Is there any modern trend as universally derided as the prequel?
There is a natural predilection for audiences to want more context for their favorite stories. However, what makes certain films classics is the fact that audiences can project their thoughts and experiences on blanks the film leaves them. Prequels oftentimes remove that layer of imagination that makes hits. Yet, there are many that used this storytelling technique to further detail their worlds and the central plights of the characters. Others use prequels as a blank slate to reboot.
The “Star Wars” series churns out movies once or twice a year. Prequels have been a big part of the series, from the initial prequel trilogy to “Rogue One,” which details the mission to steal the Death Star plans. This past weekend saw the opening of “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” which explores the missions of young Han Solo. Only time will tell if “Solo” ranks among the best movie prequels. Or maybe it could be other summer prequels that take the cake, such as “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again” which both moves forward and looks back (like “The Godfather Part II”). Either way, let’s take a look back at the top 10 prequels already released.
10. “Prometheus” (2012)
Ok, we all know this movie is far from perfect. Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien franchise was ambitious. Too ambitious in fact. It seeks to define how the aliens came to be. However, it bogs itself down in D-level philosophy that slows down the movie. Still, there’s an incredible amount of craft and skill present in certain set pieces. The art direction alone in the film is something to behold. Also, a pivotal birth scene involving Noomi Rapace stands as one of the most harrowing sequences of the decade. The movie falls short of achieving its goals (or even of being completely good). However, the glimpses of greatness the movie shows puts it far above the more schlocky cash grab prequels we typically see.
9. “Final Destination 5” (2011)
Who really wants to know that much more about the mythology of why teenagers get killed in creative ways? Not really anyone. Thankfully, “Final Destination 5” forgets trying to explain away the fun of the franchise. Instead, it ratchets up the fun and violence with some truly creative death filled sequences. The fact that it’s a prequel only comes up in a wholly creative and satisfying twist ending. The “Final Destination” franchise has never sought to reinvent the wheel. Instead, it succeeds precisely when it just tries to have fun spinning it.
8. “X-Men First Class” (2011)
Time travel continues to be a tricky proposition. This feels especially true for the X-Men franchise. While future installments only muddy the waters of the timeline, “X-Men First Class” has the most fun at being a prequel. The ‘60s set superhero installment fully exploits how interesting it would be to see young versions of some of our favorite X-Men. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender bring a great deal of humanity and depth to their incarnations of Professor Xavier and Magneto, respectively. It’s not easy to take on the role of iconic superhero characters and actually add depth to the characters. “X-Men First Class” excels at adding to the franchise, rather than create copious holes. It’s not the best of the series, but it’s a fun, interesting chapter in a truly hit or miss series.
7. “Star Trek” (2009)
An alternate timeline gives prequels the freedom to not have to drop hints at a beloved original. Few franchises have as much content as the “Star Trek” series. What began as a ‘60s sci-fi series spawned multiple rebooted series and films. When J.J. Abrams took on the property with 2010’s entry, he wanted a fresh slate. This allowed stars Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto to reimagine and reinvigorate the ultimate frenemy relationship – Captain Kirk and Spock. Films like this remind us how prequels can be opportunities to breathe new life into a series, rather than answer questions no one wanted answered.
6. “Batman Begins” (2005)
It takes a lot to revive a series after an entry like “Batman & Robin.” Luckily, director Christopher Nolan removes bat nipples from his series. It’s best known for 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” featuring an award-winning performance by Heath Ledger as The Joker. However, 2005’s initial outing sets the stage perfectly for the dark, serious take on the Caped Crusader. At this point, superhero movies were mass entertainment that seldom went into serious territory. Yet, “Batman Begins” delves not only into Bruce Wayne’s parents’ death but into the inherent darkness that makes him a vigilante. It reinvents a character people have known for decades and decades. Nolan commands a clear vision and he begins this exciting journey with this first entry.
5. “Fast Five” (2011)
It is a prequel, per se. “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” nearly ended the newly minted series. Yet, Universal returned to the core four from the original film and made “Fast & Furious,” a soulless shell of the original’s charm. In order to fit it into the series timeline, this installment, plus the next two films, would be prequels to “Tokyo Drift.” This becomes most clear in “Fast Five,” the Citizen Kane of the franchise. It crafts a tone not unlike a soap opera. Everything is turned to 11, but it knows it. Our original leads – Vin Diesel and Paul Walker – assemble an “Oceans 11” like crew of the best parts of the former films. We are introduced to The Rock, who breathes new life to the series. The final chase sequence, involving a hulking safe, is one for the ages. It’s everything an action prequel needs.
4. “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984)
Children need to be a little frightened. “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” inspired generations of nightmares. Scenes involving soups with eyeballs and hearts pulled out of chests caused audiences to shriek. It’s one of the films that prompted the MPAA to create the PG-13 rating. Following the success of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Spielberg takes a risk by exploring the earlier adventures of Indiana Jones. “Temple of Doom” is a weirder and campier version of the serialized blockbuster. Yet, it’s horror and whimsey (which led to strong critiques at the time) gives the film the personality it needs to stand the test of time. It’s final escape, featuring an exhilarating mine chase, solidify it as a strong adventure. Studio movies wish they were as weird as “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
3. “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” (1966)
The “Dollars Trilogy” contains some of the strongest, most unique westerns in modernist cinema. “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” marks the third installment in Sergio Leone’s trilogy. However, set during the Civil War, “The Good the Bad and the Ugly” serves as a prequel to the previous two films in the trilogy. Clint Eastwood perfectly embodies the lead role of Blondie (The Man with No Name). He personifies a mysticism that’s enthralling. He’s perfectly pitted against a standout Eli Wallach, known for his early career as a western villain. This western stands out due to director Sergio Leone’s pioneering filmmaking techniques. The cinematography, which mixes wide long shots and startling close-ups, pops off the screen in visceral fashion. Ennio Morricone cements his legacy with his landmark score for the film.
2. “Casino Royale” (2006)
What better way to introduce the world to a new Bond than to start over from the beginning? “Casino Royale” begins with a jolt as Bond completes his first kills and earns his status as a 00 operative. Right then, the audience becomes aware that this is a new, grittier Bond. The movie only gets better as it unfolds. “Casino Royale” stands out as one of the best Bonds of all-time particularly because it doesn’t feel like all the other Bonds. Daniel Craig unveils the hurt and pain behind Bond’s quips, charm and bravado. Eva Green also makes Vesper Lynd perhaps the best Bond girl of all time. She’s smart, emotionally intuitive and leads the audience down multiple surprises. The torture and peril inflicted in this movie feels more real and unsettling than anything the series has done before.
1. “The Godfather Part II” (1974)
“The Godfather Part II” is a little bit of everything. The film breaks into two parallel, yet diverging stories. We do get a continuation of the Corleone clan under Michael, as his business drags the family into further darkness. However, we also see the beginnings of the Corleone family through Vito’s immigrant journey. Coppola’s masterpiece became the first sequel to win Best Picture. Only “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” has done that since. However, no other franchise has two Best Picture wins to its name. “The Godfather” series stands as a marvel of filmmaking that tops every “Best Of…” list. While the original film possesses more iconic moments, “Part II” holds greater ambitions. It’s a true multigenerational epic.