A "Top Gun" sequel is almost upon us and, as excited as everyone is to catch up with Maverick, Iceman and Goose's son, there has to be a latent feeling of dread underlying the enthusiasm.
The cold, hard truth is that most military movie sequels just aren't that good.
Usually, military movies depict one central, specific event, worthy of a movie in the first place. Making a sequel to a real-world military event is difficult, considering the realism of the first event, contrasted with how unreal the second event likely would be.
When a military story is so good it needs a sequel, you get a miniseries like HBO's "Band of Brothers." Still, Hollywood is inevitably going to try to get its money's worth from the movies it makes -- whether you like it or not.
5. '300: Rise of an Empire'
The Spartan holding action at the Battle of Thermopylae was fictionalized in the 2007 film "300," which conveniently forgot about the 6,700 other Greeks who were there. And that the Greeks actually retreated. And that there were Thespians and Thebans who fought alongside the Spartans. So what is the big deal if the filmmakers move on to the next part of the Second Persian Invasion of Greece?
If you ask them, there isn't one. If you ask people who have to watch it, there's a big problem. Aside from nifty action sequences, the premise of the movie's conflict, that Xerxes watched his father die at the Battle of Marathon, is untrue -- because neither of them were present at Marathon. Also, Sparta really contributed little more than a dozen ships to the Battle of Salamis, not a huge fleet. The Spartans were actually no better or worse than any other city-state when it came to fighting the Persians, but that doesn't make for a good movie.
4. 'Rambo: III'
The movie that kicked off the "Rambo" franchise, 1982's "First Blood," was a thoughtful but action-packed drama that made everyone involved -- including Sylvester Stallone -- reconsider the way Vietnam War veterans were treated when they came home. By 1988, those days were over, and it was time for John Rambo to become the massive gun-toting action hero we know today.
By the time we catch up to Rambo in the late 1980s, the Cold War is in full swing and, instead of dwelling on his time in Vietnam, he returns to service to rescue his old commander, Col. Sam Trautman, from the hands of the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. Though it was the most expensive film made at that time, the big budget couldn't make "Rambo III" a better movie. To make matters worse, it was dedicated to the Mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan. After 9/11, the dedication had to be changed to the "Gallant People of Afghanistan." Check which version is in your collection.
3. 'Under Siege 2: Dark Territory'
The original 1992 "Under Siege" was a completely fabricated scenario -- "Die Hard" on a boat -- in which terrorists take over the nuclear-armed battleship USS Missouri and try to take America hostage while selling nukes and Tomahawk missiles to North Korea. The movie's hero is Chief Petty Officer Casey Ryback, a Medal of Honor recipient and former Navy SEAL who was demoted to cook for punching out his commanding officer during the invasion of Panama. Together with Playboy Magazine's Miss July, he takes down former CIA operatives and saves the crew.
In 1995's "Under Siege 2: Dark Territory," Hollywood doubles down on the wrong thing, namely how Ryback is now out of the military and has become a professional chef. On his way to his brother's funeral, the train he's taking, which can't be stopped or rerouted, is taken over by terrorists who want to use a satellite particle beam to hold the U.S. hostage and make money from foreign terrorists. Ryback takes out the terrorists and takes back the train.
Bonus: The quick-eyed viewer can try his delicious fruit salad recipe.
2. Any of the 'Behind Enemy Lines' Sequels
The original film, 2001's "Behind Enemy Lines," starred Gene Hackman and Owen Wilson and was based on a real event, the 1995 Mrkonjić Grad incident, in which Air Force Capt. Scott O'Grady was shot down over Bosnia and had to evade the enemy for a week before being rescued by U.S. Marines. In the film, the pilot discovers evidence of war crimes while evading the enemy searching for him.
The three subsequent direct-to-video "Behind Enemy Lines" movies have nothing to do with reality, as troops go behind the lines of "enemies" the U.S. isn't actually fighting.
In "Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil," Navy SEALs have to infiltrate North Korea to blow up a nuclear missile launch site. In "Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia," the SEALs must fight Colombian special forces (instead of any number of actual U.S. enemies who operated in Colombia at the time). Finally, in "Behind Enemy Lines: SEAL Team 8" (stop laughing), SEALs who wear Air Force patches have to steal uranium from Congolese jungles.
1. 'Jarhead 2' and 'Jarhead 3'
The first "Jarhead" film, based on the book by real-world Marine Anthony Swofford, depicts Marines during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm who fight boredom rather than the enemy. Although the book and film received equal amounts credit and criticism for their depiction of Marines waiting for combat, what's undeniable is the truth of the story (even when it's without context) and the thoughtfulness of its intent. Then came the sequels.
The movie that followed suffered from "Rambo" syndrome, where a thoughtful, otherwise poignant message gets lost in the sequel as the main characters engage in mindless shoot-em-up action that probably had a plot, but who cares. "Jarhead 3" is even worse, at best a rip-off of Michael Bay's "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi," but with less of a marketing budget.
-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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