Movie trilogy triumphs and let-downs

Wide Screen

With "The Dark Knight Rises" hitting theatres today, Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy is finally at an end. But will the film live up to all the hype and give the city of Gotham (and audiences) the climax they deserve?

Recent movie history might as well be called the age of the trilogy, with every potential franchise film being designed to set up a sequel or two. Unfortunately, that history has demonstrated that the third film in any series is usually the most problematic. The fact is that endings are hard, and giving everyone a satisfying conclusion usually isn't possible. A franchise can have a wonderful beginning and middle, but very few have been able to stick the landing on that final film. How "The Dark Knight Rises" is received by audiences will determine how people view Nolan's entire Bat-trilogy. No pressure, Chris.

For some historical context, here are a few notable trilogy triumphs and let downs.

Let-Down: "X-Men 3: The Last Stand"
After directing two very successful and well received "X-Men" movies for Fox, filmmaker Bryan Singer was on top of the world. The success of the filmmaker's mutant movies earned him the chance to direct another big superhero film, "Superman Returns," for rival studio Warner Bros. Though Singer had already prepared a story treatment for the third "X-Men" movie, Fox didn't want to wait on Singer and pushed ahead with the project. Who needs the guy who made the series great when there's money to be made?

"Layer Cake" director Matthew Vaughn (who would eventually direct "X-Men: First Class") was brought in as a replacement, but had to drop out before filming started due to family issues. Enter Brett Ratner. The "Rush Hour" director was hired at the 11th hour and reworked the script heavily. Delayed and well over budget, the jumbled film Ratner eventually turned in was heavy on action but lacked the emotion punch of the previous films, introducing a number of new mutants and killing off beloved characters for seemingly no reason. "X-Men 3: The Last Stand" had some great moments, but when compared Singer's earlier films Ratner's "X3" is a pales overall.

Triumph: "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King"
The final film in a trilogy usually suffers because of audience expectations. The hype surrounding the third movie and the pressure associated with having to give the trilogy a satisfactory conclusion can often have an undue influence on its creation. Not so with Peter Jackson's three film adaptations of J. R. R. Tolkien's seminal fantasy novels "The Lord of the Rings," though. The trilogy benefited from the fact that "The Fellowship of the Ring," "The Two Towers," and "Return of the King"  were all filmed simultaneously over 438 days.

The concurrent filming meant that nobody involved in the production had any idea of how audiences would react to "The Fellowship of the Ring," let alone the "Return of the King." Production on trilogy's conclusion was uncoloured by hindsight or viewer feedback from the first two movies. Say what you will about the film's excessive length or multiple ending conclusion, but the movie gave Tolkien's story and characters their due. "Return of the King" is one of the few trilogy endings to get it right, and Jackon's got the Best Picture Oscar to prove it.

Let-Down: "The Godfather: Part III"
If there was ever a poster boy for quitting while you're ahead, it's director Francis Ford Coppola. In a seven-year period during the 1970s, Coppola directed classics like the first two "Godfather" movies, "The Conversation," and "Apocalypse Now." Ever since then, the filmmaker has spent his career trying to recapture those glory days and mostly falling short.

Though Coppola believed he had wrapped up the story of the Corleone crime family in "The Godfather: Part II," he nevertheless found himself directing "The Godfather: Part III" in the late 1980s due to the failure of his anthology film "New York Stories." Basically, Coppola needed a job, so he accepted an offer to direct a third movie. "Part III" caught up with the Corleone clan years after the events of the second movie, but really didn't add much to the overall saga -- other than some seriously bad acting, a horribly convoluted plot, Al Pacino's weird old age makeup, and a reminder that Coppola was not the director he once was.

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