Sequels and Originality

“Fans praise Pacific Rim for its originality, then demand a sequel” – that snarky summation of fan sentiment got me thinking: are we hypocritically complaining about sequels while at the same time demanding them?

I’d like sequels for District 9, Pacific Rim, Dredd, and Star Trek – while these are self-contained stories, they are ~2 hour movies that allude to a larger world that I want to know more about (I haven’t watched any of the Star Trek TV series). Anime (which typically runs for 13-26 half-hour episodes) seldom incite wishes for a sequel in me, largely because they’ve had time to explore their setting. That said, I’m not interested in sequels that bring nothing new to the table (see many horror franchises); what hooks me with the above movies is that they seem full of possibilities.

I don’t care for another Iron Man movie – each iteration pits a wise-cracking Robert Downey Junior against yet another rich industrialist with military ambitions, and doesn’t tease with anything new. Any new superhero adaptation I regard with scepticism: there’ll be an origin story, a villain, a love interest, and a formulaic plot. Yet I’m curious to see what the next Avengers movie will be like – namely how the ensemble cast will deal with each other, and the next world-jeopardising threat – despite feeling so-so about the first movie, there seems to be enough untapped dramatic potential in this ultimate of crossovers to pull me into the sequel.

Creative businesses have a lottery effect – a few winners make up for the rest of the industry (which are all losers), and one of the economic roles of the studios is to absorb and mitigate that risk. It’s no surprise that Hollywood pursues sequel and remakes and reboots so doggedly: there’s a demonstrated audience with expectations in-line with the last installment. But I think there’s a big difference between retelling Iron Man as another movie, or bringing to screen another superhero’s origin story (with the ridiculous parts cut out), and exploring a world changed by kaijuu or zombies or space travel – the latter still has fresh possibilities.

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