Simply the second best
There is a delicate art to creating the title for a soulless, cash-grabbing sequel. Pitfalls abound—if you start titling franchise entries by numbers, the films seem more and more obligatory the higher you count. That’s why we ultimately received Rocky Balboa instead of Rocky VI, Grudge Match instead of Rocky VII and a plague of locusts instead of Rocky VIII. Skyfall and Spectre sound awesome; Bond 23 and Bond 24 sound like soulless cash grabs. The colon has opened up new titling possibilities (e.g., Terminator: Salvation), allowing studios to perpetuate the notion that their movie franchises are institutions that will never die and therefore must be obeyed at all costs, but eventually you end up with a title as tortured as X-Men: Days of: Future?: Past!: Sponsored by Coca-Cola. Unless comedic self-satire is the entire intent—e.g., 22 Jump Street—the goal is to make the sequel seem like it isn’t a soulless cash grab.
Weary-sounding titles like Another 48 Hours or Are We Done Yet? highlight the slavish and obligatory nature of those films, announcing their mercenary, cash-grabbing intentions with heads down and hands out.
John Madden’s The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an obligatory sequel to his 2012 sleeper hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (it grossed over $130 million worldwide against a budget of $10 million), and its inferiority complex is built right in to the title. It freely admits that it’s The Second Best! Forget about outdoing the awful original; this is a film that will clearly settle for second place. If nothing else, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which figures to replicate the box-office success of the original among its core demographic of Anglophile seniors, could ignite a truth-in-movie-titling revolution. I look forward to more brutally honest, deeply cynical, eat-your-slop franchise titles such as Transformers 5: The Third or Fourth Best One So Far, Captain America: A Clearly Inferior Sequel, Spider-Man: F*** You, Pay Me, and The Worst Mission: Impossible Movie Ever Made. Of course, the grand irony here is that The Second Best is actually a little bit better than The Best. Both films are still quite terrible.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a two-hour long catnap, affable and picturesque and well-lit enough to remain watchable between long, slow blinks, but also about as pointless and dull as a movie can get. Madden and screenwriter Ol Parker spell out every dramatic problem and its obvious solution in the film’s pre-credits sequence, and then they spend 122 minutes obstinately sticking to that plan, laying only the most hackneyed narrative roadblocks in the path. In one of the ensemble storylines, Judi Dench’s hardnosed spinster and Bill Nighy’s dizzy divorcee nurse an attraction to each other that they’re afraid to act on. Will they conquer their fears and find love together? Um …yes. For all of the lip service paid to exploring new horizons and celebrating the diverse lives of seniors, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a film designed for people who never want to be surprised or challenged again.
Still, affable and dull and unsurprising are almost welcome qualities after the mean-spirited 2012 original, which followed a motley group of British pensioners who retire to a ramshackle, would-be seniors resort in India. That film’s pandering and slyly hateful nature can be summed up by the arc of the Dench character—she enters the story as a privileged white woman helplessly demanding better service from a dark-skinned telephone operator, and by the end of the film gets a job haranguing dark-skinned telephone operators. This is seen as a noble journey.
It was a genuinely loathsome film, but The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel feels more like several late-in-the-run episodes of a lifeless and harmless BBC show that I would never watch were it stitched together Frankenstein-style into a movie-like creature. The original cast reassembles, with Richard Gere replacing Tom Wilkinson, whose character had the good sense to pass away in the first film; racist stereotypes and moldy hijinks ensue.