As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Jim McDermott, S.J., former associate editor and current film studies student, knows a great deal about comic-book culture. (And I'd bet he'd know whether saying "comic-book culture" or "comic culture" is the de rigueur.) His review of "Kick-Ass" was published in our online Culture section here. That's why we asked him to review one of the summer's biggest hits, "Iron Man 2." But he paired it with "Sex and the City 2" for a zippy look at what makes a good sequel, just posted.
When it comes to sequels, two rules apply. First, as stories they are often inferior to their predecessors. Whether collapsing under the weight of their own seriousness (see: “The Matrix Reloaded”), or falling into laziness and excess (“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”), sequels tend to lose track of the balance of elements that made the original fresh.
This is not always true. “Spider-Man 2,” “X-Men II,” “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Dark Knight” took great stories and characters and improved upon them. And other films call “sequels,” like “The Lord of the Rings” or “Star Wars,” are actually continuations of one long ongoing story. Different rules apply. But when it comes to your ordinary action pic/buddy comedy/horror film/superhero series, the second usually falls flat on its face.
At the same time, poorly reviewed sequels often break box-office records. Thus, the success of a sequel is related not to its reviews or buzz, but to the strength of our experience of the original. If we loved the original, we’ll be seeing the sequel no matter what A. O. Scott writes or Roger Ebert tweets. So while last year’s “Transformers” sequel was thrashed by reviewers, it now stands as the 10th highest domestic grossing film of all time.
Those are the general rules when it comes to major sequels. Yet we are in the early days of summer 2010, and our two preeminent sequels, Iron Man 2 and Sex and the City 2, are performing like wilted flowers. After four weeks “Iron Man 2”’s domestic grosses have reached $274 million--no small potatoes, but $40 million less than its predecessor achieved. And in its opening weekend, the sweet spot of Memorial Day weekend, "Sex and the City 2" yielded only $51 million, $6 million less than the original on the same weekend two years ago.