Words by Alisha Rao
I had the idea for this piece when I was asked not long ago, ‘what was the last movie you watched in theatres?’ I had to think for a second. The most recent movie I saw in theatres was Aladdin, and before that Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). Both of those are reboots from the 90s. These are not outliers in this prominent trend, and it is something I have wanted to discuss for a while; why there are so many reboots of old movies, and additionally, what does this mean in our day and age?
In recent news, there is now a trailer for a reboot of Charlie’s Angels, one of my favourite movies. The two Charlie’s Angels movies in the early 2000s are also reboots of an older TV show, so this is a meta-reboot. The James Bond franchise takes a turn: it sees Daniel Craig as James Bond again, but his infamous codename “007” becomes the name of another agent played by Lashana Lynch.
The live-action remake of The Lion King is out, so is Men in Black: International starring Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson. Mr. Rogers will be adapted to a movie starring Tom Hanks. It’s a lot to take in, and this is just for 2019 movies. In recent years, I have noticed the ‘Rise of the Reboot™’, such as Godzilla (2014), The Legend of Tarzan (2016), Kong: Skull Island (2017), Jumanji (2017), two different Jungle Book movies (2016 and 2018 respectively), Tomb Raider (2018), not including the litany of past and upcoming Disney remakes like Dumbo (2019) and Mulan (2020).
Leaving aside franchises like Star Wars and Jurassic Park that continued their sequels after many years (to the point that they also felt like reboots), the reason for the increased number of reboots remains in question. Maybe they’re trying for an easy cash grab (relying on nostalgia for the originals), or saving money on trying to create original stories. Now, in defence of reboots, I don’t see issues with them if the purpose is corrective or fairly harmless like Ghostbusters (2016), and what I like to call serving ‘The Aladdin Purpose™’. To explain my very iconic patent, I think Aladdin is an overall great remake of the animated film. The movie changed the lyrics in some songs to show more sensitivity to the amalgamated cultures depicted, used appropriate casting, and wonderful costuming, all aspects that sorely needed the update. By comparison, the live-action Beauty and the Beast (2017), as much as I love Emma Watson, was not as remake-worthy because it just did not require the same level of correction. The original animated film helped hit off the Disney Renaissance period, had good themes, but didn’t need to fit any kind of progressive agenda.
That brings me to my next critique on reboots; are they being made to be more progressive and forward thinking, to reflect how far we and the industry has come? As seen with Aladdin, this isn’t a bad idea, but as I also mentioned, it doesn’t always work, and comes off as trying too hard. I thoroughly enjoyed the genderbent reboot of Ghostbusters because it removes a lot of the gendered character developments and themes from the 1984 original, but I didn’t enjoy Ocean’s 8 (2018) as much because it plays out exactly like Ocean’s 11, without having its own sense of agency. It even goes as far as to repeat comedic timing. Fun fact: A Star is Born (2018) is a remake, and is the third remake of the 1937 film starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. Maybe it’s a matter of preference, but to me a reboot is a reboot; it’s not new.
Reboots are sometimes a dangerous card for film industries to play, because it is unoriginal regardless of its conception; it is how unoriginal the film is that determines its quality. From a functional standpoint, Star Trek (2009) and to a lesser extent G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra (2009) work as reboots because you did not have a plethora of films like them that came out that time, such as Public Enemies, Sherlock Holmes, Lovely Bones, The Ugly Truth (all 2009), The Social Network, How to Train Your Dragon, Toy Story 3, The King’s Speech (all 2010), and so on; there is variety. As mentioned earlier, I believe if an older movie, classic or not, has strong themes of problematic judgements, a reboot is justifiable for a newer audience. Movies are usually a product of their times so it is equally important to consider the context of movies remade in the 2010s and later, going back to movies having social commentary. I also said earlier that I don’t have issues with reboots serving The Aladdin Purpose™, but most reboots don’t, which creates an over-saturation of these kinds of movies, good and bad. If you have too much of something, it isn’t good. Rebooted movies to me are like milk chocolate; sweet and tasty, probably reminds you of simpler times, but sickening if you have too much of it. The number of reboots made could easily have been original films, but the risk of pitching a story people may not like is too high and like any business, revenue needs to be generated and guaranteed.
So what does this mean in the grand scheme of things? The reboots might serve the lucrative purpose of making money and crafted with very little originality, but also nostalgia for 90s movies and beyond. I have never seen the movie La La Land (2016), but I believe that movie, considering its backdrop, is nostalgic for an older time and maybe what was thought of as the ‘good old days’. Is it that with more resources and technology, there’s a yearning for older movies to be harmlessly remade to do what the originals couldn’t, and not simply to fit an agenda? I have never wanted to view movies as having strong political undertones and/or overwhelming commentary, but reboots seem to perpetuate this, and again, this isn’t a bad thing. I think it is important to see these trends, and maybe that takes enjoyment out of watching a film, but as someone who does enjoy movies, I still want to get something out of it; to be entertained, and not in a way that replicates the movies or shows of my childhood. I’m lactose-intolerant, so all I want is milk chocolate in moderation.