5. Men in Black
The next two entries are going to be rolling in a similar vein. A high-concept sci-fi movie that makes gonzo bucks that leads to a too-little-too-late sequel that seemingly burns down any goodwill for the series, which then leads to a third entry that was seemingly decent enough that we kind of just don’t talk about anymore. “Men in Black” just doesn’t have the same cultural cache as the next entry. But it’s still pretty popular.
The first one is a 90’s sci-fi classic. Funny and unique as hell, it was something special. The second one really was not. I’m sure it’s got some fans in the world, but for the most part, people don’t like it. It’s a more broad and silly affair. It’s just too much and feels forced.
“Men in Black 3” is a better movie, but it also feels like it doesn’t completely right the ship. The balance is not back. It is barely talked about these days and it’s because it’s just fine. Can’t muster much energy in either direction for it. Which is so odd that they’ve never been able to recapture that energy. It’s got a great hook and one that should be able to fuel many adventures.
Then again, it probably does make sense since Will Smith became the biggest star in the world and changed what these movies are. They became starring vehicles instead of a buddy movie dealing with aliens. A new one is in the works with a whole new crew, headed by Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson. It’s got a good shot of measuring up, since it won’t be hindered by Smith’s massive ego and paycheck.
Similar to “Men in Black,” although it never hit the same lows that “Men in Black” did. Its high is much higher too, since that first movie is iconic. The ‘no ghost’ logo is one of the most instantly recognizable logos in the world, even 30-plus years later. The first one is lightning in a bottle perfect. For pretty much the entire crew of the movie, it’s the best thing they’ve done (maybe not Dan Aykroyd, who has “The Blues Brothers”).
The sequel didn’t measure up, but it’s not as bad as some 80’s babies would want you to believe. It’s a fun movie that just couldn’t hit the same improvisational highs of the first one. The clashing of these personalities, mainly Bill Murray, caused a lot of friction that stopped it from being as good as it could have been. It also prevented any possibilities of a third outing with the OG crew.
Which led to a reboot that crafts a whole new continuity. Even though the surviving crew all make cameos, the third one is just a bizarre affair. Way too broad and unfocused to ever really take off. It also never really justifies its own existence. Why not set it in the same world? There’s no need to start over again. Especially if the original crew is gonna cameo, why not just cameo as their old roles? It misses the mark on why the original works in a big way.
There was a sense of direction to the whole thing. Even if ultimately there was a lot of improv, there was someone guiding the madness. The plot of it is decent enough and never overtakes everything. You get to spend a lot of time with these guys before the shit hits the fan. Each member also feels distinct, unlike the reboot which basically has three Ray Stantz’ and one actually unique character (Kate McKinnon rules). It feels rickety and blue collar.
And the riffing. Holy crap, the whole movie just feels like uninspired riffs. Why can’t anyone make these movies work? The property is rich with potential. The video game with the original crew was great. The current run of comics is amazing. It can be done. But nobody really wants to do it right, they just want to do it quick.
For a long time, this series was one of the most interesting around. Each entry would be helmed by someone else, giving each entry a distinct feel. You never feel a sense of repetition wash over them. Even if “Resurrection” sucks, it’s not a rehash. But once they got co-opted by Fox to just milk money out of the box office with the dreadful ‘AvP’ movies, the interest was gone. Nothing special existed in them anymore.
Ridley Scott coming back to make something in that world again sparked some interest that the franchise may return to past glories, but it never did. “Prometheus” was a horrid movie filled with gorgeous production design and cinematography, but was propped up by a truly exemplary example of bad screenwriting. Doesn’t help that it feels like nobody involved with the movie has any idea what the Alien movies are.
“Covenant” doesn’t help matters much, as it’s also stupid as hell and also just as amnesia-riddled with regards to the series mythology as “Prometheus.” It’s just a lot meaner and more blood-soaked so it’s a little more rewatchable.
But the series has completely gone off the rails. Seeing as how the xenomorph is just an empty monster that you really can’t make interesting, further adventures that keep shoehorning this dickfaced monster into your story is only gonna hinder your narrative.
The original is a stone-cold classic. One of the best in the genre. It’s a simple movie that has hidden depths to it. “Aliens” is close enough to the same level that it has its proponents as the best of the bunch. But it also has a simplicity to it that helps greatly. At this point, it seems likely that the series is dead as Disney is going to buy Fox, and it’s doubtful that this shining example of diminishing returns is going to be a priority for them. Good.
2. Die Hard
“Die Hard” is the greatest action movie ever. Plenty of movies have had narratives about a regular guy thrust into an irregular situation, but never before has the guy at the center of the narrative felt so truly like a regular guy. Putting the action in one static locale was a great boon too, as it forced McTiernan to up his game. The action is on point. It’s brilliant conceived and executed. The writing is on point too, as it all centers around a pretty ingenious heist, but is also bolstered by the thematic work of John McClane having to overcome his selfish dickheaded ways and learn to support his wife. It’s perfect.
Sequels should have never happened. It lessens the impact of this regular schmo being in the wrong place at the wrong time. “Die Hard 2” is fun but it never justifies itself, being just a pale imitator of the original. “Die Hard with a Vengeance” does actually manage to justify its existence by tying it back to the original so it doesn’t feel like a whole new bad situation as so much as a continuation of that bad day. It’s a great movie too.
Way to long later, “Live Free or Die Hard” happens and it’s fine. But it also is the clearest sign that those at the helm of these things have lost the thread. McClane is no longer a regular guy who has to be rousted out of bed after an epic bender to fight crime. Now he’s a superhero who launches cars at helicopters and fighter jets with his bare hands. It’s a decent PG-13 action movie, but is so very much not a Die Hard movie.
Thankfully they never made a fifth one, as it would have been a legendarily bad idea as it would be doubtful that anyone learned their lessons and brought McClane back to Earth. There’s plans of a new one, though, that works half as a sequel, half as a prequel that jumps back and forth through time with a McClane, who is an old as hell sleepy Bruce and pre-Nakatomi McClane. It’s to be helmed by the man who helmed “Live Free.” So again, the lessons may not have been learned.
This franchise that should never have been had some time with sequels that were at least fun to watch. Now they’re in a period that showcases why the original was a one-and-done story.
Hellraiser is an 80’s gore classic. Clive Barker’s only good movie as a director, it’s an adaptation of a short story of his that works like gangbusters. It’s an instantly iconic work of horror. Pinhead is an icon.
“Hellraiser 2” is also great, as it deepens the mythology and further explores this world. Barker may not have directed it, but his name is still on it so he was involved in some capacity. So the first two are great. The first film is the best, but you can’t go wrong with the first two. They immediately shat the bed afterwards and kept falling deeper into the muck as they went along, becoming DTV punchlines. They’ve lost the thread.
It’s immensely embarrassing to watch anything after 2. They are all cheap, half-baked nonsense movies made just so the shithead Weinsteins could keep the rights and make a quick buck. There’s been rumblings for years now that Barker himself would helm a reboot of some sort, but nothing’s come of that.
Now that the Weinsteins have fallen so immensely, maybe the rights can fall back to someone who would want to do something interesting with it. Actually make a real movie for once. Even if it isn’t with Barker (which, why not get him involved in some way?), there’s plenty of great horror filmmakers out there who can do wonders with this material.