FandomWire‘s latest Video Essay explains how to reboot a movie franchise.
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The Art of the Reboot
A reboot can be best defined as creating a new version of an already beloved film. It has become a much more common approach since the 2010s, with over 100 reboots being made in the last 20 years alone. Films ranging from 2021’s Mortal Kombat to 2004’s The Punisher are all included in the many Hollywood reboots. Hannah Lodge critiqued 2019’s Men in Black: International by writing, “A charismatic cast can’t save Men in Black: International from feeling like a thoughtless cash grab.” Hannah isn’t the only individual to view reboots as nothing more than a cash grab, as many poorly done reboots have the majority of the reboots calling out the film as a cash grab.
Except sometimes, when it comes to making a reboot, fans are often divided on the idea. Modernizing a classic can be a difficult process as studios need to keep the same amount of love and passion put into the original. Back in 2014, Sony Pictures released the Robocop reboot. The film currently sits at a 48% Rotten Tomatoes score, with critic Peter Travers writing, “This Robo-reboot tries fiercely to update the satirical punch and stylistic perversity of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original. It’s a futile gesture”. Robocop is just one of the MANY films to be rebooted over the years, but occasionally a reboot releases that are just as good or sometimes even better than the original, like 2011’s Rise of the Planet of Apes, which led to a trilogy with an average Rotten Tomatoes score of 89%. When it comes to making a reboot, three questions need to be asked: Why should a film be rebooted?
How do you embrace the original? And what exactly makes a reboot good or bad?
Why exactly should a film be rebooted if the original is so good? Instead of looking at the poorly done reboots, it’s best to look at the correctly done ones, specifically 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, directed by Rupert Wyatt. The film was released a decade after the Tim Burton reboot in 2001 and has a 44% Rotten Tomato score. Rise of the Planet of the Apes takes the original 1968 film and builds upon it. 33 years had passed between the two films, so not only would the technology change in the reboot, but the entire world should change. Critic Sara Michelle Fetters noted this by writing, “somewhat shockingly, the modern interpretation of mankind’s downfall is actually pretty darn good.” Rise of the Planet of the Apes made itself known that the film has a purpose as it brings the downfall of mankind and an uprising of intelligent life to the modern age and a new generation.
The idea of modernizing a classic film is often the go-to reason for a reboot. Robocop, Child’s Play, Scoob!, and Power Rangers are just a few of the rebooted films that feature a strikingly similar plot to the original, with the only change being advanced technology. Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes falls into that category as well; the film takes the same plot as the original, with the only noticeable difference being the advanced visuals for the time and an updated timeframe. Rise of the Planet of the Apes does the exact opposite, as it features a new and completely original story and characters. The sole similarity is the theme revolving around the downfall of mankind, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes expands upon this. This film was released during a time of medical advancements and testing on primates, so the plot could feel very real to those watching.
What makes Rise of the Planet of the Apes so special is how the film took the premise of the original 1968 film and does something entirely different with it. A similar approach was taken with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which takes the concept of Robin Williams’ classic and creates something different. The film not only replaces the board game with a video game but features an entirely new group of characters and a story that feels like the original yet is original. When the teenage characters get sucked into the video game, they become the opposite of their biggest insecurities. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle features a deep theme about moving beyond your insecurities and depression, which can be seen in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. So why exactly should a film be rebooted if the original is so good? The answer is if you can expand the universe even more. Modernizing and advanced technology isn’t enough to justify a reboot; the story needs to be original but with the same concept and heart as the original.
Now how do you embrace the original film if you are supposed to do something original? When it comes to embracing the original, you don’t want to do too little to where the reboot feels like its own thing or too much to where the reboot solely relies on the original film. Rise of the Planets of the Apes is the prime example of paying tribute and embracing the original film. A film deeply rooted in reality, unlike its predecessor, yet carries the same emotional triumphs. This film, in particular, uses the original as a stepping point for the film to go beyond. Comparing this to 2001’s Planet of the Apes is a film that stays too close to the original to where the films feel the same. Critic Jeffery Chen describes this best by writing, “Doesn’t have the solidity of the theme of the 1968 movie. Also … Burton’s version seems to force an ending that is neither thoughtful nor effective”. The Planet of the Apes franchise is one of the few to have been rebooted twice, and one of the only where one reboot is poor and the other is considered a masterpiece.
