The belated sequel is, for all intents and purposes, a sign that Hollywood is close to running out of ideas. The plan is simple: take a famous property, convince everyone it needs to come back, deliver a final product and pray that old and new viewers show up. The basic elements of this system are designed to prey on an audience’s basis desires. The studios, obviously, think audiences and average moviegoers will devour anything with recognisable packaging wrapped around it.
The marketing departments rule the roost here. The studios, like with every other movie, TV show etc., tell their marketing departments to coerce audiences to attend. From the get-go, these departments have advantages at their disposal. Due to immense coverage/ speculation/rumours by fans and the media, studios, producers, actors, directors etc. are seemingly coerced into dusting off old projects.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues – out in 2013, nine years after the 2004 cult-hit original – was sold on getting the band back together. Will Ferrell, Steve Carell and Paul Rudd had moved on to leading man roles and engaging movies after the original’s underwhelming release. Their career trajectories, along with Anchorman‘s slowly growing fandom, drew interest for the long-awaited follow-up. These three leading men were hounded for years over the movie’s delayed development.
The industry’s reliance on brand recognition over star power slowly diminished Anchorman 2’s chances of critical and commercial successes. The sequel was released to mixed reviews from audiences and critics. Its cast’s energy was seemingly nowhere near enough to save the finished product. Fortunately, the three have gone on to Marvel Movies, Oscar-calibre material and truckloads of paycheques. Despite their talents and charm, Ferrell and co’s movies have made smaller profits and diminishing returns compared to earlier efforts. Ferrell, in particular, has gone from bad to worse of late. Get Hard and Daddy’s Home swung for the fences and missed spectacularly.
Many belated sequels were not worth the wait. Dumb and Dumber To was the result of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels being hounded for the better part of 20 years (and we all know how that turned out). Super-flop Zoolander 2 stuck too close to the original, but left the comedy (and actors’ dignity) behind. The stinker was sorely missing the original’s slew of memorable lines and fun performances from once-fresh-faced comedians Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson.
The past two years have seen numerous belated sequels including My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Independence Day: Resurgence, Bad Santa 2, Finding Dory, Alice Through the Looking Glass and Inferno. A large number of these suffered due to pure laziness. They coast on the originals’ success and didn’t come close to creating something worthwhile. The rare recent exception is Danny Boyle’s T2: Trainspotting. The follow-up to the 1996 cult classic sees its characters come home to roost and accept who they are with entertaining results.
The audience sees the cast (Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller etc.) and filmmaker return to this beloved property. The original was an out-there crime-thriller against the establishment, the ever-expanding United Kingdom and popular culture. Since its release, McGregor and co. have starred in some of Hollywood’s biggest movies and TV shows. Meanwhile, Boyle has picked up a Best Director Oscar and made a slew of hits. They have since become The Man.
T2: Trainspotting pokes fun at everything from new-age drug culture to social media without being overbearing. In this character-based drama, our leads are older, tireder, full of regret and ready to take their anger out on one another. Unpredictably, Renton (McGregor) is far from the fulfilled, reformed man we first think he is. The movie’s big revelation – Renton admitting to his failures, lack of worldly experience etc. – turns him into the loveable loser he was back in the day.
The sequel comments on its own belatedness, with every character questioning themselves and the world around them throughout. Whereas most belated sequels rehash character arcs, story beats and jokes, T2: Trainspotting reflects on the length of time between drinks. The movie is informed by, but not entirely reliant on, our general knowledge of the significant social, political and cultural changes between the mid-1990s and today.
The majority of belated sequels – comedies especially – rely almost 100% on a copy-and-paste formula for a quick fix. In fact, many feel like little more than hubris and laziness blended together. However, the better examples are aware of their own peculiar existence, commenting on the movie’s world and the real world without nudging us too violently. It is not so much who is involved and what they are doing, by why we should be watching that matters most. With numerous belated sequels scheduled (Wedding Crashers 2), this trend is not slowing down. I wonder which movies out today will get follow-ups 20 years from now. An Emma Stone/Ryan Gosling re-team for La La Land 2: Still Tapping maybe?