It seems like the Spider-Man movies, which helped turn the superhero movie into a Hollywood boom industry, just wrapped their blockbuster run and already there’s a brand-new incarnation of the superhero story, with a fresh young cast and a new take on the origin story. It’s nothing unusual for sequels or even film franchises to recast roles with new actors. There were three Charlie Chans in the classic Hollywood run of mysteries (none of them were Asian, I might add), and even more actors played James Bond. And, of course, Hollywood has never been shy about remaking its past successes for the next generation.
But the wholesale reboot of a successful series is a relatively new phenomenon, a matter of retaining a brand name without the baggage of previous incarnations (or the ballooning price tags of veteran stars). And the sudden turnaround on Spider-Man announces an alarming trend. Word is out that Universal wants to reboot its supernatural action series The Mummy (itself a reworking of the old horror series) and Lionsgate is tamping down rumors that it is rebooting Twilight after the final film. Modern Hollywood has increasingly shown its preference for product branding over original stories. Everyone wants to launch a successful franchise. Now they can just rework those old ones over and over again!
That said, there have been some interesting reinventions along the way. Here’s our report card of the best – and the worst – of the film series revivals and reboots.
Tim Burton gave us the first contemporary Batman movie in 1989, a playful take on the Dark Knight for the modern world, but after his deliriously crazed and creative 1992 sequel, “Batman Returns,” a revolving door of stars in two bloated, ridiculous sequels buried the franchise in the Gotham City graveyard of inconsequential icons. Christopher Nolan rescued the Dark Knight in a new approach that returned to the roots of the most mortal (and borderline schizophrenic) of comic book heroes: the violent tales of the early comics, the psychologically brooding rebirth in the ’70s, and Frank Miller’s gritty revision of Batman’s early days with young Lt. Jim Gordon. But what really sells the film, beyond the mix of pulp myth and urban noir style, is Nolan’s realization that Bruce Wayne is the secret identity and that Batman is the real persona: a borderline psychotic obsessive battling childhood trauma in a cape and cowl, swinging through the cesspool of his crime-ridden city to battle the predators that made him an orphan. Now that’s a superhero we can understand.