Fans of the gleefully excessive Jason Statham action film “Crank” know that it concluded with an impressively ballsy ending: Statham’s Chev Chelios gets his revenge but — SPOILER ALERT! — falls out of a helicopter in the process. In “Crank”‘s final shot, he falls into a car, bounces on to the pavement, twitches and… dies.
It was certainly a surprise — a pleasant surprise, but a surprise nonetheless — when the IFC.com staff first got word of a sequel, this week’s “Crank: High Voltage.” Statham was pretty clearly not alive at the end of that first movie, but, as the sequel’s poster puts it: “He Was Dead… But He Got Better.”
Chelios is not the first. Hollywood has a long history of bringing back popular dead characters in sequels. Here’s a look at five commonly used techniques:
“He’s My Twin!”
Jack Palance in “City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold”
As grizzled cattle driver Curly in “City Slickers,” Jack Palance had a signature monologue about the meaning of life. He tells Billy Crystal’s character Mitch that the secret to happiness is to find “just one thing” you truly care about and to pursue that with every fiber of your being. When Crystal asks what that thing is, Palance replies, “That’s what you have to find out.”
In the sequel, playing Curly’s heretofore unmentioned twin brother Duke, he imparts a less poetic but far more insightful glimpse into an actor’s motivations. As Duke in “City Slickers II,” Palance reveals that “just one thing” isn’t nearly as important as one other thing: gold. It’s a pretty materialistic message, but look at it this way: Palance is just being honest about why he returned to play Curly’s ghost, watch Billy Crystal have sex with his wife and generally crap all over the career-capping performance that won him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Palance is fine as Duke, still grizzled, still full of gravitas, if a bit less invested than he was in the original. But who could blame him? There’s no doubt he — and really, everybody in the cast — was just searching for a nice fat paycheck.
See also: Chow Yun-Fat as his twin brother in “A Better Tomorrow II.”
“She’s My Clone!”
Sigourney Weaver in “Alien: Resurrection”
Let’s give credit where credit’s due: bringing a dead character back to life as a clone is maybe the cheapest ploy in the risen-from-the-grave playbook, but at least “Alien: Resurrection” writer Joss Whedon used the gimmick to interesting effect — the only interesting effect, really, in a movie full of uninspiring computer-generated ones. Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley killed herself at the end of “Alien3” to destroy those nasty facehuggers once and for all, but we all know that when there’s more money to be made, there’s no such thing as once and for all. So for the fourth “Alien,” the real Ripley stayed dead while military scientists cloned her out of a drop of blood in order to harvest the alien embryo she was smuggling inside her intestines for most of the previous film.
Somehow, the procedure mixes the clone’s DNA with the alien’s, creating a Ripley vastly different from the one we knew in the rest of the series. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet doesn’t make much time for soul-searching amidst all the extra-terrestrial vivisections, but Weaver’s performance is still suitably alien: speaking in a eerie monotone and occasionally pausing in the middle of chase scenes to writhe on the ground and note “I hear them. It’s the queen! And she’s in pain.” No kidding, she’s in pain; she’s trapped in a dreadful sequel. But there’s something about that weird Ripley/Alien hybrid that strikes a nerve, one that Whedon continued to tickle in similar storylines about twisted versions of beloved characters on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
See also: Temuera Morrison as Commander Cody and an entire army of Jango Fett clones in “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.”
“He’s Dead! But We Can Bring Him Back To Life!”
Leonard Nimoy in “Star Trek III: The Search For Spock”
If you’re really going to kill a popular character, it helps to have a loophole. That way, if you do decide to make another movie, you’ve already built in a plausible way to bring said character back. “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” killed off Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock, but it kind of did it with its fingers crossed. He dies of radiation poisoning in the Enterprise’s engineering section, but before he does, he gives Dr. McCoy some kind of Vulcan mind meld and gravely intones the word “remember.” And after he does, Admiral Kirk sticks his body inside a photon torpedo tube and deposits it on the newly formed Genesis planet with its remarkable regenerative powers.
It all sets up the plot of “The Search For Spock,” where Kirk needs to take Spock’s Vulcan katra (or “living spirit”) out of a befuddled McCoy and reunite it with his revived but rapidly aging body, which is stranded on Genesis. Once they recover Spock and return him to the Vulcan homeworld, he can undergo something called fal-tor-pan (loosely translated, it means “convenient alien ritual”) to merge his body and mind. A highly illogical turn of events to be sure, but you can’t deny that “Wrath of Khan” at least sowed the seeds for Spock’s return. Plus, it sets up that great finale, where an alive-but-confused Spock struggles to remember Kirk and to comprehend the sacrifice his friends made to save him. Spock’s moment of recognition (“Jim. Your name is Jim.”) is so powerful, you’re left awfully glad the pointy-eared guy was good to his word on the whole “live long and prosper” thing.
See also: Jennifer Garner, dead in “Daredevil” and brought back to life in the spin-off “Elektra.”