Review by C.J. Bunce
I am a fan of Mark Edlitz’s retrospective books about movies, like his The Lost Adventures of James Bond (reviewed here) and The Many Lives of James Bond (reviewed here). Not many mainstream books go into the corners of movies visited by the author. In his latest book he takes his interests into almost zany territory: digging into the fourth movie of film franchises. In Movies Go Fourth (arriving in bookstores today, including here at Amazon) he looks at the famous, like Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and also the infamous, like the best known (and lampooned) #4 of them all, Jaws: The Revenge. Is there commonality among fourth films in franchises? Edlitz saves his analysis and findings for the end of the book, but certain themes come to the surface as you read along, in addition to the typical money grab effort by the film studios. In as much as movies try to reinvent themselves in the fourth film, the filmmakers seem to turn to the prequel movie format as often as not these days, or they shake up the franchise with a new cast. Selecting the fourth movie is more of a framework to talk about movies, more than an analysis of what makes a fourth movie work and what doesn’t. But Edlitz does get into that in some of his interviews. Some creators are willing to admit their movie was a bust, others view their creations with reverence, regardless of what critics and audiences say. It’s all a fun look back.
The author interviews people behind some of the movies, like Batman and Robin director Joel Schumacher, Superman IV screenwriter Mark Rosenthal, Terminator: Salvation screenwriter Michael Ferris, Sudden Impact writer Joe Stinson, Thunderball actor Luciana Paluzzi, Conquest for the Planet of the Apes actor Don Murray, Police Academy 4 director Jim Drake, Meatballs 4 director Bob Logan, Robert Doornick, creator of the robot in Rocky IV, Home Alone 4 writers Debra Frank and Steve Hayes, Ernest Goes to Jail screenwriter Charlie Cohen, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home co-writer Steve Meerson, and storyboard artist Jeffrey Henderson on Sam Raimi’s nixed Spider-Man 4.
Edlitz could have gone in any number of directions in addressing this material like for Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, and anywhere the fourth movie was a prequel instead of a continuation from the third entry. Sometimes he embraces it, like for Terminator: Salvation, but other times he doesn’t as when he ran up against the Star Wars franchise with what most people would see as the fourth movie, The Phantom Menace (he makes another selection you’ll be surprised to read about). Edlitz holds up Mad Max: Fury Road and Avengers: Endgame as examples of #4 movies done right, but is Mad Max: Fury Road really the same as these others? A span of 30 years between entries is a long time. Still, it is a fourth entry so it fits. But the MCU had so many crossovers without an Avengers title (like Captain America: Civil War), so Endgame hardly seems like a #4 to me. Can we learn much about being fourth from it?
Even if Edlitz doesn’t select a movie for a single chapter discussion and interview, readers will find he addresses most fourth films you think of at least briefly in the Introduction and Appendices. A lot more franchises have made it to a fourth movie than your instinct tells you at first. As any former video store employee can tell you, lots of crappy horror and sex comedy franchises made someone money for those years they sat on the back wall of the old Blockbuster or Movies-to-Go, and many issued a third sequel (or more) because someone, somewhere would drop that 99 cents to rent it. I’d wager many have seen more fourth films than they think, especially films that are strong sequels: like Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Toy Story 4, Shrek 4, Ocean’s 8, Ice Age: Continental Drift, and the Jack Ryan prequel, Sum of All Fears. For each of those there’s Jurassic World, Predator, Alien: Resurrection, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Final Destination, Bloodsport 4, and Kickboxer 4.
I found the most interesting stories to be from Meatballs IV: To the Rescue (where the creators didn’t realize they were even making a Meatballs movie) and Jaws 4: The Revenge, where co-star Lance Guest (also the star of The Last Starfighter) speaks positively in his memories of the film, and readers can glean how Clint Eastwood views storytelling in a discussion of Sudden Impact. The first movie that came to mind when I saw the title was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which doesn’t get a full discussion, and the author also skips over biggies like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. For me, the more successful fourth film is Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which had everything and got it all right, along with the wildly popular Rocky IV. X-Men: First Class, Men in Black: International, and Thor: Love and Thunder were big movies, each taking a different tack at getting audiences to come back for multiple viewings, and I think Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is one of the top of the 11 movies in its franchise, a complete cast change-up. It seems harder to identify how to discuss more anthology-like franchises, like Thunderball for James Bond, and the Muppets’ A Muppet Christmas Carol. I was surprised more rom-coms and black comedies haven’t made it to a fourth entry.
Fourth movies don’t always just fade into oblivion. Only last week here at borg we mentioned how The Crow: Wicked Prayer inspired a new roleplaying game this year. Some good tidbits can be found in paragraphs of analysis in the final appendix, like the use of the “meta” in Matrix Resurrections and Scream 4. Sorry, fans of the Golden Age of Hollywood, the book doesn’t get too far into the myriad Universal Monsters sequels, Deanna Durbin, Ma and Pa Kettle, or The Thin Man sequels, although a few, like Tarzan Finds a Son!, make the list. Along with a book full of crappy horror sequels, another volume could cover TV movies–Edlitz mentions two genre favorites in his appendix of note: The Incredible Hulk Returns and The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman. Another volume or two could expand into many of the other fourth movies in detail, but at more than 300 pages you’ve got to stop someplace. The book does not include photographs, but has artwork from the movies by artist Pat Carbajal.
Fourths keep on happening, like this year’s John Wick: Chapter Four, in theaters now, and The Expendables 4, coming soon. Fourths aren’t as arcane as you think. Check out Movies Go Fourth, a fun visit to franchises you know well and don’t know so well, available today here at Amazon.