If everything old is new again, why don’t I feel any younger?
It seems that every day something I grew up with – or even just briefly recall from my childhood – is getting an update, a remake, a new adaptation, a “reimagining,” or whatever they’re calling it these days. See? I already sound old.
I was recently asked how I felt about the announcement of a new Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie, and I had to admit that I didn’t have much a reaction to give. I was just a bit too old to get into the series when it premiered on Fox in 1993 – I was deep into my X-Men obsession by that point and found the Rangers to be a bit too cheesy, but that didn’t stop my little brother from being a hardcore fanatic, so I recall the hysteria all too well. When I first heard about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles getting a film reboot, however, I freaked out for weeks afterward, so afraid of what Michael Bay would do to mar that beloved franchise, as if almost every version since the comic book came out in 1984 hadn’t already done just that.
Now that a trailer is out and it’s a few months from its release date, I’ve simply stopped caring. This may be because I’m 30 years old now and have plenty of adult responsibilities to worry about, but I’ll be honest with you – an entire room of my house is dedicated to my comic books and collectibles, so that’s probably not the case. I think it actually has something to do with the fact that the familiar dreaded feeling of disappointment has sunk in so deeply now that only pleasant surprises excite me these days.
Let me explain. I think it began with the release of Bryan Singer’s original “X-Men” film in 2000. At the time, it blew me away because superhero movies simply weren’t being made – they were expensive to produce, and studios assumed that only fanboys would support them at first. As they caught on with general audiences, however, every studio jumped on the gravy train and started churning out adaptations of every character they could gain the rights to. I didn’t mind because I never imagined that I’d ever see live-action versions of these characters on the big screen at all, so I was thankful for anything they created, no matter how far from the source material it strayed.
Looking back now, I still enjoy that first “X-Men” movie, but I’m not as willing to overlook its flaws and unnecessary changes from my favorite comics today. As the franchise prepares to release its seventh film on May 23, “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” I want to be just as enthralled as I was 14 years before, though I can’t to that same extent. It’s not because I’m tired of superhero movies – it’s because I’m tired of superhero movies that don’t care nearly as much about the characters they’re dealing with as I do.
I distinctly remember walking out of Ang Lee’s 2008 “Hulk” movie and wondering what the hell I just saw. I remember the confusion and anger that washed over me as I sat through the infamous dance scene in “Spider-Man 3” and all the missed opportunities for characters to shine in “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” I remember laughing through “Ghost Rider” and missing most of “Elektra” because I was more concerned with making dinner than yawning through another silly scene. I sometimes remember these occasions more than the movies themselves.
But then Marvel Studios came along with “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Thor,” “Captain America,” and “The Avengers” and that schoolboy giddiness returned. All was right with the fantasy world because these films were made with love, a perfect mix of great casting, writing, directing, and overall production that resulted in less nitpicking and more of that pure enjoyment I once knew.
When I read a great piece of writing, it makes me want to become a better writer, to craft something as amazing as what I just took in. I’m not sure if the same is true of the big Hollywood studio machine. “Days of Future Past” is one of the best storylines in X-Men history – do the filmmakers care about that or do they just care about it looking as big and epic as “The Avengers” to everyday moviegoers? Even if it is the best film of the franchise, which it may very well be, will Singer treat that overabundance of characters with the same respect and compassion as creators Chris Claremont and John Byrne did back in 1981? I may be old, but I’m not senile.
To be fair, though, nostalgia does have a way of clouding our judgment. It’s easy to look at the “TMNT” remake and criticize, but it’s another to dig up memories of the Turtles’ live musical “Coming Out of Their Shells” tour, which I thought was just great in the early ‘90s. Now I find it hard to believe the stupid thing even existed, along with “Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation” (which introduced a female Ninja Turtle named Venus de Milo… yes, really) and any other inconvenient truths that tarnish the legacy in my mind.
The reality of modern entertainment is that as long as someone made some amount of money on something at one time, you can expect that something to be rehashed again and again in the hopes of reproducing the same result. Whether it’s bad cartoons, movies, commercials, songs, video games, or just about any other form of media, there’s always going to be something to chip away at the characters you hold dear, but what greedy corporations can’t take away from you are your memories, cloudy and biased as they may be. Could a He-Man remake possibly be any worse than that Dolph Lundgren train wreck that seemed at least serviceable in 1987? Probably not, but I can’t even lie about that “serviceable” part – even as a kid I knew that one was a Stinkor the size of Eternia.
The point is I no longer care about the Aug. 8 release of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” In fact, I’ve stopped reading updates about it and have no plans to see it in theaters or on video. Will I give in and catch it on Netflix in a year or two? Perhaps, but the stress may not even be worth satisfying the small hint of curiosity I may or may not feel by that point. As an adult, my time is limited now more than it ever was, so I’d rather indulge in more of a “sure thing,” if there is such a thing, doing my homework before I spend my hard-earned cash – and precious little time – on something I have to justify with an utterance I hear in theaters all too often: “It looks bad, but I want to see what they did with it.”
If fans truly don’t want to see any more mediocre reboots or sequels, they need to fight that urge or, like me, just grow old and tired of these whippersnappers traipsing all over our lawn. I still watch the original “Star Wars” trilogy, untouched by modern effects and disappointing prequels, George Lucas be damned. Do I want to see what J.J. Abrams does to reinvigorate the franchise? Sure, but I’ll wait for a trailer, some interviews, and a few early reviews before I get myself all excited again like I did in 1999 before “Episode I” came out. At my age, I can’t handle too much of that hullabaloo anyway.
So to answer my original question, I don’t feel any younger because I’m not. Time has moved on and so have the studios – to younger and more impressionable audiences. I may think the “Star Wars” prequels were as appalling as Jabba the Hutt’s table manners, but an entire generation grew up with those films as their “Star Wars” trilogy. Another generation will grow up with Bay’s “Turtles,” and they’ll probably love it for one reason or another. This doesn’t mean I won’t stop critiquing whatever comes along (otherwise I’d have very little to write about here), but it does mean that I’m starting to accept that my worldview isn’t always necessarily the “correct” one – it’s just the one I’m used to.
I’m not sure if that’s maturity or just apathy that comes with age. I’ll let you younger folks decide that one for yourselves – you’re just going to anyway.
-Rich Howells is a lifelong Marvel Comics collector, wannabe Jedi master, and cult film fan. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.