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Top Five of the Best Superhero (First) Sequels

May 3, 2010
This coming weekend will see the expected return of Iron Man! With a $318 million gross,from the first film all the way back in 2008, it was a given that we would see a sequel right away. Currently, there are Thor, Captain America and Avengers movies in the pipeline, as Marvel Studios does their best to steadily build a cohesive universe to the big screen. Now, if only they could get back the Spider-Man and X-Men properties from Sony and Fox! Ah well, one thing at a time.
The return of Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, got me thinking of the best superhero sequels out there, primarily the best first sequels. Although the expectations are high whenever a successful superhero movie is followed by a sequel, more often than not, the first sequel is usually good; quite often great. It’s the third (Spider-Man) and fourth (George Clooney has repeatedly apologized) that usually jumps the shark with bad characterization, too many villains and supporting characters amid a flimsy plot. The best first sequels are those films in which the movie was better (not necessarily bigger) or different (yet still in the same established universe) than the previous film.
With all this in mind, I’ve decided to compile a list of the Top Five Superhero First Sequels of all time. Honestly, it wasn’t that hard as some of these were even better than the first films. The criteria for this list? Well, these films had to keep the same tone and spirit of the previous film and yet make it (as I stated above) into something better or different. Either that or just carry the momentum of the first film and open it up into a thrilling adventure. There should also have been at least three films in the can or planned to consider the first sequel as a contender.
 Also, any of these films can stand on their own without even seeing the first film. They’re just that good. So, without further ado….
5. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) Director Guillermo del Toro already delivered an incredible world of fantastic creatures with 2004’s “Hellboy” but with this film, he took it to a whole new level. He brought the same balance of beauty and eeriness that was present in 2006’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” and added it to the level of humor and adventure already established in the first film. This time out, the villains (if you can call them that) were more interesting, even sympathetic, creating an added level of intrigue. The exposition free story is more interesting than the origin story told in the previous film. New characters are introduced and more screen time is given to supporting characters from the first film but the movie never forgets Hellboy.
4. X2: X-Men United (2003) The opening scene alone of teleporting mutant Nightcrawler infiltrating the White House got all the fanboys and girls geeking out. Indeed, director Bryan Singer and his writers, working from a classic X-Men story from the early 80’s, delivered a movie that pleased everyone for the most part. Fans finally got to see Hugh Jackman go nuts in one of Wolverine’s famous berserker rage. Halle Berry is still miscast yet dons a more bearable white wig. With as many characters as these X-Men films juggle, it’s impossible to do justice to every character, especially with the introduction of new ones. Still, the story is clear and clever; infused with humor and solid action scenes. Understandably, considered the best of the three films.
3. Spider-Man 2 (2004) The most attractive part of Peter Parker as Spider-Man, the fact that he can’t seem to balance his two lives (much less get a break in either of them), is at the forefront here and the film is all the better for it. Director Sam Raimi balances great characterization with dizzying action sequences. Dr. Octopus is the perfect character for Raimi, with his horror genre pedigree, to have fun with. For a big-budget summer comic book movie to deliver a human story with complex characters amid groundbreaking special effects is pretty impressive. And we were all grateful that the villain didn’t wear a green Power Ranger suit like in the first film.
2. Superman II (1980) Probably the only time a superhero movie didn’t feel suffocated by three super villains threatening the hero (and the world). Christopher Reeve was never better in the role! Granted, there is a cheese factor here and it is kinda dated but for those who grew up with this film, that adds to the level of nostalgic endearment. Seeing Superman sacrifice his powers for love and then come to his senses was welcome drama just as it was awesome to see General Zod (a classic Terence Stamp) and his fellow Kryptonian criminals go nuts on New York City, er, I mean, Metropolis. All of the Superman films have a level of silliness but this one had the highest stakes, drama and action, making it one of the best first sequels in the superhero genre ever.
1. The Dark Knight (2008) The summer of Iron Man and Hellboy II, also saw the release of one of the most anticipated sequels of the year. Not just an amazing sequel but a film that could easily hold its own outside the genre due to its layered-themes and director Christopher Nolan’s fully-realized approach of Gotham (or, Chicago) and it’s inhabitants. Everything that Nolan created in “Batman Begins” is intact yet he delivers something different, better and unique here. it helps that he has a great ensemble cast here with standouts being Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman and Heath Ledger as Joker. The fact that Katie Holmes did not return was an added bonus.
Some feel the film received high praise due to Ledger’s accidental death earlier that year but I scoff at that. His Oscar-winning performance is what it is and would have received the same praise even if he was still alive. All his death did was bring more attention to a great film. Many felt that the ending (or endings) made the film a tad too long, possibly rushed and I can see that but by then, I didn’t care since I never once lost interest in what was transpiring on-screen. My only problem with the film is that my scene as an extra never made it into the final cut but I have a feeling I may have another chance next summer since it was just announced that the third film will be released in July of 2012. This remains the gold standard for first sequels (in whatever genre) and it will be interesting to see where Nolan takes us when he returns to Gotham.
  So, what are your thoughts? Do you disagree with my Top Five?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. windi permalink
    May 10, 2010 9:33 am

    I’m not so sure about Spiderman 2, but then again, I don’t think I bothered to watch it. I can’t even remember! LOL I’m just not a Spiderman fan, so I guess that’s why.

    I agree that the second X-men was definitely awesome, as was Dark Knight (still one of my favorite movies ever).

    I’m a little iffy about Hellboy 2. I liked it alright, but not as well as the first one. It was fun though, and really, what’s wrong with that? I read a lot of bad reviews on it though.

    As for Superman, I mean, really…….the cheese, the corny dialogue, the awful special effects, the bad acting in some cases……. no matter what, Superman started it all! One thing I do have to laugh at though, is that I let the boys watch Superman and was cringing at the language! It’s so funny to re-watch those movies WE watched when we were that young and hear the language in them and cringe. I don’t think I even realized how much cussing there was in some of those movies. Superman, The Karate Kid, even ET and The Goonies!! Wow. Honestly though, I’d take the language over the other stuff I’m seeing in movies nowadays.

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      May 10, 2010 11:00 am

      True. Language is easier to explain away. Visuals are harder to get rid of. Give “Hellboy II” a shot. If you liked the characters from the first time and enjoyed “Pan’s Labyrinth”, you should like it.

  2. windi permalink
    May 11, 2010 7:56 am

    I did watch Hellboy II, and liked it fine….I’m just not sure I liked it as well as the first one. The visuals were pretty cool, and what convinced me to watch it in the first place. 🙂

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