The Age of Reboots Is Better Than We Thought
It’s time for an honest assessment for the reboot.
For many moons, the people have wailed against Hollywood’s incessant need to jumpstart every franchise under the sun. We traded our words for cries and moans. “Too soon,” we complained, “too soon to reboot that guy in the spandex, that clunky old television show, and that movie that wasn’t even good to begin with.”
It seems that everywhere everyone was trying to cash in on the next recycled IP. It was as if nostalgia itself had been weaponized and used against us in service of shoddy remakes and vicious prequels ready to be shoved down our throats. Perhaps the worst tragedy of all is that no matter our level of outrage, we still paid for their (lack of) effort, offering them free promotion and validating them with mountains of digital ink anyway.
We had clamored for original material, groundbreaking works, boundary-pushing visions straight from the prophet, but we were fed soulless leftovers calculated to prey off our most cherished childhood fantasies. But unlike the days of old, these new Frankensteins carried no creative spark. Those once beautiful memories were now gone, replaced by the age of the very crappy reboot. Like Tony Stark, we had created our worst nightmare. Death by a thousand reboots.
These fears were naturally realized in a string of downright awful examples pumped regularly out by every studio. Even though underwhelming flicks like Robocop and Total Recall didn’t appeal to moviegoers of any kind, at least they were based on something you had heard of. Later reboots have had less scruples, settling for properties with little or no name recognition or a scant diaspora of living fans, such that that they might as well just have skipped the hassle of buying the movie rights altogether.
Two years ago Disney gave us The Lone Ranger, a sagging western based on a show canceled six decades ago back when Dwight Eisenhower was still president. This summer Warner Brothers gave us, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a stylish spy adventure with an incomprehensible title that last aired a new episode of television in good old 1968.
Rebooting things no one has ever heard of might be nice for the excitable studio executive or aging director who fondly remembers watching them as kids, but it does little for global audiences who’ve never heard of Tonto or Napoleon Solo.
Television has caught the reboot bug even worse. Anything and everything is getting rebooted ranging from genuine classics like Star Trek and The X-Files to less classic shows like Heroes and The Muppets. Even aging films like Minority Report and Limitless have received a strange second life on television shows. Last I heard someone is rebooting the funky 90’s kids show Reboot.
Not even the superhero genre is immune to this effect. The diminishing creative and financial returns of speedily rebooted franchises like Spider-Man and this summer’s implosive Fantastic Four seem to strain the reboot to new levels of creative ruin.
It was time for the reboots to end. Surely they deserved a merciful and quick death before they evolved further into self-parody. Just when the reboot seemed to approach its deepest darkest zenith, a few mysteriously glimmers of light began to poke through the veil. And then we got the most inexplicable event in all of creation: the good reboot.
On Tuesday the National Board of Review rated Mad Max: Fury Road as the best film of 2015, a reboot whose last entry graced screens 30 years ago. Currently its Rotten Tomatoes approval rating floats at a miraculous 97%. This shameless, unnecessary, unwanted, and prohibitively expensive reboot has in the eyes of many, myself included, clawed up the greasy pole of entertainment and announced itself as the best movie of the year. It’s hard to overstate the significance of this.
If you traveled back in time and told people that Mad Max could get be in the running for an Oscar, that it would top critics’ list, and launch a wider cultural discussion on gender politics, you would be laughed out of the room. That’s like saying Terminator Genisys is the new Star Wars.
It’s time to face the reality that good reboots are actually here. And they are already changing the cultural landscape.
We all await the next box office juggernaut touching down in a couple weeks and chances are pretty high that this straight up reboot of a storyline that ended in 1983 will not only capture the wider zeitgeist and generate billions in receipts and merchandising, but it will also profoundly change how we think about post-Avengers shared universes and reboot trends as a whole. It’s the first real test of whether a reboot can shoulder a sprawling series of yearly films, Disney park attractions, and original television series. It’s a doozy.
Last week when the reviews arrived for Creed, the Rocky spinoff that stars Michael B. Jordan as a millennial boxer from Los Angeles and transforms Rocky into a wise mentor for a new century, who would have guessed that it would be a contender for awards season? Not only is Creed a brilliant and well-crafted film, it’s the seventh entry in a forty year old franchise. This unlikely reboot made on a skimpy $35 million budget currently stands at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. Not bad for a franchise that had appeared to have zero life left in it just a month ago.
Perhaps reboots don’t have to be bad after all. The myth that sequels, prequels, and remakes require less creativity to make is just that: a desperate miscalculation. Although we can’t explain why Hollywood is so obsessed with trying to milk every last cent out every last idea, maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all.
Godzilla was pretty good. Jurassic World made a ton of cash. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles wasn’t not boring. Daredevil made a much better television show than movie. There have been plenty of misfires (too many to name actually) but still we’ve had some genuine surprises as well. Even if most reboots aren’t going to rise to the level of a modern classic, that doesn’t mean they are ruining society by mere virtue of their existence.
My daughter has watched the new Annie reboot dozens of times. It’s not my favorite kids film but it is catchy. Whenever she finds a broom, she starts swinging it and crooning “It’s a Hard Knock Life.” It helps keep the floors clean. And it also makes me happy knowing that she has more than just tall white Disney princesses to relate to. She has Annie, a girl who looks very much like kids she sees everyday and will one day go to school with. As the world changes and grows smaller, the types of stories we need to tell are only growing in diversity and scope.
Reboots are an opportunity to remake an old story and tell it in a new way for a new audience. We’ve always had them, but maybe we don’t have to fear them anymore. If someone wants to try to make a new Ghostbusters movie or make a live action version of Disney classic or randomly take another shot at Jumanji, I say we let them. Reboots are here to stay. They are never ever going away.
Are we still going to rip crappy reboots to shreds when they intrude into our lives with overly serious TV spots and hokey billboards? Of course we will. But maybe we don’t have to collectively roll our eyes every time we find out about a new-but-not-really-new project heading down the pipeline, arriving soon at a theater near you. Maybe it’s okay now. Maybe the next reboot will surprise you. Maybe it will change the world and inspire the next generation of small humans. But probably not.
Marc Madrigal writes about stories and storytelling, while also hosting the podcast StoryPunch! Be sure to follow him for more, and to follow Panel & Frame for more emerging voices in Film, Comics, Literature, and Art!r