The Amazing Spider-Man: So Far, So Good, and What Makes a Reboot Successful

April 16, 2012

“Reboot” movies attempt to take a film series and start it all over again from a blank slate without ticking off the already existing fanbase. After all, the rebooted film won’t have much success if those core fans reject it, leaving the potential new franchise dead on arrival. Since we’re in the era of the reboot – with one of the biggest, Amazing Spider-Man, coming out this summer only five years after the last entry in the previous franchise – it’s worth noting that there have been a number of very well received reboots: Batman Begins, Casino Royale, Halloween, Star Trek, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. So what makes a reboot a success?

Primarily, a successful reboot only keeps the “essentials” of the property. The advantage of only using those core character and story principles to launch into a new plot yields surprises for the dedicated audience who already loved the original. Tim Burton’s 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes failed because it was a remake of a story that audiences already liked the way it was, while Rise of the Planet of the Apes took the core element of “apes taking over and later dominating humanity” and did something fresh with it, only borrowing elements from the lesser-seen and lesser-praised 1970s Planet of the Apes sequels. Batman Begins didn’t attempt to redo the story from the 1989 Batman movie and didn’t even reuse any of the villains from the prior four films, and when the series got around to utilizing the Joker in the sequel The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger’s take on Batman’s arch-nemesis was wildly different from the Joker played by Jack Nicholson in the 1989 version. Casino Royale kept everything we love about James Bond and got rid of everything that had made the character hokey since the Roger Moore years. The idea here is that when a reboot is significantly different from the original – but doesn’t alter the characters or situations in a way that renders them unrecognizable – people accept both as valid interpretations of the same story.

So what does The Amazing Spider-Man have to do to have the same success? It seems like there is a lot it is doing right already. It’s using a villain that didn’t appear in the prior trilogy, features a love interest that barely appeared in the earlier series, and is focusing on a plotline that hardly even appeared in the comics: the fate of Peter Parker’s parents. The result is something that so far looks to be fresh, but familiar, which is exactly what has made reboots successful in the past.

Contrast that with the latest news of the Michael Bay-produced reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, which is simply titled Ninja Turtles. Early reports suggest that the new turtles will be neither teenagers nor mutants, and that they would instead be aliens. Even though the film isn’t even past the scripting phase, this obviously hasn’t sit well with the fanbase. After all, if you were making a new Spider-Man movie would you decide to eliminate the whole “spider” thing and replace it with, I don’t know, a robot instead? Of course not, because it wouldn’t be Spider-Man. No wonder fans are worried!

Some might invite Bay and his team to just make their own movie about alien creatures and leave the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles out of it if they aren’t going to use the characters properly anyway. Of course, that would defeat the purpose of making the movie in the first place, which is to hope to draw success from the TMNT’s existing fanbase. But how is the movie going to do that if the fanbase won’t accept such radical changes?

That’s a question all filmmakers behind reboots have to juggle, but so far it looks like there’s a lot they could learn from The Amazing Spider-Man team.

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