It’s time for some real talk.
It isn’t news to anyone that Hollywood has been running out of ideas in recent years. Very little of what you see is new. The majority of everything you see at the movies is a sequel, a prequel, a reboot, a retelling, or a “re-imagining”. Now, as frustrating as this is I’ll be the first to admit that I’m usually right there with everyone else eager to watch these movies when they come out. Heck, I saw (and loved!) the new Man of Steel movie last week before it was even released despite the fact that it was a rebooted Superman movie and we just had a new Superman movie only a few short years ago.
Here’s the problem with reboots: They’re boring (to an extent). For the most part, the audience is going to already know what happens. How is that entertaining?
Now don’t get me wrong, Superman Returns wasn’t great and Man of Steel was a logical reboot for DC in hopes of starting a new, connected movie universe for their comic book characters – à la Marvel and The Avengers. I get it. They needed a fresh start to flesh out all of these characters. But this is far from the only example, just the most recent.
How about The Amazing Spider-Man (which again, I enjoyed)? That was another reboot which was mainly done because Sony Pictures was about to lose the rights to the Spider-Man character unless they made another movie before their deal with Marvel expired. The Amazing Spider-Man was originally supposed to be Spider-Man 4, part of the original Spider-Man film series directed by Sam Raimi and starring
Crappy Peter Parker Tobey Maguire. Raimi and Sony had some creative disagreements, so Raimi packed his bags and Sony decided to reboot it so they wouldn’t lose their cash cow of a character. That’s it. But with a reboot like this things can get stale. Raimi’s original Spider-Man movie was only 10 years old when The Amazing Spider-Man was released, but the reboot still had to retell the origin story of the character again even though it was already fresh in the audience’s mind from the previous films. That’s boring.
Another recent example is J. J. Abram’s Star Trek Into Darkness. Admittedly, I have never been a big Star Trek fan nor have I watched any of the older movies. This is probably why I enjoyed Into Darkness so much. It was new to me. But apparently many old school Star Trek fans weren’t as pleased with the recent film because it was a very similar rehashing of 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Understandably, these fans had the right to not be overly enthusiastic about seeing almost the same movie again over 30 years later.
Remember Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy? Of course you do, because the last movie was released less than a year ago. When The Dark knight Rises came out Man of Steel was in production, and within the first week of its release Warner Brothers said they were planning to reboot the Batman franchise so it would fit into Man of Steel‘s universe. IN THE SAME WEEK! People had barely even been seen their new Batman movie yet and they were already planning to reboot it! That’s just ridiculous.
But these new movies sure do look nice, huh? It seems reboots are mainly focused on using new special effects and graphics to distract the audience from the fact that they are watching the same movie over and over again. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some noticeable differences between these movies, but they are outweighed by the fact that the movies are so character driven and the origins of those characters will have to be retold again and again with every single reboot. Or, you know, the movie studios could just make prequels.
And now for the problem with prequels: We already know the outcome so we don’t care about the characters’ conflicts.
Follow me here. One of the main things that make a movie or story good is when the audience or reader is emotionally connected to the character(s). They actually care what happens to them. A good story will put the character in some sort of dilemma or conflict or danger. But what happens when that situation takes place within a prequel story? A strong feeling of “meh” is what happens. You see, no matter the amount of danger a character gets thrown into in a prequel story, the audience will be hard-pressed to actually care because they already know that character survives. They know that character survives because they were alive in the original move that takes place after the prequel. It makes it very hard to be invested in a character when you already know their outcome.
For example, take the new ongoing Star Wars comic.
Firstly, it’s awesome. Secondly, it’s (kind of) a prequel. It actually tales place between Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Yes this comic is great, but no amount of good writing or stunning artwork is going to distract me from the fact that whatever these characters get into, they’re going to live to see the next chapter simply because they have to. Luke and Leia are in an epic X-Wing battle with a Star Destroyer? Cool, I can’t wait to see their guaranteed win and/or escape! Oh, Han and Chewie are stuck in the middle of a smuggling scam gone sour? Sweet, see them at the cantina in the next issue! Whatever danger they get into it isn’t any real danger because we all know better.
Not to keep talking about Star Wars, but I’m going to keep talking about Star Wars. There’s no way I can’t mention the actual Star Wars prequel movies. The whole point of those films was to show Anakin Skywalker growing up and becoming Darth Vader. Well, that and George Lucas hates you. So why are there so many scenes in the prequel trilogy that try to make the audience feel like “Hey, maybe he won’t become Vader after all! Look, he just acted like a human with a soul!” Why even do that and waste everyone’s time? Anyone who actually thought Anakin might not become Vader is an idiot or hadn’t seen the original trilogy. We already knew the outcome. Move along Lucas, we’re bored.
This is applicable to almost any prequel that is focused on a specific character that was also in the original story (I’m looking at you X-Men Origins: Wolverine). The only time a prequel isn’t inherently boring is when it doesn’t focus on the same characters, but rather on the worlds and the environments and the situations. A good example of this is C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. The first book Lewis wrote was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 1950. Fast forward through four sequel books in the series and Lewis writes the prequel to all of them called The Magician’s Nephew in 1955. The thing is that The Magician’s Nephew doesn’t focus on those original characters, but rather the creation of the fantastical world of Narnia as it was presented in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. That’s a good prequel because there were new characters who I could actually be concerned for. Who are these new characters? How will they react to these situations? Will they survive? What’s their favorite color? These are the kinds of questions that keep me entertained.
All in all, prequels and reboots are here to stay, but hopefully they will find a way around these issues. They’ve been around forever and they will continue to be long after I’m done complaining in this article. I guess I might as well help them out by eagerly enjoying them along with everyone else.