The third entry in a film franchise can often be a real lull in the series that barely extends a reason for it to continue. However, there are more than a few examples of great Part Threes (or threequels, if you’ll allow the portmanteau) in cinema where they not only justify their existence but stand alone as great and entertaining films in their own right. Some of them are wrapping up trilogies (or impromptu trilogies), while others give the series a resurgence of energy and importance, but they all deliver the goods when people could have easily just gone on autopilot. As audiences prepare to see what type of movie “Star Trek Beyond” will be, here are the top ten best threequels in film.
While usually thought of as a hackneyed cliché from the ’70s and ’80s, the buddy cop film has actually been around a lot longer than that. Some trace its roots back to Kurosawa’s 1949 film “Stray Dog,” with early adopters being the politically charged “In The Heat of the Night” (1967) and the “I Spy” TV show in 1965. But it really grew legs with such films as “Hickey & Boggs” (1972), “Freebie and the Bean” (1974) and “48 Hrs.” (1982), each adding to the genre its own flair and nuance. (Please note: while the term is “buddy cop,” in this post the genre includes films with people that aren’t necessarily police officers; rather it’s just two, usually mismatched, partners joined together to solve a mystery.) So although it’s not as if famed filmmaker Shane Black invented the buddy cop film, for the past four decades, he has reinvented and reinvigorated an otherwise predictable and tired genre by using recurring tropes, witty banter and impressive action.
After “Die Hard,” “Lethal Weapon” is easily the most influential action film of the last 35 years. The spawn of homages and knockoffs that came after it is staggering, using Black’s template of the loose cannon and his straight-laced partner who engage in comic repartee while also delivering explosive violence. But many of the imitators that followed, including the “Lethal Weapon” films where Black isn’t involved (although he originally scripted the 1989 follow-up, it was heavily rewritten), missed that special mystery ingredient he brought to the first entry. “Lethal Weapon” is unique not just for its go-for-broke take on action, but also because it begins the type of story and archetypal characters that Black would revisit time and again over his career.
If you one of those guys who loves betting so much that you even lay money down on box office numbers, let’s hope you had week 2 of “Iron Man 3” beating week one of “The Great Gatsby.” Gatsby opened well with a $50.1 million debut, but Iran Man hung in there after a monster opening weekend to pull in another $72.5 million to win the box office last week. It’s nice to see movies live up to the hype, at least when it comes to ticket sales.
You have to give Marvel credit, as they strung together hit after hit across all of their characters. After “Avengers” I thought the third installment of of the Iron Man franchise could end up being a letdown like we’ve seen so many times in this genre, but Marvel is firing on all cylinders, and there’s something about the Tony Stark character created by Robert Downey, Jr. You see Iron Man merchandise everywhere, including slot machines at the Vegas casinos and even virtual slot machines at Betfair casino.
Next week things will get even more interesting as J.J. Abrams is back with “Star Trek Into Darkness” which has a great shot of winning the weekend. As for hype, Abrams is getting plenty of it. With Star Trek he’s already responsible for reviving one of the great science fiction franchises, and then next year he’ll tackle the big one with the Star Wars franchise. After George Lucas belly flopped with the three prequels, let’s hope Abrams is the right choice to take Luke, Han and the others on a worthwhile journey. At the very least the next Star Wars movie will probably be the easiest box office winner to predict. But in the meantime you’ll have to figure out if the Trekkies can rise to the occasion next week.
Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce
When it was announced that Jon Favreau would not return as director of the third “Iron Man” film, the producers surely fielded offers from every name director in town. So how did Shane Black land this gig, again? The guy hasn’t written or directed a feature film since 2005’s “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” and yet here he is, doing that Shane Black thing once again, only this time with superheroes, while trying his best to streamline his R-rated ways for a PG-13 audience. As it turns out, “Iron Man 3” works, but just barely, and it’s more in spite of Black’s influence than because of it. At the beginning of the second act, Black begins to get in his own way, and for anyone familiar with his work, it’s not long before a strong case of deja vu sets in. He even set the movie during the holiday season, just like “Lethal Weapon.” And “The Long Kiss Goodnight.”
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is not handling the events that took place in “The Avengers” well. He can’t sleep, he’s experiencing panic attacks, and he’s neglecting his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). The last thing he needs is a crisis, so of course he receives two, in the form of a think tank genius named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who’s trying to woo Pepper into funding some groundbreaking genetic research, and a stone-cold terrorist named The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) who has launched a series of unusual bombings across the country. Tony dares the Mandarin to take him on; the Mandarin responds by destroying his house. Tony Stark, one of the richest and most famous men in the world, is at rock bottom.
It’s not just the studios that get excited about the beginning of the summer movie season, but audiences as well, because the four-month period marks the release of some of the year’s most anticipated films, from action blockbusters to all-star comedies. This summer is particularly exciting, and it kicks off in May with the latest installments of some of Hollywood’s biggest franchises (“Iron Man,” “Star Trek,” “Fast & Furious” and “The Hangover”), as well as a few lower profile features with the potential to make a big impression.
“IRON MAN 3”
Who: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce What: When Tony Stark’s world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, Stark starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution. When: May 3rd Why: “Iron Man 2” may be one of the weaker films in Marvel’s Phase One, but it deserves some slack for shouldering a lot of the groundwork leading up to “The Avengers.” With that said, it’ll be nice to see Tony Stark in a more standalone adventure this time out, which is reportedly based on Warren Ellis’ well-received “Extremis” arc, ushering in a change of status quo for the Iron Man armor. The film also marks a change behind the camera as well, with Shane Black taking over for the departing Jon Favreau, although the trailers suggest that it’s business as usual. That’s great news for fans of the first two films, because with the addition of Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall and Ben Kingsley to the cast, “Iron Man 3” is shaping up to the best of the series.
Who: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, James Franco and Ray Liotta What: The true story of notorious contract killer Richard Kuklinski, from his early days in the mob until his arrest for the murder of more than 100 men. When: May 3rd Why: Millennium Entertainment doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to releasing small movies with big stars, but the cast of “The Iceman” is almost too good to ignore. Michael Shannon tends to deliver his best work in these types of indie films, while Winona Ryder proved in “Black Swan” that she’s still capable of turning in a good performance with the right material. And it wouldn’t be a crime movie without Ray Liotta popping up at some point, so director Ariel Vromen has that box checked as well. Though most people have probably never even heard of Richard Kuklinski or his true life story, sometimes those ones are the best.