Francis Ford Coppola is off the hook.
After 22 years, the visionary director can hold his head high again. The world has forgiven him for “The Godfather, Part III.”
That movie singlehandedly killed the second sequel, but the second sequel is back with a vengeance, so I can only assume that “The Godfather, Part III” can be taken off the shelf of ill-conceived movie ideas and placed in a locked crate never to be seen or thought of again.
I know that all is forgiven because this is shaping up to be the summer of the second sequel, the first of which, “Men in Black 3,” opens May 25. It will be followed later in the summer (June 8) by the animated film “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted,” and then by one of the most anticipated movies of the year — “The Dark Knight Rises,” which opens July 20.
Making a good sequel is child’s play compared to making a second sequel that anybody wants to see.
For instance, Coppola’s sequel to “The Godfather” was a masterpiece, and there are many people, Coppola included, who believe that the sequel was superior to the original. I disagree with that school of thought, and have even expressed as much to Coppola. Still, I acknowledge that the “Godfather” sequel is one of the greatest movies ever made.
Similarly, “The Road Warrior” was a better movie than “Mad Max,” “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” was light years better than “Star Trek” and “Mission: Impossible II” made more sense than the first “Mission: Impossible.” In fact, it would have been almost impossible for that sequel not to make more sense than the original.
Actually, now that I think of it, the “Mission: Impossible” franchise kept getting better until they finally got it right in the fourth installment, “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol.” But I think the bar was set so low with the first film that there was nowhere to go but up.
Why is it so much harder to get it right the third time, even when the second time went so well? To get an answer, we went to the man who learned the lesson in a most painful and public manner.
Coppola explained that a filmmaker usually has less money and less time the first time around. Nobody’s thinking about a franchise when you’re trying to get the first movie made. You’re just trying to come in under budget.
When that first film takes off at the box office, the studio sees easy money in a sequel, and it is willing to give a filmmaker a bigger budget and more time to make the second movie.
Coppola said he could point out 100 mistakes he made in “The Godfather,” but I challenge him to find even one. It is a perfect movie that taught me to always leave the gun, but take the cannoli.
As Coppola learned, a second sequel is not so easy.
You’ve already corrected all your mistakes, and realized all your fantasies in the first sequel. By the time you finish that movie, you’ve used up all your best ideas. Now, it’s a matter of trying to create magic where there is none. You have to start from scratch, and all you have going for you is a familiar title.
But that familiarity works against you. Audiences have higher expectations for second sequels. They know you made a lot of money on the last movie, and had a lot of time to make the second sequel, so you’re judged on a different scale.
Don’t believe me? Ask the Wachowski Brothers about the second “Matrix” sequel.
But it can be done. Not every sequel has to end up like “The Godfather, Part III” or “The Matrix Revolutions.”
Personally, I think the third “Transformers” was an improvement over the second, “Oceans 13” helped us forget “Oceans 12” and the upcoming “Men in Black 3” is a welcome return to a franchise that has been dormant for a decade.
That is the whole point of the second sequel. While they are made by the studio solely for financial reasons, filmmakers see them as a chance at redemption. Filmmakers either want you to forget the first sequel, or to re-live its glory.
“Men in Black 3” had its share of challenges. After 10 years, you can’t just put a pair of Ray-Bans on Will Smith and assume that people will buy tickets.
For a second sequel, you need to offer a reason to return to the theater, and director Barry Sonnenfeld used 3-D technology and time travel to entice movie-goers. He also has a great gimmick in Josh Brolin, who does a dead-on impression of Tommy Lee Jones as a young man.
If it all works, Francis Ford Coppola can rest easy.