“Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” “Beetlejuice 2.” “Coming 2 America.” “Bill & Ted Face the Music.” “Star Wars” episodes VII through IX. “Cobra Kai.” “Bel-Air.” “The Batman.”
Somebody make it stop.
It, in this case, is Hollywood’s cash grabs targeted toward people my age. I turned 42 in November, and studios presumably think that my bank account balance is no longer in the hundreds of dollars because people who are 42 often have jobs, marriages, children, ailing parents and — most important — disposable income (though personally I have none of these except a job).
This marks the first time in my life when I am old enough to be sold my childhood — and I don’t like it. Nostalgia makes me feel as if my future will never be as good as my past. That belief is not how I want to live.
Hollywood is spoon-feeding us what the industry thinks we want. The problem? We’re not infants. The most recent delivery is Warner Bros. Pictures’ “The Batman,” another film devoted to DC Comics’ Dark Knight character. I’m not a hater, and I don’t fear change. I never claimed the “Star Wars” prequels ruined my childhood because they didn’t match the expectations set by the classic films, and the idea of an all-female “Ghostbusters” reboot didn’t bother me. I will gladly watch new chapters of old characters if those old characters are doing something new and have something to say, including in “The Batman.”
My guess, however, is that “The Batman” — released on Friday — won’t be it. (And if it does break new ground, the film should be called something else so it can stand on its own.) The trailer for “The Batman” features dark imagery, Batman’s baritone voice, a fight scene in which Batman takes on a team of thugs in an abandoned building, Batman alter ego Bruce Wayne saying “I don’t care what happens to me,” and a will-they-won’t-they Batman and Catwoman angle. Audiences have seen many — if not all — of these storylines in the original Batman quartet spanning 1989-1997, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy from 2005-2012 and the group superhero movies “Justice League” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” in the second half of the 2010s. The only newish element in the trailer is the use of late Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain singing “Something in the Way,” which feels like another attempt to squeeze ’90s nostalgia into a tired story.
Didn’t we all think the Nolan trilogy ended Hollywood’s Batman fascination? The idea of anyone other than Christian Bale playing Batman/Wayne seemed laughable. Yet four years after the third installment, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” was released. Now we have Robert Pattinson playing the Caped Crusader, the third actor to do so since 2012 (which does not count Will Arnett’s role in 2017’s “The Lego Batman Movie”).
I’m skeptical “The Batman” will make the needed leap because so many reboots, remakes and sequels feel too easy and safe – so eager for my money that they return to their familiar, thin premises and plotlines rather than engage in risks. For instance, the latest season of the “Cobra Kai” reboot of the hit 1984 movie “The Karate Kid” saw the return of Terry Silver, main character Daniel LaRusso’s antagonist in “The Karate Kid Part III” — a film with a 13 percent rating (and a 35 percent audience score) on Rotten Tomatoes. Sorry Hollywood, but the return of a character from a movie almost no one likes is insulting to our intelligence and our wallets. You can do better.
To paraphrase The Who, I won’t get fooled again.
Reboots, remakes and sequels are rooted in an economic term called “experience goods,” which means customers have to experience something to judge its value. The problem is that audiences don’t know if a film is good until after they’ve paid money to see it, which explains why Luke Skywalker is featured near the top of the “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” poster although the famed hero in this film is nothing like the young pilot who brought balance to the Force. That massive character shift didn’t matter to Disney because fans had seen the acclaimed originals and would pay money for a ticket and popcorn based on the film’s marketing and advertising assuring them they would get the experience they craved.
The experience goods theory is why the “The Batman” trailer doesn’t excite me, even though the amount of recent reboots, remakes, reunions and years-later sequels suggests other people my age disagree. According to IMDB.com, 2021’s “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” grossed approximately $197 million, while 2019’s “Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker” earned approximately $1 billion. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” was 2021’s top-grossing film with an estimated $1.8 billion.
Still, I remain optimistic that my peers will soon come to see my point that we don’t need to stay stuck in the past. Until then, I’ll hope “The Batman” exceeds my expectations, just like I hope all of the aforementioned reissues of films and TV shows are filled with compelling stories. If Hollywood insists I take a walk down memory lane, the least it can do is plant roses.