Hollywood seems to be releasing endless streams sequels and reboots. Of the two, sequels are the lesser evil near every time. Read on to find out why…
I hold stories dear to my heart. They inspire me, help me cope with life, and are generally entertaining. So, once I’ve connected with a franchise, I’d prefer to see a story continue than start from scratch (however it turns out). I’m not here to argue that reboots all suck or that sequels are all good. In fact– the vast majority of both are terrible. But, generally speaking, sequels are superior to reboots. Let’s break down why now, shall we?
NOTE: I’m defining a reboot as a top-to-bottom reinvention of a franchise. Almost all original actors are replaced and the old continuity no longer counts (or has reset itself). It’s a fresh start.
Another Adventure in a Familiar World
Story worlds are beautiful. When lore, characters and narrative mesh JUST right, there’s few things in this world I find more special. You may even connect with a story world more than good ‘ol planet Earth! Of course, once you’ve invested yourself in a world, you generally care to see said world expanded in future installments.
Sometimes returning to a story world you love is like snuggling up under the covers of your bed after a long day. It just feels good, OK? And maybe you don’t always get the best quality sleep, or the mattress is somewhat lumpy, but it’s YOUR bed and good luck getting you out of it once you’re settled. Did I go on too long with that metaphor?
Let’s look at Lord of the Rings as an example. Middle Earth is a densely packed world with shocking amounts of detail and care put into its creation. Between Peter Jackson’s original Lord of the Rings films and his Hobbit prequels, we see an impressive amount of places, experience its epic history, and grow to understand its nuances.
Imagine now if Hollywood rebooted Lord of the Rings. Yes, the story would still be set in Middle Earth… but it wouldn’t be quite right. Peter Jackson’s version of this place is so ingrained in our collective consciousness that any other vision would feel jarring at this point. And can any of us fairly say it could have been done BETTER? Odds are it wouldn’t be as well-presented, even if some other director could do Middle Earth justice. Yeah, the Hobbit prequels are not as good as Lord of the Rings but they still feel like a genuine continuation of the same world. And I for one would rather take mediocre familiarity over sub-par reinvention.
While a good world offers comfort and familiarity, I gravitate towards characters even more. If you connect with a group of characters and REALLY care about their stories (the first time around), chances are you’ll have some level of investment in their continuing development (if you choose to stick with it).
Actors are a huge part of this appeal– especially when they’re allowed to grow into roles and portray their parts over many years (even decades sometimes).
The original Star Trek crew shared screens together from 1966 until the early 90s! And Leonard Nimoy’s Spock continued past that into the late 2000s. Was every one of their outings a smash hit? Absolutely not. But people stuck around through the bad because three decades of story development was hard to replicate. The cast had chemistry, the characters were allowed to age and grow and face new challenges, and we got to see it happen in real time.
Star Trek’s crew when they started vs near their send-off
Compare that to the JJ Abrams reboot of Star Trek. I tend to think better of those films than most, but I can’t kid myself: the only reason I cared about these characters’ stories in the first place is because the old cast MADE us care for 30 years! The reboot only had to slap Star Trek’s name on the marquis and not suck. We already knew the story. And, as it turns out, you can’t easily replace real-time development with a truncated narrative! Also– as good as re-cast actors are (these Star Trek ones happen to be some of the best I’ve seen), they’ll rarely be able to supersede the originals. Starting beloved characters’ stories from scratch is usually an exercise in futility.
Formulas aren’t always “good” but they’re undoubtedly a recipe for success. Long-time fans of franchises get upset when every movie/ adventure goes exactly the same way. But who cares? If it ain’t broke, why are you trying to make a problem?
Let’s look at the James Bond franchise. They have some of the most famously defined elements in cinema history: catchphrases (“Shaken, not stirred”), gadgets which’ll be used at the last minute to escape from traps, womanizing, cars (some kinda Aston Martin), globe-trotting adventures, elaborate badguy lairs, larger-than-life villains, henchmen with gimmicks and still more. There are 25 of installments of the main franchise, and most of them have contained the above elements. Yet they’re still making these movies. Cause, wouldn’t you know it? People like all that stuff. It’s what they expect.
