If any of us are going to ever be comfortable (or at least at peace) with the current state of contemporary cinema, we've got to make an effort to try to stop this almost instinctual and reactionary feeling that "reboots are bad."
Nor are they necessarily a sign of creative bankruptcy in Hollywood (that would be illustrated by some of the "remakes" out there, but we'll get to that in a second). In fact, if you really think about it, a lot of the reboots we've gotten in recent years have actually been very good things.
First off, it's probably important to distinguish a "reboot" from a "remake." A remake takes existing source material and updates it via modern filmmaking technology and/or puts it in a more applicable contemporary setting (or, in some cases, simply adapts it into the English language). Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's Eleven"(2001) is a remake. Marcus Nispel's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (2003) is a remake. Len Wiseman's "Total Recall" (2012) is probably a remake (and, in many ways, a very welcome one, though that's another argument for another post).
Some remakes are good ("The Departed," "Let Me In," the aforementioned "Ocean's Eleven"). Most are not ("Fright Night," "Footloose," "Godzilla," "Psycho," "The Invasion," "Poseidon")...
A "reboot" is something that takes an existing character, storyline and/or franchise and tosses any and all previously established cinematic mythology or continuity out the window, taking the basic premise and pretty much starting from scratch -- in most cases, in the hopes that it will kickstart a "new" franchise.
This summer's "The Amazing Spider-Man" is a reboot. Last summer's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is a reboot. Christopher Nolan's "Batman Begins" (2005) is a reboot. Martin Campbell's "Casino Royale" (2006) is a ...
Hey, wait a minute. Those are all pretty good movies, aren't they? Some of them even "saved" their respective franchises, franchises that were either going nowhere fast or, in the cases of Batman and James Bond, had smashed into a brick wall and were laying pathetic and inert amongst their own wreckage.
Oh yeah, reboots are most definitely "cash grabs." Of course they are, don't be naive -- it's called "show business" for a reason. But reboots aren't examples of how there are no more "idea people" left in Hollywood. Sure, a reboot might be a short cut of sorts, as a huge part of the creative heavylifting has already been done by someone else -- you've got the basic groundwork and skeleton, now you just have to build the big impressive modern-day house on top of and around it. But it's these newfangled details that can make for some of the most innovative, exciting and surprising things to ever hit a movie theater.
Look at "Batman Begins." We had all but given up on the Caped Crusader's future in cinema after Joel Schumacher gave us a big, loud, garish two-hour toy commercial that had Arnold Schwarzenegger making never-ending puns about the fact that his character has a certain affinity for lower temperatures ("Cold!" "Ice!" "Chill!" "Winter!"). "Batman & Robin" made people vow that, if they ever one day ruled the earth, they would track down all prints of that film and burn them in a worldwide pagan ritual that would make Burning Man look like a high school fair. But, eight years later, Christopher Nolan arrived in Gotham City and gave us the Batman movie we had all been starving for since ... well, since we ever knew about Batman.
Look at "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." Dear lord, just look at it, indeed! How in the heck was this such a good movie? It had everything going against it, not the least of which was the fact that pretty much no one cared at all about the "Apes" franchise anymore. Or so we thought. "Rise" was smart, exciting, startling science fiction -- everything the first "Apes" movie was way back in 1968, and more.
The gritty, gruff and completely enthralling "Casino Royale" gave us a truly human James Bond for perhaps the very first time, one with considerable flaws and a lot of room to grow into the suave secret agent we'd already seen before (and were getting bored with). "X-Men: First Class" took a floundering comic book property and turned it into a groovy '60s-style action movie, and one with a beating human (or, rather, mutant) heart. J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" (2009) made us actually want to once again boldly go where no man had gone before. And "The Amazing Spider-Man," while not quite the game-changer it could've been, definitely has potential as we embark on a new web of wall-crawler adventures.
Hey, it doesn't always work. Rob Zombie's "Halloween" (2007) tried (it tried hard, actually) but didn't quite make us want to stalk the streets with Michael Myers again. Samuel Bayer's take on "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (2010) was just ... yeah. And "The Incredible Hulk" (2008) is, rather unfortunately, the weakest of the Phase 1 Marvel films, all the moreso due to the fact that its star (Edward Norton) is notably absent from "The Avengers" and its surprise cameo (Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark) really makes no sense whatsoever, in regards to either character or continuity.
However, more often than not, a reboot works. And, more often than not, a reboot is necessary. This could especially be said about next summer's "Man of Steel." We love the original Superman movies (and, yes, we love parts of "Superman Returns" as well), but if the Last Son of Krypton is going to have any sort of future in cinema, we need a bold, brazen new vision that doesn't feel like it's quietly touring the Christopher Reeve museum, afraid to break or -- even worse -- rearrange anything. Zack Snyder might be just the man to bust Kal-El out of his Fortress of Solitude and put him back on the frontlines of comic book movie properties.
So, love the reboot, would ya? A lot of them are responsible for the fact that some of your favorite characters are still your favorite characters. And there are many yet to come.