A Comparison of Sequels: MIB I & II vs. Terminator 1 & 2

“I’ll be back.” — The Terminator

I just finished watching MIB and MIB II this past week. Afterwards, I tried to figure out why the first was so engaging and entertaining, and why the latter left me flat. Both feature Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, doing the usual things they do with deadpan wit. Both had innovative aliens and SFX. Both have given our heroes a task to accomplish or else life on earth as we know it will end. In other words, there is something at stake.

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Screen grab. They look as bored as I was.

And yet, only the first seemed to really grab me. Why was this?

It honestly seemed like the actors were bored with their roles in the second story, and if they’re not into it why should I be? Could that possibly be?

I’m curious what the producers thought as they screened this when it first came out of the can. Many of the reviewers were not kind at all. One called it, “The most forced, joyless comedy ever.” Another called it, “Recycled garbage.” A third wrote, “At Best, it’s just a Lame Sequel to an Awesome Summer Movie.”

This review perhaps does the best job of capturing what may have been the film’s weakness:

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`Originality,’ is, almost by definition, a one-time thing. In 1997, the original `Men in Black’ struck a nerve with movie audiences by showing that even a big budget blockbuster, heavily loaded down with state-of-the-art, computer-generated special effects, could still manage to seem light on its feet. The makers of that film pulled off this feat of gravitational legerdemain by coming up with a concept and a script overflowing with creativity, wit, imagination and a cachet of `hipness’ to go along with its tone of anarchic playfulness.Well, five years have passed and we now have `

Men in Black II’ to confirm what most of us suspected all along: that works that rely on `uniqueness’ as their prime selling point are rarely ever able to duplicate their success a second time around.

Nevertheless, with that last thought in mind, what was it that made Terminator 2: Judgment Day so successful then? MIB II got a 6.6 audience rating, whereas Terminator 2, directed by James Cameron ( Titanic) received accolades and an 8.5 rating, even higher than the first.

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The Terminator films feature cyborgs who come from the future to kill John Connor, who will be a leader of the resistance in that future era. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the “star power” here in these films, much like Jones and Smith. But this sequel shuffles the deck and deals a different hand.

First, whereas Schwarzenegger is a deadly, terrifying adversary in the first — and a truly original concept — he comes back in the second with the mission of being John Connor’s bodyguard against a new, even more resilient and terrifying cyborg adversary. It’s the psychological confusion (for Connor and his mother) that adds a level of intrigue in this story, and the fact that the new enemy is also so seemingly invincible and unique.

It you go back to the beginning of this Terminator series, though, you can’t help but notice that The Terminator, also directed by James Cameron, was actually a very low budget film, barely over six million bucks. (Roughly the same as Iron Wil l, the Disney film shot here in Duluth that many here were extras in.) Worldwide gross for that first Terminator flick was 78 million. Clearly, by the time the sequel was produced, Cameron had established his cred and could be trusted with the 100 million dollar budget to turn this inventive sequel into something even more substantial. Worldwide gross: over a half billion.

The Point Is This : The word “Sequel” has unfortunately become a byword meaning “Inferior” when it comes to Hollywood pictures. James Cameron did not succeed here simply by having a bigger budget. MIB II had an ample budget as well. Rather, it was the manner in which he took the original story to a new level, something the MIB team failed to do.

What do you think?

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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