Summer is now well behind us, which means we can look back on the movie season of remakes and reboots and reimaginings. Despite what Hollywood thinks, those words are not interchangeable. Why are we calling the upcoming Point Break remake a ‘reboot’? What is it rebooting, The Continuing Adventures of Johnny Utah? And despite some confusion, Mad Max Fury Road is a proper sequel, and not a reboot at all. Before we do this all over again with next year’s slate of nostalgia-pandering nonsense, let’s actually define what these terms should mean.
This is seemingly used as a catch-all term for any franchise or movie that’s being resurrected from the dustbin of nostalgia. But in order for this term to apply, there must be some continuity that is being rebooted. If a movie was a stand-alone work, then there isn’t a reset button, and therefore it is not a reboot. If a series established and developed long-term character and plot arcs, and the latest installment brings that back down to the basics, that is a reboot.
Example: Batman Begins, which jettisoned the baggage of Tim Burton’s murderous vigilante and Joel Schumacher’s neon S&M fetish to bring Batman back down to the root of the character.
This is a do-over of a previous movie that did not have long-running continuity, which can be a “re-imagining” or a shot-for-shot remake. These are very common and tend to be labeled as a ‘reboot’ even when there is no current continuity. A remake can be good (The Departed) or bad, but is typically pretty lazy.
Example: Total Recall, which kept character names, plot points, and the overall story, but forgot the part of the original that everyone actually liked (you know, Mars).
This one is pretty obvious. This is a movie that follows in a series, carrying over events, characters, and continuities. There is a tendency in sequels to make everything bigger and louder, introduce new characters, or start with some shocking swerve like the death of a major character.
Example: Iron Man 2, which is louder, dumber, and introduces approximately ten thousand characters and plot points that are only peripherally related to the title character.
These are pretty new, a story that explicitly takes place before another established movie and is generally bound by continuity. I don’t know that there is much demand for these, since they tend to be used to explain the origins of previously mysterious concepts and characters. That’s typically pretty bad, since all suspense is removed.
Example: The Phantom Menace, because you already know who the villains are and who is going to survive. The two best characters (Qui-Gon and Darth Maul) were never mentioned in the original movies, even in passing. Guess who dies?
This is a pretty rare term, first coined by Roger Ebert, that describes a long-running series recycling its own plot but without any other continuity reset. Think of it as an internal remake, but with the same continuing actors and characters.
Example: For Your Eyes Only, which takes the same premise as From Russia With Love (Soviet and English agents race to capture a secret device that is being manipulated by an evil third party) and gives it to an aging Roger Moore. This same premise also appeared in Tomorrow Never Dies.
Of course, not all movies fit neatly into these slots. Here are some examples that bounce around the spectrum:
The Bourne Ultimatum – appears to be a sequel but actually mostly a prequel to the last scene of the previous movie. This completely ruined the movie, and the concept of a concurrent sequel carried over more successfully into The Bourne Legacy.
James Bond – In earlier films, there was very little running continuity, in contrast to the current movies and the Fleming books. You knew who Bond was and what he did, but he never seemed to remember previous events.
Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness – JJ Abrams’ Star Trek was a sequel to events that happened in The Next Generation, but functioned as a reboot for the series, introducing it to a new audience. Not only that, plot elements of Star Trek Into Darkness pushed it into remake or requel territory, cribbing some great scenes from Star Trek II and plot elements from Star Trek VI. Both movies also serve as a prequel to the general concept of the original series’ “five year mission”.
And remember, these concepts are not always bad. Batman Begins is still the best Batman movie; The Departed and The Maltese Falcon are both classic remakes; The Empire Strikes Back continues to define how good a sequel can be; The Godfather Part II got a lot of its emotional complexity from showing the backstory of Vito Corleone (with a solid helping of Robert DeNiro); and hell, For Your Eyes Only was one of Roger Moore’s best Bond films. Let’s just try and use these terms more consistently.