With a new ‘Transporter’ reboot in theaters and the ‘Mad Max’ reboot hitting Blu-ray this week, now seems like a good time to evaluate some other famous movie franchise reboots. Which ones worked out for the best, and which really didn’t?
Before we begin, we should clarify that we’re specifically looking for franchise reboots, in which a multi-sequel movie series is restarted with a new lead actor and a new (or at least modified) plot. We want to distinguish this from a simple one-off remake.
‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ = Reboot. Correct!
‘Total Recall’ = Remake. Not what we’re discussing here.
‘Fantastic Four’ = Yes, that’s a reboot all right.
‘Annie’ = C’mon, you know that’s just a remake.
M. Enois Duarte
Best: ‘Mad Max: Fury Road‘ is by far one of the most exciting motion pictures I’ve watched on the big screen in many years. I love George Miller’s vision of a post-apocalyptic civilization that has gone completely off its rocker. Max is a silent figure who just wants to be left alone, away from the insanity, but gets dragged into the pandemonium by a series of circumstances. Like the War Boys chant when willingly jumping at the opportunity for self-sacrifice, Max stands witness to the madness. And Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, for me, is one of the best badass heroes to grace the silver screen since Ellen Ripley. I absolutely love her!
Worst: The ‘Jurassic World‘ reboot was pretty disappointing. As much as the movie delivers on dinosaurs escaping their cages and running rampant, it’s just a lame story that tries oh-so-hard to be clever and self-aware but is ultimately humorless with characters we care absolutely nothing about. Bryce Dallas Howard is irritating and poor Chris Pratt is neutered of his usual appeal.
Best: Even if you hated (as I did) the sequel that followed it, I don’t think there’s any denying that 2009’s ‘Star Trek‘ reboot is one heck of a good movie. Directed by J.J. Abrams (who is currently busy relaunching another sci-fi franchise you may have heard of), the film recasts the original crew of the TV/movie series with actors who don’t just remind viewers of their original counterparts, but also manage to make the characters their own. The movie also made a smart move by bringing back Leonard Nimoy as “Spock Prime,” with just enough of a connection to the original series that die-hard fans could see the film as a continuation (in an alternate timeline) instead of a simple re-imagining.
Worst: The worst kind of reboots are the ones where there’s no need at all to one-up the original movies. That’s certainly the case with 2006’s ‘The Pink Panther‘, where Hollywood had the gall to think it could outdo the original brilliant performance by Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau. Instead of trying to make the character his own, star Steve Martin just imitates what Sellers did – and as talented as Martin is, he’s no Peter Sellers. The biggest travesty here is not that this movie got made, but that so did a sequel, which I’ll confess to never watching, although I’m guessing it was more of the same. You know what they say: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
Worst: I think I get the Movie Math. The original ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ spawned the New Line Cinema empire, and it was produced for less than two million dollars. Now, multiply the budget twentyfold, slather on a CGI spit-and-polish, and it’s destined for a $250 million gross worldwide, right?
On paper, Platinum Dunes’ ‘Nightmare on Elm Street‘ reboot sounds phenomenal. The series’ nightmarish dreamscapes cry out for modern-day visual effects. As the original franchise chugged along, Freddy devolved into a campy, one-liner spouting machine, and this reboot sought to return him to the horrifying predator he once was. Fresh off his iconic performance as Rorschach in ‘Watchmen’ and having been nominated for an Oscar for similarly grim material in ‘Little Children’, Jackie Earle Haley certainly seemed like a brilliant choice to don that charred fedora and razor-fingered glove. In practice, though, this reboot wound up being one cringe-inducing misfire after another.
Not all of the original film’s effects work aged well, but it was artfully crafted in a way that the low-rent, overused CGI in the reboot couldn’t match. One of the original Nightmare’s most enduring visuals was really nothing more than Robert Englund leaning into a sheet of spandex. The reboot tries to improve it with a cartoonish head swirling around the room – an effect that literally cost many thousands of times more to realize – and it’s embarrassingly inept by comparison.
The same goes for all of the original film’s most enduring visuals, every last one of which is mangled here. A sleeping blonde is still violently flung around her bedroom, but Kris’ clumsy wirework here is no match for Tina’s rotating room from a quarter-century earlier. Wes Craven brought a haunting, surreal quality to the body bag invisibly being lifted and dragged across the halls of Nancy’s high school, and it’s an image that’s forever seared into my mind. The bland, forgettable redux here is more of an “Eh, whatever” shrug. The original film made it a point to blur the lines separating the real world and Freddy’s nightmares, to the point where we never really knew if we could trust what we were seeing. The remake sllllooooowwwwwllllly dials down the saturation to make it painfully, unmistakably clear that someone’s about to be slaughtered, stomping all over one of the franchise’s greatest strengths. The undercurrent of Freddy preying on the false security of suburbia – on an entire town, an entire community – has been axed as well. The reboot also introduces a more medically-inspired threat of sleep deprivation, but I defy you to say “micronap” over and over and have it sound even a little bit ominous.
