My big piece on IFC News this week is a feature on bad prequels, which is sort of redundant: just about all of them are bad. In it I give a little context for the latest wave of new prequels (including this week's Hannibal Rising) and break down five different "classic" prequels. Here's a sample, click over for the rest.
"Missing in Action 2: The Beginning" (1985)
Prequel to: "Missing in Action" (1984)
Plot Summary: In Vietnam at an indeterminate time after 1972, Col. James Braddock (Chuck Norris) and a platoon of American soldiers are imprisoned and tortured at a barbaric Viet Cong prison camp. Years later (i.e. in the first movie), Braddock will return to Vietnam, rescue more American P.O.W.s left behind, and get revenge on his captors.
Reason Why It's Not a Regular Sequel: Braddock already returned to Vietnam once to save American soldiers. Doing it again might make him look ineffectual. And if there's one thing Chuck Norris is not, it's ineffectual.
Relatively Necessity of Prequel: High. The Braddock of the first "Missing in Action" is traumatized by his captivity in Vietnam; this film offers the opportunity to see why.
Most Shocking Revelation: Events and even people don't seem to match up between the two "M.I.A."s. In the original, Braddock meets his old torturer, Colonel Vinh. But in "The Beginning" he's tortured by a guy named Colonel Yin. Things get even more confusing in the third film in the series (the first sequel, technically speaking) "Braddock: Missing in Action III." Though "The Beginning" depicts years of imprisonment stretching well past the end of the Vietnam War, "Braddock" shows Chuck Norris at the fall of Saigon in 1975, where he's also got a wife. So he was combat shocked, imprisoned for years after the war ended...while also serving elsewhere and getting married. Pick a side Norris, we're at war!
Least Shocking Revelation: That even though Braddock claims to be mentally scarred by his imprisonment in "Missing in Action" he actually seems pretty cool with everything in "The Beginning." In fact, when he gets the opportunity to escape, he hangs around the camp and kills every single Vietnamese soldier in the area rather than simply fleeing.
Waiting For the Check To Clear: Chuck Norris, but in fairness to Chuck, that Total Gym thing I've seen on TV looks totally awesome.
One Scene That Sums It All Up: During his forty-minute escape that's really more of a systematic execution, Norris gets to beat up Colonel Yin, first in a kung fu fight, then by exploding him. So he's already blown up the man who he will later return to Vietnam to face. Again, Chuck Norris is totally awesome.