Diminishing Returns: 10 Completely Pointless Third Films in Otherwise Notable FranchisesA column article, Top Ten by: John Bender, Dylan Garsee, Nick Hanover
This week is the premier of The Hangover III, a film that most of us probably could have gotten by in life without. So to mark this momentous occasion, we've decided to look back on 10 other film franchises that could have gotten by without their third films.
When you talk about disastrous modern day superhero films, you're typically talking about Spider-Man 3. The previous era of superhero filmmaking had more than a few options, specifically the Joel Schumacher Bat films, but the current bubble of great superhero films met perhaps its biggest WTF moment not with nipples added to costumes or ice-related puns, but with ridiculous haircuts, dance sequences and musical numbers.
Sam Raimi's final entry in the Spider-Man franchise feels like a film made by a director who wanted out. And with good reason. Raimi was notably pressured into adding Venom to the film because of Avi Arad's demands, and screenwriter Alvin Sargent even felt the script had become so complex he suggested it should have been split into multiple films. Essentially, the film is about Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) getting cocky thanks to his newfound popularity, which is slightly disrupted when he learns that his Uncle Ben's real killer is not only still on the loose, but has been turned into the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church). To complicate matters, an evil alien symbiote has grafted itself to Parker, Harry Osborn (James Franco) is stealing Mary (Kirsten Dunst) from Peter and has taken up the Green Goblin mantle yet again. Oh, and Gwen Stacy is crammed in there, too, along with Eddie Brock, who of course takes up the Venom mantle when Peter ditches it.
The plot alone would be enough to weigh down any honest effort, but Raimi's decision to inject goofy sequences like an infamous one featuring Parker strutting down the streets of New York with an emo haircut take the film to another level of awfulness. Ultimately, it made the most money out of any of the Spider-Man films, but it's telling that Sony felt the need to completely reboot the film after the massive critical and public backlash against it and at this point in time, most of us prefer to pretend this film simply never happened at all.
X-Men: The Last Stand
Of course, Spider-Man 3 was preceded by the next contender for worst third entry in a superhero franchise, the Brett Ratner-helmed debacle that was X-Men: The Last Stand. Ratner was brought in to fill the director's chair for the end of the trilogy because Bryan Singer had taken on his own unnecessary film, Superman Returns, but he wasn't the first choice. Initially, names like Darren Aronofsky and Joss Whedon floated around and eventually Matthew Vaughn was announced as director, though he soon left due to a combination of personal issues and conflicts with Fox over their desire to speed up production.
And so it was that Ratner entered the picture, and everything went to hell. Ratner's big credits up to that point included the Rush Hour series and the Silence of the Lambs prequel Red Dragon, neither of which exactly inspired optimism in fans. To make matters worse, Ratner was handed a pile of problems, from the conflicts with Halle Berry (who refused to be in the film unless her role was greatly expanded) to the more than two dozen rewrites the script went through. What we got was a film where James Marsden's Cyclops is completely absent (the actor of course having left to join Singer on Superman Returns), Professor X has been vaporized, and the Dark Phoenix storyline has been reduced to a bunch of whining with occasional bursts of flames.
It wasn't exactly surprising to anyone that Ratner wouldn't be able to pull off the emotional daredevilry required with the Phoenix Saga, but perhaps the greatest crime perpetrated with The Last Stand is that it's boring as all fuck. The big action sequences are clunky and uninteresting, characters like Juggernaut are reduced to meme-ready jokes, Rogue and Iceman have the most groan inducing romance ever committed to film and Magneto, the greatest threat in the series, is undone by a hypodermic needle. But hey, at least it made oodles of money.
Day of the Dead
Following the events of the first two films, the world has been totally overrun by zombies. Most survivors are members of the government or the military. A small faction of soldiers seeks shelter in an underground Army base, where they discover a team of scientists that is working to train and cure the zombies, feeding them the flesh of dead soldiers to condition them. The leader of the scientific team is named Dr. Logan but referred to as—uh-oh—“Frankenstein,” and, as you’d expect, the essential themes of Mary Shelley’s classic novel are, er, revived to tiresome effect.
