Motion picture sequels don’t have to go through the motions.
Directors and writers who take over a movie series have two choices: they can continue to shepherd the franchise down the well-grooved path it’s been on – same tropes, characters, and narrative arc – or they can pursue a different route.
In the former category you could put Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Admittedly this is part seven in an epic series spread over 40 (Earth) years. So there’s an expectation that the storylines established in the first six parts will continue to unfold – and perhaps even satisfyingly conclude.
But still. As enjoyable as it was, JJ Abrams’ nifty effort was derivative in the extreme. So much so that it was basically a remake of the original Star Wars (Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope), but with a female lead standing in for the young Luke Skywalker.
In the latter category could be placed Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Though set in the carefully circumscribed and increasingly self-referential Star Wars universe, it is a stand-alone off-shoot – something of a prequel to the George Lucas-directed 1977 film.
Like the original, Rogue One is a pastiche of a bunch of different influences, yet the action is considerably more propulsive, and the overall tone somewhat darker.
In a series that has had its share of misfires (Jar Jar Binks and little Anni Skywalker, for instance), it’s a stunning achievement.
The original Alien is admirable for its incredible production design, its masterful build-up of suspense, and for its ground-breaking use of special effects. (Who could forget the film’s signature scene of an extra-terrestrial bursting forth from its host?)
And yet I much prefer the visceral action of the James Cameron-helmed sequel, with its gung ho cadre of military specialists pitted against an icky foe.
Having made “tension” the defining feature of the original, the quintessential space creature feature, Aliens takes us on a thrilling head-long ride that barely lets up.
The Rocky series had taken far too many body blows by the time Creed stepped into the ring. Having stayed past its welcome, it was punchy, against the ropes even, and surely due for the figurative white towel to be tossed in.
However, with Sylvester Stallone relieved of directing and script duties, Creed is easily the best film in the series since the Oscar-winning original.
Featuring the most realistic depiction of the sweet science in the Rocky films, it boasts a charismatic lead in Michael B. Jordan, and a knock-out plot.
Can Adonis Creed fulfil his pugilistic destiny? Can trainer Rocky Balboa impart the essential ringside lessons to the son of his most worthy opponent while himself fighting the biggest foe of his life?
Boasting a stirring score and the essential training montage sequences, it’s a terrific yarn well executed.
Based on the books by Robert Ludlum, the Jason Bourne series appeared as if it had reached a logical end by the time credits rolled on The Bourne Ultimatum (with the best-forgotten Jason Bourne released a few years later).
No longer a complete enigma to himself, super-agent Jason Bourne had outlasted all the agents in the Treadstone program, discovered his true identity, and seemingly closed the door on a life of black ops, clandestine morally indefensible activities, and the ominous engagement of assets.
Writer/director Tony Gilroy, who had worked on the first few Bourne films, then put his hand up to deliver a side story.
In The Bourne Legacy, a frantic Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) must use all of his lethal training and enhancements to outwit and outfight a merciless government determined to erase all trace of him, going so far as to burn to the ground the Outcome program that provided Cross’s advanced capabilities.
In this intelligent actioner there is less emphasis on the protagonist’s inner journey and more on his determination to survive. And not only is it a worthy addition to the series, it seamlessly integrates into it.
Gilroy’s deft touch can also be seen on Rogue One, for which he served as co-writer.
Just like The Bourne Legacy, it involves the critical search for a MacGuffin.
Somehow it brilliantly references the universe from which it was generated – Darth Vader has never looked more lethal – without ever, er, forcing it.