Seven hit Hollywood reboots
Some reboots kick a franchise into new gear
Leave it to Hollywood to remake the term “remake.” These days, “reboot” is the label that the film industry rushes to slap on seemingly every concept reintroduced to multiplexes. “The Amazing Spider-Man,” which opens Tuesday, is accurately categorized as a reboot, given how boldly filmmakers and studio brass changed up a franchise whose established direction hadn’t entirely dead-ended — new director, new cast, newly chronicled origin. (More on that to follow.) But other applications of the tag are just a silly, indiscriminate stretch, cases where there’s hardly something viable being dumped for a fresh start. Last year’s “Footloose,” a reboot? Of what, that powerhouse, multi-installment, continuity-heavy “Footloose.”
A decade or so ago, a popular industry line was to assert that a revived movie concept — Tim Burton’s “Planet of the Apes,” say — “isn’t a remake, it’s a reimagining.” Sequels, similarly, became “iterations.” It allowed development execs to tell themselves — and us — that they were delivering something better, something smarter. It’s easy to see where marketing departments deem “reboot” to be even hipper, edgier — a lot like affixing “X” or “infinity” to some familiar cultural or corporate handle. Witness X Games, or Dunder Mifflin Infinity, or, ugh, Xfinity.
Ironically, while the cooler-than-thou studio set may have mainstreamed the term, geeks probably co-opted it first. Comic book publishers have a long history of relaunching established titles to boost sales and untangle continuity; recall “Superman” and “Batman” publisher DC Comics’ full-line editorial reboot just last year.
It’s fitting, in a way, that showbiz and the comics biz would latch onto the same metaphor for hyping their product, when you consider how much box office is currently driven by the superhero genre. Among the notable franchise reboots to date, comics-derived and otherwise:
It is, indeed, kind of amazing that Spider-Man’s handlers at Sony and Marvel would decide to go back to the beginning. But, in a way, the explanations are also self-evident. Script issues had already killed a 2011 target date for another Sam Raimi-Tobey Maguire installment, and Sony reportedly needed to get production moving to keep its licensing rights from expiring. The studio was able to scale back the budget Raimi wanted — “Spider-Man 3” was said to have cost close to $300 million — and ditch a story line that had lost focus. They now have 20-something Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”) as their perennially youthful hero, rather than 30-something Maguire. (Emma Stone plays Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy, while Rhys Ifans of “Notting Hill” is Dr. Curt Connors, a.k.a. the Lizard, a Spider-nemesis woven into a newly developed back story involving Peter’s parents.) And with the rise of 3-D since the Web-slinger last saw action five years ago, the movie can make a legitimate claim to being something we haven’t seen before. As for how to match the unforgettable upside-down kiss of the first “Spider-Man” in 2002, well, maybe that was the real logic in handing the reins to director Marc Webb, whose previous credit was the Zooey Deschanel rom-com “(500) Days of Summer.”
With Christopher Nolan’s much-anticipated trilogy capper “The Dark Knight Rises” hitting theaters July 20, it’s strange to remember the uncertainty that accompanied “Batman Begins” when it arrived in 2005 as the prototypical reboot. At the time, it had been just eight years — back then, a veritable blink — since “Batman & Robin” and George Clooney’s be-nippled Batsuit had derailed the franchise. Too soon to try again? And was a newly serious approach the right approach? Nolan, Christian Bale, et al. laid any doubts to rest in emphatic fashion. Of course, with the duo just as emphatically insisting that “DKR” is the end, the question now becomes: Does Batman get rebooted all over again?
If moviegoers thought eight years was a short revamp window, how about five? Looking back on Ang Lee’s 2003 disappointment, “The Hulk,” you can see where corporate parent Marvel was blinded by a certain giddiness at attracting a bona fide arthouse auteur. But credit the company for having the creative determination (and, sure, the profit-mindedness) to take another shot, quickly, at getting the character right with 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk.” Goodbye DayGlo creature and off-topic Freudian themes, hello straight-up action, better rendered effects, and nods to the Bill Bixby-Lou Ferrigno TV show. Curiously, director-for-hire Louis Leterrier’s version was no more financially successful than Lee’s, but it was truer to the comics. Either way, when differences between “Incredible Hulk” star Edward Norton and the producers kiboshed Norton’s involvement with the franchise, it effectively got rebooted again — with replacement Mark Ruffalo’s tweedier, digitally remodeled man-monster in “The Avengers.” Call him Hulk 2.5.
On paper, there was a lot to like about “X-Men” director Bryan Singer’s attempt to bring further verisimilitude to the superhero genre with 2006’s “Superman Returns.” Singer ambitiously sought to lend the movie stand-alone relevance while at the same time respectfully tying the action to Christopher Reeve’s first two “Superman” outings. Heck, the guy deserved points just for righting the criminal wrong of Superman’s 19-year absence from the big screen. (Two decades in Phantom Zone limbo — for the genre’s most enduring, iconic character!) But Singer’s $200 million homage, while intriguing, couldn’t recapture the magic, creatively or at the box office. Warner Bros. execs ultimately opted to go in a new direction (sort of), tapping their Bat-savior, Christopher Nolan, as producer and steward of a complete Superman makeover. “Man of Steel,” directed by Zack Snyder (“Watchmen”) and starring Henry Cavill (“Immortals”), is slated for release next June. Other casting highlights: Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Kevin Costner as Pa Kent, and Amy Adams as Lois Lane.
A few years back, some snarked that maybe “Trek” was dead, Jim, given the tepid showings of the “Next Generation” crew’s feature sign-off and TV’s “Enterprise.” Turns out it was nothing that the 2009 reboot from “Lost” mastermind J.J. Abrams couldn’t fix. Abrams’s look back at Kirk (Chris Pine) as a Starfleet Academy cadet was shrewd on a couple of levels, infusing the franchise with youth-quaking energy while also satisfying Trekkers and their sacred-text persnicketiness. And the movie’s alternate-timeline brainstorm may have opened the door for revisiting past “Trek” high points: There’s been speculation that Benedict Cumberbatch (“War Horse”) is playing a rebooted version of Ricardo Montalban’s wrathful Khan in next May’s sequel.
PLANET OF THE APES
Go figure that unheralded director Rupert Wyatt delivered what Tim Burton couldn’t: an “Apes” flick that genuinely shook things up. Last year’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” incorporated contemporary touches such as genetic engineering ethics and pandemic fears into a story that compellingly framed the franchise’s mythology. (There had been prequels back in the ’70s, but they were thin, awkwardly retrofitted stuff that’s barely remembered.) Fox recently announced that the evolutionary upheaval will continue in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” due in May 2014.
007 hasn’t generally sweated continuity. In fact, 2008’s “Quantum of Solace” was the first film in the entire series to be written as a direct sequel to its predecessor. Still, there was no mistaking that the franchise’s longtime gatekeepers were essentially chucking it all and starting over when they cast Daniel Craig for 2006’s “Casino Royale.” Pierce Brosnan’s Bond was still profitable, but out he went, as if he were the dinosaur that Judi Dench’s M once accused him of being. Suddenly, Bond had not only a new look, but a gritty new demeanor. His next mission: November’s “Skyfall,” directed by dark-horse pick Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”).
Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.