Photo by Ray Tamarra
Artillery Row

Drop your weapons

Knives Out deserves a reprieve from the dread of bad sequels

Back in December 2019, while a bizarre mystery set in a Wuhan Province wet market began to unfold, a smart, edge-of-the-seats crime thriller came and went at our local cinema screens.

What could be gained from another outing for the warring Thrombey clan?

Knives Out starred Daniel Craig as private detective Benoit Blanc who, sporting a decidedly un-Bond-like tweed suit and pronounced Southern drawl, uncovered the murder of a family patriarch set in a Cluedo-style mansion in upstate Massachusetts. A sort of Gosford Park meets Murder on the Orient Express, it isn’t a film that everybody will recall seeing first time around, but since then this old-fashioned whodunnit, whose setting, plot and characterisation are on a par with some of Agatha Christie’s or Patricia Highsmith’s finest, has been winning over streaming audiences. It fully deserves its BAFTA and Academy Awards Best Original Screenplay nomination plus its $300m box office takings so far.

News therefore that a follow up, Knives Out 2, is already in the can and set to be released later this year comes as both a pleasant surprise and a slight feeling of dread.

After all, what could be gained from another outing for the eccentric Blanc or the warring Thrombey clan, last seen gazing collectively in horror at Ana de Armas’s maid Marta, who announces from the imposing first floor balcony that the family estate is all hers? “My House, My Rules, My Coffee” states the mug she cradles in the final denouement, confirmation of her new-found fortune after Blanc has absolved her from the dastardly deed. At least mama will escape deportation back to Mexico.

A cursory investigation into Hollywood’s sequel habit down the years, suggests director Rian Johnson would have been better advised to move on instead to an altogether different project, another Star Wars movie perhaps. Among the most misguided and critically derided rehashes of all time include those of bone fide classics Jaws, Grease, Speed and Titanic (just add the number 2 to each). Imagine Rydell High without Sandy and Danny, Sandra Bullock swapping the wheels of the bus for the helm of a cruise liner, or the audacity of launching a Titanic II exactly 100 years after the first one went down, then expecting it to survive the same glacier-strewn passage!

If the film has a satisfying ending, do audiences really need to hear further?

In the cheap seats of course, there are the barrel-scraping Big Momma and Cheaper by the Dozen franchises, not to mention the appalling Adam Sandler vehicle Grown Ups 2 in which gross toilet humour ensues after regular guy Lenny moves his family back to the old neighbourhood. (Sandler, it must be said, features in a lot of these types of sequels, even when he’s only on voiceover duties.) According to online reviews resource Rotten Tomatoes, the all-time worst rated sequel is 2004’s Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, directed by Bob Clark of Black Christmas and Porky’s II: The Next Day fame. In case you missed it, the film focuses on a team of mini-Oscar Wildes who end up thwarting, with hilarious dubbed one-liners, an evil media mogul played by Jon Voight, whose mission is to brainwash the world’s toddlers through their parents’ television screens. In this case, the consensus is that the veteran star of Deliverance and Midnight Cowboy should have read the script more closely or, as one disgruntled viewer complained: “Bad jokes still aren’t funny when coming from the mouths of babies.”

Sequels are hardly a new concept. Early attempts include The Singing Fool (a reprise of the first “talkie”), The Jazz Singer and Son of Kong, a vastly inferior cash-in of 1933’s now hallowed King Kong. Smaller budgets, hastily written scripts, ham-fisted directors, plus a distinct absence of stars seemed to be the common thread for most of these opportunistic remakes, yet on occasions the sequel has surpassed the original.

Take, for instance, the second ever outing for James Bond, 1963’s From Russia with Love. With Sean Connery now eased into the role of 007, it more than outclasses its relatively tame predecessor Dr No and, at the same time, truly set the Bond franchise in motion. Other praise-worthy screen returns include the heart-warming Toy Story and Paddington 2’s, while in the post-apocalyptic action genre both Terminators and Mad Max 2 were distinct improvements on their more workaday namesakes.

Of course, if the film is a stand-alone work of art with a satisfying ending that resolves all the questions posed at the beginning, do audiences really need to hear further from any of the characters involved? Attempts have been made for instance to resurrect the main protagonists from Casablanca with a Rick and Ilsa “lovechild” bringing new meaning to Bogart’s catchphrase “here’s looking at you, kid”, but you know that audiences aren’t going to fall for that.

Who wants to see the slain warriors from the Seven Samurai climb back onto their horses for another bloody battle, or Rosebud rescued from the flames in Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane? Just don’t mess with a good ending. Likewise, Sleepless in Seattle, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Withnail and I and Bridesmaids are all worthy classics of the modern era and, so far, have escaped the dreaded “S word”. Doesn’t the hugely enjoyable Knives Out deserve the same status?

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