Sequels need more creativity, less nostalgia

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Last year was the year of the long-prophesied sequel. Many long-anticipated revivals of iconic films brought in box-office booms. Between “Creed,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Jurassic World” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Hollywood studio executives got the message loud and clear: audiences love a classic franchise.

On the creative side, however, the results are mixed. Though I never got to see “Creed,” I did see “Star Wars,” “Mad Max” and “Jurassic World” at least twice each and I can’t help but feel these films represent a striking dichotomy between great sequel-making and poor sequel-making. In the future, they may prove to be textbook examples and counterexamples of how to properly utilize the storytelling potential in a franchise.

It’s fair to say that none of these three films are truly bad. They’re all competently made and at least passably entertaining. However, there is a huge chasm sitting between “entertaining” and “great,” and of these three, “Mad Max” is the only film leaning toward the latter. “Fury Road” is a masterpiece, or at the very least, a unique and striking creative endeavor. “Jurassic World” and “The Force Awakens,” by contrast, are trivial, nostalgia-baiting pictures largely devoid of any self-possessed creative vision – content to trade on their family name rather than to earn due credit unto themselves.

The key difference between “Fury Road” and the other two is their fundamental conception. How does one handle a franchise with a legacy spanning more than 20 years and fans inundated with preconceived notions and high expectations?

Director George Miller, who has helmed every “Mad Max” film to date, takes the challenging route. What makes “Fury Road” exceptional is its staunch unwillingness to sit in the shadow of the previous “Mad Max” films by carving out its own path and careening forward with the same sense of boldness and vision that characterized the original trilogy’s most iconic entry: “The Road Warrior.”

Miller clearly understands that the way to properly honor a longstanding franchise is not by meticulously imitating its structure or aesthetic but by emulating its ingenuity and vision – the very factors that led to the franchise’s decade-long success. “Fury Road” is a vital, powerful creative force that can make a significant impact on the future of action cinema.

“The Force Awakens” and “Jurassic World” take the safer route, with maximum box office results and minimal (nearing nonexistent) creative impact. Both of these films fail to grasp that what made their original installments so magnificent was novelty, not nostalgia.

Both directors justified their unwillingness to stray from the beaten path with a rhetoric that suggested audiences needed to “reconnect” with “the basics” of their respective franchises, while completely missing that what made the original “Star Wars” and “Jurassic Park” so memorable was the element of surprise – these were films unlike anything the world had ever seen before.  Instead, the reboots eschew forward thinking and artistic vision in favor of cowardly imitation that ironically dishonors the spirit of the very films they’re supposedly seeking to emulate.

Great art demands risk. This is perhaps even truer of sequels than it is any other kind of film. From “Aliens” to “The Empire Strikes Back” to “The Dark Knight” to “Fast Five,” no great sequel has ever come about by chaining itself to the formula of its predecessors. A word to the filmmaking wise: sequels are only worth making if they are true continuations, not footnotes. To stand beside masterpieces of blockbuster cinema, you need to bring something to the table that is as fresh and vital as what those films originally brought to audiences around the world.

Andrew Allen is a junior majoring in communications. His new column, Upon Further Review, runs alternate Thursdays.

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