Every so often I get the desire to watch a disappointing movie I’ve seen before. There’s no moving on from it. Something in my crazy mind commands me to waste two or three hours of my life watching something I’ve A) already seen before and B) distinctly remember not liking. This movie has to bee seen right then or else I cannot go on leading a happy and fulfilled life. It’s s damn good thing I don’t have a family or else my wife and children would be constantly left alone as I ran off to satisfy my desire to watch The Hangover: Part 3. This time it was The Dark Knight Rises.
This article is not about The Dark Knight Rises. That is a topic for another time. All I’ll say on it for now is that it was not the worst movie ever; it’s simply an unsatisfying conclusion to the series. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is another entry in the long list of movie franchises that have ended on a sour note. That’s what this article is really about. Think back to all the movie trilogies you’ve ever seen. Have any of them really met with a great conclusion?
A typical movie franchise unfolds in a predictable fashion: The first movie is good – maybe even a classic – and quickly warrants a sequel. The second movie is a toss up. More often than not all the life is drained out of the franchise in an installment that tries, unsuccessfully, to capture the magic of the original. Then there’s a sequel like The Dark Knight, which is better than the original and makes moviegoers excited for the next film. We all get fooled into thinking this franchise is going to be that golden nugget in a bed of worthless rocks. Deep inside us we all want one trilogy that actually works for once. We’re always disappointed though with the third movie. The Godfather: Part III, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Spiderman 3, these are all movies that in my mind had a great sequel and ended with a poor conclusion.
Why is this such a common occurrence? What is it about the artistic process that completely falls apart by the third movie? I think it’s a natural consequence of stretching a good idea too thin.
I’ll elaborate. No movie is greenlit these days as a series. Producers and Studio Executives want to see if a movie can be successful as a single installment before granting it additional sequels. The first movie is so good because it has a conclusion. It’s not meant to go on further than one film. The characters are meant to go on happily ever after. A screenwriter and director put everything they have into this one masterpiece because they take pride in their work.
A sequel is usually greenlit with the studio executives saying “We own the rights to the film and we’re making a sequel with or without you.” This film usually fails because it is put into the hands of an inferior filmmaker or done for the wrong reasons. Actors sign on with the promise of making more money and furthering their stardom. The filmmakers are no longer striving to prove themselves to people who don’t believe in them. The story doesn’t need to be continued. It ended with the original. The sequel is so frustrating at times because it makes all the work characters put into overcoming the obstacles of the first movie worthless as they have to face a new threat. It still makes money – no matter how bad the film is – it still makes money because it rides the original’s coattails.
The third film is a continuation in more ways than one. The series not only goes on, but so does all the problems that befell the last film. Work relationships fall apart, filmmakers want to explore other opportunities, and the once novel idea has become overused by other filmmakers wanting to capitalize on the original’s success. You see the same stories of actors and filmmakers eager to end this chapter of their careers surrounding the production of the third film. Sometimes this film will actually be done as an apology for the last one. The makers of The Hangover: Part 3 were so distressed by criticisms that The Hangover: Part 2 was so similar the original that they created a stupid plot, which ruined the series.
By far, the worst perpetrators in the poor sequel department are the superhero movies. I had high hopes for Spiderman 3, I really did. For the first time we had a superhero series which seemed to understand the concept that multiple villains in a movie don’t work. Then the third movie ruined everything with an emo Peter Parker battling three baddies. The upcoming Amazing Spiderman 2 doesn’t seem to have learned from the example set by the last trilogy as this too will feature multiple villains.
In my opinion, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade tries too hard to copy Raiders of the Lost Ark. I think Spielberg was right in taking Temple of Doom as far away from the original as possible. In listening to him talk about the film, it sounds like he was tired and eager to end the series. Harrison Ford’s comments are also along the same vein. The team was obviously tired and wanted to end the series on a high note. It shows in the final cut of the film as Spielberg, Ford, and Lucas, are noticeably off their game.
George Lucas leads me into my next point. We all know the Star Wars prequel trilogy sucked, there’s no point in discussing it any further. What most people don’t know is that New Hope and Empire Strikes Back so successful largely due in part to the partnership between Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz. “Creative differences” destroyed the relationship between these two just before work began on Return of the Jedi. The movie reportedly originally ended with Han Solo dead and Luke walking off into the sunset with the Rebel forces scattered across the galaxy. Kurtz was so integral to the original trilogy that Mark Hamill later commented “[The feud] was like watching mom and dad break up.” The vacancy left the door open for Lucas to end the series with a teddy bear picnic and the rest is history.
Finally, the Godfather: Part III was poised to be the epic conclusion the greatest trilogy in film history. Both the original and sequel won the Academy Award for Best Picture, so what went wrong with part three? Most of the blame centers on director Francis Ford Coppola’s insistence in casting his daughter, Sofia Coppola, in the coveted role of Mary Corleone over Winona Ryder. Her performance consistently ranks on the list of those that ruined the final film.
So, has there ever been a great fully rounded trilogy? There could have been one or two, and very well could still be one if filmmakers would stop making foolish mistakes that lead to an unsatisfactory conclusion. The conclusion is just as important as the beginning and middle. It requires an attention to detail and a novel hook in order to not get bored with the franchise, one villain is enough, don’t hire family members over more capable actors, and never end it with a picnic.