Recently I watched Maze Runner: Scorch Trials and it was obvious throughout the film that it was just made to shift characters from one point to another; most modern YA novels/films need to be trilogies so James Dashner needed something in the middle of the maze and the final battle. It’s a series of battles forcing Thomas and his friends from position to position, picking up new teammates along the way. This is an example, I feel, of a very poor middle film. Now, don’t get me wrong; Scorch Trials was an okay film (although it is easily the weakest of the trilogy), and I wasn’t bored while watching it, but it is a waste of a film when it serves only to move characters from their end of first film/book location to where they need to be for the beginning of the third. It’s not the worst style of middle film; that accolade goes to those which repeat the first (here’s thinking of you, Hangover Part II), but in action/adventure films you want the second film to build on your main character (which should have been introduced in film one as nothing special) to the point where he can legitimately take down the villain, while building up the villain to appear as if they’re untouchable. Scorch Trials slightly built up Thomas as more of a leader, and the villains he was up against sure felt stronger than he by attacking at every turn, but by the beginning of The Death Cure I didn’t feel as if Thomas had improved that much as a soldier/leader/character since the ending of The Maze Runner. If you watch The Maze Runner then skip to The Death Cure, aside from a few new and missing characters (which can be solved with a scrolling piece of information), you wouldn’t feel like you’ve missed over two hours worth of storytelling. And that got me thinking about all the poor middle-of-trilogy films and how, I must admit, it can be really tricky to make one good. The first film introduces everything and the final one concludes everything, how can a film possible not involve either of those things yet still be a good film? Well, believe it or not, not only has there been many decent middle-of-trilogy films, but, when done right, they can easily be the best of the series. And, today, I’m going to discuss five of the best middle-of-trilogy films, which also just so happened to be the series stealers.
Note: films with more than three films in their series are excluded from this list, with Star Wars being the only exception (as those films are traditionally released in trilogies).
And speaking of Star Wars, the first ever sequel was The Empire Strikes Back, which concluded on from A New Hope, and it was a masterpiece. It’s not the earliest film on this list, but it really showed the world what could be achieved in a part two. Between the grand reveal of Luke’s father, Darth Vader improving as a villain, Luke improving as a hero, the tragic cliff-hanger ending and the amazing action sequences in-between, this film outplayed its predecessor and was light years ahead of its successor.
While whether or not this film series was ever supposed to be a trilogy is still up for debate, what is not debateable is just how good The Godfather: Part II is. It was the first ever sequel to pick up the Oscar for Best Picture (a feat only achieved once since) and that would have solidified Part II as better than Part I in almost every film . . . except The Godfather also won Best Picture at the Oscars. Personally I don’t like Part II as much (mainly because most of it is spoken in Italian without any subtitles) but that is irrelevant, as it is still a fantastically acted and directed film, much like the first. It really set the standard on what a sequel could be.
- Back to the Future: Part II
Comedies can get on board with this sequel trend, too, as proven by 1989’s Back to the Future: Part II. Once again seeing Marty and Doc Brown travelling in their time-travelling car, this time they visit the future before being forced back into the past. Not only is it every bit as good as the first one but it also shows us footage of the first one with a new story attached to it. This, as with the Godfather films, is very subjective as to which is the best in the series, with Back to the Future a favourite among many fans, but I tend to side with Part II, partly because we visit a past and a future and there’s not a need to set things up at the start. It’s just a shame Part III was such a letdown.
- The Dark Knight
Joel Schumacher tried his best to destroy the Batman films, starting with Batman Forever before sticking the final nail in with Batman and Robin, only for Christopher Nolan to resurrect it some years later. Taking away all the campiness that Schumacher had added, Nolan’s Batman, with Christian Bale wearing the suit, was a much darker, more realistic version of what the films should always have been. And while Batman Begins was a very good film, it was blown away by The Dark Knight. The acting, the villains (what Batman film featuring the Joker wouldn’t steal the trilogy), the writing and the directing were all improved and The Dark Knight even became one of the few superhero movies to be noticed by the Oscars, even picking up a major Oscar in Best Supporting Actor (awarded posthumously to Heath Ledger). The Dark Knight Rises was a fine sequel, but its enjoyment was effected by having to follow such a brilliant film.
- Toy Story 2
Toy Story was a smash hit almost instantly upon its release and it’s no surprise that it got a sequel; what was surprising, though, was just how good the sequel was. No longer were our friends fighting amongst themselves, now we had actual villains involved (although there was still some in-fighting). The characters added to the series were all very well written, too, and blended perfectly well with the world that had been established in Toy Story. At the moment, there are only three Toy Story films so it counts, although I know more is in the works. Whether it’s better than Toy Story is up for debate, as are a lot of the entries on this list, but I grew up more with Toy Story 2 so it holds a more special place in my heart and, thus, I prefer it.
I know there are many, many great middle-of-trilogy films I’ve missed out on with this list. Keeping it down to just five was tricky. But what’s your favourite middle-of-trilogy film? Write it in the comments below. 🙂