The first two films in George Romero’s Dead Series are perfect tonal complements to each other, as Night of the Living Dead’s grainy black-and-white horror and undertones of cultural commentary transition seamlessly to Dawn of the Dead’s consumerist satire set against an apocalyptic backdrop. These two films succeed not because of their acting (which ranges from shitty to mediocre) or even their exceptional plotting, but because they establish a mood and a set of extraordinary, high-pressure circumstances under which the characters must survive and interact—it’s a sort of bloody social laboratory. Day of the Dead dials back the atmosphere and the wit in favor of arduous philosophical debates and slightly better special effects, and it also puts the movie on the shoulders of its incapable actors to much greater extent than the first two films. By making the subtext into plain old text, Day relegates itself to the position of odd man out in the “original trilogy.” Oh, and the grisly climactic scene turns out to be a dream, so that also sucks.
Army of Darkness
Picking up at the end of the second film, Army of Darkness finds Ash Williams living in the year 1300, where he proceeds to battle an army of skeletons and make many silly faces. There is no cabin. There is no horror. There is only a theme by Danny Elfman and some “comedy.”
Much like Day of the Dead, the chief issue with Army of Darkness is tone. The conventional breakdown of the series is as follows: Evil Dead is the gritty, low-budget prototype, a film that deserves as much praise for its vision as it does for its genuine scares. Evil Dead 2 perfected the formula, honing the horror elements for an even more pervasively doomy atmosphere and brightening that mood with slicker acting and comedic writing. Army of Darkness, however, abandoned this careful balance and totally flew to the other end of the spectrum with a heavy emphasis on comedy and a dash of medieval/paranormal horror elements. Maybe that sounds nice in theory, but its hammy PG-13 charm exudes a callous disregard for its predecessors’ monumental achievements in the horror genre. Ash is transformed from an unwilling hero who’s slow on the uptake to a full-fledged idiot, as he forgets the last word of the incantation to send him home and allows himself to be magically cloned into Evil Ash, who he then must kill in a slapstick final sequence. The whole thing plays like a spinoff or a send-up of itself, and although Evil Dead always has always had comedic elements, they’re only a small piece of what the series originally set out to do. Army of Darkness is the opposite of a “spiritual sequel”; it’s a totally discordant hijacking of familiar, beloved characters and storylines.
The Dark Knight Rises
In every high school physics class, there comes a time, usually right before spring break, when the teacher gives the classic assignment of "here's a sheet of paper, whoever folds it in the shape that makes it fly the farthest gets the highest grade." Everyone gets in groups, and 99% percent of the students meticulously fold their 8.5/11" piece of copy paper into the best looking paper airplane, something that flies far enough, something that's sure to win. Then the 1% of students who, most of the time are wearing fedoras and Tool shirts, crumple the sheet of the paper into a ball, and beat every other paper airplane in distance. The rest of the kids in the class angrily yell at them "that's not fair, we worked hard, you just balled up the paper!" to which the fedora wearing Tool fans tip their transitional lenses down and snootily reply "the teacher never said it had to be an airplane; we're just smarter than you." Everyone has a bad time, and the teacher just sighs and masks his hatred with Xanax and gin.
