Did you think we were going to go with “The Dark Knight?” No, that’s far too easy and really, it barely feels like a sequel to “Batman Begins” and it doesn’t entirely work as a follow up. “Batman Returns,” on the other hand, is an entirely different story.
Shedding the cumbersome cartoony settings and atmosphere that infected Tim Burton’s first “Batman” film, “Returns” tells a much darker story, focusing on the human nature of crime in Gotham City and the tragedy that can drive people to atrocities. Michelle Pfeifer and Danny DeVito both drive this point home beautifully, reflecting the tragedy that drove Bruce Wayne to fighting crime and the differences that drove their transformations into villains. Even better, the looming villain of the story is a businessman, controlling Catwoman and the Penguin as his pawns. Christopher Walken really delivers here and his plans are both wonderfully hammy and dramatically vile.
Plus, this movie is brutally, impressively dark. There’s not many films that have several plot points revolve around child murder, but this is one of them and the film is greatly improved because of it. It’s a masterful sequel that was followed up by a pair of awful follow-ups.
If action movies were all sent to a circle of hell, “Crank 2” would dominate lust. Jammed with as much over the top violence, ridiculous sexuality and rapid fire jokes as it can handle, it’s a movie that’s aiming to satisfy all of the basest instincts of the viewer.
Directors Neveldine/Taylor upped the ante from their first low budget action outing with a grander vision of cultural garbage and insanity, upping the intensity on every frame. Where the first movie opens with a lot of running and talking on cell phones, “Crank 2” has a gang member getting anally penetrated with a shotgun in the first four minutes. By no means is “Crank 2” cinema of the highest level, but this is movie making at its most consistently exciting, constantly creative and gloriously obscene best.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Let’s be serious. The first “Terminator” is a good, but not exceptional movie. There’s a lot of mysteries that aren’t really answered, the action is OK, and Sarah Connor is such a clear rip off of Ripley from “Alien” fame that it hurts. James Cameron decided he was going to change all of that.
“Terminator 2” is the greatest action movie of all time. The pace is relentless, the stunts are incredible and the story doesn’t talk down to anyone. This is sci-fi action at its very best and even the CGI, a fairly new integration to filmmaking at the time, is rarely topped even today.
The thing most people forget about is that there is some fairly impressive character development here as well. Schwarzenegger’s evolution from killing machine to something of a substitute father for John Connor brings tension to the inevitable climax and bonds the characters in unexpected ways. Plus there are few movies that have as many great Schwarzenegger one liners. It all adds up to making “Terminator 2” not only the best action movie ever, but a strong competitor for the best sequel ever.
The first “Spiderman” did a decent job introducing Peter Parker and his newfound powers as the web slinger, but it suffered from poor visual effects and some cheesy humor that was toned down in the later films. “Spiderman 2” put the problems with being the superhero front and center and is a far better film because of it.
Peter has to choose between having a normal life or being Spiderman and, for a time, he chooses a regular existence. Though there is no doubt he will put the costume back on, Tobey Maguire does a great job at distinguishing between the two Peter Parkers: the carefree one who doesn’t worry about stopping crime, and the tired, stressed one flying across Manhattan. The change is most apparent during a funny scene set to “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head.”
The film’s best sequence is an exquisite action piece on a New York City subway train. Dr. Octopus destroys the train’s brakes, so Spiderman is forced to slow the train to a halt with his webs, draining him of all his energy. It is a very human moment to see from a superhero, something that wasn’t shown very often in previous films of the genre.
Star Wars Episode IV: The Empire Stikes Back
“A New Hope” is one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time. It took the familiar story about a young nobody forced into a world much bigger than him and placed it in a setting filled with aliens, spaceships and the Force.
“The Empire Strikes Back” is even better. It is perfectly paced, very well acted and shot in a distinctively different way from the original.
The middle part of a trilogy is usually the bleakest, and “The Empire Strikes Back” is no different. Han is frozen, Luke loses his hand and the Rebels are routed out of their base on Hoth.
Darth Vader is given an expanded role in “The Empire Strikes Back,” and it shows through James Earl Jones’ excellent voice performance as the villain. The lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader might be the best of the franchise, and perfectly encapsulates Luke’s struggle about facing his fears or giving into them and falling to the dark side. There is real character development here, something clearly lacking in Episodes I-III.
Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan
The first film in the “Star Trek” franchise, subtitled “The Motion Picture,” was meant to be different from “Star Wars.” It was made in the vein of “2001: A Space Odyssey” as a mystical, slow-moving movie about the crew of the Enterprise trying to make contact with an alien destroying nearly everything in its path. Very little happens throughout the overly long movie, leading fans to derisively nickname it “The Motionless Picture.”
Three years later, “Star Trek II” was released, and it improved on nearly everything. Instead of being philosophical, “Star Trek II” was more of an action movie with a clear villain and better character interactions. The villain, Khan Noonien Singh, previously appeared on an episode of the original Star Trek TV series. Captain Kirk marooned him on a planet in that episode, and now Khan has come back to get his revenge.
The two space battles of the film are reminiscent of World War II submarine films, including an incredibly tense chase through a nebula. But it is the character development of Kirk that places the film as the best of the eleven movies in the franchise. The captain is faced with a no-win situation for the first time in his career, losing his best friend in the process. Though it features far more action than the first “Star Trek” film, “The Wrath of Khan” is also more introspective and emotional than “The Motion Picture.”