“It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to.” When Jean-Luc Godard said that he probably wasn’t thinking about Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron teaming up to bring the jiggly 1990s lifeguarding series Baywatch to the big screen. The French auteur was most likely talking about faithfully picking and choosing your influences to have them organically evolve in your own original work. But instead we get updates of hammy TV shows into meta action-comedies. In contemporary Hollywood — where name recognition and studios’ ability to predetermine release dates surpass substance — remakes, sequels, and reboots run the asylum. It’s about time someone takes an obvious stand and says it: Reboot culture is a cultural dead-end, and should be swallowed whole by an angry ocean.
While we can’t solely blame the new Baywatch, its existence marks a nadir for the systematic reboot addiction. Baywatch will be an ironically comedic take on the cheesiness of the old TV show, an idea pioneered to perfection by the 2012 reboot of 21 Jump Street directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. They knew you were expecting a hot mess of a cash-grab movie. And knowing this, they went ahead and unapologetically made a funny-as-balls comedy.
In effect, Baywatch is working in the same mold, meaning lampoons of old cheesy TV shows are now a full subgenre of reboots. It was fresh when it happened to Ben Stiller’s Starsky & Hutch in 2004 and then Jump Street and its 2014 sequel, which took the idea to an even more meta conclusion with its instant-classic end credits. But pretty quickly this becomes a sigh-worthy premise for an entire film. And we get stuck watching movies that only further underscore their own lack of originality.
Granted, Baywatch still doesn’t come out until June, so we have to reserve judgment on the actual quality of the movie, but this is more about the concept of movies like it. Star Dwayne Johnson may be self-confessed franchise Viagra, but even Viagra wears off after a while. (If it doesn’t, go to the ER.) Inevitably, other semi-obscure and once beloved properties that have devolved to kitsch will get their turn at becoming ironic, star-studded productions.
Even early Hollywood reboots foresaw this depressing state of affairs. The 2000 Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz, and Drew Barrymore version of Charlie’s Angels, for one, has a pre-credits scene featuring LL Cool J, whose defeated character sees an in-flight film T.J. Hooker: The Movie and laments: “Ugh, another movie from an old TV show!” This was not a difficult joke in the least, but at least it was a joke. Then the sequel to Charlie’s Angels came along and nothing about this recycling act was funny anymore.
Naming a single good reboot is difficult. Last summer gave us an atrocious Fantastic Four. The year before that, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got a loud, dumb revamp. Do we really need a Legends of the Hidden Temple movie? Or, wait, really now? An entire Nicktoons movie directed by the guy who made Napoleon Dynamite? The fatigue isn’t unique to the big screen. This past weekend, Netflix users were treated to the reboot nobody asked for: Fuller House, which immediately got re-upped for a second season.
The sole potential saving grace is this summer’s Ghostbusters starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon. With that murderer’s row of talent, it’ll be hard to be bad.
And that’s why reboots persist: They get funded, and money brings smart people out to make big checks. Optimistically, we can hope these movies at least re-contextualize whatever made the original significant in the first place: see movies like Jurassic World or The Force Awakens to understand how a well-done reboot (or “soft reboot” can almost literally take over the world. But let’s just remember the price of nostalgia: When we look back on this era of moviemaking, there will be nothing worth a damn to copy, and nothing much of our worth remembering.