The new year has depressingly brought with it some old faces, ones that are indicative of a sad cultural milieu that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Netflix’s reboot project of the Magic School Bus is continuing apace, now apparently with several of the old former child voice actors on-board to provide cameos; Sarah Michelle Gellar has indicated a willingness to reboot Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Netflix is releasing a reboot of the CBS sitcom One Day at a Time; and NBC recently ordered up a ten-episode revival of Will & Grace.
This isn’t an isolated phenomenon; there are countless reboot movies in the works, among them the Batman story (which was literally just rebooted last year), Flight of the Navigator, Jumanji (because you didn’t get enough Jumanji the first time around), A Nightmare on Elm Street (which already had its own reboot just a few years ago), and Friday the 13th (which has been rebooted two or three times already, depending on one’s canonical preferences). Elsewhere, earlier this year Netflix released its second season of the Full House sequel “Fuller House” (which actually turned out quite good), as well as a four-episode miniseries sequel to “Gilmore Girls” (which was just as insufferable and unwatchable as the original).
I’m not sure what the total market share value of reboots and sequels to 1990s-early 2000s entertainment is, but taken together it probably isn’t peanuts: Millennials love to gush over remakes of the crap they used to watch at 3:30 PM after coming home from school. Just the same, there is something profoundly cheerless and irritating about this reboot phenomenon, a genre that seems to be growing only more popular with each passing year. Part of it is the sight of grown men and women sort of pathetically desperate to re-live their elementary school days: scan the comments of any Youtube video associated with these reboots and you’ll get the picture. But the bigger concern is that we may be losing our ability to tell new stories—that instead of a fresh and interesting new tale, movie studios will instead take shelter underneath a nostalgia-laden remake of Weird Science or Starship Troopers. Even the more traditional sequel-style movies often suffer from reboot syndrome: witness Terminator Genisys, which was nominally a continuation of the series’ storyline but which ending up functioning as an effective intra-series reboot (incredibly, the same reboot function was performed by the television show Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles, released seven years prior to Genisys).
Last year at the Atlantic, Amanda Ann Klein and R. Barton Palmer wrote that it is unfair to “dismiss movies, or TV shows, because they’re inspired by, or part of, a preexisting franchise or series,” because “Self-cannibalizing cycles and sequels…are filmmaking strategies dating back to the industry’s first decade, not a symptom of contemporary culture’s inability to create anything new.” Maybe. But this tiresome reboot phenomenon seems less part of a “cycle” and more part of a genuine creative drought. We’re not dealing with clever dressings-up of old folk stories or heroic Greek myths, after all; nor are we witnessing the rehashing of much older material to which a new generation of audiences can be freshly exposed. Since 2002, there have been no fewer than three individual Spider-Man film franchises, with the most recent two separated by only three years. Say what you want about “filmmaking strategies,” there is absolutely no creative reason to make three different concepts of the same exact character within less than fifteen years of each other; it’s simply a matter of artistic laziness.
Well, surely money has something to do with it as well, which is depressing in its own right. That’s not to say filmmakers from the past weren’t concerned about making a buck; only that they were often willing to do so on a broader creative plane. In their defense, I suppose writers and directors today are, in part, just catering to the desire of their audiences—which means that our stupid reboot culture is an indictment of the moviegoing public, as well. What kind of society wants eight freaking Spider-Man movies? What have we become?