For this second streaming bucket list for June 2020, I decided to focus on sequels that have mostly been forgotten and/or were underrated at the time of their release. Nowadays, we are exposed to so many different kinds of content that it’s easy to forget about certain films that came out without massive media coverage and for which the word-of-mouth was unfairly limited. But this doesn’t mean that they are movies that should be ignored or not watched at all.
These 3 movies are out of the picture so much that I couldn’t find them in any streaming service right now – and I’m not even sure if two of them have ever been there. Thus, I regret to tell you that you might have to pay some money to watch these films, either on iTunes, Amazon, or other services. I apologize for that, but I also would like to emphasize that your money will not be wasted. You’ll have a great time with any of these.
There’s something special about sequels that manage to capture the essence of the original in the same way that these do, and that is why I appreciate them. Conversely, it is perhaps because of their similarity to the original films that critics were lukewarm with their opinions of these films at the time of their release, citing their lack of originality as a flaw. And it is, in many cases. But these films work really well despite that issue.
So let’s get to it.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller
Starring: Eva Green, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Josh Brolin, and many others
I’m a huge fan of Robert Rodriguez. I love his style and I love how much he sticks to it in most of his films (exceptions exist, such as “Alita: Battle Angel”, but I’ll write about that one in another time). The series of graphic novels known as “Sin City” seemed like an instant match for Rodriguez due to their particular storytelling style and the possibility of an original visual narrative. And, in 2005, Rodriguez (and series creator Frank Miller) directed a feature film adaptation of the graphic novels to great success and acclaim. I would say that the original “Sin City” is one of my favorite films.
The public cried out for a sequel, and both Rodriguez and Miller repeatedly mentioned how interested they were in it. It seemed like it was only a matter of time before audiences would get a long expected follow-up.
And then 9 years passed.
“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” was released on 2014 to mixed reviews. The film bombed at the box office due to weak marketing, and, above all, a decreased interest in a film that was nearing its 10th anniversary. Bad news for Rodriguez and his team, but even worse news for fans of the franchise that had to wait for 10 years for a continuation of a beloved film, only to be left wondering where else the story could’ve headed had the filmmakers managed to get the project off the ground earlier.
In the end, I believe a lot of people regrettably missed a great film when they skipped “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”. It works as a companion piece to the original “Sin City”. I would even say that they work great as a double feature, because there aren’t many variations between them at all. Most of the main cast returns, the visual style is identical, and they’re both just as compelling.
The film flows smoothly and it’s never boring. It also maintains the audience’s interest, even when it jumps around between several different storylines that have their own set of ingenuity in them. To nobody’s surprise, however, the best part of the film is Eva Green’s fantastic performance as Ava Lord. She plays a true femme fatale with lots of style and she steals every scene she’s in. A great cast packed with A-listers is rounded out by a (surprisingly) great performance by Jessica Alba, who comes back to close her character’s arc left open in the first film. I was surprised how well her insertion to the story works, even for those that might’ve thought that her story had ended for good in the first film.
If you loved “Sin City”, you should show some love for “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”. It’s truly a fantastic film and an outstanding companion piece to the original.
300: Rise of an Empire (2014)
Directed by: Noam Murro
Starring: Sullivan Stapleton and Eva Green
The story of “the sequel that came too late” is repeated with the long-awaited follow-up to Zack Snyder´s blockbuster, “300”. It was especially jarring in this case, because “300” marked an era of action filmmaking and inspired numerous other films in the genre – some good (such as the pretty cool “Immortals”, directed by Tarsem Singh) and some bad (“The Legend of Hercules”) – and the public was crying out for a sequel. For whatever reason, it took the filmmakers 7 long years to make one, and the public’s interest had been somewhat reduced.
