THREE IS A MAGIC NUMBER?!
OR IS IT?!
- Why does every film series aim for the trilogy? What is wrong with stopping at 2? Where is the shame in aiming for a 4th, 5th, 6th outing? Well, it’s about symmetry.
- Divinities sometimes form in 3. Holy Trinity. Creator, preserver, destroyer etc.
- Criminal groups can be a ‘triad’.
- Life: birth, growth, death?
- Politics: rise to power, consolidation, fall.
- Romance: Fall in love. Marry. D-I-V-O….;)
And of course the Joseph Campbell archetype, whereby a hero leaves a place and takes up adventure in new territory (act 1); gets caught up in a labyrinth and faces a low point (act 2) and finally escapes from that life changing challenge, bringing peace and revelation to the return home (act 3).
It also makes good commercial sense to at least aim for a 3 movie arc, given the need for a long term investment in brand IP and a natural tendency for investors to plan ahead. It does not always work, of course. But it can go either way.
So here, at a glance, is a quick checklist of essential ingredients to include and pitfalls to avoid in the ideal part 3..(nb some movies will feature in both camps)..
DO: Tie up Loose ends and Develop the Characters!
- RETURN OF THE JEDI manages to explain that Luke and Leia are twins; give us a redemption story for Vader, introduce, set up and defeat an Emperor and save Han Solo. Not bad!
- INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE shows us the hero’s childhood and how he picked up his signature moves, whilst introducing us to his Dad and thereby injecting a texture and depth to Harrison Ford’s Dr Jones and his adventures. This is why EVERY SEQUEL EVER now tries to introduce the hero’s Dad. But this did it first and bes(h)t!
- THE GODFATHER PART 3 (original cut) ages Pacino’s Michael Corleone and has him vulnerable, reformed and mortal. Yet it does not, contrary to belief, entirely emasculate or weaken his character. He still wins, albeit at great cost.
- BACK TO THE FUTURE PART 3: A western! A romance! Tropes revisited yet reinvented. Follows from parts 1 and 2 yet can be enjoyed on its own terms. Michael J Fox’s Marty conquers his fixation with his own cowardice. Timelines restored! Rejoice! The perfect trilogy closer.
- THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM: You know his name. He knows his name. Perfectly tight, intricate, planned, woven, executed end.
DON’T: Change your lead (s)/ premise beyond Recognition?
- ANGEL HAS FALLEN ages up Gerard Butler, prematurely and negates the fact that he basically saved the world, twice! TAKEN 3 could easily just have entailed Liam Neeson rescuing one of his military buddies. Simple! But no. They have to frame him for murder.
- Axel Foley IS Eddie Murphy and vice versa. So BIG MISTAKE to make him some sort of poor man’s Wesley Snipes /Bruce Willis in BEVERLY HILLS COP 3. It has a potentially interesting pitch of murder in a theme park, ruined by Eddie deliberately (?) not being very FUNNY, save in a few scenes.
- BRIDGET JONES depended, largely, on the interplay with Hugh Grant as Daniel Cleaver. So his absence is conspicuous throughout BRIDGET JONES’ BABY.
- GODFATHER PART 3 has a gaping gap in it because Robert Duvall would not return as Tom.
DO: Expand your Universe Horizons /Mix Things up a Bit!
- AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and ENDGAME sort of count as one elongated part 3 imho. They manage to feel somehow organic as developments of the previous outings, whilst opening the scale and stakes, dramatically. Too dark and slow in places and hyper indulgent but still, great.
- THE DARK KNIGHT RISES gives you a war movie and meditation on the passing of time and coping with trauma, whilst remaining a ‘Batman’ film. And for all its many flaws (Miranda Tate; plot holes; time bomb; no Joker reference; needless 8 year time hop) it gave me THAT Café in Florence so..all is forgiven.
- GOLDENEYE and SKYFALL both function as unofficially soft reboots and trilogy closers for 007 eras. The Dalton Bond regime morphs into a Brosnan take (and is even evaluated at the start as a kind of in-joke?). Daniel Craig’s era remains reflective and moody yet mellows nonetheless.
- MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE 3 in effect sets up a new family of characters and continuity that would run into the next 3 movies in the series.
- DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE manages to honour the series’ basic formula, whilst moving on a wider scale and somehow keeping the idea of specific settings for action set-pieces, without simply falling into the trap of its copy-cats (‘Die Hard on a bus/train/tricycle’ etc).
DON’T: Compromise the Tone /Feel of Parts 1 and 2 ?
- LETHAL WEAPON 3 is fine in a tv show episode sort of way. But it loses the edge of its preceding films and therefore feels rather redundant?
- X 3 : THE LAST STAND was a rush job but DAYS OF FUTURE PAST undid its failings, only to gild the lily with X MEN: APOCALYPSE.
