Sequels That Improve on the Original

Every week in /Answers, we answer a new pop culture-related question. In this edition, tying in with the release of Deadpool 2, we ask, “What sequel do you like more than the original?”

Chris Evangelista: The Dark Knight

Is it basic AF to pick The Dark Knight for this? To hell with it, I’m picking The Dark Knight. In 2005, Christopher Nolan rebooted the Batman franchise as a more “realistic” action-drama, giving audiences a chance to see how Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) first became Batman. It was a good film, and a huge change of pace from the previous Batman film franchise, begun by Tim Burton and concluded by Joel Schumacher. But as good as Batman Begins was, it was only the warm-up for what came next. With The Dark Knight, Nolan changed comic book movies forever. Nolan certainly wasn’t the first filmmaker to take comic book movies seriously, but he was perhaps the first filmmaker to understand how to turn that seriousness into big, bold entertainment.

Nolan’s Dark Knight drops takes Batman out of the superhero genre and drops him into a crime drama crossed with a psychological thriller. A pulse-pounding, intense film about civilized society breaking down in the face of terror. Thousands upon thousands of words have been penned praising Heath Ledger’s game-changing turn as the Joker, but it’s worth noting that even now – years removed from the hype – Ledger’s performance is still mind-blowing in its intricacies and in the ways Ledger takes the part and turns it into an absolute – to paraphrase the film, an unstoppable force smashing against an immovable object.

I liked Batman Begins, but I remember watching The Dark Knight in a kind of awe, almost unable to process what I was seeing. I had never seen a comic book movie like this; I didn’t even know you could make comic book movies like this. The Dark Knight was such a huge phenomenon that it was only a matter of time before the inevitable backlash set-in. “Pfft, that movie isn’t that good!” came the eventual online cries. No, it is. It really is.

Ben Pearson: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes took most people by surprise with its level of quality, but it wasn’t until director Matt Reeves stepped into the director’s chair with 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes that we saw the true potential of this rebooted franchise. Rise is good, an effective coming of age story for a young Caesar that has strong visual effects and works despite its premise. But Dawn is great, upping the ante in every conceivable way and grappling with meaty themes like what it means to be a father and how to live in a divided community. Despite its impressive set pieces, the movie is also decidedly anti-violence, which is a bold stance to take in a landscape of studio-driven blockbusters that often crassly embrace violence to sell more tickets.

Dawn begins on a close-up of Caesar’s eyes, and it’s almost as if Reeves is daring you to find the flaws in WETA’s visual effects work. Joke’s on us – the VFX are practically flawless, and Andy Serkis’s performance as the ape leader is even deeper and more powerful this time around. But in addition to the improved effects and stellar direction, the story is superior, too. This is best represented with the relationship between Caesar and Koba (Toby Kebbell), his second in command who has a bitter distrust for humanity. The uneasy relationship between apes and humans comes painfully close to achieving peace until Koba rips it all apart – a dichotomy that feels especially relevant when considering certain current world events. The whole film is dripping with suspense, and when all-out war finally breaks out, we feel the tragedy in it. This is easily one of the best science fiction films of the millennium, and a vast improvement over its predecessor.

Vanessa Bogart: Terminator 2: Judgment Day

With iconic lines that have worked their way into the pop culture vernacular, and the ever present fears of Skynet becoming a reality as we delve deeper into a tech-dependent world, Terminator and Terminator 2 are a staple in the lives of millennials. However, when it comes to watching, rewatching, and watching again, nothing beats the sequel, with its thrills, action, and the endearing display of the innocent side of humanity through the relationship of a troubled boy and his cyborg buddy.

The connection between John Conner and the Terminator shows us why humankind is worth saving, and the introduction of the super mega-awesome T-1000 takes the sci-fi action of the first film and says, “hold my beer.” Love and violence, violence and love, Judgment Day is the R-Rated, face-meltingly cool, morality lesson that we deserve. The death of Miles Dyson haunts me just as much today as it did when I was a child, and I forever wondered how his son and wife handled the news of his passing. Watching Sarah Conner melt to bone in her nightmare triggered a morbid fascination that both scared me and made me look forward to it with every viewing. All of that horror culminates in the sacrificial final scene that turned something as childlike as a thumbs-up, into a symbol of the purity of human connection. Terminator is an absolutely fantastic film, but Judgment Day is a goddamn masterpiece.

Ethan Anderton: Spider-Man 2

While all of the love for Spider-Man is now centered around Tom Holland as the webslinger in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the younger version of everyone’s favorite wallcrawler hasn’t yet measured up to the greatness that is Spider-Man 2. Not only is Spider-Man 2 superior to the original Spider-Man in every single way, it’s one of the best superhero movies ever made.

What makes Spider-Man 2 so outstanding is that we get to dig into Spider-Man and Peter Parker as a character more than the origin story allows. The first Spider-Man had to do some heavy-lifting by introducing general audiences to this superhero who had never gotten his own big budget movie before. The second Spider-Man movie let’s us explore the struggle Peter Parker has with living up to the “With great power comes great responsibility” motto instilled in him by his late Uncle Ben and living his own life that allows him to have some semblance of happiness that doesn’t require always fighting crime.

Furthermore, Spider-Man 2 gives our hero a villain that is one of the most fully formed bad guys that the comic book genre has ever seen. He’s not dissimilar from Parker himself, which is a big part of what makes him such a great villain. Sam Raimi’s horror sensibilities also present him in a visually thrilling way, giving the movie some moments that are truly suspenseful and tense. Plus, the bank robbery fight and train battle are two truly spectacular and exciting action sequences. Spider-Man 2 is aces.

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