossible for Reeves to thwart his plan.
But Patric and Dafoe don’t know each other. It’s simply an amazing coincidence both happened to be on the same cruise, and I had no idea why Patric would care at all. Any sensible person, even a police officer, wants to stay out of danger as much as possible. Yes, there’s a theme in the movie that Patric enjoys being in dangerous situations far too much and it’s affecting his relationship with Bullock, but this is one step too far. Part of the appeal of the “Die Hard on an X” genre was that every day blue collar people were forced to step up because they were put in a desperate situation. They didn’t voluntarily stay to defeat the bad guys – they were forced to. Reeves took risks in the first film because he had something he wanted to prove to the villain. Patric has no such motivation. So why does he do anything?
Dafoe does manage to take the ship over and lets most of the passengers evacuate. (Why he does that is left unexplained. Wouldn’t it be better to have more hostages?) Patric and some of the crew stay behind to stop him, as well as Annie, who tries her best to help the other passengers.
It’s the same idea as the first one, but there’s no reason for anyone to trust the two protagonists with their lives. And all the tension between the hero and villain in the first is gone. That’s what made the movie fail for me. I can see Willem Dafoe act crazy and evil in any number of movies. But it must mean something.
The climax sees the cruise ship crashing into a port so it can finally slow down. That sequence alone looks like it cost twice the budget of the original Speed, but there’s absolutely no tension or suspense. The closest thing I can compare it to is the destruction sequence in Independence Day, but that film took time to establish its characters and the stakes. Plus, it focused on familiar American locales, so the audience automatically understood how bad the situation is. Speed 2 doesn’t do that. It’s destruction for the sake of destruction and I cared about none of the people in danger. Besides, such sequences raise a slew of questions for me. What’s the aftermath? Is the cruise line responsible for the damages? How will the port rebuild? How does this affect the tourism industry? These are questions I didn’t expect the film to answer but I had nothing else to think about watching the film. If I’m invested in an idea, then I don’t have to think about those things. Speed 2 failed to engage me with its biggest action scene, which makes the material irredeemable.
Speed 2 is a very bad sequel, but is it one of the worst films of all time? I can’t say it is. Its biggest flaw is its poor execution. The original was a simple idea, but everyone involved made the best possible movie out of that idea they could. Here, I do get the sense no one cared about whether it was good or if the idea made any sense.
Yet I can think of far worse sequels that destroy the original film’s themes completely. Batman & Robin is a great example – it’s the artistic opposite of Tim Burton’s fantastic original. Where that entry was dark and brooding, Robin was a cartoonish mess. Speed 2 doesn’t do that. It’s a dumb action film that doesn’t understand why the original film works but it’s still a chamber drama action film that doesn’t try to subvert expectations. You can do much, much worse.
So, I don’t think this is any good. But this is one film I don’t think should be in the bottom 100. I’ve never heard of the next entry – a Bollywood film called Baaghi 3.