- REVENGE OF THE SITH naturally had to go darker than other Star Wars movies but did NOT have to include child-murder and death in child-birth. Especially when George Lucas begrudges Han Solo shooting first in a fairly matched bar fight?? By contrast, RETURN OF THE JEDI goes a bit too cute and fluffy in places, much as I love Ewoks! It’s all about balance.
- ALIEN and ALIENS of course have jump scares and body horror. But they were NOT nihilistic soul destroying death dwelling depression feeding barbarism..which frankly, is where ALIEN 3 went, for all its design and creative merits.
- IRON MAN 3 is fine but it feels too detached from the visual style and editing pace of the first 2 films. SPIDER-MAN 3 was the worst web slinging movie until AMAZING SPIDER MAN 2.
- JURASSIC PARK 3 works as a tight survival thriller. But that’s still just too small in scale and stakes when THE LOST WORLD had dinosaurs invade the mainland.
- SUPERMAN 3 is a fun romp and certainly functions well as a kind of day in the life of Clark Kent but suffers from the lack of cohesion with the Donner directed originals. BATMAN FOREVER will ‘forever’ have a place in my heart. But its total divorce from the Tim Burton iteration feels weird.
DO: Increase the Stakes /Up the Ante etc. Just don’t overdo it, either?!
- MEN IN BLACK 3 is a massive improvement on MIB2, via the introduction of time travel and mortal peril to the very existence of reality and, more importantly to Tommy Lee Jones. Yet it retains a warm, tender, moving personal subplot for Will Smith. He repeated that trick with BAD BOYS FOR LIFE. He truly is a great star.
- LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING just about tops the epic scale of the first two movies in that trilogy and narrowly avoids outstaying its welcome with multiple curtain bows, because the emotion is earned. But HOBBIT 3 simply does not exist in my world.
- THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR seemed like a good idea at the time but gets hampered by trying to cram in the entire oriental back-history as well as some extraneous characters from the first two films, with the exception of an actual Mummy? Contrast with RUSH HOUR 3 which manages to take the team to Paris without losing the essential simplicity or charm of the brand.
- ARMY OF DARKNESS managed to meld, bend and merge genres, all the while maintaining its own universe’s rules/tone. ROCKY 3 has Stallone face MR T (happy birthday, btw!). Our titular hero gets beat up, real bad in a mid movie game changer..before rebuilding via montage..JUST before the series descended to full on parody (though a new cut of part 4 is imminent and CREED 2 saved the character legacy anyway).
- BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN took Harry Palmer too far into actual 007 territory. TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES foolishly retreads the comedy tropes of T2 without providing the depth or innovation, thereby largely upstaging the genuine bravery of its own actually kinda revolutionary ending.
- SCREAM 3 and AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER both a bit too ‘meta’, perilously verging on overrunning an old joke, whilst managing to remain entertaining and fun.
- PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN : AT WORLD’S END disappears up its own wannabe Star Wars of the Rings pseudo mythology bottom. OMEN 3 gave us a grown up little Devil kid which is fine. Except that the premise of the property is basically: what if your adopted son is Old Nick, rather than being all about what he gets up to on graduation.
- THE DOLLARS TRILOGY has a quite logical, linear growth in the challenges faced by the ‘man with no name’ or ‘Blondie’ (Clint Eastwood), yet he remains one man against the system and taking down his competitors one by one. TROIS COULEURS.. is a series of meditations on French values with a dash of Poland thrown in and is far more accessible and entertaining than such an arch premise has any right to be. See also: Oliver Stone’s Vietnam Trilogy.
- Richard Curtis’ /Emma Freud’s / Hugh Grant’s 4Weddings/Notting Hill/Love Actually = technically a romcom trilogy of sorts?
- Roddy Doyle’s BARRYTOWN trilogy also brilliant, hilarious and pure Dublin genius via Colm Meaney.
DO Leave the Door open on Part 4..but don’t make either 3 OR 4 if it takes too long or is just..not ready yet..
Looking at YOU:
- Lethal Weapon 4; Live Free or Die Hard; Godfather Part 3; Phantom Menace; Expendables 3; Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; Robocop 3; Pirates of the Caribbean 4;
- Superman 4; Hobbit 1,2,3; Die Another Day; SPECTRE; Batman and Robin; Matrix Revolutions; Rambo 3, 4 and 5; Naked Gun 33 1/3;
- Meet the/Little Fokkers; Blade: Trinity; Jurassic World/Fallen Kingdom; Look Who’s Talking Now; Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles;
- Rise of Skywalker; Jason Bourne;
- Karate Kid 3, 4, remake and anything after part 1 that is not Cobra Kai..
- And so on..(nb each is watchable in a way..but they’re not perfect trilogy toppers or franchise extenders).
DISCLAIMER: this is an opinion piece and a non exhaustive catalogue; apologies if your favourite three-peat is missing and /or dishonoured just as surely as I am sorry if a film you loathe is somehow redeemed among the words in this piece. Enjoy a THREE day WEEKEND (Bank Holiday?).
James Murphy..part 3 😉