Published 2 years ago
, Updated February 15th, 2014 at 4:24 pm,
This is a list post.
10 Badass Characters Neutered by Their Sequels
Sequels are definitely a mixed bag in terms of quality, but one of their advantages is an audience’s immediate connection and empathy towards a familiar and (hopefully) beloved character. No one really cares what’s inside the Temple of Doom or where the Holy Grail is hidden, they just want to go on another adventure with Indiana Jones.
Our interest and investment in these characters and their worlds often percolates in the years (or sometimes decades) between installments, and the opportunity to revisit them is often greeted with unmatched fervor - which makes it enormously disappointing as you watch a film unfold and realize that while the character on the big screen may look and sound the way you remember, something is... missing.
Characters originally depicted as being total badasses are often hit hardest in this regard. The problem is easily diagnosed: They’ve lost their edge, and the qualities that made them such badasses initially have been severely diluted. Metaphorically speaking, they’ve been neutered.
10. Mad Max - Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome
You have to give the filmmakers credit for taking this franchise into unexplored territory and not just rehashing The Road Warrior. There are a lot of things in Beyond Thunderdome that are really good, but it would have been more enjoyable if it hadn’t been part of the Mad Max series. The problem is that this isn’t the same Max from the other films. He’s not really even all that mad - he’s more like "Slightly Perturbed Max."
Granted, a great deal of time has passed since we last saw Max, but no matter how much you rationalize or appreciate that change I still don’t think this version of the character is remotely as compelling. He’s just not as much fun to watch or root for.
9. The Terminator - Terminator 2 & 3
Make no mistake, I’m not saying Terminator 2 wasn’t effective, but when you get right down to it, an unstoppable killing machine basically becomes the robot equivalent of Lassie. Instead of watching Timmy’s back, it’s John Connor he’s loyally protecting. Both sequels have the Terminator switching sides to help the good guys and promising he won’t kill anyone but while Terminator 3 was busy copying the entire structure of Terminator 2, it forgot one important factor: the age of John Connor. It makes a HUGE difference.
There’s something endearing and sort of charming about a little boy teaching this machine morality and what it means to be human. While the Terminator was neutered as a character, it was done with good reason. In Terminator 3, Connor is a twenty-something and other than a few moments of nostalgia that are mostly played for laughs, there’s nothing to their relationship.
I’d argue that the neutered, good-guy version of the Terminator is completely unnecessary in T3. Not only is the dynamic between him and John completely different and unrewarding, he actually prevents Connor from having to man up and start fighting to protect himself and the ones he cares about. I’ve always thought a better version of T3 would have involved the T-X reprogramming the T-850 much earlier in the film and having him remain an adversary all the way to the end.
8. Han Solo - Return of the Jedi
It’s common knowledge that Harrison Ford wanted Han to die in Return of the Jedi. We're not here to argue whether or not that would have been a good decision creatively because that’s not what Ford cared about - he was just sick of Star Wars.
Sadly, it shows in the finished film. Ford’s heart is just not in it and Han’s trademark swagger and charisma have all but vanished. The blame doesn’t fall squarely on him, though. Han doesn’t do a single noteworthy thing for all of Jedi’s running time - he’s just there because Lucas knows fans want him to be.
They take our favorite scruffy nerf herder and turn him into a mopey sad sack who’s jealous of the attention Luke’s getting from Leia. Is this Star Wars or Dawson’s Creek? Where’s that sarcastic self-assurance? What happened to the witty one-liners? He’s not even a resourceful or valuable asset to the team - he spends the majority of the film getting rescued by other characters (and I’m not even counting Jabba’s palace).
The real Han Solo never came out of that carbonite.
7. Freddy Krueger - A Nightmare on Elm Street 2-6
Originally we were only going to include A Nightmare on Elm Street 4-6, but upon further examination it was clear that the elements that ultimately made Freddy more funny than scary were already present in the first sequel. The two things that did the most damage to Kruger’s character were the nightmare set-pieces that (while admittedly imaginative) became more silly than disturbing and his exponential use of terrible one-liners.