Heather Langenkamp’s version of Nancy boasted a strength, resolve and resourcefulness that Rooney Mara’s character can’t hope to match. Never mind the fact that Langenkamp’s character was soon left with no one to rely on but herself. Mara remains the Final Girl, but she has a sidekick helping her out the entire time. Both Nancys dream up similar plans to drag Freddy kicking and screaming into our world, but Mara’s not really one for thinking things through. She doesn’t even bring a weapon to combat a razor-fingered psychopath, with her doe-eyed buddy grabbing something off the floor as an afterthought at the last possible moment.
Freddy himself is a letdown as well. Jackie Earle Haley excels as a living, breathing Freddy, but he woefully lacks Robert Englund’s physicality and presence when it’s time to turn evil. It doesn’t help that the more realistic burn makeup robs Freddy of any real expressiveness, and his slow, bassy, monotone growl sounds more like Eeyore unchained than any sort of horror icon. Someone dozes off, colors get awfully dreary, there’s some monotone belch from Freddy, and he slashes his glove. Lather, rinse, yawn, repeat.
Best: On the other hand, I’m genuinely a fan of Platinum Dunes’ reboot of ‘Friday the 13th‘, which plays like the best parts of the first few ‘Friday’ flicks distilled down to 100 minutes. It’s so all-killer-no-filler that the title card doesn’t even show up until close to a half hour in: too much havoc to wreak, too many boobs to jiggle, and too many barrel drums of blood to slosh around to be bothered before that. Even better, the reboot goes for practical splatter over CGI whenever it can. Its final moments are sloppy in the worst ways, and its industrial chug is a far cry from Henry Manfredini’s iconic score, but otherwise, it’s about as perfect a take on ‘Friday the 13th’ as I could ever have hoped to see.
Best: Christopher Nolan hadn’t become a household name by the time he started working on ‘Batman Begins‘. I recall the indie filmmaker’s fans being excited for the reboot, but that was about it. Before any footage had been seen, the sentiment regarding the fresh start wasn’t all that different from the way moviegoers looked at the recent ‘Fantastic Four’ reboot. It wasn’t until the first footage was released that the general excitement spread. I remember the extended trailer airing during a commercial break of a WB (now CW) show, probably ‘Smallville’. The footage was fantastic and the movie itself not only didn’t disappoint, but it met and exceeded expectations. Somehow, unlike most sequels, the franchise only got better with each installment. (Yes, I’m in the rare group that LOVES ‘The Dark Knight Rises’.) And it all started with ‘Batman Begins’.
Worst: The ‘Evil Dead’ movies are absolutely perfect. They never needed to be touched, let alone bastardized like they were in 2013 ‘Evil Dead‘ reboot. Instead of replicating the tone/feel/humor of the originals, the reboot applied the story to the standard run-of-the-mill shock horror mold. Possibly even worse are the performances by the terrible and mostly unknown cast members. The only good thing to come of this travesty is the fact that it’s such a bad movie that it’s extremely easy to forget.
Worst: I can come up with very little that’s redeeming about Tim Burton’s ‘Planet of the Apes‘ from 2001.
Best: In comparison, ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes‘ has great characters and a fun story to tell. The recent sequel, ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes‘, manages to build on that while again picking up the series’ themes in an entertaining way, and succeeds where the old ‘Battle for the Planet of the Apes’ failed. I think ‘Rise’ rushed a lot of major events, but ‘Dawn’ manages to explore the transition between the human-led era and the ape-led planet, as well as the leadership of Caesar in terms of building a flawed ape society. That’s a very dry description for a movie with loads of action and some wonderful tension.
Looking back, Burton’s movie, which came after years of unfinished ‘Apes’ projects, was so bad and so muddled that it must have served as an important lesson for the next reboot. I think Burton’s movie wants viewers to be wowed by the look of the apes, but has no concept of compelling characters or an interesting ape world. Both ‘Rise’ and ‘Dawn’ work hard to present situations worth imagining. Considering that the ‘Apes’ movies are less straightforward in their appeal than a superhero movie or any number of zombie/vampire/robot/spaceship franchises, ‘Rise’ and ‘Dawn’ have to be my Best.
Best: In a sense, the James Bond franchise gets rebooted every time the lead actor is recast. However, through its first 40 years, the series always came with a tacit understanding that Sean Connery and George Lazenby and Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan were all meant to be the same James Bond, and that (though the continuity may be a little fuzzy and malleable) the man who lived through the events of ‘Dr. No’ was still battling bad guys in the regrettable ‘Die Another Day’. 2006’s ‘Casino Royale‘ was the first Bond movie to explicitly break that continuity and start over, by presenting a rookie Bond on his first assignment as a Double-0 agent. It was a risky move, and in a lot of ways it shouldn’t have worked at all. Amazingly, director Martin Campbell and new star Daniel Craig managed to pull it off and brush away most of the cobwebs of stale formula that had bogged down the franchise in its prior few movies.
Worst: I’ve complained about Bryan Singer’s ‘Superman Returns‘ in previous Roundtables (here’s one), so I won’t belabor that too much here. This movie is just an utterly misguided and tedious misfire that spends so much time aping Richard Donner’s first ‘Superman’ film that it forgets to be its own thing, and then turns the Man of Steel into a deadbeat dad and creepy stalker.
Tell us your picks for best and worst movie reboots in the Comments.
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