Traditionally, sequels have a hard time matching up to the widespread love of their predecessors. However, in the world of comic book films, a few sequels have managed to continue the story of the original film in such a way that it expands the mythology, develops the characters and opens up exciting new possibilities for the future. Here are the five best superhero sequels thus far.
X2: X-Men United (2003)
Bryan Singer’s X-Men may be one of the first films to kick off the modern era of superhero cinema, but its his 2003 sequel that really helped the franchise take flight. Revolving around an attack on Charles Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) mansion, the film allows for new revelations with regards to Wolverine’s past and finds the X-Men reluctantly joining forces with Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn). More than just a continuation of the first film, X2 takes advantage of fans’ knowledge of the characters and storyline to date in order to provide one thrilling twist after another. Even though X-Men: The Last Stand would fail to fully capitalize on the Dark Phoenix saga set up here, X2 remains the finest entry in the mutant franchise thus far.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man undergoes quite the personal journey in this sequel to Sam Raimi’s original film. From his ongoing struggle between power and responsibility to his unfulfilled love for Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the character is at a major crossroads in his life, and the film beautifully captures the uncertainty of young adulthood, even as Spidey comes to blows with Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina). The villain himself is among the most visually dynamic comic book adversaries ever put to film, and Spider-Man 2 features some of the series’ best action sequences (that subway battle!). The 2007 follow-up couldn’t match the promise set forth here. Regardless, Raimi’s second Spider-Man film is a benchmark the character’s subsequent installments haven’t even come close to.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Whereas Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 original film was a sci-fi adventure akin to Men in Black, its sequel embraces a premise, aesthetic and tone more in line with fantasy films than science fiction. Considering del Toro was coming off of the Oscar-winning adult fantasy drama Pan’s Labyrinth, one could hardly blame him for bringing some of that mindset to the world of Hellboy. Luckily, the fantastical elements bring just the right twist to keep the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense’s second adventure fresh. Funnier, more visually dazzling and a more satisfying character-driven story, Hellboy II: The Golden Army set the stage for such an epic conclusion to the trilogy that fans are still holding out hope for a third film. Please?
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight is more than just a superior sequel to Batman Begins. It’s more than the best film about the character ever made. Rather, Christopher Nolan’s film is a game-changing event that has forever changed the way studios and filmmakers approach material based on comic books. Anchored by Heath Ledger’s indelible turn as the Joker, the film is a moody crime drama about the tenuous nature of order and just how close the world is from flipping upside down. Christian Bale shines as the Caped Crusader (that Bat-growl notwithstanding), and Aaron Eckhart is equally stellar as the well-intentioned politician that falls into corruption when chaos erupts. Brilliantly constructed and phenomenally shot, The Dark Knight is a modern classic that is destined to stand the test of time.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Captain America: The First Avenger was a solid film, to be sure, but few have claimed the film was a milestone of superhero cinema. However, Joe and Anthony Russo brought real gravitas to the franchise with the sequel, which serves as a political thriller in the same way that The Dark Knight works as a crime drama. Featuring improved fight choreography, more elaborate action sequences and fun supporting roles for Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes the series a step forward in every way, serving as perhaps the best entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far. Enter Sebastian Stan as the unstoppable killing machine of the title, and the film finds the personal story at the heart of all the spectacle. We couldn’t be more excited about the Russos’ Captain America: Civil War, which could even top its predecessor.
What superhero sequels do you think are better than the original? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.