When looking back at Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, the film features the same story about an astronaut landing in a world where primates rule with the same group of characters except for name changes. Despite the reports that Burton shot 8 different endings for the film, the chosen ending still feels oddly similar. A similar conclusion can be drawn to 2009’s Friday the 13th reboot, which plays it safe instead of doing anything too unique with Jason Voorhees. The iconic slasher in this reboot tends to be a bit more stealthy but is still killing a group of teens at camp. The trope of a reboot playing it too close to the original is a very common approach. 2022’s Firestarter, 2015’s Poltergeist, 2013’s The Lone Ranger, and 2008’s Punisher: War Zone are just 4 cases of reboots playing it too safe by embracing the original entirely. Each of these films follows the same story as the original and keeps the same theme instead of expanding upon the story and characters.
Expanding upon pre-existing characters is crucial to a reboot. An example of this is comparing Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man and Andrew Garfield’s version. Garfield’s iteration of Peter Parker goes beyond what Tobey Maguire did by featuring a similar yet different origin story alongside a stronger romance and mystery element. Garfield’s Spider-Man brings in more of his parents’ disappearance into the story, which was something Maguire’s skipped over entirely. Another case of expanding upon a character is Andy in the Child’s Play reboot. The reboot featured a much more independent and older Andy, who uses hearing aids but still maintains a strong social life, unlike the original film’s character. Even Batman, who has had six live-action film actors, has managed to bring something unique and expand the character. 2022’s The Batman features Batman as someone who dislikes his alter ego of Bruce Wayne and is much more detective-focused, unlike the 1989 Batman film.
And finally, what exactly makes a reboot good or bad? Deciding a film’s quality is a subjective topic that can be impossible to agree on, yet an overall critic and audience score can help determine this. Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes has a 44% critic score and a 27% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, with both groups agreeing on the film’s poor plot and characters. As discussed prior, this reboot fails to be interesting as it takes what worked in the original and doesn’t go beyond that. 2014’s RoboCop is another case of a poorly received reboot with a 48% critic score that doesn’t go beyond the original. This film shared equal complaints regarding its failure to be interesting. Now, what about good reboots? Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dune, and Casino Royale are just 3 cases of reboots that are not only well received but go beyond what the original film created.
1967’s Casino Royale and 2006’s Casino Royale are two different films, with the latter taking a much more gritty approach rather than the satirical element of the original. The 2006 version portrays James Bond as a character driven by his mission and will use any means necessary to complete this. An opposite portrayal of his 1967 counterpart, who relies heavily on gags and one-liners. The reboot also marks the reinvention of James Bond as a serious character rather than a comedic one, which has now become synonymous with the character. But just because of the success of a gritty James Bond doesn’t mean that a successful reboot needs to be serious. 2017’s Power Rangers took the characters on a much more serious route rather than what they have been known for since 1993. While some older fans appreciated the change in tone, the majority weren’t fans of the drastic change. The lesson learned when it comes to gritty reboots is to not change the film so much that it’s not recognizable but enough to where it feels different.
In every version of a good reboot, the most important thing is the characters. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dune, and Casino Royale all have memorable characters, whether it’s Caesar, Paul Atreides, or James Bond. Each of these characters, alongside their supporting characters, expanded the mythos of their story in ways the original couldn’t. Other reboots like Mad Max: Fury Road and True Grit are considered incredible for their memorable characters and a driven plot. What separates a good reboot from a bad one is whether the reboot goes beyond the original but not too far to where it’s unrecognizable.
The art of the reboot is a tricky subject. The three major questions about a reboot have to be tied together to properly understand how to make a good reboot. A film should only be rebooted to bring new life to the film and expand the story and characters rather than seeking to solely modernize it. By rebooting a film, the reboot should stay true to the original and pay homage but not exclusively rely on the tributes and still branch away. Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes is a reboot that relies so heavily on the original that it becomes the same instead of doing anything new like Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Tying those two questions together brings you to the big question, what makes a reboot good or bad? Embracing the original themes but going beyond the characters and story to tell something new but familiar is the key to a good reboot. Thanks for watching, whether it’s from a planet ruled by apes or the year 2028 in Detroit.