Well, now that the whole Matrix: Reloaded brouhaha has died down slightly, I thought I’d take a little stroll down memory lane and present to the gentle reader my ten favourite popcorns cinema sequels* of all time. But why stop there, when I can claim to know what the ten best sequels ever made were?
Believe me, I know. And now, I’m going to prove it.
(Oh, and beware of spoilers.)
#10. T2: Judgment Day.
I haven’t seen T3 yet, but it strikes me as a monumentally bad idea, in part because I don’t see how it’s possible to top the badass-vs.-badass chemistry that Ah-nuld and the vastly underrated Robert Patrick created in T2. The T1000 was just… so… cool. That plus Linda Hamilton’s amazing tough-as-nails Sarah Connor made it even worth suffering through Ah-nuld’s “touching farewell scene” and the pseudo-acting of whoever-it-was that played the kid.
#9. Once Upon a Time in China 2.
Between Jackie Chan and Jet Li, it’s Li who has always owned the Wong Fei Hong roles for me. Li, swooping around improbably on wires and bending his limbs at impossible angles, is who I see in my head whenever I think of the Chinese folk hero — which may be a massive injustice to the long storytelling tradition that created the hero before Hong Kong cinema got a hold of him, but there it is. And this movie, especially with its amazing climactic scene, is a big part of the reason why.
#8. Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan.
For one thing, it ages far better than any of the other Trek sequels. I watched Undiscovered Country the other day — which I’d enjoyed when I saw it in the theatre, years ago — and found myself cringing and thinking “why the hell did I like this?” Not so with Wrath. Forget the movie’s muddled timeline and weird plot holes: this is simply a masterclass in over-the-top scenery-chewing from Shatner and Montalban, complemented by a gently dignified Nimoy and with Kirstey Alley’s only good silver screen performance thrown in as a bonus.
#7. Blade 2.
A sequel that left the original in the dust. It actually had some complicated and interesting characters — at least as far as comic-book films go — and for some weird reason, the heavy cribbing from the pro wrestler’s handbook for the action scenes actually worked. Don’t ask me why; I can’t imagine another movie that would have been improved by this, but in Blade 2 it makes a twisted kind of sense. Maybe Snipes was channelling Koko B. Ware or something.
#6. Batman Returns.
They should either have kept Tim Burton with the franchise or killed it here as far as I’m concerned. This one almost matched the cool of the original, partly because nobody was trying to imitate Jack Nicholson’s inspired manic Joker performance. Yes, yes, yes, there’s Michelle Pfeiffer and the latex and the whip ‘n stuff, and Christopher Walken deadpanning — but I expected to enjoy them. I didn’t expect to enjoy Danny DeVito, who normally just irritates me, but he was almost pitch-perfect as the brilliantly reimagined Penguin.
#5. Predator 2.
Another sequel that easily topped the original. The first one featured an excess of musclebound clods (Ah-nuld, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura) and a dearth of acting talent. This one featured Danny Glover, Ruben Blades, Gary Busey, a gang of vodunistafarian badasses, a gritty urban warfare setting and a harrowing final confrontation on the decks of an alien ship. It’s crystal clear who wins.
#4. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 2.
I have rarely, oh but rarely, laughed harder in my life. And that was just at the title of a sequel to one of the all-time gong show sequels to one of the best/worst B-movies ever made. This is cinema of the absurd taken to absurd extemes of absurdity, with rubber monster-suit fights not only between Rodan and Godzilla and Mechagodzilla, but with SuperMechagodzilla thrown into the mix. (Yes. You read right. SuperMechagodzilla.) For all that, it’s almost supernaturally compelling.
#3. The Legend of Drunken Master.
The awful dubbing, tomfoolery and breathtaking stunts make it classic Chan — especially the falling-on-hot-coals scene — but it’s the ensemble here, including Anita Mui, Ti Lung and Lau Kar-Leung, that raises it to the level of greatness. It features a wonderfully over-the-top Evil British Villain (all he’s missing is a moustache to twirl), and some of the most intricate fight scenes ever committed to film — including a massive two-against-a-hundred brawl in a teahouse and a gasoline-drinking drunken master finale.
Sigourney Weaver in a giant robot exoskeleton. Cigar-chomping marines getting torn to pieces by nightmarish creatures. Lance Henriksen. Aliens by the hundreds. My god, even the Cute Kid worked; the Cute Kid never works. It’s too different from the original to say it surpassed it, but almost certainly Aliens is, in its own right, John Cameron’s finest moment as an action director.
#1. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
Even if the ill-conceived Prequels Project kills every other part of the Star Wars mythos stone dead, this movie will still be standing. “I am your father.” ‘Nuff said.
[* EDIT -- This list is confined to "popcorn cinema" only. So you won't see mention of the classic drama The Godfather, Part II, or Dangerous Liaisons 2: Living Dangerously, or Un-Dead Man Walking, or even Driving Miss Daisy 2 the Extreme. Sorry.]