There have been a lot of complaints about this summer movie season being overrun with sequels and remakes. This weekend brings the arrival of yet another sequel, Step Up: 3-D. But before you start groaning yet again about Hollywood's inability to come up with anything new, it should be noted that Step Up: 3-D features a somewhat new cast from its prior installments and even relocates the franchise from Baltimore to New York City. Despite the familiar title, this is exactly what we've been asking for this summer -- a movie featuring fresh actors playing new characters in new situations. So why do I kind of wish it didn't?
On one hand, you've got to give the Step Up franchise props for innovating the dance movie genre enough to keep its sequels in theaters rather than in the direct-to-DVD or ABC Family Channel purgatory the Center Stage, Save the Last Dance, and Bring It On franchises have been banished to. Step Up 2 The Streets was praised for raising its game with more spectacular dance sequences than its predecessor, and Step Up: 3-D is out to prove that 3-D isn't just for action movies and animation. Since it often feels like once you've seen one dance movie, you've seen the whole genre, it's great to see this franchise finding ways to reinvent itself and keep things fresh. But there's one thing I wish Step Up would've made an attempt to conquer: telling a story that can span multiple movies.
It was always going to be an uphill battle to keep the original Step Up cast together after its star, Channing Tatum, was singled out as a possible new "It" boy. He hasn't quite yet developed into the hot commodity many predicted he would become, but he's still done well enough as a leading man that it seemed generous when he came back for a cameo in Step Up 2. This film rebooted the franchise by shifting its focus to a girl named Andie, a young friend of Tatum's character who attends the same prestigious performing arts school (now under new direction, of course) but also performs with a street dancing crew. A few members of Andie's crew cross over into Step Up 3-D, but the movie's leads are a brand-new couple who resemble Tatum and his former co-star Jenna Dewan just enough that when you see the trailer, you get a vague feeling of familiarity.
This is why part of me wishes that the Step Up brain trust had chosen to continue the story of its original characters, Tyler and Nora. Because, ironic as this may seem, the constant invention of new characters and starting over from scratch is precisely what is allowing this franchise to keep telling us the same story over and over again instead of giving us something new. Each new set of characters can keep learning the same lessons Tyler and Nora did about opening their minds and accepting things that are different. But just for once, it may have been nice to see what happened after the big production number in the end. Did Tyler and Nora stay together? Did they continue to improve as dancers? What were the new challenges that faced them in the real world after leaving high school? So many dance movies end in the same place, with graduation and an invitation to join a prestigious company or attend Juilliard or a chance to get off the streets. But in real life, these are just the beginnings of most great dancers' journeys. Instead of repeating their story with new characters, Step Up could've given us something truly fresh and original by showing us how its original characters evolved. Maybe Tyler started up his own dance crew and competed around the country. Maybe Nora became the next Julianne Hough. Or maybe they had to readjust their dreams when faced with the ruthless competition of trying to make it as a professional dancer instead of a privileged high school student. I think I'd feel more of a flutter of excitement than that tug of familiarity when I watched the trailers for those movies.
Step Up: 3-D will bring us something we've never seen before with its exciting 3-D innovations. But I still can't wait for a dance movie franchise to shake things up by adding some actual dimension to its story.