Telling and Retelling

It's a rare day when I can recruit Peter Suderman to my superhero-movie skepticism, so I have to pounce on this:

I am worried, to an extent, about the way Hollywood is trending towards recycling its properties. Yes, Tinseltown has been peddling recycled goods for a while now, but increasingly, it seems as if most major projects are sequels, adaptations, or reboots. But I'm genuinely starting to wonder if we aren't headed toward a Hollywood that looks a lot more like the world of comics than the world of novels.

My worry is that rather than storytellers, the big Hollywood studios will become property owners, each with its own stable of recognizable icons, some brought from other mediums, some original to cinema: Transformers, Freddy, Jason, Spider-Man, Batman, James Bond, Jason Bourne, Robocop, Aliens, and on and on and on. My sense is that just as the major comic book publishers have largely spent their time and money recycling the same familiar characters for the last five decades or so, the big movie studios are trending toward a similar model. In the last few years, we've seen Die Hard, Rambo, Rocky, and Indiana Jones revived. We've watched Bond and Batman get total overhauls. A Robocop reboot is in the works. Kids shows from the 1980s seem to be hot properties: Transformers and Ninja Turtles have already made comebacks, G.I. Joe is coming this summer, and He-Man is on its way. And, of course, there's another Friday the 13th film hitting theaters this week.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love comic books, comic-book movies, and serialized genre fiction of all sorts. But it does strike me as sort of a shame that Hollywood, perhaps the greatest outlet for popular storytelling the last 100 years, now seems far less concerned with telling stories and far more concerned with retelling them.

Hollywood has always retold more than it's told, whether it's churning out westerns or zombie movies or paranoid thrillers. And that isn't necessarily a bad thing: William Shakespeare rarely made up his own stories, after all, and our pop culture would be a lot poorer without the reboots of James Bond and Battlestar Galactica, to take a couple of recent examples of successful recycling jobs. But the recent superhero glut represents, as Peter's analysis suggests, a symbiosis between the movie business and another creative industry that tends even more than Hollywood toward endless sequel-making, recycling, rebooting and spin-offs. And I think it's reasonable to fret about a compounding effect. Obviously, an industry that can remake The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is an industry that can remake anything, but your average film - even your average blockbuster - doesn't have sequels and spin-offs and imitations in its DNA quite the way a superhero movie does. Which means, I fear, that the more of them you get, the more of them you get, until it's Aquamen all the way down.

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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