McGinnis: Sequel SNAFUsWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve been playing the video game “Infamous” recently, for what must be the third time. It’s one of my favorites, a game that captures the grandeur and majesty of being a superhero, while still grounding its character in reality and tragedy. It was one of the best games of its year, which is really saying something — with “Infamous,” “Batman: Arkham Asylum” and “Uncharted 2,” among others, 2009 was one of the best years ever for gaming.
But I’m playing it this time specifically to prepare myself for the arrival of “Infamous 2″ on June 7. I, like many fans, have high expectations for this sequel — expectations which, if the early reviews are any indication, are going to be met. This is not uncommon in the world of video games, as players are usually disappointed when a sequel is not markedly superior to an original.
As a film fan as well, however, this brings to mind an obvious question: Why don’t movie audiences expect the same from sequels to popular films? Why are we still willing to give filmmakers the benefit of the doubt after being burned so many times by follow-ups that are little more than transparent attempts to cash in on the success of a previous property?
Now, this is not to say that all sequels are worthless, of course. There are plenty of examples of films that successfully continued and enhanced the story that came before: “The Godfather, Part II,” “Terminator 2,” “The Dark Knight,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and so forth. But these shining examples stand out specifically because they are the exceptions to a rule. Most of the time, your average film sequel is a significantly weaker experience than the film it was inspired by.
The difference between films and games is rather astonishing. When a video game sequel is announced, its makers go out of their way to acknowledge to the public the way a previous game was received, what could have been better and how they’re addressing those criticisms with the new game. No artist should work in a vacuum, and the makers of a gaming universe are rather refreshingly honest with their intentions to correct the flaws encountered the first time. In turn, gamers expect — demand — every aspect of a product be improved upon, from graphics to gameplay refinements and even story execution.
Considering how engrained into our culture the cinema is, moviegoers should expect no less of an attempt to add a new chapter to a successful franchise. But the result is usually disappointment. This summer’s slate has already seen a number of sequels — a fourth “Pirates of the Caribbean” and follow-ups to “The Hangover” and “Kung-Fu Panda.” None of these films have been hailed as a marked improvement over their originals, though “Panda” was certainly better reviewed than the other two. And there are many, many more part 2′s and beyond coming before fall arrives. (“Final Destination 5,” anyone?)
But no matter how many substandard follow-ups may come, film audiences still support the practice. The sequels make money. It’s an easy cash grab for a company, and a far safer bet than risking money on something new, unique and — dare I say it — creative. But those who just throw a follow-up out there and don’t give it the same care and quality the original received are also being incredibly short-sighted. A bad movie — sequel or not — will make you money for a weekend, fade quickly and you’ll never see another penny. A good movie — sequel or not — people will watch again and again, buy new copies of, and support for years. Do you want money now, or do you want it coming in steadily for a long time?
Of course, we also have to take the reigns as moviegoers. We need to recognize how rare of a breed a quality sequel is, and tailor our consumer habits accordingly. All this means is, we have to treat sequels the same as we treat any other film — don’t just blindly charge into a theater opening weekend just because it has a name we recognize. That simplistic sort of “brand loyalty” pushes film away from the art we want it to be, and into the commerce its financiers want it to be.
Instead, let’s take our time. Read up and learn about the project. Decide if we think the makers have learned from any mistakes they made and are working to correct them. Let’s talk to friends and even — gasp! — read reviews. Let’s work at being informed and discerning consumers.
Gamers expect sequels to surpass their originals. It’s time for fans to hold the creators of movies to the same standard.