Summer Sequels Triumph at Box Office, What Makes a Second Installment Worth Your Time?

By Erin Caine

Lifestyle Editor

Lately, Hollywood has been especially attuned to the formidable selling power of a good franchise. This summer’s film landscape has been no exception, studded with much-anticipated — and in some cases long-awaited — sequels to popular films. According to IMDb, there have already been over two dozen of them shown in American theaters just this year.

They’re follow-ups, notably, to the likes of “The Incredibles,” “The Avengers,” and “Deadpool” — franchises with fan base expectations not to be taken lightly. The question then becomes: Should filmmakers feel obligated to fulfill all of those expectations? Well, not necessarily. But there are definitely ways of making a continuation that both satisfies fans’ hopes and pleasantly subverts them. Here’s what this summer’s movies have taught us about the art form of the smash-hit sequel:

1. “The Incredibles 2” and timely narratives. Fans of the original “Incredibles,” an animated action-comedy about a superpowered family, had to wait nearly a decade and a half to see them all back in action. Writer and director Brad Bird took into account not only the challenge of putting out a superhero movie in a market that had become saturated with them by the 2010s, but also the assumption that his initial audience had now grown 14 years older. The second installment, more than its predecessor, homes in on the experiences and interior lives of its adult characters, voices concerns about the perils of vicarious media consumption, and seems charged with other relevant national discussions, such as immigration.

Though the sequel’s plot doesn’t diverge too strikingly from the original, its core themes are, as Josephine Livingstone of the New Republic described in her review of the film, “so immediate as to make it unnerving viewing.”

2. “Deadpool 2” and emphasizing what works. Too often audiences are subjected to a sequel that fundamentally fails in its characterization, narrative, and tone to understand what made people flock to the first one. (Not to name names, but “Mulan 2.”) “Deadpool” was the kind of superhero movie a lot of people had been waiting for: offbeat, irreverent, R-rated, self-aware, genuinely funny and genuinely fun.

The second installment manages to simultaneously raise its stakes and emphasize the elements that make the franchise entertaining. In short, as a flippant, bawdy comedy, it never simmers for too long in any heavy plotline and instead puts to use one of its best features: charming character dynamics. The sequel’s antagonist, Cable — a grim-faced, time-traveling cyborg with a tragic backstory — is the perfect archetype of villains from other superhero flicks, and thus a perfect target for Deadpool’s unrelenting wisecracking. “Deadpool 2” certainly took some narrative risks here and there, but its true aim was always to give fans of the first movie more of what they came for (basically, Ryan Reynolds pole-dancing).

3. “Mission Impossible: Fallout” and getting to the good stuff. Fans of previous installments who go to see the sequels don’t just know what they want to see — they also know what they’ve already seen. The characterization, world-building, and exposition established in the first film should be the groundwork already for the second or third (or sixth), and also an excuse for the writers to leave more room for action than dialogue. After all, no one really enjoys those static moments in supposed action films when characters are sitting around simply talking about what’s going on.

In his review of the sixth entry in the “Mission Impossible” series, Brian Tallerico of Roger Ebert calls it a movie with “no fat” and praises the diversity of its action sequences, noting “an intensity of movement that we hardly see in action movies anymore.” Judging by the film’s abundance of glowing reviews and audience praise, it’s clear that this is a sequel that has managed to stick to its legacy — enough to make longtime fans happy — while avoiding the pitfall of other extended franchises: running stale.

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