Reserving judgments on how 2017 will ultimately look once the crop of awards movies and late-year blockbusters are out is easier for me this year, as I haven’t seen or reviewed quite as much as in previous years.
Before we tackle the sequel, let’s look back to the original. Was Kingsman: The Secret Service really that good? Sometimes movies that are absurdly over-the-top are beloved simply for how much they commit to the meta winking, overtly or not. I submit to you that the first Kingsman, as fun as it was, wasn’t very good at all. It was an interesting idea taken to an incredible extreme and powered by testosterone-pumping explosions and CGI camerawork. It was Transformers in a tailored suit.
It seems at least once a year, a new movie reminds me of a line from Michael Keaton’s Multiplicity: “You know how when you make a copy of a copy, it’s not quite as sharp as, well, the original?”
When the Boris Karloff-starring The Mummy was remade in 1999, it succeeded by being a riff not just on the 1932 Mummy but also on Indiana Jones and his ilk, which gave it just enough of a distinct flavour, even if none of the ingredients were anything new.
The new Mummy, starring Tom Cruise, is built on the 1932 original, plus Raiders of the Lost Ark, plus the 1999 version, plus Generic Tom Cruise Action Movies. It’s just all too much, preventing the new version from truly coming to life.
Comic book origin movies almost invariably get outdone by their first sequels, because the first movie has to spend most of its time as setup while the second gets to hit the ground running.
What’s more, the extensive exposition and mythology when it comes to superheroes make it difficult for even the best superhero origin stories to be truly great movies.
Of course, none of them have been Wonder Woman.
Like Shrek and Ice Age before it, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl has been followed by so many unnecessary sequels, most have forgotten how truly brilliant and original the first movie was.
The real trouble has been that despite not being the protagonist of the first movie, Johnny Depp‘s inspired, looney performance as Capt. Jack Sparrow clicked too much with audiences. Before long, every unfunny boss and drunk uncle was doing their own bad impression and Disney themselves shaped the Pirates sequels (and, in so doing, the whole series) into “The Voodoo Tales of Pirate Jack.”
Dead Men Tell No Tales, the fifth (and final, if you believe the marketing) Pirates of the Caribbean movie, admirably wants to give Jack a proper sendoff, including a flashback or two, but can’t muster the energy needed to land it. Were it not for three gifted thespians fighting to chew the most scenery, it’d barely even be sea-worthy.
Not counting the non-canonical Alien vs. Predator spinoffs, there have now been six movies in the Alien series — four in the story of Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley and the first two of a prequel trilogy directed by Ridley Scott.
There have been highs and middles, but even the misunderstood-at-best Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection had the benefits brought by two young, hungry directors eager to make their mark, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
As a result, even the less impressive Alien movies have had something fresh to offer. Alien: Covenant, as great as it is at what it does, is the first in the series that doesn’t really have a new thing to say or a new way to say it.
“There’s figures on this. Seventy percent of what people react to is how you look, twenty percent is about how you sound, and only ten percent is actually what you say. So, if you look good and sound good [but talk nonsense], everyone’ll go wild!” –Eddie Izzard
Even those who were left unimpressed by 2014’s crowd-pleaser Guardians of the Galaxy were in unanimous agreement about how fantastic its soundtrack was. Employing a vintage Sony Walkman and a cassette mixtape to accompany the humourous action of the movie, its soundtrack topped the Billboard chart for 11 weeks, was the best-selling soundtrack of the year after Frozen‘s, and introduced a new generation to the hits of the Raspberries, Norman Greenbaum, 10cc, The Jackson 5, and Blue Swede.
The fact it was such a fun movie and a solid sci-fi actioner/superhero flick was better, but even if it had been just okay, the music (and the dazzling CGI) would have been enough to mostly make up it. The traction-less Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is proof of that.