George Chrysostomou on creativity in sequels…
It has to be said, adaptations, sequels and soft reboots are dominating the box office year in and out and there’s no getting away from that. This is the most profitable way to produce films, having a pre-existing audience, an easy way into a new story, and most importantly an understanding of the world and characters. It’s not starting from scratch on a risky new proposition that could result in dire box office results. Reliability and audience response are the most important factors. Every now and then we may experience an original concept that breaks the mould and sometimes becomes a box office hit. Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is the film that stands out most this year as being just that, a surprise hit across the world. The creativity and inventiveness of an original property such as this is of course undeniable.
Along with sequels, there is another prominent trend in Hollywood which is perhaps the least creative of them all: the hard reboot, or the method of wiping the slate clean and starting again is in every way, lazy storytelling and the worst form of remaking a popular property. Some may argue that by starting again, it allows for a new and perhaps more creative freedom with the piece, with the ability to go in any direction unconstrained by the rules set down by the world of another time or another persons vision. I disagree with this. To, for example, wipe the slate clean of all the Terminator films from Terminator 2 onward (as James Cameron and Tim Miller are planning with Terminator 6), is just lazy writing. By removing the convoluted and essentially terrible sequels, the job is far easier to create something a lot more, narratively speaking, succinct. To do this though, is not only to delete films that some people potentially like, but to ignore the hard work, time and effort that the cast, crew and creative teams put into those same films.
Making a sequel to a hit is perhaps one of the most creative things you can do in the film industry. I’ll elaborate a bit more upon that idea. It is very difficult to make a good sequel, particularly one that manages to live up to or surpass the original. It takes a lot of creative energy to put forward a concept that is superior to the original, drawing upon both similar and different themes, involving the same cast of characters and the same rules that made the original so lovable. You cannot make a carbon copy of the original and you cannot just make it bigger in the hope it will be better. In fact, some of the best sequels of all time took the property in a completely different direction, creating something unique.
Soft reboots can fall into this category too, as although they sometimes reiterate similar plot points, they overall offer something fresh to the franchise. A particularly recent film that I can draw example to as a poignant piece of soft rebooting and sequel creativity is Blade Runner 2049 – a film that for me was not only the best film of the year both visually and through its fantastic audio editing, but also is superior to the original Blade Runner which on its own legs, stands as an impressive feat of visual and narrative storytelling and is a classic in its own right.
It could have been very easy to wipe the slate clean and start again completely. Director Denis Villeneuve made the creative decision to move the world forward to 2049 and come up with a series of new events that had happened between the first and second film, even going as far as to commission a few short films to document the canon storylines that had taken place. The level of problem solving and creativity to put the world in a believable place for a new narrative to begin cannot be ignored. The backstory behind the creation of the new replicants and the details of a blackout, as well as numerous other world-building points that expanded the universe from the original are all remarkable creative achievements. It has to be said that this really feels like a continuation of the Blade Runner timeline, taking the world in an unexpected direction but one that works for that franchise and feels real. This is a lot more inventive than starting again and doing a Total Recall.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is another example of a franchise that was heading towards disaster with its timeline. Yet, with a popular storyline and some well thought out writing, disaster was (for the most part) averted and the series was saved, with all previous iterations remaining intact but also allowing creative freedom for the future. The simple answer was to start again, by creating a story that brought together both the past and the present with a remarkable concept that really gave audiences a cinematic treat and rewarded viewers with their continued support of that universe.
For an example of a sequel that is just a lazy way to keep a franchise going, go watch Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Then go watch John Wick: Chapter 2, or The Dark Knight, or The Godfather Part II, or perhaps even 22 Jump Street and find out how sequels can be just as creative, if not more so, than straight reboots and even some original properties.