The Dark Knight Rises is that group of neckbeardy twats on film. Yes, The Dark Knight Rises was a huge hit. Yes, The Dark Knight Rises concluded the series in a tight little bow. And yes, The Dark Knight Rises was more than just explosions and Anne Hathaway's boobs. So to the assignment of "make an ending to a trilogy that feels like both an extension and ending to a loved series," the Dark Knight Rises succeeds. But it's a slap in the face to Superhero films that are smart (Iron Man), paced well (The Avengers), coherent (Captain America: The First Avenger), and truly dark (X2). Technically it was fine, but for people who love the series and truly appreciate film, it was agitating, and this film critic just sighs and masks his hatred with Xanax and gin.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3
As kids, my brother and I were complete Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fanatics. We read the comics religiously, we collected as many of the toys as we could (we even wound up with that Turtles-as-farmers set), but the first two films came out when I was a toddler and thus too young to catch them in theatres. So I was beyond excited when TMNT 3 was released, as it finally gave my brother and I an opportunity to catch our heroes on the big screen. What we didn't realize at the time was that it was a whole heap of bullshit, a film centered around a bizarre time travel plot that placed the turtles in feudal Japan where there was a notable absence of any TMNT villains and instead the Turtles are stuck in the middle of some wandering samurai shenanigans.
There's no denying that both of the first two live action TMNT films are far from art, but they were full of a kind of giddy excitement that helped sell the characters to a new generation, while TMNT 3 is as tonally off from the rest of the series as the infamous “Go Ninja Go!” dance sequence was ill-advised in the second. This is a film that tries to turn one-liner wielding mutant ninja turtles into Kurosawa characters, that has ancient Japanese honor guards learning about hockey and whose plot centers around the time traveling abilities of a magical scepter. Again, bullshit.
Gary Hustwit blasted onto the "methodical to the point of static" documentary scene with 2007's Helvetica, a very small look into the world of font, specifically the ubiquitous font, helvetica. That film painted such a large portrait of something seemingly so microscopic in our everyday lives that viewers couldn't help but adore it. The film was a part of a proposed trilogy of films, cleverly named "The Design Trilogy", and Hustwit followed Helvetica with another small film on something slightly larger; Objectified took a beautiful look at the history of industrial design and our love of objects. Once again, something so ubiquitous, yet shown in a completely new and enlightening light.
Then you have Urbanized. The 2010 conclusion of the design trilogy focused on city planning and architecture, but lacked the love of the subject matter the first two films had so much of. In Helvetica, we learned about the importance of serifs and sans serif. In Objectified, we learned to love every curve and corner of a vacuum and cell phone. In Urbanzied, we learned about tax code and zoning laws. When making a documentary like the design trilogy, making the mundane fascinating is the primary goal, not making the boring even more boring.
Aladdin and the King of Thieves
In Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Aladdin travels to Mount Sesame (password required) to learn more about his father, of whom he has only one cherished memento: a dagger. It is revealed that Aladdin’s dad is Cassim, the leader of the Forty Thieves, and he is pursuing the Hand of Midas, a magical thingie that turns anything it touches into sweet, sweet gold, which can only be otherwise accumulated by driving a classic Disney franchise into the ground.
I realize that The Return of Jafar was also direct-to-video, but that movie at least redeemed Iago as a sort of proto-Gollum, even going so far as to have him cast an evil object into magma at the end of the film. Aladdin and the King of Thieves goes totally off the rails, though, asking questions we never wanted the answers to (who cares about Aladdin’s parents? Aren’t his street smarts, honed from years spent as an orphan with a monkey for a caretaker, his defining characteristic?) and relying heavily on the return of Robin Williams as Genie, as if kids weren’t also over him by 1996. And according to Wikipedia, this happens at one point: “The Oracle directs them to The Vanishing Isle, a great marble fortress built on the back of a gigantic undersea turtle that periodically dives to the bottom of the ocean, where the Hand is hidden.” I vaguely recall this part, and even though it sounds kind of awesome, it clearly doesn’t have any place in an Aladdin movie. Not that I’m like really big into Aladdin or anything. Disney is an evil corporation that is unafraid to manipulate children in a quest to improve its bottom line. (looks around) (sees no one) (scampers away slyly, whistling a melody that sounds strangely like “One Jump Ahead”)
Is it possible to talk about Robocop 3 without talking about Frank Miller? The legendary comics creator gave up on Hollywood for more than a decade as a result of his experiences with the film, and it inspired this amazing quote from him: “Don’t be the writer. The director’s got the power. The screenplay is a fire hydrant, and there’s a row of dogs around the block waiting for it.”
