Enough. Please. Mercy. I beg you.
I don’t think “Commando” is sacred ground, some untouchable masterpiece that no filmmaker will ever equal. Actually, it’s the contrary that’s true. I don’t think “Commando” is fertile ground, worth anyone’s time to remake. David Ayer may not be my favorite working writer/director, but I think he’s got more to offer audiences than yet another regurgitation of the ’80s that no one is asking for. Sure, Ayer served in the Navy, and he comes from a military family, so he certainly seems qualified to write the main character in the film. And he’s not afraid of remakes… heck, this guy’s got nerve enough to have attached himself to a modern-day remake of “The Wild Bunch,” so obviously he’s not afraid to get in there and mix it up.
But “Commando”? A military guy with a ton of training has to chase down his kidnapped daughter and kill a bunch of dudes. That’s it. That’s all there is to the original. It’s a bunch of cheesy one-liners, Vernon Wells chomping scenery, some good action, and a ridiculous body count. It’s not a movie with a strong narrative spine or a particularly clever hook that would justify a remake. It’s very much a product of its time, a perfect vehicle for an Arnold Schwarzenegger, and little else.
The thing is, coming on the heels of some of the films I’ve seen in the last week, this is another case of karaoke culture out of control, and it’s at the point now where I swing between trying to accept that this is the way things are at the moment and an almost irrational degree of anger at the idea that this is the way things are at the moment. I love movies. I have spent my life totally immersed in movies. I work incredibly hard not to be cynical and overly negative, and I hate judging things before they even really get going. The truth is, though, that any adult who depends on cinema to feed them in all the various appetites that a film freak cultivates is starving these days. It is harder than ever before to track down truly original voices, even though I would argue there are more films to see and more ways to see them. The cowardice that runs most Hollywood decision making is just breathtaking, and it reveals just how sad the current power structure really is.
I get the appeal of karaoke. When you love a song, you start to get possessive of it, and you want the pleasure of performing it. There’s power in really nailing a song that you adore, and the same is true when you’re telling someone a story you heard that you really love. If you tell that story well, you get the rush of watching the effect it has on somebody. But even if you tell the story well or hit every note of the song right, those things are not yours. At best, you’re doing a great imitation. You’re running some interesting riffs on somebody else’s work. There are certainly a handful of remakes from the history of Hollywood that have turned out to be great films on their own, but they are vastly outnumbered by the mediocre or flat-out terrible remakes that exist.
And it’s not just straight remakes anymore. The Michael Fleming piece about the “Commando” deal calls it a “reboot,” a word that just sets my teeth on edge. I have come to hate each fresh mention of a reimagination or a reboot and ESPECIALLY a prequel. I just saw a film that I can’t quite review yet that actively infuriated me because of the monumental waste of time and energy that it represents, and the absolute zero that it adds to the story that already exists. I also just saw a remake that feels so inert and muted to me that I can’t imagine what anyone involved thought they were bringing to the table. Neither film is technically poorly made, and I’m willing to bet both films find defenders for precisely that reason, but competence is no excuse for telling a story. With the resources behind these films, I expect a certainly degree of skill, but it’s not enough.
We are starving. And something like “Commando” is not going to nurture anyone. Ayer broke through with his screenplay for “Training Day,” and even if that wasn’t the most original story ever told, it was his story, and it was his voice. He’s written a number of scripts that were well-liked and that generated a fair amount of buzz, original work that ended up unproduced. And after a while, that can be demoralizing, and eventually you get to a place as a filmmaker where you want to get something made. It’s not enough to earn a living writing screenplays that end up on someone’s shelf. