Tuesday, May 9, 2017

CCC tackles the infamous Third Movie Curse

Jubilee: (walking out of "Return of the Jedi"): "I'm just saying 'Empire' is still the best. It's the most complex, the most sophisticated. Wasn't afraid to have a dark ending." 

Scott Summers: "Yeah but come on, if it wasn't for the first one you wouldn't have any of the rest of the movies." 

Jean Grey: "Well, at least we can all agree the third one's always the worst."
Photo/meme courtesy of the "sw tumblr posts" Twitter acount.

Since I recently -- and finally -- bought the Blu-ray of the third installment in the "X-Men: First Class" series ("X-Men: Apocalypse", which I enjoyed more than the one time I saw it in the theaters) and Spider-Man is now in his third cinematic incarnation, I'd say it's the perfect time to address the Third Movie Curse.

Yeah, young Jean Grey kinda has a point; the third movie of a trilogy or even a movie series is usually the weakest. But there are exceptions and even when No. 3 is great and stands the test of time, that one can pale in comparison to the previous films. (Thank you, Scott Summers!)

"Return of the Jedi" nicely wraps up the galactic civil war between the Rebel Alliance and Empire. The story pays off the revelation that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father, who is redeemed by sacrificing his life for his son.

I'm no "Jedi" or Ewok hater; the third "Star Wars" film is one great flick -- with exciting action sequences, clever one-liners, the great special effects we've come to expect from Industrial Light & Magic and two death scenes that pull at your heart strings. And just as important, it's fun.

But let's be honest: As fun and enjoyable as "Jedi" is (Grade: A-), it follows up "The Empire Strikes Back," which I still contend is the greatest sequel ever made. Some critics argue that that esteemed title should go to "The Godfather Part II," but from this critic's perspective, countless filmmakers, fans and critics cite "Empire" as the most powerful standard for delivering a sequel more so than the second "Godfather." And that's a persuasive argument to make.

Here's what's just as compelling about "The Empire Strikes Back": In addition to having the characters face tougher situations, complicating their lives and significantly increasing the drama, it's tough watching "Empire" without wanting to know how it pays off in -- you got it -- "Return of the Jedi."

As much as I love the "Lethal Weapon" series, No. 3 is the weakest of the four, despite the dynamic addition of Rene Russo. That's not to say "Lethal Weapon 3" is a bad movie, it's entertaining even after multiple viewings. (Grade: B-)

Put simply and in perspective, the other three installments are just that good. (For the record, Nos. 2 and 4 and are my favorites.)

Somewhat like "Jedi," "Lethal Weapon 3" goes for a few more laughs than the previous two and isn't as dark (for lack of a better word). Again, there's plenty of drama and the climax is filled with tension, but "Lethal Weapon 2" set the gold standard in an incredible set of films by genius director Richard Donner. The third one lacks that Certain Something that sets the others apart.

Then again, "Batman Forever" was a significant improvement from "Batman Returns" and provided a much needed jolt to the franchise.

That's not to say "Forever" doesn't have its problems: The Riddler's ridiculous brain box. 'Nuff said!

Sure, Jim Carrey's Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face chew up plenty of scenes with loud, over-the-top performances, but there's nothing wrong with having fun. Despite all the bright pop art atmosphere that director Joel Schumacher brings to Tim Burton's gloomy Gotham City and the now infamous Bat-nipples, "Batman Forever" is a good time at the movies. There's a reason I saw it three times in the theaters in 1995. (Grade: B+)

For me, "Forever" is the best of the 1989-1997 Burton-Schumacher series mostly because I can buy Val Kilmer's focused Bruce Wayne being the Caped Crusader outside of the suit more than Michael Keaton. Kilmer is cut while Keaton's body type simply doesn't strike fear in the hearts of criminals when his Wayne isn't wearing the Batman armor.

Don't get me wrong: I love me some Keaton as Batman. It's his inconsistent take on Bruce Wayne that leaves me shaking my head. (More on that in a few paragraphs!) 

Hearing him say "I'm Batman" still gives me fanboy goosebumps. Keaton's Batman voice set the standard for virtually every subsequent portrayal. Whether that was in live-action films or animation, most of the actors playing the Dark Knight have done their own take on Batman's growling voice.

The best? Kevin Conroy, from "Batman: The Animated Series" and "Justice League." There's a reason I call him the Batman Voice or simply the Voice -- and he's one of my definitive takes on the Dark Knight.

Back to Keaton's Bruce Wayne.

In the first "Batman," the billionaire is a disturbed brooder and in its sequel, "Batman Returns," aside from the first time he's onscreen, Wayne comes off as an airhead who gets flustered any time he interacts with or sees Michelle Pfeiffer's Selina Kyle. (But then again, can you blame him?!)

Also, Keaton's Batman borders on being a sociopath. I love the silent, imposing Dark Knight he plays, but the vengeful Dark Knight isn't "My" Batman. The take-no-prisoners approach to dispatching bad guys in the 1989 and 1992 films clearly is based on Frank Miller's take on the character.

Want more on the Third Movie Curse? Look for a 2007 throwback/flashback op-ed in which Cary's Comics Craze names the curse and addresses it within the context of reviewing "Spider-Man 3."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Keep checking Cary's Comics Craze for an op-ed on why Batman from Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS isn't the only viable way to write or portray the superhero.

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