There was a time in Hollywood when a remake, or a reboot, was welcomed. You only have to look at the critical acclaim garnered by 2005’s Batman Begins for casting aside the cartoonish frippery of Batman and Robin in 1997, or how Ocean’s Eleven made 2001 cool again after the critically savaged 1960 version.
But that’s not all; remakes were done right way back in the 70s and 80s. Take a look at The Thing from Another World in 1951, and tell us the alien looks like anything other than a giant carrot. Watch the 1982 remake and you’ll recoil in fear to the extent you’ll want it to be a carrot onscreen. Aliens posed a threat in the 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but nowhere near as chilling as their infiltration of the human race in the 1978 remake.
Now, the word “remake”, or even worse, the dreaded “reboot”, will meet with howls of derision, internet messageboard fury, and at worst, out-and-out threats to those involved. But why? When there are successes like the ones above, surely having another stab at a franchise that wasn’t done right the first time is a good move? Well not always, for the following reasons:
The passage of time
Our first issue is a big one – many people just can’t accept a remake, if what they’re remaking is still fresh in the memory. While The Amazing Spider-Man was a success, it could have been so much more, had the previous chapter not been in cinemas a mere five years before. When Sony saw that their new vision had stood up to that test, they quickly put into play a sequel – which didn’t do so well. The result of that being the company going cap in hand to Marvel to – again – reboot the franchise. Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man was still fresh in the minds of both Spidey fans and the casual moviegoer. That said, his disappointing third outing was arguably the prompt for Sony to try things again, with a more teen friendly cast, jettisoning the geek credentials of Maguire and Sam Raimi, making it more accessible for the iPhone generation. Add to that the money making power of the comic book movie – and the potential for a shared universe like The Avengers – and Sony took the plunge. But was it too soon? The Amazing Spider-Man made less at the box office ($758m), than it’s critically savaged predecessor, which took $890m. A new Batman solo movie appearing in 2016, and starring Ben Affleck, would probably not fare well compared to the Dark Knight Trilogy, the last of which appeared in 2012. The fact that the rest of the Justice League are appearing in it may well push it beyond that – but the question remains, do we really need another Batman movie, so soon after the last one?
Messing with the established story
This is the one where the comic book geeks get annoyed (and we count ourselves amongst that number). The Fantastic Four reboot has been savaged before it has even hit cinemas. That’s for many reasons, but some of them (don’t worry, we’ll get to the rest later), are the drastic changes to both the scenario that gives the group their powers and the backstory of some of the characters. Victor Von Doom, who has traditionally been the ruler and despotic tyrant of Latveria in the Marvel comics universe, is now Viktor Domashev. He is a computer expert working on the experiment that gives the Fantastic Four their abilities. Said to be a hacker and blogger in earlier drafts, actor Toby Kebbell has recently been at great pains to state this isn’t the case. Leaked photos of his costume, usually an imposing affair, were underwhelming (although they were, admittedly, pre any CGI). That experiment was, in the comics, a space shuttle flight that went wrong, giving the group amazing powers. Here, it’ll be an interdimensional portal to another realm that messes with their genes. Now, before those of you familiar with the Ultimate Fantastic Four books cry “that’s exactly what happens there”, consider the following. How many comic book fans really, really like or identify with The Fantastic Four? The 2005 movie was poorly received, so a reboot should do wonders shouldn’t it? It doesn’t look like it, because the world wasn’t crying out for a remake. The first iteration was average, but at least it had some identifiable threads to the casual comic book fan. This doesn’t – for a variety of reasons, including…
The Fantastic Four lends itself heavily to this category too. Michael B. Jordan, an accomplished actor, is playing The Human Torch, Johnny Storm. Michael B. Jordan is black – Johnny Storm is white. It shouldn’t matter – but it does. Irrespective of the racist overtones – which we’ll address below – Jordan’s previous work with director Josh Trank has counted against him, as many people see his casting as evidence of nepotism within the production. But would that have mattered if Jordan had the experience, notoriety and gravitas to have put his own persona into the role? There was little uproar when Marvel Comics reworked Nick Fury as black in their Ultimate Universe, eschewing decades of continuity when Fury was white. The casual comic fan, and the mainstream moviegoer, unfamiliar with that continuity, will have known Nick Fury as a grumpy white man. But hey, now he’s Samuel L. Jackson! It doesn’t matter because he’s cool! Jordan isn’t at that level yet. That same audience that accepted Jackson now won’t accept Jordan because the only thing casual fans know about Johnny Storm other than his powers, is that he’s white. Leaping over that hurdle is too much for some people, and so the criticism begins. That then spreads to other cast members, such as Jamie Bell’s past history playing a ballet dancer counting against him playing The Thing, and Miles Teller just plain not looking like Reed Richards. There are though, bigger casting decisions that raise the ire of fans. The Ghostbusters reboot for example, has attracted such vitriol that director Paul Feig reacted with venom (quote from an interview with Variety):
The first wave when you make an announcement like that is overwhelmingly positive. Everyone’s so happy, and you’re like, ‘This is great.’ Then comes the second wave, and you’re like, ‘Oh my God.’ It’s some of the most vile, misogynistic s*** I’ve ever seen in my life.
