We’ve got two sequels opening wide today, and they’re vivid examples of the two differing philosophies when it comes to continuing your series. You can either run through the exact same beats you did the first time around, only in a different setting or with different stakes, or you can use the past films as a springboard into something that might not be as familiar but that is all the more thrilling and interesting for it. Of course, the first option is the most financially sound — people like their familiarity, and films become brands for a reason — but it would be nice if more films opted for the second.
The first Pitch Perfect was a pleasant if incredibly slight film that coasted a long way on the winning charm of Anna Kendrick (for me anyway) and the antics of Rebel Wilson (for a lot of other people). It did fairly okay in theaters, more than tripling its modest budget, and even better at home, and so here we are getting the a capella band back together. And it looks like Pitch Perfect 2 … will coast a long way on the winning charm of Kendrick and the antics of Wilson. Your mileage will vary depending on how much either of those works for you. It’s a fair bet the popularity of the first film and of the two leads will have this working for a lot of people, even if they’re basically going back for leftovers.
For a fourth film in a franchise, and one coming thirty years after the last entry, it would have been very easy for George Miller to have made Mad Max: Fury Road into Mad Max’s Greatest Hits. The series has a hell of a lot of goodwill, so Miller could have just given us a nostalgic spin through past glories and we probably would have been satisfied. Instead, Fury Road looks back at the trilogy and says, “Oh yeah? Watch this.” It’s an almost overwhelming experience, because Miller doesn’t stop to explain the backstory to everything we’re seeing. We’re just thrown into this crazy world and we either sink or swim. Or, more apropos, get run over or climb on board. The scope of the worldbuilding and the action here is breathtaking, even if I did sometimes have this nagging “Not my Max” tugging at my brain. It’s almost too big, too crazy. But better that than a timid recreation of what’s gone before.
Also, barring a disaster of epic proportions, the disappointing flop Age of Ultron should pass Furious 7 as the #1 film of the year domestically. Whatever will poor Disney and Marvel do.