The word “reboot” is one that will most often send shivers down the spines of anyone who follows cinema regularly. It’s most often associated with the idea of a corporate ploy to reinvigorate popularity in a franchise that has since become either stale or just old. This is much more likely than not the case with a lot of reboots. That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that they have to be a bad thing. A lot of our favourite films can be considered some form of reboot or another.
The Dark Knight Trilogy is probably one of the most famous and successful examples of a reboot. Christopher Nolan reinvigorated popularity in the Batman franchise with a dark and realistic take on the character after Batman & Robin returned him to the campy joke he was before Tim Burton’s original Batman. Though of course Superhero franchises are always being rebooted for new audiences (just look how many Spider-Mans we’ve had in the last 20 years compared to Wolverines) much like in the comic books they come from, so comparing these films to things like Blade Runner or Highlander is slightly different.
What is the key to making a GOOD reboot? Well, simply your reboot has to add something to the original product, rather than take something away. Take the Doctor Who revival series for example. The original classic series of Doctor Who hadn’t been seen since it was made into a sadly failed movie starring Paul McGann as the character’s eighth iteration in 1996. 9 years later, Russell T Davies brought the show back to the BBC with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor. In the context of the show, the Doctor had spent those 9 years fighting the biggest war the universe had ever seen alongside his fellow Time Lords against his arch nemeses, the Daleks. The end of which resulted in the annihilation of both races, leaving The Doctor as the lone survivor. This added a layer to the Doctor’s character – now he was a dark, lonely and broken man, desperately searching time and space for some company. This in itself makes for some of the most heartfelt and gut punching scenes of the show’s earlier seasons. This also added a new layer to the Daleks, as now they were not only the most evil and murderous villains in the universe, but they were the race that led to the destruction of The Doctor’s people, making them even scarier than they were in the 1960s. This reboot brought a classic example of British popular culture to a whole new generation and it did it without taking anything away from fans of the old show.
To look at what NOT to do with a reboot, let’s take a look at the upcoming Willy Wonka prequel starring Timothée Chalamet. Prequels are quite a risky form of reboot because you can end up contradicting or down right ruining the film that came before. For example, in both The Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter series of films, there’s a lead up to a big end of the world battle. Both have now got prequel reboot series, The Hobbit and Fantastic Beasts respectively, and these lead – or are leading – into ending battles that are seemingly bigger than the ones in the previous films. This in turn, makes the original films seem less important as, canonically, the bigger battles had already been fought.
The Willy Wonka prequel, unless they throw a big curve ball, will presumably explain how Willy Wonka came to have a magical Chocolate Factory and a race of dwarves that do his bidding. Putting the weird slavery connotations aside, it is stated in the famous song that the Chocolate Factory is indeed a “world of pure imagination” and that it “defies explanation.” Taking away the mystery, explaining the unexplainable and simply telling backstories that never needed to be told are some of the biggest crimes of reboots and prequels. Though Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t technically a reboot, it does fall into the category of telling stories that never really needed to be told. We know Han Solo is a rogue who only cares about himself at the start of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, we don’t need to know anything more than that. That’s where his story starts.
Of course, no pre-production material has come out from the Willy Wonka prequel at the time of writing this. So it’s unfair to judge it basically on a headline, but Hollywood does have a track record for this kind of thing.
Another tactic for reboots, albeit a slightly more recent one, is the Race/Gender-Swap. This means taking an established character that has traditionally been one race or gender and changing it to a different one. This is one of the laziest and manipulative methods Hollywood uses as it’s just to pander to our current culture’s ever growing calls for increased diversity in cinema. Diversity is a great thing of course, but this is not the way to improve it. It serves only to alienate a film’s entire possible audience; it makes the people who are supposedly being represented feel condescended to and it makes the fans of the character angry as their character has been changed into someone they don’t really recognise.
The biggest upcoming example of this is JJ Abrams and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Superman reboot which will star a Black Clark Kent. This is particularly lazy because there are already black Supermen that exist in the comics, Calvin Ellis is a black Superman that was based on ex-President of the United States Barack Obama. More importantly though, there are several original black superheroes from D.C. Comics that have never been put to screen. John Stewart is often seen as a more popular incarnation of Green Lantern than his original white counterpart, Hal Jordan.
There’s also the upcoming Zorro reboot which will see Zorro put into a modern day setting, turning the character into a woman and using spray paint instead of a sword. This takes EVERYTHING away from the original character. Zorro resides in quite a unique setting for a masked hero and there are very few fun swashbuckling franchises out there, so a reboot of Zorro as he was originally envisioned would be a very welcome new project. Instead, Hollywood wants to try and appeal to the current generation and they think this is the way to do it.
How do you improve on this? Again, add, don’t take away. If you want to increase diversity then add original characters that happen to be women, Asian or gay, for example. The Doctor Who revival did this constantly (much less so nowadays under the new show runner Chris Chibnall) and it always felt natural, so it’s really not difficult.
Reboots can be exciting and brilliant. Denis Villenueve’s Dune looks set to be the best film of 2021, the same goes for Matt Reeves’ The Batman for 2022. It is a mistake to think that all reboots are evil, but it takes more than a bit of thought and lust for money to make them good.