Step Up 2: The Streets
Step Up 3D
Step Up 4: Revolution
Step Up 5: All In
Piecing Together the 'Step Up' Cinematic Universe
In an industry where sequels are the rule it's still surprisingly rare for a film franchise to make it to number 5. Typically that franchise needs to have visceral thrills of which an audience will never tire, things like car chases (The Fast and the Furious), exploding viscera (Final Destination, Saw, Resident Evil, A Nightmare on Elm Street), laserbeams (Star Trek), or small black women shouting into bullhorns (Police Academy). We can now add to this list 'hunks doing body-rolls' because with Step Up All In, everybody's favorite dance-movie franchise has finally unlocked this rarified achievement: a FIFTH theatrically released film! But for those who weren't already familiar with this very important series it can be hard to keep straight how all five seemingly stand-alone movies actually relate to one another (they do!). Allow us to explain with this simple primer.
Like the Friday the 13th franchise before it, the first movie in the Step Up franchise is the outlier of the series in that both films' signature features weren't actually present yet (which, in the case of Friday, was Jason Voorhees, and in the case of Step Up was ACTUAL FUN). That's because Anne Fletcher's 2006 dance drama was more concerned with a wrong-side-of-the-tracks romance than exciting set-pieces. In a star-making turn for Channing Tatum (well, star-making to those who hadn't already seen his star-making turn in Amanda Bynes' finest hour She's the Man), the model turned actor used his legit dancing skills previously only seen in Florida strip clubs to dazzling effect. Tatum played Tyler, a kid who'd grown up in the system and fell in with the wrong crew, leading him to vandalize a local arts high school. But when the principal (a hilariously bored-looking Rachel Griffiths) agrees to let him do janitorial work to make amends, he meets the stiff, overachieving dancer Nora (Jenna Dewan, Tatum's future wife). From there the plot unfolds in a pretty expected way, with both Tyler and Nora inspiring each other to dance in new and more sensual ways. Particularly in light of what the franchise has become, you may be shocked to know that the original Step Up contains a scene in which a child is murdered in a drive-by shooting. Yep, Step Up definitely considered itself a gritty drama, but it still established the now-mandatory final dance competition/audition scene and, spoiler alert, Nora and Tyler absolutely kill it. Because love. And also abs.
Step Up 2 The Streets not only boasts the best sequel title in film history, it's also probably the Step Up film that people adore the most. Jon M. Chu's 2008 sequel went the now-common route of expunging the leads for fresh meat while mirroring many of the same story beats as its predecessor. The leading lady this time is Andie (Briana Evigan), who we learn via a cameo appearance by Channing Tatum, was once Tyler's foster sister. Because Andie had been getting mixed up with the dastardly 410 crew—a gang of street dancers notorious for flash-mobbing unsuspecting citizens—Tyler convinces Andie to enroll at the same arts high school that had changed his life, and that leads her to start a romance with Chase (Robert Hoffman), 2 The Streets' version of the now-standard soulful-hunk-with-moves character. But Andie's new aspirations to become a respectable, educated citizen of Baltimore gets her kicked out of the 410 crew and she has no choice but to assemble her own rag-tag crew to compete at The Streets, which is, you guessed it, an underground dance gang competition. In addition to infusing the story with many more dance sequences and slightly flashier filmmaking, Step Up 2 The Streets also introduces Moose, a comic relief character played by Adam G. Sevani, whose presence in the next three installments makes him the improbable face of the franchise.
Don't let the comparatively unimaginative title fool you: Step Up 3D is VERY wonderful and inspired. Conceptually it's a fairly large departure from what had come before, but it also very much set the formula for what would follow. Returning director Jon M. Chu's 2010 film introduced us to two new leads in Natalie (Sharni Vinson) and Luke (Rick Malambri), whose lives revolve around an only-in-the-movies secret urban dance commune complete with artfully graffiti'd loft and a sneaker wall. And yes, the dancers must raise money to save the dance commune from evil developers. The New York-set Step Up 3D is not only the first of the films to depart Baltimore, it also eschews the high school element entirely (holdover character Moose now attends NYU). Its plot still involves a fish-out-of-water brunette and culminates in a triumphant dance competition, but 3D is most notable for its ostensible merger with America's other great dance franchise So You Think You Can Dance. Produced by Adam Shankman and featuring more than a few familiar faces from the Fox competition series (tWitch! Legacy! Christopher Scott!), Step Up 3D feels like nothing so much as a party. And where the actual 3D element might at first glance seem like a crass novelty tie-in that will surely date it, the gimmick is actually used to stunning effect. No, I don't mean the scene where globules of Slurpee float around Luke and Natalie as they make out. I mean the actual 3D choreography, which in this movie seems to be wall-to-wall and more insane by the minute. Except, of course, for a truly stunning and lovely single-take interlude between Moose and Camille (who returns from Part 1!) in which the two friends soft-shoe around a New York sidewalk. Step Up 3D marks the first time this franchise realized what it really wanted to be and stripped away everything it didn't. It's really, really good.
Step Up Revolution faced a challenge in living up to its predecessors, but at least it tried. Scott Speer's 2012 installment relocated the franchise to Miami and centered around Sean (Ryan Guzman) and Emily (SYCYTD's Kathryn McCormick), a waiter at a resort hotel, and the daughter of the hotel owner, respectively. Again, an underground flash mob plays a part, but instead of rote prankery The Mob fancies themselves a political faction and their primary struggle throughout Revolution is to prevent the hotel owner (a scenery chewing Peter Gallagher) from razing a poor neighborhood in order to build condos. Again, familiar faces from previous films (welcome to Miami, Moose!) show up, as do even more alumni from SYTYCD (including a scene wherein choreographer Mia Michaels essentially plays herself while several former contestants like Billy Bell observe wordlessly). It should come as no surprise that Sean and Emily convince her father not to demolish the Barrio, and all via the undeniable political power of an elaborate, 3D-filmed dance number. In terms of writing Step Up Revolution is probably not as good as any of its predecessors, but it's still beautifully filmed and the sheer spectacle of it all is truly impressive.
Which bring us to Step Up All In, this weekend's fifth installment in what can now be safely classified a venerable franchise. While we haven't yet had the pleasure of seeing it, we know the film will be the first to center around leads we've already met. Revolution's Ryan Guzman is joined by 2 The Streets' Briana Evigan and a notably foregrounded Moose for some kind of Las Vegas-set dance crisis. And if director Trish Sie's tweets asking fans which characters they'd like to see return for Part 5 were any indication, this installment promises to double-down on its greatest hits for some major fan service. That means many of the recurring sidekick characters and dancers (Vladd the Robot! The Santiago Twins! Jenny Kido! tWitch!) will be back. But will a fish-out-of-water brunette team up with a body-rolling hunk and win a dance competition of some kind? We'll know soon enough.