Inconsequential sequels sweep through cinemas

Images courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and Sony Pictures Releasing. And yes, I know the sizing is off but I seriously don’t care.

In an era of long-awaited sequels, remakes and “soft reboots” that roll into theaters decades after their corresponding media, Disney’s and Sony’s Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and Zombieland: Double Tap were the least long-awaited, releasing five and 10 years after their originals, respectively. These movies were dropped on Oct. 18, just before the annual box office slowdown around Halloween.

3/10 Maleficent: Mistress of Evil picks up a few years after Maleficent left off. Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), who has become the standing queen of the Moors and goddaughter to Maleficent (Angelina Jolie, who also produces), is proposed to by Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson), who is played by a different actor and hails from a different kingdom than Maleficent’s Prince Phillip, but is firmly implied to be the same character. Maleficent, who is feared by the people of Ulstead, is invited to a state dinner to celebrate the proposal, where Phillip’s wicked mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), implies that she will be a better mother figure to Aurora and wow, I don’t care. Holy crap, I do not care about this.

4/10 Zombieland: Double Tap picks up a few years after Zombieland left off. The original film’s family unit of nameless nomads, Tallahassee, Columbus, Wichita and Little Rock (Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) have taken up residence in the White House, finally having a place to stay long-term. Columbus proposes to Wichita, which freaks her out, and Tallahassee’s paternal bond has worn on Little Rock, so the sisters set out to – man, I just really don’t care. I can’t even begin to force myself to be interested in this.

After the lukewarm success of Maleficent in 2014 – it made $758.5 million on a budget that’s estimated to be as high as $263 million, which isn’t great. I don’t know, they probably made a killing on the toys – Disney was immediately formulating a sequel, but things didn’t really start spinning until Jolie started divorce proceedings from Brad Pitt in 2016.

The green light for Zombieland: Double Tap isn’t quite as clear cut. The cynic in me wants to point to star Emma Stone becoming an Oscar winner for her role in La La Land, which does coincide with the script’s reported completion in March 2017. The cast couldn’t be brought back together until January of this year.

Double Tap also has some strange narration issues. Columbus narrates, as he did the first film, but his narration is entirely in the past tense and I do not understand why. His retrospective knowledge is never used to enhance the story, we never come into his present as the narrator, he’s just always talking in the past tense and it drives me nuts.

Mistress of Evil is characterized by a distinct lack of clarity as to who the target audience is, specifically what viewers are supposed to be thinking of it as a sequel to, as well as the constant stimulation associated with a high-priced children’s cartoon. A narrator (Aline Mowat) condescendingly sets the stage for a film that doesn’t seem to be following up on either Sleeping Beauty or Maleficent itself. There’s less interest in any narrative continuity than there is in appropriating as many social justice themes as possible – the whole story is a debate about whether or not to go to war, Maleficent’s narrative of discovering her people is heavily queer coded and Ingrith is coded as a fascist, to the point of having a literal gas chamber for the fairies of the Moors – but as recent woke Disney films are wont to do, it incorporates all this without much rhyme or reason beyond “genocide bad.”

Double Tap is characterized by an attempt to reclaim the postmodernism that made the first film so iconic. In addition to its casual relationship with the fourth wall, Double Tap expands heavily on the original film’s tendencies to cut away from the group for creative zombie kills and, most notably, introduces a new group of characters, Nevada, Albuquerque and Flagstaff (Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch) as explicit funhouse mirror versions of the original leads. This postmodern streak doesn’t really go in a particular direction or have anything in particular to say, leaving a film that is much more disjointed than its predecessor, but that retains most of its charm.

The original Maleficent stands on its own peninsula of history. Disney was still experimenting with its line of Golden Age and Renaissance live-action remakes, and after Charlize Theron’s performance was met with such praise in Snow White and the Huntsman, Maleficent was to coalesce that trend into a tangible series – this would be a collection of remakes from the villains’ perspective, capitalizing on Disney villains’ own unique brand and appeal that’s weirdly separate from the rest of Disney media.

That never happened. Maleficent was followed up by an unimaginative remake of Cinderella, which became the blueprint for this live-action run. This left the original film as sort of a high-potential dead end, which lead directly into the narrative confusion of Mistress of Evil.

Zombieland also occupies a unique place in history that caused it to sort of close the door behind itself. It’s one of the last of the R-rated coming-of-age romance movies that were highly popular in the late ‘00s, sharing much of its DNA with films like Superbad and Adventureland – films that Stone and Eisenberg also starred in personally. These films were highly specific to millennial anxieties about sex and limited future prospects, and came out at the perfect moment in history to address those anxieties through raunchy comedy as we were just coming of age during this stretch of time.

Trying to address the same audience in the same way would be an interesting challenge, one that Zombieland: Double Tap isn’t really up for. At the same time, its portrayal of a humanity that’s gone through an apocalypse and hasn’t really collapsed, just taken some lumps and mostly continued to be human in a lot of the same ways, is sharply comforting in the face of the deepening climate crisis, a death that millennials also have a unique relationship with.

Lessons from the Screenplay published an interesting video earlier in the month about Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day and writer/director James Cameron’s outstanding jobs of correctly identifying what needed to be carried over from those films’ predecessors. I was going to try to apply this formula to Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and Zombieland: Double Tap, but again, I really don’t care. Neither film is worth that degree of thought. It’s just an interesting video about a much more interesting quartet of films that you should watch instead of either of these new movies.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter and Instagram and support it on Patreon. You can reach me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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