In the sequels they stop treating Krueger like a serious threat and more like some undead rock star that the audience paid good money to see play his greatest hits while eviscerating teenagers. The first film is as much about what we don’t see as what we do but the sequels became strictly about the payoff - everything was bigger, bloodier and more elaborate - and nothing was left to the imagination.
They’re guilty pleasure fun for sure, but Krueger stopped being the face of nightmares and became the face of video games, action figures, and comic books. He went from character to caricature and by the time they got to the sixth film, the series had all the subtlety of a Saturday morning cartoon.
6. Ellen Ripley - Alien: Resurrection
Yes, she’s a clone and technically not the same character from the first three films, but it's not incorrect to assume that she was brought back because everyone involved knew how much she meant to fans of the series. So there’s an important lesson to be learned here…
You can call a character Ripley and you can even have the same actress reprise the role - it doesn’t make it so. Sure, she can still handle a flame thrower and dispose of xenomorphs with impressive precision but you know what made Ripley so badass in Alien, Aliens, and Alien 3? The overwhelming odds she was up against. If there was one word to describe Ripley in the first three Alien films it would be "driven." You know what word describes her in Alien: Resurrection? Bored.
Ripley has nothing to fight for in this film. There’s nothing at stake for her. She grudgingly tags along with the other survivors and spends most of the film looking at everything going on around her with an arrogant indifference. When our main character isn’t scared or worried about what’s going on, why should the audience be?
Ripley might still be tough on the surface, but they effectively neutered (spayed?) all the aspects of the character that made her so completely badass. We go from her laying the smack down on an alien to watching her snuggle up with one? Pass.
5. Martin Riggs - Lethal Weapon 4
While Lethal Weapon 4 isn't the worst movie ever, we recognize that it only works by relying on the goodwill and nostalgia the audience has built up for its characters - not because it’s a particularly great film in its own right. Riggs is (or was) the title character of this franchise. In the first film he’s literally a lethal weapon - that’s how the movie got its name. Violent and unpredictable, Riggs was a bigger danger to himself than any of the bad guys he was taking on.
In the original version of Lethal Weapon 2, screenwriter Shane Black had Riggs die from his wounds after getting revenge on the man responsible for the death of his wife. He felt that ending was so important that when the studio decided to change it, Black left the project. As far as he was concerned, Riggs’ journey was complete and he knew there was nowhere left to take the character without completely altering what made him who he is.
Riggs &; Murtaugh are incredibly well-developed in those first two films and their oil & water personalities crackle against one another in a unique and entertaining way. In Lethal Weapon 4, Riggs has become so watered down that the two are basically interchangeable and everything that made this series so distinctive has all but evaporated.
4. The Predator - Alien Vs. Predator
There’s nothing worse than an event movie that makes false promises. When you call a film Alien Vs. Predator you expect to see the iconic characters from each of their respective franchises - but that’s not entirely what fanboys got when this Paul W.S. Anderson travesty hit theaters.
In this film the lean, mean, and quick-witted predators from Predator and Predator 2 have been replaced by lumbering and awkward creatures that look more like linebackers than hunters. Fine, so they’re young warriors in training who’ve gained their freshman fifteen and this is some sort of rite of passage - but that’s not really what fans signed up for is it?
AVP depicts the predators as being completely ineffective against the aliens until they locate their plasma casters - because if the Predator movies taught us anything it’s that these guys are useless without their guns…
Then there’s the climax of the film where the last surviving Predator teams up with our heroine (Sanaa Lathan) and they form an alliance so that they can - wait, what?! Since when do these guys show compassion? It’s not like Predator ended with the creature patting Dutch on the back and saying, “Mud? That’s ingenious dude! Good game. You win.”
