There is something about trilogies that’s very satisfying to the human brain, having a beginning, middle and an end. Sometimes, there is something else to the story. Whether it makes lots of money or there is still something to say, the fourth entry in a series can ruin a perfect ending, or try to fix a disappointing one. In the age of legacy sequels, it seems like no franchise is safe from a belated sequel (or two, because we love trilogies). But what makes a great fourth entry? With several fourth entries in popular franchises like Star Trek, Captain America and Kung Fu Panda on the way, can they avoid the pitfalls, and is there any story left?
And Another Thing…
The main problem with the fourth entry is finding the right story. Many franchises will instead opt for a prequel, spin-off or even a full reboot, rather than a fourth chapter. A reboot is often the preferred option if the last instalment wasn’t well received. After the poor reception to Spider-Man 3, director Sam Raimi was more determined than ever to make the next entry as good as it could be. Unfortunately, he couldn’t quite crack it in time to meet the release date set by Sony, leading them to reboot the franchise instead.
Another popular option is the legacy sequel or a “rebootquel”. Often arriving a few years after the original trilogy has ended, these types of sequels often introduce new characters, interacting with the old guard who eventually “pass the torch” onto the next generation. These sometimes lead to other trilogies of their own such as the Jurassic World series (even if the original characters didn’t meet until the third film). Alternatively, the fourth film can be used to shake up the existing formula if things are beginning to grow stale. Fast & Furious took this approach, focusing on heists rather than street racing, and transforming the franchise into the behemoth it is today, at a time when the studio was considering making any sequels direct to DVD.
One Last Ride
Of course, for some franchises, each entry is its own adventure, with little to no ongoing story. Making fourth entries in the Mission Impossible or Star Trek series is in theory simpler, as each film is often mostly standalone. However, this is not always easier. As seen with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which was released 19 years after the third entry, finding a story can still be a problem. The extended wait can also lead to dissapointment from fans as they build up unrealistic expectations. Especially when it turns out to be more of the same.
An extended hiatus of the franchise often leads to a rethink. Actors get older and the industry moves on, meaning that any new entries can’t just do the same thing again. The Matrix Resurrections, has a slightly meta approach, acknowledging that audiences want to be amazed like they were with the original but that doing the same thing is boring and unfulfilling. Instead, the film tries to do something different, while it achieved mixed results, it is certainly not a rehash of the previous three. It acts as a look back on the franchise as well as an update. Toy Story 4 acts as an epilogue to the franchise, closing out Woody’s story and introducing new characters. Shrek Forever After offers an ending where Shrek looks at how much he has grown since the first film. Being trapped in an alternate reality where he was never born, and a look at a different outcome for the characters. While not the best in the franchise, it was a step up from the third entry, and a fitting ending.
Fourth films offer a chance to reboot an ailing series, offer a closing chapter to beloved characters, or even make up for a disappointing third film. However, there is a danger that the film is just a retread, or steers too far from what was great about the series in the first place. It’s important for any fourth instalment to look at what works and what doesn’t about the series, and think about the journey of the characters. A fourth entry is always risky, but can be exactly what the series needs.