Remakes, reboots, sequels: nostalgia on screen

May 31, 2023

Collage created with photograph of man by cottonbro studio and photograph of Theatre interior by Donald Tong both from Pexels

Aidan Monks explores commercial appeal over creative integrity in film

For as long as I can remember I have been a film buff! Some of my favourite films are Taxi Driver, Pan’s Labyrinth, Metropolitan and Taste of Cherry.

The films I’m not so enamoured by are the ones that capitalise on their predecessors. While nostalgia is a powerful tool in film, evoking emotions and connecting with audiences, its excessive use can hinder creative storytelling and originality.

The Walt Disney Company bought Marvel entertainment, now known as Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in 2008. Avengers: Endgame, the finale of the Infinity Saga was supposed to be the last film in the franchise for viewers from our generation who grew to know and love them. But since then, there have been eight further MCU films released.

The franchise is still in the process of trying to surpass the legacies of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and Chris Evans as Captain America. This is proving more than difficult given their respective impact and character development over a 10 year period of storytelling.

Eight movies have been produced and distributed since the departures of Downey Jr. and Evans. Ten more films are reported to be in pre-production.

While nostalgia can be a powerful tool for connecting with audiences, its excessive use can hinder creative storytelling and originality

These include 2024’s Blade, starring Mahershala Ali, which purports to fully reinvent the Blade trilogy of 1998-2004, solely due to the box office success and cultural significance of the original series.

The MCU has currently made 32 films. It releases them in groups called Phases. Like the Star Wars franchise, MCU is opting to drop many TV series, otherwise known as the Multiverse Saga, to accommodate the expansions and developments of its Phases 4 and 5 (post Endgame).

Equally, having produced yet another trilogy in the 2010s, along with some, surprisingly, positive solo ventures like Rogue One, the Star Wars label has sprinted into the 2020s following the same film, TV-focused conduct. We now have series like The Mandalorian, Andor, The Book of Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi and the upcoming Ashoka to attest for this. Note: the latter three titles directly reference a famous name or character, pre-existing in all these shows.

Both the Star Wars franchise and the MCU are owned by Disney and the success of their content is driven by nostalgia. This nostalgia can be a powerful tool but its excessive use, in my opinion, hinders originality.

In a 2016 episode, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone focus their satire on this phenomenon via the character, Randy Marsh. He begins his episode arc fully believing that J.J. Abrams is an important filmmaker, and his contribution, The Force Awakens are as original and virtuosic as the 1977-83 Star Wars trilogy.

Later Randy makes a point of how recycling old ideas is a bad idea and becomes addicted to a fictional fruit called Memberberries! The berries main function is to evoke nostalgic feelings for the supposed good times of the past. Most commonly, they bring up memorable moments and elements from the original Star Wars trilogy.

For Randy, the Star Wars sequels are a doorway to his childhood and, more crucially, embody positive experiences from the original films. The sequels are stylised in an intentionally nostalgic way, marketing on memory.

Take the teaser trailer for The Force Awakens; we are first introduced to the new faces – John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver – and then a medley of orchestral sounds we fully recognise from A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, which stir in the background. Meanwhile we’re re-introduced to Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, C-3PO, R2-D2, even Luke Skywalker.

Reviving outdated aesthetics and tropes result in superficial imitation without substance

We see lightsabers we know, Darth Vader’s mask, amongst other props and set pieces. Reviving outdated aesthetics and tropes results in a superficial imitation without substance.

Worse than this, the plot of The Force Awakens has been deconstructed by many YouTube geeks and the general consensus is that it precisely follows the narrative structure established by the first Star Wars film in ‘77.

The Force Awakens feels so familiar and comforting for some, using callbacks to ‘80s cinema and regurgitating these themes and ideas. The iconic leitmotifs (recurrent musical themes) by American composer, John Williams, evoke memories of cinema-going and the effect Star Wars once had on us when we were younger.

The common denominator binding these factors, which I would argue are the primary reasons for the success of present-day franchise films, is the style of nostalgia, or the lack of innovation. Here’s the issue: The Force Awakens is a symphony of unoriginality and, as Randy Marsh inevitably realises, is due to the shortcomings of the film director, J.J. Abrams and the reboot film trend of 21st century Hollywood.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 has some merit but it trades-out the movement of plot for overlong music sequences

I recently caught myself watching Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3, having sworn for the 40th time to never watch another MCU film in the cinema again! Sadly, as per usual, I failed to stay loyal to myself.

The film has some merit, but for me, its use of music remains problematic. The first two Guardians movies have an iconic soundtrack, rife with bangers like Lake Shore Drive and The Chain. The song choices are so impressive that the Guardians mixtape has become a must-have for vinyl collectors.

While the songs are admittedly less good in Vol. 3, the worst part is that they function to appease fans of the Guardians style more than anything. Typically the movement of plot is traded for overlong music sequences; a bunch of characters walking in slo-mo to Alice Cooper, creating an inconsistent stop-and-start rhythm to the viewing experience.

With many of these reboots remakes, reboots and sequels, their makers rely on nostalgia as a crutch to compensate for weak storytelling or underdeveloped characters. This approach can result in a shallow viewing experience, lacking emotional resonance with audience nostalgia compromising their content.

By comparison, in my second article, check it out here, I explore how Daft Punk, French house duo, incorporate elements of nostalgia into their music; drawing inspiration from various musical genres and styles of the past, blending them with their unique sound to create something fresh and innovative.

Aidan currently studies at the University of St Andrews studying English and Philosophy. He is an avid reader, writer, and film-watcher. His favourite film is Fanny and Alexander by Bergman, favourite book is Nadja by Breton, and one of his best albums is Street Hassle by Lou Reed.

Aidan currently studies at the University of St Andrews studying English and Philosophy. He is an avid reader, writer, and film-watcher. His favourite film is Fanny and Alexander by Ingmar Bergman, best book is Nadja by André Breton, and, as well as anything by Daft Punk, he loves Lou Reed’s album Street Hassle.

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