Reinventing the reboot: the requel
Ever had a friend who you knew in the distant past, and encountered years later—and it seems like someone rebooted his life? Presently, you only recognize him by his name. In elementary school, he was a superhero in his convertible cargo pants/shorts and light-up Sketchers. Ten short years later, he laughs at you when you remind him about his old self. His past is buried, and a creepy clone is walking around instead.
Film reboots can stink in the same way personality reboots do. The ones that kill their past just don’t work. A reboot that ignores its past is like the kid who reinvents himself without respecting his pre-pubescent self; it becomes painfully apparent that the kid is posturing himself to be cool. Films in recent memory that played the poser include Karate Kid, Conan the Barbarian, and the short-lived TV reboot of Charlie’s Angels.
A reboot succeeds when it references its past. The really successful ones revere their predecessors. Think of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins—it didn’t spring out of nowhere. It reacted to its predecessors, and not just the films. Its film ancestors (see Batman Forever, Batman and Robin) had gotten campy—almost farcical—and so Batman Begins_ responded with a nitty-gritty realism. This interpretation was nothing new, though. To avid Batman fans, the reboot was recognized as a faithful homage to graphic novelist Frank Miller’s “Year One.” Even still, Nolan’s film did hit the reset button.
There’s a whole other breed of reboots, though. They reinvent a franchise without erasing what came before. A friend of mine once coined a term for those movies which are both sequels, and remakes. They are called “requels.” Think of 2009’s Star Trek, a film which starred a young Spock and the old Spock (played by the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy). Not only did the film pay homage to its past, but it also actually included its past—a feat accomplished by the film’s use of time travel. Whatever it means, the film not only acknowledged the universe that the original Enterprise existed in, it co-inhabited it.
The most recent Muppets film did the same thing: it remade the Muppets brand while continuing what was already there. It’s a requel. Thanks to writer Jason Segal, it was done with wit and verve. Embedded in the film was a subtle jab at the alternative – the remake that betrays the past—apparent in a subplot revolving around a knockoff group called The Moopets. It’s got a piece of the authentic Muppets in Fozzie the hack stand-up comic, but otherwise, it’s a rip-off, a remake that tarnishes the original Muppets. The Moopets are a bad reboot, and The Muppets are a successful requel.
So while Hollywood continues to churn out reboots, which attempt to bury our most beloved films and superheroes and pass off clones in their place, there is hope in the requel. The requel re-animates the dead, and gives us a friendly zombie. Then again, they are zombies.