The modern Hollywood fad: the reboot

Simon looks at how rebooting your franchise means never having to say you're sorry...

Batman & Robin. Amazing on many levels. None of them real.

The latest reports circulating suggest that the Highlander franchise is the latest to benefit from Hollywood’s current favourite trend – the reboot. It’s been reported that the writers of this summer’s Iron Man have been hired to pen a brand new Highlander movie, one that will presumably ignore the turgid conveyor belt of crappy sequels that followed the show in the 80s and 90s (and let’s not forget the TV shows, either).

But then this is the Hollywood thinking: if they pretend that bad films never happened by effectively writing them out of the franchise, then maybe the audience will forgive them too?

Certainly there’s some logic to it. There was barely a Batman fan on the planet who didn’t wish that, after Batman & Robin, they wouldn’t go back to basics and sort it all out. Tired of the bright colours, the Bat-nipples and the terrible scripts, it took many years before anyone would dare repair the wreckage in the Batman saga, and Batman Begins was widely received as a wonderful next step in the franchise. Yet Warner Bros, understandably, was desperately keen to distance the new film from the old, not even releasing Begins in the same boxset as the four earlier Bat movies when it hit DVD.

And yet the ‘reboot’, as it was christened, worked, and this is all the excuse that Hollywood has needed to dig out a succession of dead and dormant franchises, wrecked long ago by greed and slipping standards, and try and start them all again. This summer, we get the new Batman film, of course, but there’s also a third Mummy movie, which its director, Rob Cohen, has already described as a reboot. But why? Can’t we all just agree that The Mummy Returns was shit, and carry on regardless? It worked with the Ocean’s series, where the calamity of Ocean’s 12 was all-but-apologised for by simply making a better film next time round. That’s, surely, what they used to do in the old days?

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Of course, there are also the Bond movies. Casino Royale was a widely regarded ‘reboot’ for 007, but did it really need one? Surely the key difference with Casino Royale was it just cut out some of the excesses of the later Brosnan Bonds (and I’ve got a soft spot for Die Another Day anyway, to be fair), and recast the main role? Or did I miss something? It was a cracking film, certainly, but I don’t remember too many people loudly complaining that the franchise was in ill-health before. As many have pointed out, this is simply a cyclical factor in the Bond movies anyway, that every few years the franchise is redefined – remember Goldeneye? – before slipping into fresh bad habits. Expect another Bond reboot in around six or seven years, on current form.

There is, though, an upside to the rebooting phenomenon, and that’s that if Hollywood executives need such language simply to get films made, then fair enough. After Star Trek: Nemesis, the cinematic Trek franchise was surely deader than Cuba Gooding Jr’s post-Oscar career. Yet here we are, a year away from a high budget Star Trek movie, with JJ Abrams at the helm. If it takes a six-letter word to get films like that made, then we’re happy to gloss over any deeper analysis of it.

That said, not all reboots have proven to be particularly successful. A new Superman movie, again with Bryan Singer involved, is heading into production soon, yet Superman Returns’ decision to cut out the third and fourth Christopher Reeve movies and pretend they didn’t happen had little bearing in the end. Instead, in spite of a healthy box office take, the Superman franchise hit critical buffers, and that means we’re potentially heading towards the point where the reboot needs a reboot. How are they going to explain away that?

And this inevitably brings us to the Hulk movie, which, for better or worse, is carrying on as if the first film never happened. Granted, Ang Lee’s sorely underrated comic book flick pretty much killed the franchise stone dead by delivering an intelligent drama in the middle of the summer blockbuster that people were expecting (and, to be fair, were sold). Yet ironically now, the complaint about a shoddy looking Hulk first time round is being echoed now stills of the new film are being release. Time will tell how this Hulk ultimately pans out.

Look further into the future, and the reboot is now a vital part of a Hollywood machine that’s looking to find ways to fuel movie franchises part three or four films. Michael Bay is rebooting Friday The 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street (the latter of which, we thought, Wes Craven sort of did with New Nightmare, long before all this became a fad). Jason Segal is rebooting The Muppets. Dune is potentially on the way back. Bill and Ted. Mortal Kombat. Street Fighter. The list could go on for some time.

They did this of course in the Judge Dredd strips in 2000AD; when the old city got so polluted as to make it impossible to fix, then they concreted over it and built a new one. Nobody will ever notice, ran the argument.

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But here’s the thing: we ain’t stupid. Reboots are an excuse to try and rid our minds of past mistakes, and in the case of some franchises, it allows the production team to rewrite some of the more stringent rules of the saga that they’ve got bogged down in. That latter point, for the movie watching audience, is surely the major part of the process, even though it’s the proverbial double-edged sword.

Ultimately, though, reboot is a marketing buzzword that is being used to pump some life into seemingly dormant franchises. Because when Casino Royale and Batman Begins hit big, and people even – shock horror – liked the films, you could hear the ker-ching into commissioning corridors of Hollywood a mile off. So with the number of ‘reboots’ across all genres now well into double figures, the repercussions of Batman Begins’ successes are set to be felt for a good few years to come…


Also check out:

10 franchises crying out for a reboot

Reboots by star ratings

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