Unlike “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”, “300: Rise of an Empire” was a modest hit at the box office, even if it failed to be any sort of cultural milestone like the original film. Notwithstanding, having rewatched it recently, I can honestly say that “300: Rise of an Empire” is a pretty fun film that is superior to the original in one significant way: the inclusion of the villain Artemisia, as played by Eva Green (her again! Is there any film where she’s not great? Let me know in the comments, so I can disagree with you). Her performance makes the character of Artemisia – who admittedly has limited screen time – the most interesting personality in the film, easily besting Sullivan Stapleton as Themistokles, who’s essentially a discounted and boring version of Leonidas.
I’ve always thought that “300” was so successful for its parts and not for the film itself as a whole. The action sequences are a highlight, of course, as is Gerard Butler’s performance and delivery of the lines that were quoted to death around the time the film came out. Other than that, the film drags a bit at some points, especially when it tells Leonidas’s backstory or the scenes with Queen Gorgo in Sparta. In that sense, “300: Rise of an Empire” seems to know exactly what the audience is here for and fills the screen with action and gore that is way more extreme than the original film for most of the runtime. So if you’re looking for a film that will bring back what you loved about the first one and will never bore you, then the sequel is the film for you.
There are countless flaws with “300: Rise of an Empire”, of course, because it is merely a popcorn film that does not try to be anything besides that. But I would have trouble imagining someone that enjoyed “300” saying that they didn’t like the sequel, because it’s essentially more of the same. A definite recommendation if you’re looking for escapism during these hard times.
Scream 4 (2011)
Directed by: Wes Craven
Starring: David Arquette, Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox
This film opened 11 years after “Scream 3”, so it could be argued that it falls under the same “sequel that came too late” category as the films mentioned in the preceding paragraphs, but I would argue that it would be a mistake to believe that. By all intents and purposes, “Scream 4” came at the exact right time to make a timely parody to the horror genre in the early 2000s.
We’re now going through a great time for horror thanks to films like “The Conjuring”, “The Babadook” or “It Follows”, but it was not the same case in the early 2000s. Studios were mostly greenlighting remakes of the horror films of the 70s and 80s, trying to bring back icons of the past and make them relevant for our times (a trend that continues happening in every other genre, unfortunately). It is because of that and that alone that it was the perfect time to bring “Scream” back.
“Scream” was not a simple horror film. It was a new and modern way to tell stories that was substantially different to everything that came before, even if it was “another” slasher film. The genius of “Scream” is how it manages to parody itself without losing focus and walking the line between horror and comedy with undeniable style. You’ll be scared when you watch “Scream”, but you’ll also be laughing a few seconds later (as is intended). It is this charm that the original had that was lost in the second and third film in the series.
As much as I enjoy “Scream 2” and “Scream 3” because they’re just silly fun, they both face the same problem that some other sequels struggle with. It’s the same thing that happened to “Shrek”, which was a parody of fairy tales while being a fairy tale, and it worked really well in the original film and the sequel, but there’s a limit to how many jokes you can make about fairy tales, which is why the third and fourth films in the franchise felt so tired. You can’t parody the same thing 20 times and expect for the joke to be just as funny as it originally was.
The screenwriter of the original film, Kevin Williamson, returned to write “Scream 4” with a clear idea and the knowledge that it was time for another intelligent horror parody. Unlike the second and third films in the series, the fourth film feels like a story that needed to be told and not just a cash grab. It’s such a parody that it opens with a cleverly written and cameo-filled sequence that makes fun of the repeated trends of the “Scream” series itself, before moving to other themes in the horror genre (the abovementioned remakes) and of culture in general, where people value fame, likes and clicks above many other things. Our culture has evolved to a place where many see their own sense of value in the number of likes their photos or posts receive online. It’s a terrible thing, and “Scream 4” takes it to the absolute extreme by making the villains’ motivation derived from that.
I don’t understand why “Scream 4” failed to resonate with audiences, because it’s a great film that shouldn’t be missed. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it (I believe I’ve seen it be on and off Netflix, so it might come back). Think of it as a satire of our times, and enjoy it for the smart horror and the fun tone.