Sequels are funny things. Most of the time, they’re the butt of our cinematic jokes—the increasingly ludicrous installments of the Rocky franchise, or the ever-more gadget-obsessed James Bond pictures of the 1980s and ’90s. (Example: a boom box that can also shoot rockets; code named The Ghetto Blaster. “Something we’re building for the Americans,” notes Bond’s weapons guru, Q. Groan.) On the other hand, they have also given us some of our best films yet. Consider this short list of second stories: The Empire Strikes Back; The Godfather, Part II; Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
There are others, and while the list isn’t long, there is something of a common thread to many of the films that populate it: they tend to be science fiction and action films. I think part of the reason for the phenomenon is that in films like these, the first installment is very often taken up mostly by an origin story: consider Christopher Nolan’s widely acclaimed The Dark Knight, which followed the quieter Batman Begins. Interestingly, some comic geeks prefer these beginnings, which bring to life the histories of the characters we know so well—it’s like hearing a song for the first time after reading the lyrics for years. But for most people, the origin stories can seem like a waiting game. They’re in it for the action.
This week, a single film pulls off the neat trick of being a sequel to two different films. X-Men: Days of Future Past is the latest installment in the hero franchise from returning director Bryan Singer, and it serves as the follow-up to both X-Men: First Class and X-Men: The Last Stand (Singer, who helmed the well-received first two X-Men films, directed neither of these last two). This new story spans the superhero group’s present and past as they use time travel to join forces against an enemy set to destroy their mutant race.
Hugh Jackman, as Wolverine, is the lynchpin that connects the two periods; his character’s particular abilities (essentially, he doesn’t age) allow the same actor to play the role in both times. Others are portrayed by two actors: James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart split the role of Professor Charles Xavier, while Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen go halves on Magneto, the sometime-friend, sometime-foe of Xavier’s merry men. Also on board are Jennifer Lawrence, Ellen Page, and, as the mastermind of mutantkind’s downfall, Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones).
It’s a daring, and ambitious, conceit. Should Singer pull it off, the series will be refreshed, and fans of both the earlier films will have a reason to head out to the theater. But if it fails—if he gives us only the empty action and shallow emotions we expect most sequels to give us—than he’s done twice the damage. And that, for a series that has already spread itself perilously thin in the last few years, may be an injury that even Jackman’s Wolverine can’t overcome.
Also this week: Two stories of powerful women come to area screens this week. In Brattleboro, the Latchis Theater hosts a Sunday evening screening of the classic His Girl Friday, the madcap, fast-talking comedy that pairs Cary Grant with Rosalind Russell. As an editor trying to keep his star reporter (and ex-wife) from giving up her job for married life, Grant has Russell chasing a breaking story about a murderer on the loose—who soon falls right into the reporter’s lap.
And at Amherst Cinema, Amma Asante’s new film Belle is the inspired-by-history tale of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate, mixed-race daughter of Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode), a Royal Navy officer. Raised in England as a free woman in the care of Lindsay’s aristocratic family, her relationship with an ambitious young lawyer helped signal the end of slavery in England.•
Jack Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.