Hollywood appears to be stuck in time. The Incredibles 2, Solo, the Jurassic World franchise…it feels like every film at the cinema this summer was a sequel, a spinoff or a remake. But why the sudden surge of nostalgia? And should we really be so pleased when, after numerous years, we see our favourite characters and franchises return to the screen?
I’m not so sure. Nevertheless, it’s easy to see why, in the current state of our society, people would want to retreat into a film that can transport them back to a simpler time. Cinema is after all the ultimate form of escapism. Hence, films like Incredibles 2 perform excellently because they attract viewers who were children when The Incredibles was released (and who are keen to relive their childhood for an hour and a half) as well as new fans. It’s not difficult to create hype around such films either: a trailer featuring a couple of catchphrases and the reappearance of a character like Edna Mode in all her sassy glory is all that’s needed. Most of the time this is the case for sequels that rely on childhood nostalgia – they’re almost guaranteed to succeed commercially. They are not, however, guaranteed to succeed critically; whilst fans will pay to see the film they might very well wish to forget the whole thing afterwards.
So the question is: what makes a sequel, spinoff, or reboot successful and what makes it a blip in a long-loved franchise? It’s all about timing. If a film isn’t offering anything that speaks to society it’s not likely to be a success. Incredibles 2 modernised and reinvented its storyline by having Mrs Incredible go out to save the world whilst Mr Incredible stays home to look after the kids. This speaks to a society that is challenging the nuclear-family dynamic. It also excites new and old fans alike who relish in the idea that they can do anything, no matter their gender. Similarly, The Force Awakens was a good reboot which gained the franchise a whole new generations of fans; whilst hard-core fans of the original might dispute the merits of this film it was pretty awesome to see a female Jedi take centre stage.
On the other hand, films that don’t offer anything to society in terms of innovation or relevance tend to feel like exercises in attempting to shove the past into the present – always an awkward fit. This is how we end up with disappointments like Kong: Skull Island. Whilst Skull Island might have received some positive reviews it failed where the 2005 King Kong succeeded. In the 2005 remake of the 1933 original a real sense of spectacle was created through interesting cinematography and unique directing. Skull Island, on the other hand, felt like another addition to the sea of monster films released over the last decade and seemed more like an action film relying on cheap tricks than a reworking of the strangely enchanting original story. Additionally, some films have simply had their day. The Predator, for example, just shouldn’t have been made. All franchises must come to an end – dragging them out only detracts from their original value.
Whilst sequels and reboots seem to be dominating the cinema at the moment, Hollywood is not out of ideas. I, Tonya, The Shape of Water and Isle of Dogs are all recent releases that show a level of daring and originality on behalf of directors. Nevertheless, audiences want to revisit characters and stories that they first saw when life was easier – the industry loves a bit of nostalgia and now it has found a whole category of film based on it. The spinoff and the sequel can be worthy pursuits when done thoughtfully and for the right reasons. When executed poorly however, and when completely irrelevant to modern society, the result can only be a slightly embarrassing blip in the history of cinema that true fans of the original will attempt to forget. In these cases, directors should be looking towards making more films like Get Out and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; they should be focusing on creating rather than recreating.