The Geekiary turns 6 this year, and to celebrate we’re highlighting some of our favorite things. For Day Two, we’re taking a look at two sequels that blow the originals out of the water- Mad Max: Fury Road and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
The older a movie is, the harder it is to do a good sequel. Audiences are attached to classic films emotionally as well as intellectually, which sets the bar unreasonably high. Sequels are required to be innovative enough to interest new fans while keeping the feel of the original movie. Sometimes it seems like there’s no way to bridge that gap, no way to try new things without cheesing off legions of angry fans.
And then there’s Mad Max: Fury Road.
There was some sexist backlash around the movie’s release back in 2015, but aside from that both critics and audiences loved Fury Road. It was the second highest-grossing film of 2015 for Warner Brothers Entertainment and held the number one spot on Rotten Tomatoes that year. It’s still #7 on Rotten Tomatoes’ Top 100 Movies Of All Time.
Every Mad Max movie has been at least positively received by critics, but Fury Road is the first to have earned Academy Awards (six wins out of ten nominations). More importantly, it’s one of very few sequels ever to have been nominated for Best Picture. (If the dispute between George Miller and Warner Brothers keeps burning, it may be the only one we get for a while, too.)
So what makes Mad Max: Fury Road one of the two best sequels of all time? It comes down to two things:
Overall quality: Fury Road is so stunning in every way it’s hard to know what to talk about first. The visual effects grab you from the first scene, sweeping you along for the entire 120 minute runtime. There’s no “bathroom scene” where viewers can sneak out without missing something important. Virtually every cast member big and small turns in an Oscar-worthy performance. Composer Junkie XL’s musical score so perfectly captures the Mad Max tone that it was used to inspire actors when they came in for audio touch-ups. It makes combining ridiculous theatrics (THAT FLAMING GUITAR) and up-close realism look easy when it’s actually one of the hardest feats for a director to pull off. Even the sound effects are flawless -very important in a film where the title character speaks so little.
Fury Road isn’t just a great sequel- it’s an amazing movie in its own right. It pushes the story forward in a way that appeals to new and old audiences
Representation: Mad Max made a lot of money and a lasting mark on pop culture, but it wasn’t exactly great at representation. It was made in the late 70’s in Australia. There weren’t a lot of great female characters- really, any kind of female characters- and they were mostly concerned with operatic car chases and brutal kill-or-be killed post-apocalyptic action. The most interesting female character we get is Aunt Entity and she’s the villain of Mad Max: Thunderdome. Fury Road, however, gives us lots of interesting women.
- Imperator Furiosa: A sharp, smart, powerful character who so dangerous Immortan Joe sends an entire army after her when she takes the Wives. Her prosthetic arm isn’t played up for pity or inspiration porn, either- it’s just something about her.
- The Five Wives (Capable, Cheedo, Toast, the Dag, and the Splendid Angharad): Despite their group name, the Wives each get enough character development to be more than the breeding stock they’re seen as by Immortan Joe.
- The Vuvalini: Who wouldn’t want to see a clan of matriarchal warrior women who get practical, violent parts instead of being held back by the “Lady Land” trope?
Best of all, none of these women are love interests for Max. They’re there to tell a story that isn’t about romance. Fury Road is about vengeance and survival and trying to build a future. We get old women, disabled women, pregnant women putting themselves in danger and using that as a weapon- really, this is some quality representation.
It’s just one more way Fury Road takes Mad Max. Instead of being weirdly addictive popcorn action movies, the series can now support much more serious themes going forward. It has serious critical merit without forgetting to be fun, and that breathes new life into the whole franchise.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Remember when the MCU was young? A massive shared universe on this scale had never been done before, and audiences were still reeling at the sheer novelty of it. Everything was bright and shiny and the films kept mostly living up to the hype.
Then Thor: Dark World happened. It was better than a lot of people remember (go rewatch if you don’t believe me) but it still consistently ranks as one of the weakest movies in the MCU. There are actually two DCEU films better than T:DW. That’s how bad it was. The Captain America sequel which was next in line started to look a hair less interesting.
We should have had more faith in the Least Problematic Chris (and the entire production team, really). Captain America: The Winter Soldier is awe-inspiringly good. It does what the MCU does best: makes big stories small and tell them with heart.
Cap was in The Avengers, of course, so we’d seen some of the aftermath of waking up from the ice. Avengers was an ensemble flick, though. It couldn’t really explore Captain America’s reactions to everything without bogging down the plot. CA:TWS took an up close and personal look at how a Lawful Good character like Cap would function in the modern world, what it would really be like to lose 70 years of culture and have to carve out a new space for yourself.
On top of that, Winter Soldier did justice to a powerful relationship that would go on to shape the MCU as a whole- that of Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes, AKA The Winter Soldier. With Peggy fading out Bucky is Steve’s only real connection to the world he grew up in. They’re the closest of friends (even if you don’t buy into Stucky, like actual hordes of fans do). If Winter Soldier hadn’t done such an outstanding job establishing the deep, unshakeable connection between them, the following movies wouldn’t have worked nearly as well. Captain America: Civil War would have felt contrived. Avengers: Infinity War would have gone differently. Maybe they would still have bee good- but I think it’s obvious they would have been missing part of the heart.
Of course, the argument here isn’t whether Winter Soldier is a good movie. The argument is whether it’s better than the original, namely Captain America: The First Avenger, which itself is one of the best superhero origin stories out there. Here are 5 reasons we think CA:TWS has an edge:
- Winter Soldier‘s Thursday opening brought in more than twice the amount CA:TFA did. The film actually set an all-time domestic record for April openings.
- It was the first collaboration between the Russo Brothers and screenwriters Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus, who went on to work together on many MCU movies including both Infinity War and the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. Joe Johnston, who directed CA:TFA, did an outstanding job and we’re not slighting him at all… but it does seem special the CA:TWS was the first outing for this powerhouse team.
- It gives Steve Rogers the emotional background to be considered an equal opponent for Tony Stark, which is what makes Civil War so wrenching. Iron Man had three movies of his own before Civil War while Captain American only had two. Winter Soldier is powerful enough to catch up- maybe even put Cap a little ahead in the sympathy department.
- This is the best depiction of the Winter Soldier hands down, even including comics. Sebastian Stan plays him exactly right to make fans want to protect him despite actual decades as a mindless murder machine. Fans have latched onto Bucky, making memes about putting him in blankets and giving him as many plums as he can eat. It takes a remarkable actor to inspire that kind of compassion when we know what kind of things he was forced to do over the years.
- Sam Wilson AKA Falcon is introduced here. That’s like… a billion bonus points.
- The Black Widow- Captain America friendship is everything. She’s basically shifted her alignment to “whatever Steve thinks is good, I will make happen” which is both hilarious and touching to watch. Natasha doesn’t trust easily but she’s gone all in on this friendship.
We did six reasons instead of five but can’t bring ourselves to delete any of them. This movie is just that good.
In a very real way, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a lynch pin in the MCU. It’s a fixed point in greatness, and for a sequel to accomplish more than the original movie- especially when the original was so good- is worth recognizing.
What do you think of our choices? Do you agree, or is there another sequel you’d put out there? Let us know below! You can also check out the first post in our anniversary series: Day One: 1 New Convention We’re Excited About
Khai is a writer, anthropologist, and games enthusiast. She is co-editor (alongside Alex DeCampi) of and contributor to “True War Stories”, a comic anthology published by Z2 Comics. When she’s not writing or creating games, Khai likes to run more tabletop RPGs than one person should reasonably juggle.
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