It’s no secret that franchises have become the go-to source for mass revenue in Hollywood. As production budgets rise and high opening weekend numbers are a must to ensure maximum profitability, studios are wise to turn to big name properties. After all, casual viewers are more likely to go see something they recognize, so there’s a serious incentive to green light films that feature existing fan-favorite characters.
In recent years, a trend has emerged when it comes to dealing with movie franchises – and we’re not talking about the shared universe phenomenon. Executives are also looking for ways to continue iconic franchises years – or in some cases decades – after they were last seen on screen. 2015 saw projects such as Jurassic World, Creed, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which served as franchise relaunches while still operating within the existing continuity. This year, the practice goes on with the release of Jason Bourne (watch the Super Bowl spot). Even though it’s been just four years since the Bourne series saw an installment, star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass are returning after nearly 10 years away, putting Jason Bourne in the same boat as the tentpoles of last year.
It’s a stark contrast from the first part of the 21st century, where hard reboots like Batman Begins and Casino Royale wiped the slate clean and started from scratch. The thing that’s in now is the “soft” reboot: a movie that introduces a particular brand to a new generation of moviegoers, while still keeping the canon of previous films intact. Many of these works have seen great critical and/or commercial success, making it easy to see why the soft reboot is so appealing compared to the alternative.
The Problem of Remakes
The movie business is no stranger to remakes or hard reboots, where filmmakers take a premise that has been attempted before, imagining that the previous incarnation never happened. There are examples of excellent remakes (like Ocean’s Eleven), but more often than not studios pursue the wrong kind of film to redo. Banking on the familiar titles of years past striking a chord, it’s usually perceived classics of a genre that get the remake treatment. Modern examples include Point Break and Total Recall, which offered sanitized PG-13 renditions of R-rated hits that won over audiences. When these films are announced, they’re met with more eye rolls than cheers because many viewers see them as unnecessary.
One big issue with remaking a well-received movie is that comparisons are inevitable, and there’s rarely anything the 2.0 version can do to improve upon the original. Why would action movie fans settle for 2015’s Point Break when they can pop in Kathryn Bigelow’s cult smash with the irresistible pairing of Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze? Why would sci-fi admirers go for the 2012 Total Recall when the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle of the same name is seen as one of the actor’s many highlights? It’s why so many people immediately blasted the impending Memento remake; the film’s already great, why mess with it? Christopher Nolan’s thriller is seen as one of the best movies of the 2000s and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay. It’s hard to see how a remake can do anything but be a pale imitation.
Remakes should really only be attempted when the initial film took an interesting premise but didn’t execute it as well as it could have. That’s why people like the 2001 Ocean’s Eleven so much. Seeing a bunch of charming criminals rob three casinos simultaneously is undeniably fun, but the 1960 original was hardly seen as a crime classic (despite its big name cast). Fifty years later, director Steven Soderbergh and a team of A-listers delivered a breezy, entertaining film that was very successful and launched a franchise. In addition to taking a poor film and making it better, the new Ocean’s Eleven also waited a long time to take its second shot, well after the original faded from memory. Many failed remakes come out too soon, which only puts them at a greater disadvantage.
With this in mind, it’s no shock that out of all the franchise revivals of 2015, Terminator: Genisys was one of the ones that flopped. It tried selling viewers on the nostalgia of James Cameron’s first two Terminator films, but didn’t add anything new to the equation. Scenes from the originals were outright recreated, making Genisys a pseudo remake that angered fans instead of making them excited. Tapping into the emotional resonance of a beloved franchise can go a long way, but it takes more than a couple of recognizable shots to make audiences care. Cameron’s Terminator movies still hold up and are revered as watershed moments for cinema. One can pop in the Blu-ray for T2: Judgment Day to get a real visceral experience, as opposed to paying to see the same thing again in a theater.
