How Sequels And Reboots Ruin Your Favorite Characters
It's no secret that we're currently living in an age of pop culture reboots and sequels. They range from the delights of the new Star Wars movies to the depressing revelation that the Tanner family is somehow cursed, forever doomed to tragically lose spouses and occupy the same crowded, tenement-like home.
While it may be oddly comforting to know that no outdated film franchise or cancelled TV show is immune from the powers of necromancers like Netflix, reboot culture has a big problem. No, we're not talking about the troubling lack of a Who's The Boss reunion. (Mona on Tinder? This thing writes itself.) We're talking about character development.
Character development is the clump of beans in the storytelling burrito, the sugar in its lemonade, the rage-filled scream-fest at its metaphorical IKEA. But while sequels have the potential to take their characters to new and exciting places, an unfortunate trend has found them Groundhog Day-ing their way through familiar adventures.
Take Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the greatest seventh entry in a movie franchise that doesn't involve any missions in or around Moscow. It was great to see Han Solo back on the big screen, but doesn't it kind of suck that he essentially reverted back to his original factory setting? By the end of Return Of The Jedi he had grown as a person, having learned about selflessness and love.
And never to try the "pulled pork" at an Ewok party.
But when we see him in The Force Awakens, he's back to being a crotchety asshole smuggler:
The practical effects included replacing laser guns with fingers.
It gives audiences a warm, buttery nostalgia blast, but think about it as if he was a real person for a moment. If you had a friend who was a drug dealer (because that's totally what Han was) and you lost touch for 30 years, only to run into him and find he's still at it, dressing the same and spending all his time with the same platonic semi-nude buddy, wouldn't that depress the shit out of you?
In the movie, we learn that he went back to smuggling after his son went full Damien, but we never saw any of that. All we got to see was a guy in his 70s acting exactly as he did in his 30s. Our childlike enjoyment came at the expense of the character's happiness.
Similarly, in the X-Files revival, Mulder will seemingly never get his shit together and stop obsessing over various conspiracy theories. He even gleefully moves back into the same shitty basement office he had 20 years ago! The place looks like an '80s sitcom about Hitler's bunker. This poor guy's been a "special agent" for decades, can't he get a fucking window by now?
His poster about how jet fuel can't melt steel beams is probably a bit of a stumbling block to promotion.
Scully too keeps giving up various hospital positions, and seems super chill about returning to monster-hunting with her ex. The fun of watching the original show was the carrot-on-the-stick notion that one day, Mulder might finally expose some kind of truth, or move past the need to. Is anyone happy seeing him forever imprisoned in a feedback loop of crazy theories and paranoia?
Veronica Mars fans demanded the beloved character return for a movie, but since we don't want to see her follow a promising law career, she blows it off.
"Sorry, I need to go back to my hometown to solve a mystery like a goddamn Scooby-Doo character."
Nor does she stay in New York with her boyfriend, who's so cool that he's personal friends with Ira Glass.
"Our story in three acts. Act One: Get me a danish."
No, Veronica moves back to her crap-hole hometown to start a private investigation business in the factory / urine smell district. Which, sure, makes sense for the audience. We want to see a new version of the show we love. But again, if you knew this person in real life, you'd probably stage an intervention.
Which it looks like will take place outside of Paddy's Pub.
Even characters we don't actually see onscreen can regress in weird ways. Remember at the end of Jurassic Park how, after almost getting his grandchildren dino-murdered, John Hammond learned an important lesson about playing god?
And that lesson was to not run beta tests of a park during a freaking hurricane.
Well, 20 years later in Jurassic World, apparently Hammond's "dying wish" was to have some random guy open the park for him.
"And don't learn any of the lessons from the original park."
Either Hammond was a jerk with no morals or, to paraphrase a certain chaotician, senility finds a way. It's not that the writers thought this was an interesting wrinkle to add to the character; they clearly concocted a premise and worked backwards from there, throwing in a line to undo the character traits that would negate said premise.
The same goes for John McClane in the Die Hard movies. In the first one, he completes his arc by admitting his selfishness and reconciling with his wife, Holly.
"I have got a murder boner like you wouldn't believe."
By the time the third movie rolled around, the filmmakers realized that the redemption arc was the best part of the original, so McClane was back to being a New York cop, estranged from Holly, and a real piece of shit ...
Then the subsequent movies had McClane repairing fractured relationships with his daughter ...
... and his son ...
"Yippee ki-yay, Shitty Father."
Jesus, why do we even care about a guy who can only learn that he loves his family through them almost being murdered? And even worse, a guy who it seems immediately forgets that lesson each time, like his emotions are all brain-damaged goldfish.
This is why the idea of a prequel is so enticing. A prequel allows for change and growth, because the character is growing into the familiar personality we already know. Take James Bond, for example. Whenever the series tried to shade 007 in with some emotional depth, he'd reset for the next movie like a video game where you forgot to save your progress. On Her Majesty's Secret Service ends with Bond getting married, only to have his bride murdered and die in his arms.
The one time they decided to use a gun instead of dropping him into a pirhana tank.
Then the next movie found him gleefully frequenting casinos and sleeping with any woman who came within a 10-foot radius of his junk.
"No shex like widower shex."
When they hit on the idea to make Casino Royale a prequel, they could give Bond that tragic love story and have it factor into his persona instead of making him seem like a sociopathic android.
Obviously, reboots aren't going anywhere anytime soon, but let's allow these iconic characters to breathe a little, and not merely offer the audience some stale repetition. The recent Twin Peaks was successful because it was aggressively different from the original series. So what we're saying is, maybe Indiana Jones should return only to be reincarnated as a catatonic insurance salesman, battling black orbs through various nightmare dimensions.
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