The movie sequel, once an rare phenomenon, has now come to make up (along with its dread cousin the remake) the bulk of Hollywood box office receipts. Taking a quick look at the top 10 earners of 2011 so far, my groundbreaking statement is easily proven out:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2 - $377m
Transformers: Dark of the Moon: - $347m
The Hangover Part II - $251m
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - $237m
Fast Five - $208m
Cars 2 - $186m
Thor - $180m
Captain America - $173m
Rise of the Planet of the Apes - $167m
Bridesmaids - $165m
Of course, sequels don't have to be the cinematic equivalent of a sucking chest wound. A handful, especially the ones everybody trots out like The Godfather, Part 2, The Empire Strikes Back and The Dark Knight, are at least as good, if not better, than their predecessors. While the majority of sequels are merely dull affairs, marking time while the studio earns some safe cash from audiences craving the comfort of narrative and character familiarity.
And then there are those installments in a franchise that threaten to destroy all that has come before, whether the original movie was a classic (The Sting II) or not all that good to begin with (Staying Alive). These are the odious sequels that can erase a generation's worth of goodwill, but because there's already been enough written about the Star Wars prequels, today we'll be discussing whether Sex and the City 2 or Highlander II is the worst (non-SW) sequel of all time.
In This Corner: 2010's Sex and the City 2 -- or SATC2, as it's referred to by those in the "biz" (my friends and I referred to it simply as That Other Movie About Those Self-Absorbed Hags with White People Problems). The sequel to the original SATC, itself a spinoff of the inexplicably long-running HBO series of the same name.
And In This Corner: Subtitled The Quickening, Highlander II was released in 1991, five years after the cult favorite original, which I think most of us felt ended on a satisfactorily final note: Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert), having defeated the Kurgan, receives the Prize. For those who don't remember, the Prize consisted of becoming mortal and being able to hear others' thoughts, which seems like lousy payback for someone who had to kill hundreds of people.
What's In A Plot? Minus the increased use of soft focus and uncomfortably lengthening age gap between (then 52-year-old) Samantha and her strapping conquests, the only thing setting Sex and the City 2 apart from the original, or the series for that matter, was the location. Writer/director Michael Patrick King said he was moved by the global economic recession to set the sequel in the luxurious confines of Abu Dhabi, because if there's anything someone working two jobs and struggling to raise a family wants to watch, it's a quartet of pampered fashion victims spending someone else's money in an exotic locale while complaining about a) their millionaire husband or b) how tough it is raising kids. With a nanny. Way to have your elbow firmly planted on the pulse of America, King.
But there's comfort in familiarity, which is why Highlander II easily wins this category. Reportedly due to script meddling by the company in Argentina contracted to insure the production, the quaint history of the Immortals is junked to include an extraterrestrial backstory and an ecological cautionary tale so muddled and unintelligible it's almost impossible to watch the original anymore without cringing. Director Russell Mulcahy walked out of the film's world premiere, and Lambert threatened to leave the production itself but was legally prevented from doing so. Certainly, when it comes to the Highlander films, there should have been only one.
Main Offenders: Neither sequel changed up the main casts of the originals. SATC2 returned Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, and Cynthia Nixon, their respective spouses, and a handful of desperate cameos (Liza Minnelli, Miley Cyrus). Highlander II reunites Lambert with his friend and mentor Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez (Sean Connery), the only Egyptian/Spaniard I've ever met with a Scottish accent. Coming along for the experience are Virginia Madsen as MacLeod's terrorist love interest and Michael Ironside as "General Katana," which sounds like the bad guy from a 1991 Namco video game.
To the credit of the ladies of SATC2, all (well, most...I can never tell if Nixon is actually enjoying herself) seem happy to be here. Not so Connery, who might as well be wearing a Mothers of Invention "We're Only in It for the Money" t-shirt, and Lambert, well, things didn't pan out so well after The Sicilian tanked. But we're judging negatives here, so Highlander II scores again.
How Bad Is It, Really? In case it wasn't clear before, I've never been a fan of Sex and the City. I realize, as a man with less than six pairs of shoes and little patience for rich person small talk, that the show's not really in my wheelhouse (and not just because the word "wheelhouse" is probably never spoken in the show). That said, the series had its moments, but the first movie was a complete wreck, and SATC2 manages to go even lower, swinging and missing in every conceivable category. Arabs are either duskily sinister men or women who, to paraphrase Hooper X from Chasing Amy, just "wants to be white." The only other minorities are the retail folk handing over handbags and lattes, and because King and company have to give lip service to the series' sizeable gay fanbase, Stanford and Anthony get married. Who cares if they've hated each other for years, they're gay and it's a trendy topic, y'all.
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Highlander II's epic failure, on the other hand, hit me on a personal level. I won't go out on a limb and call the original great cinema, but it was fun. Oh to be in high school in 1986 and have the likes of Aliens, The Fly (a sequel and a remake), Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Stand By Me (saw both on dates), and Blue Velvet (saw on a first date...bad move). Highlander was a good time, so I went to see the sequel, along with several friends, on opening night. As the disaster unspooled before us, I felt a sense of doom even more profound that what I experienced as I anticipated by impending graduation with a liberal arts degree. We emerged, silent, and embarked upon the only course of action that made sense: We went out and got so drunk we were able to convince ourselves Highlander II was all a bad dream.
Mulcahy released something called a "Renegade Cut" which attempted to correct matters, but it was like applying a tourniquet after the Kurgan cut your head off. The damage has been done, and no amount of re-editing and George Lucas-style retcon CGI will take pain away.
The Verdict: Much as I loathed Sex and the City 2, it was Highlander II that essentially stuck the fork in my childhood.