Next Page: The Appeal of the Soft Reboot
The Appeal of the Soft Reboot
This is what makes the soft reboot so appealing. Executives are able to tap into the love audiences have for a big name property in a much more natural way. They aren’t remaking a classic film or hitting the reset button on a series that told a complete, well-received story. It’s a clever way of having your cake and eating it too. The tentpoles are still based on things viewers know, they’re just put in a better position to succeed.
The soft reboot adds on to the legacy of what’s come before and tries to push it in exciting new directions. Imagine if Universal announced a hard Jurassic Park reboot. That would lead to vitriol from viewers, since the 1993 original is seen as a seminal work of pop art by Steven Spielberg and a near perfect experience. What if Disney said they were erasing all Star Wars continuity to make way for their new films in a galaxy far, far away? Comments sections would still be ablaze, disapproving fans cursing the Mouse House for ignoring the significance of the original Star Wars films, multi-generational touchstones that have made an impact with so many. You can run this hypothetical scenario with any classic franchise and the results would be the same. But if it’s a follow-up? The tune changes.
By continuing a well-known movie series instead of going for a fresh start, the studios actually increase the level of appeal for their upcoming projects. They get to suck in a new generation of moviegoers, creating the next group of fans that will help the franchise succeed for years down the road, but they’re also keeping the original fans happy. The notion of The Force Awakens was just as exciting for those who grew up with the original trilogy as it was for their kids, since the adults in attendance got to see the next chapter in a story they cared about. The older fans knew that the movies they watched in their youth still mattered in regards to the canon, making Episode VII a multi-generational event.
This is also why Jurassic World was such a big hit when it was released. Seeing John Hammond’s original vision come into fruition and witnessing a fully functioning dinosaur amusement park was a thrill for those who remember the first Jurassic Park – when it was all just a dream that captured the imagination.
Films like Creed, The Force Awakens, and Jurassic World are no strangers to being criticized for “borrowing” from their predecessors when it comes to thematic or story elements, but the aura around these projects is palpably different. Fans appear to be more forgiving of any similarities in the case of a soft reboot because they know that it’s still a new story in a familiar world as opposed to an all-out retread. Creed adheres very closely to the Rocky formula, but there are enough unique twists to make it its own thing. If Ryan Coogler had actually remade the 1976 original, the reception would be far less welcoming. The parallels between The Force Awakens and A New Hope are very apparent to those clued in, but they don’t derail the movie because there’s plenty of new stuff to get excited about.
The soft reboot combats the negative stigma of a remake or hard reboot by presenting the relaunch to the audience in a different light. It’s not the same thing you’ve already seen, it’s something new featuring something you love.
The soft reboot is a smart way to handle franchises and other big name properties. Frequently, they serve as a strong entry point for new viewers, meaning any knowledge of the previous films is not a necessity. At the same time, those who have followed the series from the beginning are also in for a treat, since spotting the references and Easter eggs are part of the fun. The history of everything that has come before is honored, and the continuation of the main story feels genuine and heartfelt as opposed to a shameless cash grab looking to capitalize on something recognizable. It can bring people closer together instead of creating a divide over which version is “better.” They’re all installments in the same series.
Even though Matt Damon is teasing that Jason Bourne marks the completion of the character’s journey, you can bet the studio has other ideas. Should the film be as successful as the previous entries with Damon in the spotlight, interest will be high in producing more movies with Bourne front and center. Odds are, this won’t be a one-off and perhaps usher in another series of stories for the super spy. After all, Return of the Jedi seemed to cap things off with an exclamation point until Mickey Mouse decided there was more to tell. And fans – both old and new – would be accepting of that, since they enjoy seeing Damon (and not someone else) play Bourne.
Given the critical and commercial performances of Jurassic World, Creed, and The Force Awakens, this looks like a trend that won’t be going away anytime soon. It’s actually been fairly prevalent in Hollywood for years, with the 2009 Star Trek and X-Men: First Class reviving their respective franchises while (relatively) staying within the same continuity. The goal of a tentpole movie is to cast a wide net and appeal to as many people as possible. The soft reboot is perhaps the perfect way of accomplishing that and keeping a majority of viewers happy.