You’ll notice there the use of the phrase “misogynistic”. That’s because Feig’s reboot is an all female lineup. But interestingly, a lot of the criticism hasn’t come from people hating the idea of an X chromosome movie – rather the women in it. Melissa McCarthy’s brand of “comedy” is based around her body shape, her voice and the language she uses. In the same way James Corden played to the stereotype on British shores, McCarthy uses that same approach. While it works in movies like Bridesmaids and Spy (both also made by Feig – again leading to accusations of nepotism), Ghostbusters isn’t an original concept, and the comedy in the initial episodes was far removed from that. Could it just be than fans of the original don’t want a reboot because they consider the original to be good, and don’t want it’s legacy sullied? Can you blame them if they don’t want clever wordplay replaced by foul language? Talking of which…
Paul Feig’s retort above isn’t the only time he’s cut loose when defending his Ghostbusters movie. Knowing he faced opposition, his approach has been less “please have faith in this, and we’ll respect the original”, and more “I don’t care what you think, you’re all sexist pigs”, as evidenced here and here. Tell a fan that you don’t care what they think, and you’re bound to rub them up the wrong way. It does though, become a vicious circle – and an aggressive marketing tool. The more a director reacts to inflammatory comments with equally confrontational remarks, the more gossip sites report it, the more tweets are written, the more message board threads are started, and the movie’s reputation spreads far wider than it would have done had it been a plain and simple reboot with a new cast taking on existing characters. In that respect, Feig has done a great job promoting the movie. Some people will want to go and see it to side with him, some will go and see it to see if it is as bad as they claim, some will go and see it so they can go on the Internet and claim they’ve seen it themselves so they can rightly hate it. Nevertheless, it’s probably added a few millions onto the box office and more bums on seats. There will also be a percentage of people, who just won’t like being told what to think. Don’t like the script? You might be branded as a sexist. Don’t like the costumes? Sexist. Not a fan of Melissa McCarthy? You don’t like her because she’s a woman.This approach cheapens feminism. When people do have a genuine argument, it’s chastened because they’re afraid of being branded a misogynist. If people make a genuine sexist comment, they’re treated the same as those who have criticised the movie editorially. Doesn’t that weaken feminism’s stance and stifle debate?
The lack of new ideas
Just last year, reboots of RoboCop, Jack Ryan, Godzilla, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Equaliser arrived on cinema screens. Add to that sequels involving The Hunger Games, Planet of the Apes, Transformers, Spider-Man, X-Men and Captain America. Of the top ten grossing movies of 2014, only one – Interstellar – wasn’t a sequel, reboot or connected to an established universe. In short, Hollywood loves wringing the last drop out of every franchise, and then, rebooting it to make some more. And people are still going to see them. Maybe that defeats the entire argument we’ve been trying to build, but it does mean that new ideas aren’t exactly forthcoming in the film industry. Even the director of Interstellar, Christopher Nolan, saw his stock rise dramatically as a result of his work on The Dark Knight Trilogy. Would he have been given the money and the green light for Interstellar had he not forced his way into Hollywood’s upper echelon through a comic book movie? That said, the new Star Wars movies have been treated with a great degree of reverence regardless of the director – because Disney know they’ll make money. JJ Abrams has understood what was missing from the previous sequels – nostalgia. The appearances of Han Solo, Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker and a mangled Darth Vader helmet are, at this stage, deflecting any potential fan doubts. Odds are, it’ll be a success, but then again, we should all know by now, that you should never tell anyone the odds.