The word ‘reboot’ has been thrown around a lot lately – there’s no question about it. It’s not rocket science to notice the inherent drive within the studios to de-risk their investments (you have no idea how much I hate this corporate mumbo-jumbo), which has resulted in the last decade being unusually rich in sequels to successful franchises, remakes of the classics, and – the cherry on top of this cake – the establishment of ‘the reboot’ as a device in the film-making business.
Normally, I would immediately proceed to poke at the studios and call them names, just because the entire trend is nothing more than an attempt at making the maximum money with minimum effort (simply put – a cash-grab). However, everything has its rightful place in the universe and we only need to understand it and contextualise it accordingly. Therefore, I do believe that very often a sequel to a popular film is not going to be a bad thing at all, provided it is done right and the story allows it. The same case can be made for a remake, but that’s something I’d like to touch on in a bit more detail later on, so I’ll leave it at that today. What bothers me, is the simple fact the studios realized they are now holding the get-out-of-jail-free-card in their hands, which allows them to turn successful productions (however stand-alone they might seemingly be) into franchises and churn out sequels one after another, because the risk of driving them into disrepute has been removed from the equation. After all, everything can be rebooted after a while…
That’s right – not remade, but rebooted. It is no longer about picking out a forgotten gem or an all-time classics and putting a fresh set of clothes on it; the institution of a reboot is far more insidious, because it no longer involves any adherence to the ‘source material’ it is based on. For instance, let’s take a look at something you’d find in the news every other week – the new “Jurassic Park” film slated for release in the summer of 2015. Titled “Jurassic World” it is supposedly not going to continue the storyline from any of the previous three films, nor it is going to be a straight-up remake of the Spielberg’s landmark blockbuster. Instead, it is going to be a reboot of the entire franchise, which to me means a couple of things: 1) it is implied that the storyline is built to accommodate more than one film and most likely will arc into a trilogy (which is a yet another magic card the studios love to play recently), and 2) apart from the general themes known from the previous material, the story can and probably will have very little to do with “Jurassic Park”; it might be grounded in the same universe, but there’s no reason to expect the original storyline to continue.
I don’t particularly mind the notionof taking the very basic ideas of a film and taking it into a completely new territory, as it at least allows for creativity in the story-telling. What I don’t like is the fact the film-makers are working under the premise that the storyline will include multiple features. But, what if “Jurassic World” bombs terribly in the box office? What then? It will probably be more of an origin story that is supposed to take flight in the sequel, but if it is a financial disaster, nobody will risk funding it any further. As a result, we – the movie-goers – will be left with a first act to a series (probably a trilogy) never to be picked up and finished. The worst part is that no-one will bat an eye at it, because in the worst possible case, they could just wait five years and reboot the whole thing.
Now, if there is an instance where multi-feature series work better than anywhere else, it would be the genre of comic book film, or more specifically – the superhero films. After all, we really do want to see Spider-Man taking on yet another super-villain… Some of us maybe have some favourite storylines from Superman, or the X-Men they’d love to see on the big screen and the institution of a sequel actually works in favour of making it all happen. Seeing how Marvel Studios have succeeded in implementing their shared universe, we are now entering the golden age of the superhero movie, where we could finally see our favourite heroes (in various combinations) in the storylines we hold dear. We might (and will) get to see more of the side-line oddball superheroes like Ant-Man or Dr Strange, as they would normally be too quirky or risky to be presented with their own films.
I am perfectly aware that the guys in Marvel, or DC (though those people have yet to succeed in launching their universe of superheroes) might have plans extending into the next decade, but the way this business is done may be the biggest hindrance standing in the way of telling even more cool stories about superheroes fighting cool villains. Truthfully, sooner or later we will have seen the three Captain America films, the three The Amazing Spider-Man’s, the three Thors, Guardians of the Galaxy films, Ant-Man’s, Hulks and the like… What then? Well, they will wait a while and reboot the whole thing, which means, we’ll have another batch of origin stories to sit through. And let’s be honest, in case of superhero movies, the origin bits are always the most uninteresting and uninspired. It’s nobody’s fault, because that’s the way it is – there’s maybe a handful of archetypes for a birth of a superhero and it’s more of a chore before the dessert – getting to the actual story, that is. And you cannot even think about throwing a twist here and there, because in the eyes of the fanboys, those stories are sacred and never to be tampered with. People can get used to a fresh take on a villain or something seemingly minor, but to screw with the origins of a superhero – now that’s a slap on the face.
We have already experienced the prelude to this phenomenon when Sam Raimi dropped out of the Spider-Man 4, which I frankly don’t get since the entire Spider-Man franchise has made Sony a crap-load of money, so Raimi must have known what he was doing. Thanks to the ‘reboot card’ it’s not a real problem. The director doesn’t agree with the studio? Let’s give him the boot and restart the entire franchise – which they did. I surely remember the popular upset about the notion of having to sit through Peter Parker being bitten by a radioactive spider again… Because we have to do it again to establish the universe again instead of assuming we all know how it all began.
Seriously, can we just come to terms with the idea that films don’t disappear and we have the means to go back to the original “Spider-Man” to see his origin story whenever we feel the need to? I can already sense what is coming our way in the next 5-10 years, assuming the entire genre doesn’t die in the process. We’ll see all those trilogies come to an end (some of them might not even get to conclude, because they could just as well bomb at the box office of course), the studios will hit the ‘reboot button’ and we will have to endure the same damn origin stories once more, which in pure numbers robs the viewers of at least 33% of potentially interesting stories. Unless it’s 30 years from now when the vast majority of the target audience for those films would be too young to remember “Iron-Man”, or “Batman Begins”, I think it’s unacceptable to think anyone would cherish the idea of starting those franchises over from scratch.
I sincerely hope I’m not the only one feeling uneasy about the way the big budget entertainment is headed. I’m not going to pretend I’m a snob only interested in the Lars von Triers of this world, because I grew up watching those big bloated effects-driven films – and loving them. And I really care about being able to spend some quality time watching monsters ravage cities and superheroes saving them (cities, not monsters). Though, it pains me to see that the invention of a reboot might become the straw that breaks the camel’s back and that at some point the 9-digit budget summer films will cease to exist. It only takes a couple of them to bomb mercilessly at the box office to put the studios in danger of going bust. And when that happens, there won’t be any Jurassic Parks, Iron-Men, Captain America’s, Terminators, or X-Men.
We live in very strange times, where moderation is no longer a virtue, but a flaw. It turns out we can’t have a film entertainment industry capable of holding back on remaking, reimagining, rebooting and sequelizing even the marginally successful properties. And even if there are instances, where there’s more than one story to be told (i.e. the superhero movies), I believe it will be the carelessness carried with the notion of a reboot that will eventually bring everything down. We will end up in a world where every third superhero film will reiterate the same origin story and where the quality of the end product is not going to be as relevant any longer, because we can always start over. I seriously believe now that the phrase ‘Let’s reboot that franchise’ might be remembered as Hollywood’s last words.