Why trilogies don’t work

My big accomplishment for the second day of my vacation is seeing The Matrix: Revolutions. It wasn’t horrible, despite some negative reviews. But I think the big disadvantage The Matrix Trilogy is battling against is the general challenge trilogies and their makers face: overly high expectations.

Usually, movies that seem worthy of ending up as the first part of a trilogy are often groundbreaking or special in some way. For example, “The Matrix” was particularly innovative because of its groundbreaking special effects. It truly took advantage of how far computers had come and what the whole concept of special effects can really bring to the big screen– the ability to create a world completely unlike our own. Instead of trying to make the real world more “special,” such as making explosions bigger and louder, the special effects in “The Matrix” helped create this new world, what it was like to be in this concept of “the matrix,” and rendered an aural and visual experience impossible otherwise. Another example of this kind of special effects use would be in the Quidditch scene in Harry Potter.

In addition to special effects use, “The Matrix” was innovative because of its storyline. To most, it was particularly unique and posed very interesting questions by asserting that our entire human existence was just a simulated computer experience. (Although, I and others argue that this storyline was very similar to the 1998 movie Dark City.) Moviegoers were blown away by this fantastical premise and were drawn into watching Neo discovering the matrix– we learned right along with him.

However, with the second movie, the special effects were no longer as novel and glamourous as in the first, although technically they were quite impressive (especially the many Agent Smiths). And the storyline wasn’t so earth-shattering anymore– we already know about this world set up in the first movie– and everyone is just waiting to find out what happens next, some type of resolution and since we all know there’s a third movie coming out, we’re not really drawn into the second movie in the series. So, in the end, you end up writing off the second movie as simply a stepping stone, a set up for the finale– how most middle movies in trilogies are written off.

Then why is the third movie considered such a disappointment? Because with the first movie, we are blown away by the premise, with the second movie, we are just waiting to see what’s next and with the third movie, we finally do see what happens. And it never lives up to what we expected. After we’ve identified with a concept, characters and a storyline, while waiting for the next release, we consciously or subconsciously develop an idea of what we think would or should happen, an idea of what we might want to happen. And even if never truly realize those ideas, verbalize them and make them real to ourselves, we build up a subconscious expectation of something that’s probably impossible in the end and find ourselves wondering why the final movie in a trilogy is never as good as we thought it was going to be. It’s like getting hyped up for a party and then, it’s rarely ever quite as fun as you thought it was going to be.

Trilogies that are often considered in this category:

How do you work around this problem? One option is to make a trilogy out of movies with storylines that don’t really have anything to with each other, but have the same characters that exist in the same overarching universe. This holds true for any series or sequels. Some people don’t feel that these movies deserve to be called “trilogies,” but nevertheless, they often are. Trilogies that fall into this category:

Of course, the problem with this option is that you can always break the three movie rule and continually make additional sequels (as is the case for both of the above trilogies), usually of far lower quality than the first three movies. Examples of this pitfall:

The other better option is to only make a trilogy (or any other series of sequels) out of a story that is truly epic enough to warrant multiple movies. Don’t just make a bunch of sequels because with special effects and whatever else, you can stretch a storyline for three movies. All three movies should follow an overarching story arc, but in the end, each movie should be chock full o’goodness and can usually stand as a great movie on its own (even if you might follow the story better after seeing what comes before and/or after). Trilogies that fall into this category:

Of course, with sequels being so popular, I’m sure bad sequels and even worse, bad trilogies will continue to be made, released, and disappoint.