Whatever reason exists to justify this characterization of the Predator, there’s no denying that it’s a severely neutered version of the character. The poster boldy proclaimed: "Whoever Wins, We Lose." No kidding.
3. Wolverine - X-Men Origins: Wolverine
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a completely wasted opportunity. Here was a story perfectly suited for the Wolverine that comic book fans would recognize: unhinged, unpredictable, and unleashed. Not that we were expecting a nonstop orgy of blood and guts flying at the screen, but the worst part of the movie is that this pre-X-Men version of Wolverine is actually softer than the way he’s portrayed in the first two X-Men films.
Somewhere deeply buried in this film is the idea that Wolverine and Sabretooth are cut from the same cloth - but while Sabretooth has embraced his animal instincts, Wolverine has learned to control them. Only, the movie never once makes that look like a struggle. There’s not a single moment where it looks like Wolverine might lose control and compromise his values. Even worse, we have no idea what it would look like if he did or why we should be scared of that.
While Wolverine is arguably the most popular character from the comics, he’s not a leading man - and the movies should never have gone to such great lengths to make him one. At least in the first two movies he had the mystique of an unknown past. In detailing that past so ineptly, what X-Men Origins: Wolverine really teaches us is that the X-Men’s biggest badass has a lot more bark than bite.
2. Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker - the Star Wars prequels
Our thoughts on including Anakin were that this wasn’t a fair comparison because these films depict him before he became the badass we loved to hate to in the original trilogy. However, let us try and explain why his inclusion is so unique and completely justifiable.
Unlike most of the other names on this list, Anakin’s characterization in these films is so downright awful that it actually has the power to affect future viewings of the original Star Wars trilogy. Some people can still watch episodes IV-VI the same way they did before 1999. But this writer is not one of them. It’s impossible for to look at Darth Vader now and not think that by demystifying one of the most badass characters in Star Wars mythology, they made him so much less interesting.
George Lucas turned the Empire’s most badass enforcer into a giant baby in a suit of armor. The prequels don’t add another layer to the original trilogy or enhance the viewing experience in any way. Vader doesn’t become a richer nemesis - I still just see that sulky Jedi crying “Wah! It’s not fair!”
It’s like the band geek from your high school who wound up being a successful lawyer or something. Yeah, he’s a hot shot now but you still remember when he ate his boogers and took his cousin to prom. So great, you can choke a guy without laying a hand on him and your voice is a lot more intimidating but guess what, Ani? Thanks to the prequels you’ll always be that boy I knew on Tatooine.
1. Batman/Bruce Wayne - Batman & Robin
Just look at that picture. Can you believe we went from one to the other in just four films? Batman started out as the last guy you’d ever want to meet in a dark alley and ended up some nut job covering his unmentionables in what looks like tin foil.
There’s no discernible difference between Clooney’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne and Batman (an absolutely fundamental aspect of the character). When Keaton says "I'm Batman" I still get chills. Clooney introduces himself like he’s your neighbor from across the hall: “Hey, what’s up? I’m Batman from 6C… can I borrow your sugar?”
Batman doesn’t need buckets of pathos to be effective, but oh baby did Schumacher take him to the other extreme. In Batman & Robin, he’s no longer a guy trying to work through the pain of his parents murder… he’s just some dude who loves throwing neon lights on all of his gadgets and making costume changes before the big third act battle.
Quite frankly I don’t think you’ll find a more dramatic example on this list than George Clooney's Batman. It was a long eight years before Christopher Nolan started taking the character seriously again, but most fans would agree that films like Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were worth the wait. And hey, I don't think we have to worry about any close-ups of cod pieces in Nolan's Batman 3. Some things you can never unsee.
What do you think?
So there you have it, 10 badass character neutered by their sequels. It's a very sad thing - but seems to be almost inevitable when a movie franchise is milked for too many sequels.
This is just our list... who would you put on yours?