Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
The sequel never holds up to the original, right? Usually not. This is one of the divine, superlative exceptions.
The classic 2010 San Francisco Giants: The Official World Series Film (Blu-Ray and DVD) bent the fantasy-epic genre without breaking it, combining the triumphant sweep of the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars trilogies with a shocking twist that would have made Hitchcock proud. If you haven't seen it, you probably shouldn't be reading this, but I won't spoil the ending here. It involves trophies and confetti, and it never fails to be as stunning as it is the first time you see it.
That film functioned almost as a self-contained trilogy, moving through the NLDS, NLCS, and World Series, with each part featuring its own arc and three-act structure. It was a brilliant, meticulously plotted tour de force, and what the last third lacked in suspense, it made up for in visceral thrills. It was such a raging success, of course, that you could see what was coming: a sequel.
In the worst-case scenario, a sequel would have been a craven cash-grab; in what should have been the best-case scenario, it might have had a chance to be mildly entertaining.
There was a best-best-case scenario, though. 2012 San Francisco Giants: The Official World Series Film (Blu-Ray and DVD) is just as transcendent as the first film. It might even be better. This is a Godfather/Godfather II-like pairing of films that will be debated for the next 50 years. Which one is better? That it's even a question is a testament to the startling success of the sequel.
The film opens up in media res, picking up almost two years after the original, following the same team of Giants from before, though there are substantial differences this time around. Buster Posey, one of the most popular characters from the first installment, is recovering from a life-changing injury he suffered off-screen. The infallible Matt Cain from the first film is a more conflicted character this time around, even though there's a brief mention of him achieving some sort of historic personal success after the end of 2010. The goal is the same, though, with the assembled characters in search of the same elusive trophy from the first film.
And almost right away, the Giants are in a predicament, with the specter of a premature end to their season hanging over their heads. One of the minor quibbles I had with the first film was the lack of a traditional fantasy villain -- the Sauron or Darth Vader figure. Shane Victorino was the ostensible candidate the first time around, but he didn't do anything important at all. The film functioned brilliantly without a villain, but it was still a notable omission.
There is no such problem in the sequel, however, as the film introduces Mat Latos, a sneering, repugnant specimen who was missing only the top hat and handlebar mustache. There's the inevitable showdown between Latos and the golden hero, Posey, with the forces of good vanquishing evil, of course. But the way it plays out -- traditional, but over-the-top in all the right ways -- makes it a filmmaking coup.
And that's just a third of the way through.
With Latos vanquished, though, the movie was ripe for a meltdown. Call it the Darth Maul Syndrome -- did the filmmakers get rid of the best part of the movie too soon?
No. There is another. But we'll get to that in just a second.
The first third of the movie also allows the filmmakers to introduce the first CGI character of the series. Hunter Pence is introduced as something of a comic figure at first, and if we're going to drop a Darth Maul reference, you'd figure this is the place for a dreaded Jar Jar Binks reference. Pence proves to have much more depth, however, emerging as a speech-spouting firebrand who inspires his teammates even as his more tangible contributions are almost non-existent. The foreshadowing of his future on-screen contributions is a little too obvious, but you'll still never believe the special effects that makes it happen.
Back to the villainy. Latos was almost impossible to top, but the filmmakers managed by introducing Matt Holliday, a hulking clod with a propensity for doing bad, bad things. He commits an act of savagery that's hard to believe, and he becomes just as loathsome, if not more so, than the Latos character. He is dealt with accordingly, as you've come to expect from this series, turning him from a fearing presence into a bumbling, foot-handed oaf.
This sequence highlights the most underrated part of the two films, though, which is the filmmakers' ability to introduce a character with minimal backstory and have you care live you've never cared for a character before. It happened in the first with Cody Ross, and it happened again in the second with Marco Scutaro, who bares the brunt of Holliday's anthropoid assault. If it had happened to a minor character who didn't show up again, it wouldn't have had much of an impact, but it happened to a minor character who became one of the stars of the film before you even noticed. He triumphs in the second act, shot with a clever reference to Frank Darabont and The Shawshank Redemption, and he shows up again at the very end of the film.
The World Series Blu-Ray and DVD series deftly plays with expectations throughout, swapping out the major and minor characters, but still successfully conveying the grandeur and scope that it wants you to notice. It's nothing less than operatic. Aubrey Huff was a major figure in the first film, but he's reduced to a cameo in this one. Barry Zito was hardly mentioned in the first film, but he's a starring role here, serving as an obvious-yet-welcome allegory for resurrection and redemption. Tim Lincecum -- along with Posey, the obvious lead from the first -- becomes an important supporting character here, with Pablo Sandoval going in the completely opposite direction.
It's impossible to hate the villains of the third act, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, but that wasn't really the point. They were supposed to be ruthlessly efficient, a cold-blooded pair of almost-robotic adversaries, who had an odd set of sidekicks (Max Scherzer, with different-colored eyes; Prince Fielder, a rotund circus strongman who had tormented the Giants in the past; and Doug Fister, with magic eyebrows and a titanium skull) who were almost as intimidating. Instead, they were dispatched with minimal effort. If you'll recall Under Siege 2 -- and I'm sure you won't -- the film sets up Steven Seagal and the lead henchman as equals on a collision course. But when the two meet at the end of the movie, Seagal just kicks the guy for 10 minutes or so before killing him. It doesn't have the same drama that you might be used to with typical cinematic confrontations, but it's just as satisfying.
It all works. The same third-act problems happen in this one, as there's a lack of sustained suspense by the end, but it doesn't matter. This film is a triumph, a blessing. It's everything right about filmmaking in this, or any other, century. The coda reminds you of the man behind the scenes, the aging field general who facilitates the whole thing. It makes you think that a third film -- which would bless us with a trilogy of trilogies -- is entirely possible, if not probable.
***** - Five stars out of four. You'll be talking about 2012 San Francisco Giants: The Official World Series Film (Blu-Ray and DVD) for decades. And make sure to stay around for the credits, as there's a bit of an easter egg that recalls the best post-movie shenanigans from Pixar films or Cannonball Run.