While I love the Toy Story trilogy and have great trust in John Lasseter and the actors Tom Hanks and Tim Allen as guardians of the franchise, the news that a fourth installment of the Toy Story saga is in the works is somewhat worrying. There have been too many near perfect trilogies ruined by the addition of an unnecessary and poorly thought out fourth film. While I find the news incredibly exciting, especially coming from the generation that grew up with the first two movies, the question is why. Does Toy Story really need a fourth movie, or is the franchise overstretching itself in the quest for more cash? And if you need some reminding, here is some food for thought about what a fourth or more movies can do to the integrity of your trilogy.
6. Lethal Weapon
This is one of the most quintessential buddy cop movies of the 1980s, starring Mel Gibson as the loose cannon and Danny Glover as his level-headed, family man partner. As the series progressed, the unstable and angry Riggs inevitably became a part of Murtaugh’s loving family, mellowing him out and preparing him to enter family life himself. The third movie ended with the reckless Riggs and his equally courageous cop girlfriend getting serious. This should have been the end of it, leaving it to our ample imaginations as to the life that Riggs and Laurna would make for themselves. After all, its an old story with a pretty predictable outcome. But instead we get a fourth movie that lets us know that Laurna gets pregnant, Riggs passes his prime, Murtaugh’s children grow up, and that everyone grows up, gets married, and has babies. What an obvious bore.
5. Indiana Jones
Indiana Jones is the character that made us all want to be archeologists, even though most of practical archeology involves very slowly digging things up and almost no supernatural adventuring. And despite the middling Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones makes for one fun romp after another through ancient ruins, booby trapped caverns, romantic European cities (ah, Venice), and fabulous chase scenes. And unlike some movies, it was even better when the family got involved – especially if your dad happens to be played by Sean Connery. And even though we know better by now, we had such high hopes for the fourth installment, wanted so badly to relive the joy we took in the original adventures with a new and exciting tale. But the Cold War is not a super exciting time in history – in fact it’s kind of the antithesis of exciting. Sure, there’s plenty of tension and anxiety, and complex political intrigue, and the constant threat of nuclear war – but leave that for your taut, slow moving spy thrillers. And then there were the aliens. Some people don’t have a problem with this compared with the arguably mythical elements of Indy’s religious artifacts. I, however, do take issue, because aliens are at most theoretical and at worst fictional, and have no historical connection to mythological objects like the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail do. The supernatural events portrayed in the original trilogy have their basis steeped in historical myth – the genetic memory of which we can feel in our bones. This alien nonsense, on the other hand, is contrived and forced and completely out of place because it has no basis in historical myth – it’s just made up. And then there was Shia LaBoeuf.
4. Die Hard
I am absolutely not going to argue that the third movie wasn’t hugely flawed. It was – but it also had Samuel L. Jackson in it as a New York City taxi driver named Zeus, which trumps all other arguments. Who doesn’t love to see Bruce Willis scramble through air ducts and construction sites, saving airplanes and trading banter with Sam Jackson – but there’s a limit. There comes a time when the same tropes don’t work anymore, when an era has turned a corner and the same routines seem aged and trite. Enter Die Hard 4, and following that, Die Hard 5. They tried really hard to bring the franchise into the digital age, but they spent more and more money on explosions and less and less money on script. When McClane’s catch phrase is the protest that “I’m on vacation,” you know they’re running out of ideas. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as “Yippee-ki-yay Motherfucker,” now does it? And when they overdub the phrase into a scene of Willis diving from another pointless explosion, you know they’re desperately looking for a way to punch the movie up.
3. Pirates of the Caribbean
Okay, so Pirates maybe wasn’t a perfect trilogy. In fact, most of us would have been happy if they had made only the first, frankly fantastic, movie and left it at that. However, comparatively speaking – comparative to, say the fourth afterthought and the upcoming fifth desperate money grab – the trilogy isn’t all that bad. We could forgive Johnny Depp for doing the sequels, because we believed him when he said he just loved the character of Jack Sparrow so much. His performance, like most of his previous, underrated performances, is inspired and genuinely entertaining. We love seeing Depp as Jack Sparrow and he loves being Jack Sparrow. But then came the fame, and along with it came the money, and inevitably tied to that comes the mediocre movie deals. It’s pretty obvious by now that Pirates has turned Depp into a sellout, and one who just does variations on a very specific, worn out theme.
2. Star Wars
This is a kettle of big, disappointing, resentful fish we’re about to approach. Despite the weak, Ewok heavy Return of the Jedi, the original Star Wars movies are about as close as you can come to a perfect trilogy. If nothing else, it brought us the perfect sequel in the form of The Empire Strikes Back. While I love Star Wars, I have a complicated relationship with its black and white simplicity compared with the morally ambiguous complexities of Star Trek. But then again, those dynamics of good and evil are what makes the trilogy so joyous and affecting. Reenter George Lucas with a set of incomprehensible, boring, outlandish, and campy prequels and the simple joy is lost. Everything is mired in politics, and what isn’t is mired in fantasy. Take Han and Leia’s love story versus Padme and Anakin. Han and Leia are real people, who interact in a normal way like real people do. Padme and Anakin behave like soap opera characters, spouting dialogue that even sounds bad in melodrama. These are not remotely the only issues I have with the prequels. And now they’re making a whole trilogy of sequels to the original saga. There’s a lot of hype, but based on the people who are involved (as well as the people who notably aren’t), there’s reason to hope for good things. Two thirds of a good movie series isn’t bad.
1. Back to the Future
Back to the Future is a perfect trilogy. The powers that be have been trying to make a fourth sequel for years, but thankfully, the people who made the movies know it’s a perfect trilogy and are adamant that it remains that way. What more could you possibly do or say that hasn’t already been covered? What part of Marty and Doc’s relationship hasn’t already been explored? What would you even do with a sequel? Go to the past? Nope, done that. Go to the future? Nope, done that. Maybe explore the complexities of time travel, alternate timelines, and paradoxes. Nope, part two does that. Maybe make it so that Marty and Doc affect each other’s lives irrevocably. Well, Doc’s already known Marty for 30 years, and Marty turns his future around thanks to Doc, not much more to do there. More than most trilogies, Back to the Future works on multiple levels as whole, complete story, exploring every edge of simple time travel principles and character dynamics. Let us hope it remains that way.