Superhero Trilogies: The Threequel Curse
By Kevin Rusley
Originally posted to Examiner.com, 19 July 2012
In case you haven’t heard, the final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy The Dark Knight Rises hits theaters this week, and it’s one of those summer tentpoles that seems to have everything going for it, which just makes the expectations that much higher. I’ll post my review for that soon enough but first, let’s take a look back at some other superhero threequels that couldn’t quite stick the landing.
Superman III (1983)
In the early 80’s it was only the James Bond films that stood as a template for a successful multiple-film blockbuster franchise. They had their ups and downs to be sure, but you knew what you were getting most of the time. With that in mind, it’s hard to understand how the studio could’ve gotten this lazy when it came to Superman. Warner Bros. reportedly turned down suggestions by the producers to pit the Man of Steel against popular foes like Brainiac and Bizarro in favor of a mishmash of half-cooked ideas that somehow included Richard Pryor as a major character and something about computers. Even the film’s best scene (Clark Kent splits off from Evil Superman and they fight) is a headscratcher.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993)
Secret of the Ooze certainly had its flaws (no using weapons? Vanilla Ice?), but at least it was entertaining and it made an effort to continue the story. But for the ill-fated third entry, our favorite heroes-in-a-half-shell get roped into a brainless time-travel plot that has nothing to do with the them, except maybe to sell action figures of the Turtles wearing samurai armor. Fan favorite Casey Jones also turns in an appearance just to sit around and wonder why they even bothered calling him.
Batman Forever (1995)
To be fair, they were definitely trying with this one. It may not be as face-palmingly awful as Batman & Robin, but it did signal the decline from Tim Burton’s dark and brooding vision to the neon-colored, merchandise-friendly Gotham City that the studio was gravitating towards. It’s hard to remember that it was a big success in its day, thus making the franchise-killing fourth entry possible. Batman brings up a sidekick and trades innuendos with Nicole Kidman as the worst love-interest of the series while Joker-fied versions of Two-Face and Riddler plot to kill the Bat. Or maybe just unmask him? It’s hard to be sure sometimes. Joel Schumacher probably wishes he’d walked away once he saw how well audiences responded to the bat-nipples on the costume.
Blade Trinity (2004)
You’d think the writer who brought Blade to the screen in the first place, not to mention helped give new life to Batman on film, would be able to cap off this trilogy with some style. Instead, David Goyer’s first outing as director proved to be a downgrade on almost every level. Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel basically play themselves as they fight alongside the half-vampire hero, who now seems alarmingly obsessed with his own coolness. The one-liners are dull, the fight scenes are gratuitous, the vampires are flimsy, and more attention is paid to the new gadgets than giving the character a proper sendoff. It all builds to Blade squaring off against the dullest Dracula you’ve ever seen.
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
The third X-Men isn’t bad so much as disappointing. It comes down to one thing: Director Bryan Singer left to make Superman Returns, thus dooming two franchises. Brett “Rush Hour” Ratner was called in to take the helm of an already unfocused production, having to make the best of a rushed script and key actors unavailable. There are a lot good things at play here: big action, good performances, stunning visuals, and the mutant cure is a fascinating idea for the X-Men to contend with. Until it runs up against a watered-down Dark Phoenix plot, and the series becomes a disjointed shell of its former self.
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Spider-Man 2 was a tough act to follow. Still, unlike all the other entries here, Spider-Man 3 definitely feels stylistically and thematically connected to the other two films, thanks largely to director Sam Raimi and the cast staying on for all the whole trilogy. But that doesn’t mean Raimi got to call the shots. Too many hands in the pot led to too many villains, too many contrived and convoluted subplots, too many different ideas about what the fans wanted, leading to a desperate attempt to please everyone that ended up leaving everyone jipped. And did I mention the black suit dance?