Daniel Craig’s iteration is technically one of the “good” reboots but long-time Bond fans were let down by how desperately Craig’s movies avoided the Bond-movie formula. Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace in particular seemed outright embarrassed by them and actively avoided their incorporation. It definitely worked in the beginning! But people soon missed (some of) the over-the-top elements which helped Bond movies become popular in the first place. I’d argue the franchise got most of ’em back by No Time to Die though.
NOTE: Another quick example of sequel superiority is the ability to course correct whilst still maintaining a continuity (and all its benefits that I’m listing).
Themes are another major reason we gravitate towards certain iterations of a franchise. Quality of films may go up or down, but sometimes we like a story’s message enough to stick with it. Take, for example, Richard Donner/ Christopher Reeve’s Superman films. Donner stayed true to the soul of the Superman character (at least what we generally accept as the character): he’s a small town dork with a good heart who chooses to do good because he can; He’s taught to abstain from using his powers so as not to interfere in human affairs, yet promptly ignores this advice to follow his own moral compass; He values, truth, Justice and the American way, doesn’t like lying, and symbolizes hope; he’s also a beloved figure in his world.
Contrast this with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, which allegedly mishandles the character (although I argue it’s still a valid, if unconventional interpretation of the story). Henry Cavil’s Clark Kent is a fundamentally good person, yet a sad and isolated individual who only helps others when he must; he’s taught to abstain from using his powers because humanity might fear and fail to understand him, yet ignores this advice when all life on Earth is about to be wiped out; his values are relatively unclear because he’s still unsure of how he wants to live his life; he’s also a controversial figure amongst Earth’s population. In other words: Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is allegedly drawing from the same source material as Richard Donner’s Superman yet they’re close to opposite in many fundamental ways.
You’d think themes would continue similarly in a reboot. After all, people liked an original story enough to warrant a re-telling. So sticking to the core ideas of that story would make sense, right? Reboots find themselves in a tough spot: they either stay so faithful to an old work that they lack a fresh identity (which makes them redundant), or they focus on new aspects of the story to differentiate themselves (which can alienate fans of the original).
As far as this argument goes, I’m largely in the “original themes” camp. Variation is all well and good, but there’s a reason I’m a fan of franchises like Superman in the first place. Change too much about what makes it work and you might appeal to a new audience but at the cost of your old. All this to say: sequels are good about maintaining common themes whereas reboots often miss the point entirely.
Finally: Sequels beat out reboots for their longevity (both in the public consciousness and in real time). Let’s say a popular movie gets a terrible sequel few people remember. That still counts as a franchise. And how often do reboots get past one movie? Rarely. So sequels help original franchises exist in the public consciousness longer than their modern rebooted counterparts (if only barely). And if an old franchise gets tonnes of sequels? All the better. The longer a franchise lasts the better it’s remembered. Reboots usually need to be REALLY good to beat out nostalgia.
Off the top of my head, I thought of the X-Men movies as a great example. Half those films sucked (though most were at least decent) but they were a massive part of my childhood. They were some of the first live-action superhero films I ever watched and I kept up with the franchise till it ended. For context: I was 2 years old when the first X-Men film released, and I was 19 when I saw Logan in theatres. My real-time history with the X-Men movies made Logan hit my emotions HARD.
Marvel Studios is bound to re-boot the X-Men franchise into the MCU within the decade (heck, probably within the next few years). But I don’t care what they do with the characters anymore. I’ve already seen tonnes of X-Men movies with a cast I came to love. Fat chance the MCU ever gets to have another Logan with characters who’ve played their parts for 17 years. Most of Marvel’s founding Avengers are already gone 13 years into the story. So I doubt any of the X-Men will get a similar run going forward, no matter how good the movies turn out. As good as Kevin Feige and co can pull it off, I’m unlikely to care about that franchise the same way ever again.
To summarize: Sequels are better than reboots because they allow good creative visions to expand rather than start from scratch, feature beloved characters and actors in a continuing story, offer familiar formulas which people enjoy, expand themes which resonate, and leave a longer-lasting impact on society.
Do you prefer sequels or reboots yourself? And why? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!
Till next time,