“You wanted me back… I’m back!” Indeed we did, Mr Wick. By all accounts, Keanu Reeves’s third John Wick adventure is every bit as insanely entertaining as the first two. In this, he has achieved something truly rare and exotic – a Part III that isn’t a godawful disaster.
Number three is usually where the wheels fall off a movie franchise sending it veering over a cliff. Think of Superman III, Jaws 3-D, Smokey and The Bandit Part 3, Beverly Hills Cop III. Then there’s Blade Trinity, Spider-Man 3 and X-Men: The Last Stand, after which the series had to actually go back in time to recover itself. The most notoriously disappointing threequel is probably The Godfather Part III which put the mark of Cain on the words “Part III” for over 25 years.
And yet, every now and then, like John Wick Chapter 3, the stars realign and they manage to catch the lightening twice in the same bottle. Sometimes, though very, very rarely, the second sequel even ends up being the best one of the bunch. So tipping the hat to Keanu Reeves, here’s a list of six examples of when it was three times lucky.
Mission: Impossible III
This was a difficult film to appreciate objectively when it came out in 2006 as it coincided with the phase when Tom Cruise appeared to have padlocked his publicist in a cellar and went out off bouncing on couches and being generally very silly. It underperformed at the box office and died a bit of a death.
Thirteen years on though, most people agree that J.J. Abrams’s directorial debut was an infinitely better movie than Mission: Impossible 2 (though it was roundly outclassed last year by Fallout). It’s actually a brilliantly demented film full of great set pieces like the drone attack on the Florida Keys bridge, and it contains the best Tom Cruise running scene since The Firm.
It’s studded with a great cast, including Simon Pegg making his IMF debut, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, his freshly acquired Oscar in his back pocket, as a superb villain. The torture scene where Ethan Hunt lowers him out of a plane, is one of the great power-play scenes, where the power shifts completely from one character to the other.
Iron Man Three
We all know how important Iron Man was to the success of the MCU, and how much fun his debut was, but the second film was all over the place. Over-stuffed, thrashing about and going nowhere, it was a rare Marvel misfire. Iron Man Three benefited not just from having a writer as gifted as Shane Black calling the shots, but from coming straight after Avengers Assemble.
This was Iron Man’s post-Avengers encore. It was relentless, muscular and tight as a drum, yet mischievous and playful, with sublime little touches confidently sprinkled over it like fairy dust. The ‘Trevor Reveal’, shall we call it, was the ballsiest move Marvel made up until the last ten minutes of Infinity War (which is itself, technically a Chapter 3). I thought it was pure genius, though some people were as mad as Peter Finch about it and still are. If you’re one of them, you might wish to swap this with Thor: Ragnarok, which was also every inch a five-star Number 3.
Exorcist II The Heretic remains the most inept sequel of all time. Rarely has a follow-up so singularly failed to recapture the essence of its predecessor. Its total non-adherence to the masterpiece that came before it is almost admirable. Twelve years later, no one was really expecting much from Exorcist III, but this was a genuinely worthy sequel which wisely pretended that the second film had never been made.
The writer William Peter Blatty, who directed this time, realised how much sound design played a part in the success of the first film. Exorcist III sounds evil. The murder of the priest in the confession booth still gives me the creeps. The brilliant, lengthy monologues by the demonic Brad Dourif are masterful and then there’s that scene. The two minute static shot of a hospital corridor that pulls your tolerance for suspense to its absolute limit before pulling your heart out with a camera zoom that no one who has seen it will ever forget.
Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade
Temple of Doom has its fans and there is a huge amount to admire in the second of the four Indy movies. Despite it being the most violent, the darkest and the goriest of the quartet, paradoxically Temple of Doom is actually the only one that’s a kids movie. Not just because of Short Round and all the captured children down the mines; the characters are a bit cartoony, shallow and one-dimensional – stand up, Willie Scott.
In Raiders, everyone was a grown-up, hard-bitten 1930s character straight out of a John Huston film, falling in love and getting drunk when things don’t go their way. Last Crusade returned the maturity and intelligence to the franchise that the second film did away with. The relationship between Indy and his father was touching, utterly believable and yielded the kind of dialogue that Temple of Doom would have killed for. “I’m as human as the next man.” “Dad, I was the next man!”
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
Here’s a sequence you rarely see in a film series. Good, Better, Best. Sergio Leone’s Dollars Films are like The Godfather trilogy turned on its head. A Fistful of Dollars was a game changer, introducing Clint Eastwood’s iconic Man With No Name to the world. For A Few Dollars More was more assured, better developed and more confidant. The Good The Bad & The Ugly, though, is the masterpiece. It’s the Western on an operatic scale that no one had seen before and which still leaves you breathless today: sidenote, Blu-ray was invented to better enjoy films like The Good The Bad and The Ugly.
Leone was buoyed by the huge success of the first two films and rather than struggling to try and make another audience-pleasing facsimile, he took the hinges off his imagination and let rip. For so many people The Good The Bad & The Ugly is the first “grown-up” film they fell in love with. It showed a lot of us what cinema could be.
Toy Story 3
I’m calling this as the best of the three Toy Stories but only by the skin of its teeth, since all three are modern masterpieces. This is an absolutely perfect trilogy and how many of those do you know? Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colours? The Lord of The Rings? Well, neither of those had Timothy Dalton voicing a toy hedgehog called Mr Pricklepants. The furnace scene, where they all hold hands…I think I actually blacked out. Then we had to try and fail to get through Andy’s goodbye scene without blubbing. It was such a note-perfect way to end a three-part story that this summer’s Toy Story 4 might just be the riskiest roll of the dice since Kingdom of The Crystal Skull. (The trailer, at least, suggests that such terrible fears are unfounded.)
Those are my six. Now, which ones did I miss?