The 21st Century Reboot
We were warned. Y2K would bring a complete collapse of our computers. Provided that didn’t send us back into the Stone Age overnight, it would require a reboot. The computers, as it turned out, were fine… but Hollywood hit the “reboot” button anyway.
The 90s were a decade of remakes and movie versions of old TV shows that bore little resemblance to the source material’s tone. Batman entered the decade having dominated the entire world in 1989, but within a scant eight years, after 1997’s Batman & Robin, Warner Bros. concluded that there was absolutely no life left in the character for movies. Hollywood needed a new direction. I know most fans would have liked to see fresh, original ideas get some studio backing. But at least with the advent of Fox Searchlight and Sony Classics, independent productions have received better distribution than ever before.
One thing that cannot be overlooked is the impact that Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace had. Yes, it upset the fanboys… but not so much that we didn’t go back to see it two more times during its theatrical run, flock to KFC and Taco Bell to get our collector cups, and descend upon toy aisles to add Darth Maul to our Hasbro collection. More importantly, that movie singlehandedly made “prequel” a household word. All of a sudden, even people who paid little regard to things like “continuity” were able to wrap their heads around the concept that this movie, made now, takes place before that movie made before it. The prequel trilogy made a ton of money at the box office, on VHS and DVD, and in merchandise sales. Hollywood had its new direction. Batman began anew in 2005, followed by James Bond in ’06 and Star Trek last year.
But why have audiences responded so favorably (by and large) to these reboots? Perhaps it’s the sense that this is James Bond for this generation. To some extent that makes sense, but I have to say that Pierce Brosnan was the first Bond I saw in the theaters. While I had a special connection to his run, it wasn’t necessary to actively disavow the previous 16 movies in the series for him to be my generation’s 007.
I can’t prove it, but I suspect on a subconscious level a lot of it has to do with our reaction to 9/11. Even President George W. Bush’s most ardent supporters will admit that his administration was unprepared for that event and its aftermath. We as a nation were at a point of anxiety not seen since the attack on Pearl Harbor, and we looked for leadership from a man who was really learning as he went in a lot of ways. Seeing familiar characters start all over again became reassuring in a way. Yes, Daniel Craig’s Bond is much more “rough around the edges” than we’ve seen in previous incarnations, but by the end of the film we recognize the 007 we’ve always counted on to save the world. So too, could it be with real life: our leaders would come through for us.
The other part of my theory is that audiences themselves have become less interested in displays of experienced competence and relate more to rookies making mistakes. It’s no secret that the biggest moneymakers draw youthful audiences, who tend to be narcissistic, and it stands to reason they would like to see characters that make mistakes, get yelled at and in the end prove to everyone that they aren’t complete screw-ups by getting it right in the end. My generation grew up largely seeing idealized heroes who rarely made mistakes; they were held up as something to strive to become ourselves in some way. Today’s generation just wants to know it’s okay to make mistakes, and they don’t seem to be terribly concerned with having role models to emulate tomorrow, so long as someone is there to reinforce what they’re doing today.
I realize how cranky I sound in all this, but I think it’s true. The first rule of storytelling is, “Know your audience.” These reboots have all recast their principal heroes as flawed rookies. The most competent has been Batman, but even Alfred took him to task for the sloppiness of his highway getaway in Batman Begins. I’d hoped that we would see these Square One heroes evolve for years to come, but now it appears that may not be the trend at all. The next Bond movie is in flux pending the sale of MGM, and may not be made any time soon. Christopher Nolan seems to be of the mind that his next Batman film will conclude his interest in telling stories with the character.
Meanwhile, Marvel and Sony have looked at Batman and decided that Spider-Man—whose cinematic franchise began in 2002 — needs a reboot after just three films. Fan response was largely negative about Spider-Man 3, and rather than wait eight years to reboot the web-slinger, they’re doing it now. The message is clear: “If at third you don’t succeed; start, start again.”
Hollywood can spend the money to start all over again whenever it chooses, but I can’t help but wonder what the lesson being taught to its audience is. After all, they’ve already been taught by the rebooted movie heroes that when they screw up, the rest of the world should get off their back. What will they make of being told that the way to respond to disappointment is to act like it never happened and start all over again?
This post is part of our User Showcase series. You can find Travis as minlshaw on Flickchart. If you’re interested to submit your own story or article describing your thoughts about movies and Flickchart, read our original post for how to become a guest writer here on the Flickchart Blog.