The story is that despite a less-than-pleasant experience with Robocop 2, in which Miller's original draft of the screenplay was rejected, Miller nonetheless agreed to take part in the sequel, hoping to recycle some of the material that was cut out of the prior work. Of course, that didn't exactly happen, and the problems didn't stop with weird plot alterations. To start with, the film's previous star, Peter Weller, backed out, and to add insult to injury, the new Robocop, Robert John Burke, was forced to wear the same suit despite being taller than Weller. On top of that, the producers decided to significantly diminish the more adult aspects of Miller's screenplay in order to receive a PG-13 rating, nevermind the fact that the original two Robocops were hard R's.
What resulted was a film where ninja robots duke it out with rebel forces, and Robocop wears a jetpack and that's pretty much all anyone bothers to remember because the rest of the film is such a mess of heavy handed corporate finger wagging and bluntly obvious betrayals. As if that wasn't bad enough, the film languished on the shelf for more than a year due to the bankruptcy of Orion Pictures and when it finally did come out, it made back less than half of its budget. But hey, at least now we're getting a new comic that adapts Frank Miller's original script.
The Godfather Pt. III
The Godfather and The Godfather Pt. II are rightfully held up as two of the greatest films of all-time, but no one refers to the works as the greatest trilogy of all-time, and that's for good reason. As arguably the greatest example of an unnecessary third film, The Godfather Pt. III is the movie cinephiles everywhere wish never happened, with even Coppola himself stating it's not actually part of the series and is merely an epilogue.
If you're asking why Coppola made it, then, well, the answer is pretty much in line with most of the films on this list: money. According to Coppola's version of the story on the commentary track for the DVD release of the film, One from the Heart caused Coppola to fall into such dire financial straits that he agreed to come back to the series that cemented his legacy as one of the greatest American directors. And as is also the case with most of the films listed here, the film was burdened with issues from the start, including Paramount's refusal to give Coppola the amount of time he felt he needed to make the film, and a conflict with Robert Duvall over his demand to be paid more for his role in the film, since Al Pacino was making significantly more than he was.
Of course, the biggest issue and the one that kills the film for most viewers is Sofia Coppola. While she is now a great director in her own right, Sofia Coppola's key role as Mary Corleone is singled out as the film's greatest weakness due to Coppola's subpar acting ability. Coppola originally intended the role for Julia Roberts, but she quickly dropped out, followed by Madonna and Winona Ryder, both of whom left the production, leaving Coppola without many options.
The film of course still managed to get seven Academy Award nominations, all of which it lost, but it was not nominated for Best Picture, making it the only film in the series to not receive that honor. The film's reputation may overshadow its actual weaknesses, but given that the director himself felt it was unnecessary, it's the very definition of a totally pointless third film.
John Bender is a Twitter anarchist with questionable opinions about celebrity lifestyles and the Lost finale. He edits erotic novels by day and works tirelessly by night to improve upon his personal record of 42.00 in the Mecha Marathon minigame in Mario Party 2. He also plays in Fitness.
Dylan Garsee is a freelance writer/bingo enthusiast currently living in Austin, TX. He is studying sociology, and when he's not winning trivia nights at pork-themed restaurants, writing a collection of essays on the gay perspective in geek culture. An avid record collector, Dylan can mostly be seen at Waterloo Records, holding that one God Speed You! Black Emperor record he can't afford and crying. You can follow him on twitter @garseed.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he's the last of the secret agents and he's your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Comics Bulletin, where he reigns as the co-managing editor, or at Panel Panopticon, which he started as a joke and now takes semi-seriously. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd rants about his potentially psychopathic roommate on twitter @Nick_Hanover and explore the world of his musical alter ego at Fitness and Pontypool.