Monday, July 9, 2012

Too Soon? Our Reboot Culture

I haven't seen The Amazing Spider-Man, which just enjoyed a big opening weekend that started last Tuesday, yet. Honestly, I'm not in a major hurry too, either. I'll likely wait until it lands on DVD, picking it up out of interest that's not strong enough to merit $10 air conditioning. This is sort of a big deal, because I really do like Spider-Man as one of my favorite superheroes. But like most people, I feel its too soon for another Spider-Man movie. The taste of Spider-Man 3 is still sour in my mouth, and I'm not sure yet if I'm ready for more web-slinging, superpowers-as-metaphor-for-adolescence action.

But the success of The Amazing Spider-Man means that reboot culture is here to stay. The waters have been tested before; there were only eight years between 1997's Joel Schumacher-directed, Clooney-nippled Batman & Robin and 2005's Christopher Nolan-directed reboot, Batman Begins. With the successes of these two franchises, it would appear that moviegoers have given their approval of quick-turnover reboots, "reimaginings," or whatever else you want to call them. But is that necessarily a bad thing?

On a financial level, reboots are easy money: these characters have proven to be box-office draws in the past, and bringing them back shinier and flashier is a recipe for success. All you have to do, theoretically, is throw current in-demand actors into the roles, grab an attention-getting director, and go through the necessary story beats. However, reboots also offer a chance to take the characters and story to new places, creatively speaking. In the comic books, character histories are often written and rewritten over time (just look at DC Comics' recent massive reboot of 52 titles). So why couldn't the same apply to movies? Marvel's already transplanted the comic format to film franchises with its massively-successful team-up The Avengers, so why wouldn't rebooting work as well? Not to mention the creative and financial windfall that could result from another Chris Nolan-like revision.


The Batman example isn't the rule, though. In fact, there is no rule yet. Though the Batman franchise experienced creative and financial rejuvenation, it was something of a minor miracle, the result of all the pieces falling into place exactly right. A counterexample is the Hulk franchise. 2003's The Hulk brought in an auteur in Ang Lee, who at the time was just coming off the remarkable international success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The film was a notorious failure, with Lee's cerebral approach to the story left audiences wondering where all the action went (and that little bit of action, well, wasn't exactly Lee's strong suit). So, five years later, The Incredible Hulk emerged as a second chance at getting the Hulk right, with action director Louis Leterrier taking over behind the camera and Edward Norton replacing Eric Bana as Bruce Banner, and the results were...more or less the same. Critics greeted the film with shrugs, though audiences responded slightly better, though not in record-breaking droves. The Amazing Spider-Man seems to have fallen somewhere in the middle. The film has been greeted with mixed reviews, but audiences have responded in droves.

In the end, reboots are going to end up being a matter of personal taste. There's no real limit on how soon is "too soon" for a franchise to be rebooted (though five years may be the accepted norm), but there'll be numerous think pieces on the subject over the next few years. There's likely going to be many more cases like the Hulk or Spider-Man than Batman, but as a friend of mine once said, "you can make money or make art, rarely both."


Anonymous said...

Hey there, stumbling around and caught your article on to reboot or not to reboot, and when. Interesting points, curious take on the latest Spiderman - which I haven't seen yet either but will, eventually - but it seems most comic book films just have to wait a few years to make another go at it as audiences have short memories. Case in point, Hulk. I covered it here if you're interested in checking it out. I usually have a lot of latitude when it comes to remakes and revisits, giving the films a chance to stand on their own two legs as it were - except some films are hard to forgive - like Gus Van Sant's troubling shot for shot remake of Psycho (Blasphemous, really). One of my favorite remakes is John Carpenter's The Thing, a film that really holds up but in all honesty it's a considerable departure from the original, which is where I believe the strongest films are the most successful. Cheers->

Jason H. said...

rorydean - I enjoyed reading your post about the Hulk. I agree that reboots don't always give us stinkers - just check out how radically different Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin is from Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins! And, as you pointed out, John Carpenter's The Thing was a huge departure from The Thing from Another Planet but is also, I would argue, the better film (we'll just pretend the 2011 remake didn't happen, right?). Thanks for reading!