Riding Shotgun: Sequels are Idiot Bait

With “Spider-Man 3,” I was just another dumb fish with a hook in my jaw.

Sequels are idiot bait, and the summer movie season is where producers drop their lines, knowing they’ll leave with a healthy catch of American moviegoers, all flopping about with popcorn-flavored hooks pierced through their mouths and wondering where it all went wrong.

Sequels are idiot bait. And I bit. I spit it right back out, but it left me with a lingering taste of rotten worms and a feeling of shame and embarrassment.

The bait they got me with was “Spider-Man 3.” I liked the first two movies and, despite the movie receiving a solid drubbing by every critic imaginable, I saw the third. I’ll leave it to the blogs to parse out what went wrong in this film and why, like a Derby champion with a shattered tibia, this particular franchise should be put out of its misery.

When did sequels begin to make up such a massive bulk of what premieres on the big screen each week? This summer we’ve already been subjected to “Spider-Man 3,” “Shrek 3,” “28 Weeks Later,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean 3: Keith’s Richards’s Revenge”; “Ocean’s 13” opened this weekend; and we still have “Fantastic Four 2,” “Evan Almighty,” “Harry Potter,” “Hostel 2,” “Resident Evil: Extinction,” “The Bourne Ultimatum,” and “Rush Hour 3” to look forward to. Sweet Jesus, are we so afraid of putting an original idea up on the screen that we have to haul Chris Tucker out of imposed retirement?

They’ve even dragging Bruce Willis back for another go-round as John McClane in “Live Free or Die Hard,” more than a decade after the last “Die Hard” installment. Is there anyone still alive who cares enough to go for a fourth ride on this aging action franchise?

(Note from the eds: And don’t even get Steve started on his absolute least-favorite sequel of all time:George Bush 43: Back to Iraq!”)

Sequels used to be a sure sign of crap. If a movie had a number tagged onto the end of it, everyone could bank that it was that weekend’s stinker. Producers knew this. They knew this. They must have. The audience sure did. But, here we are. Know why? Because producers would rather put out a crappy sequel that’s guaranteed an audience and guarantees a return on their investment than take a risk on an untested product that may or may not break even. (And I hate referring to a movie as “product,” but whatdyagonnado?)

We American moviegoers are more likely to see a crappy sequel than a great original. Sad, but true: I could have gone and seen “Knocked Up” or “Grindhouse” or “Hot Fuzz,” but, no … “Spider-Man 3.” Is it because movies are so expensive now that we’re gun-shy in deference to our wallets? Or do we just not appreciate original ideas as much as we might say we do?

Really, I think it comes down to playing it safe. We like safe. We like predictable. Sequels are the cinematic equivalent of McDonald’s food. We know what to expect: mass produced, uniformly mediocre McMovies. Even before the first trailers roll, we’ve seen what’s coming; we’ve seen it all before. They hold no surprises, nothing that will throw us at the last minute, nothing that will leave us confused and questioning. The worst that will happen is that it won’t be as good as the original, or the previous sequel.

Actually, that’s almost assured. We know it won’t be as good. But we’ll see it anyway. Because it’s safe. Because we’re idiots. And like a catch-and-release freshwater veteran, we’ll bite again and again, knowing it will end in tears and disappointment, but preferring the old and familiar pain to the new and unknown.

Article © 2007 by Steve Spotswood