Radical Idea: World-Saving Epics Don’t Need Sequels

By  · Published on February 10th, 2014

Will Smith isn’t going to star in the promised/threatened Independence Day sequel. If we’re all being honest, that’s not really a big deal except to Hollywood accountants still using actuarial tables from 2008 – he was hardly the only lifeline in the 1996 alien invasion flick, and a cigar-chomping cameo might be more exciting than seeing him monopolize the plot.

The bigger question is why we need a sequel to it in the first place, but not in the typical insta-response way that decades-later sequels (and remakes) typically provoke. After all, you could look at Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and think, “Fine, there’s something new to say about greed in a post-Goldman Sachs era.” For ID Forever Part One (Part one!), it’s an exhausting prospect that we’ve got to fight the aliens again and save the planet again and escape that flaming traffic tunnel with the Labrador again. I hope you’ve all been training.

The issue here is a story problem of stakes. After rescuing the world from a massive invasion that’s destroyed several important buildings (including your country’s seat of power) and killed or displaced thousands (millions?), where do you go from there? You’ve reached the ceiling, imagined the worst case scenario. In a fantasy world, it would be fascinating to see a thoughtful, contemplative window into how communities on a local and global scale repair following a reality-shredding attack. Are we united in world peace? Have the bonds forged in war already broken down?

Give the sequel to Sean Durkin and see what he can do. With Roland Emmerich back in the world-destroying business, it already feels tiresome. Like winning the championship game and learning that you have to play again the next day, trophy in hand, against the team you just defeated.

And, yes, there are plenty of movies every year that use the impending end of our world as the token in the pot, but none of them (or hardly any) come with the baggage that ID 4Ever would. When Marvel superheroes save the world, they do it in drastically different ways – and it’s rare that they genuinely save the entire world. They save New York City or a tiny town in New Mexico or Tony Stark’s life. The implication is that if they let this evil through, there will (probably) be no stopping it, but it’s not like the planet would implode if The Mandarin had defeated Iron Man on that cargo barge. The danger is almost always (even in The Avengers) that a villain is on the precipice of being on the doorstep of battling for the world. Independence Day, by contrast, literally held the world in the balance. The movie’s climax was V-E Day, not the Battle of the Bulge.

Plus, with the guarantee that characters from the first ID will be returning, we know that the new movie’s events are happening within a reasonably truncated period of time. “Two decades after attacking Earth, the aliens are back, and this time they’ve got virus protection.”

The problem of making The Hobbit after The Lord of the Rings is illustrative here. For book fans, there was a natural progression from a fight for a mountain to the fight for the world, but for movie fans, we got it in reverse. Peter Jackson’s solution was to make this moment, this fight for one dwarfish city, have implications for the rise of Earth-chomping evil that we were already familiar with. Even then, the strain of the stakes is noticeable. You cannot fight for the whole world and then declare that there’s something else to do.

Don’t get me wrong. It would be radical to see Jeff Goldblum save the planet again, but watching the same world battle an alien threat (or something like it) again sounds like the ultimate Been There, Done That scenario. With or without Will Smith.

Should The Network threaten the planet again after the events of The World’s End? Should Leeloo Dallas Multipass have to fight the giant black orb again? Should we have to send another team to nuke an asteroid? Should Mars re-Attack?

Of course not. If your movie tried to blow up the Earth, it shouldn’t have a sequel.

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