Transformers 2 suffered from a terrible case of sequel-itis, raising our fears that upcoming Star Trek and Iron Man sequels will contract this deadly ailment. But it doesn't have to be that way: Here are 15 sequels that didn't suck.
The original cast and director returned for this second outing, and it brings forward the themes of mutants in a society that hates and fears them. This time around, the rogue Col. William Stryker is plotting to use the mutants' own technology and superpowers to track them all down and destroy them. The early scenes of Magneto in a plastic prison are striking and well-realized, and the attack on Xavier's school drives home how vulnerable our mutant heroes are in a world that hates them. The first X-Men movie was a bit rushed and formulaic with the need to introduce so many mutant heroes, but this one feels a bit more cohesive.
Back To The Future Part 2
Easily my favorite of the BTTF movies, this one actually takes us to the real future, instead of just 1985. Biff, the hapless bully, beats Marty at his own time-hacking game, creating an alternate timeline where Biff rules. I'm a sucker for any storyline where the hero has to cross his own timeline and run around the same series of events a second time, without upsetting all the applecarts he set in motion the first time around. Sure, it's goofy, but so was the first one.
A confession: I haven't yet seen the "director's cut" that came out on DVD a couple years ago, because the idea of giving this movie the same ending as the first one seemed just patently silly. Famously, director Richard Donner had a falling out with the studio over this film, and the studio brought in someone else to finish this movie, and recut the final product. But I still really like the original cut, for its awesome mega-villains from Superman's own home planet, including General Zod. Of all the sequels to feature the hero giving up his powers to live a normal life, this is the most interesting, since Superman probably couldn't be with Lois otherwise. And I love the random yahoo in a bar beating the crap out of Clark. The only major flaw is the memory-erasing kiss at the end, which is total drek.
This is another questionable one — but this film has a special place in my heart. Frank Miller's first foray into making movies, back when he was still an edgy maniac, picks up the satirical themes of the first movie and goes nuts with them. (Sure, the studio messed with Frank's script, but the result is still pleasingly freaktastic.) Detroit is being privatized, the police force is maneuvered into being on strike, and Robocop is out there on his own. We venture deeper into the dark heart of Robocop, as Alex Murphy tries and fails to recapture his original life with his family — and meanwhile, every attempt to create a new Robocop only leads to suicides (and murder-suicides) as the replacements can't face the horror of what they've become. Until OCP tries creating a totally amoral, power-crazed version.
After reading the original Michael Chabon script for this movie, I marginally prefer that version — the whole "Peter Parker stops being Spider-Man" subplot in this movie is handled really weirdly and confusingly. (He suddenly needs glasses? Why?) But either version of the story is still a worthwhile continuation of the first film. Alfred Molina is a sympathetic but deranged Doc Octopus, and the sequence where Spidey stops a runaway train — and then the passengers don't rat out his identity — is a classic for a reason.
Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.
The first Peter Cushing Dalek movie was a total flying-saucer wreck, with blond hippie aliens in blue eye-shadow and non-deadly Daleks. But this sequel, also based on an episode from the Doctor Who television series, is a total classic. It has much more energy, from beginning to end, and the Daleks are awesomely bloodthirsty. The supporting cast includes Bernard Cribbins and Philip Madoc, and the TV episode's slightly bloated plotline benefits a lot from being compressed down to a movie length.
Guillermo del Toro stepped in and directed this sequel, instantly elevating it to a gothic horror masterpiece along the way. Blade, the "daywalker," is more enigmatic and cooler, and his relationship with Whistler takes a weird turn when he has to cure Whistler of vampirism. But mostly, this movie is memorable for its genetic engineering project, where the vampires are trying to breed a new race of super-vampires. Vampires + weird science = win.
The Chronicles Of Riddick
Thanks to Pansy for suggesting this one — it really should be on the list. Riddick, the merciless killer from Pitch Black, gets a whole backstory and and a heroic destiny, but mostly he kicks a whole lot more ass than in the first movie.
Dawn Of The Dead
Following on from the undead flesh-eating plague set up in Night Of The Living Dead, George Romero's second zombie film shows in more detail the effects of a widespread epidemic of reanimated cannibals. Containing one of the most famous shopping mall sequences in movie history, it's no accident that this is the Romero classic that Zack Snyder chose to remake. Thanks to Dr.Wadd for suggesting this one — although I think I can't quite get with Escape From L.A.
Mad Max: The Road Warrior
Many people probably didn't even know this was a sequel when it came out. The first Mad Max movie didn't make nearly as big an impact (in the United States, anyway) as this incredible follow-up, with its long scenes of caravan carnage. (It didn't help that when the original Max came out, Mel Gibson was dubbed with a horrendous American accent.) The original Max is a total classic, but movies like Doomsday are still biting the feeling of anarchy and vehicular mayhem that this sequel brings. Fans are still doing Road Warrior reconstructions on the public roads.
James Cameron steps in and shows how to do a sequel to someone else's creation. Ripley goes back to the moon where she encountered the alien eggs, accompanied by a platoon of colonial marines. Every character in this film is an awesome archetype, from Burke the corporate weenie to Vasquez the tough marine chick. The supporting cast of this film is more memorable than the main characters of a lot of other films. (Even Newt, the cute kid, is tolerable.) From the moment they return to LV-426, the tension is palpable, and the action sequences only reinforce the feeling of a squad under siege in cramped quarters. By the time Ripley takes care of the alien queen using that power suit at the end, you're jumping up and cheering for her.
Cameron already proved he had what it took to make a killer sequel when he returned to the film that put him on the map. In some ways, this is just a remake of the original, only with Arnie's Terminator in the role of protector instead of pursuer. But just like Cameron increased Ripley's bad-assery in Aliens, he does the same for Sarah Connor here, including her awesome mental institution escape. Having a reprogrammed Terminator — and actually getting to open up its head and change it from read-only to read-write — opens up all sorts of fascinating questions about the nature of artificial consciousness that the first movie barely touched on. All the cool ideas in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles get their start here.
The Dark Knight
I almost left this one off because of the constant debate over whether it really counts as science fiction... but still. This really is a primer in how to do a decent sequel. Batman Begins shows us the making of Batman, and the sequel comes close to showing us the breaking of him. Instead of another sequel where the hero randomly decides to walk away from being a hero in order to get married or have a "normal" life, this film shows us Bruce Wayne choosing to remain Batman in the face of almost unimaginable chaos that's laid at his door. Okay, he does almost reveal his identity at one point, but in the end, this film is a great continuation of the first movie because it shows just what it takes for Bruce to stay Batman. Thanks to all the commenters who insisted it should be in here.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
RoboCop 2 director Irvin Kerschner also directed another sequel, which might be slightly more famous. There's so much to love about this film, including our first meetings with Yoda and Lando Calrissian, and the way Darth Vader goes through Admirals like popcorn. But really, the reason why it's the best film in the series is because of the way it builds up to the revelation that Luke Skywalker's dad went bad — and there's an excellent chance that Luke will go the same way. The sequence in the cave, where Luke confronts his own inner darkness, is more powerful than everything Hayden Christensen ever committed to film.
Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan
And then, of course, there's the film that all other sequels are compared to. It doesn't hurt that the first movie in the series consists of three hours of watching a train pull out of a station, while people talk about grain futures. But still, this movie makes the original Trek characters as vivid as they've ever been, from Spock and McCoy both giving birthday presents to Kirk all the way up to the end. Almost every line of dialog in this movie has been in someone's sig file at some point, and this film does for space battles what Road Warrior does for car chases. And then there's Ricardo Montalban's magnetic turn as the obsessed, arrogant space maniac, Khan.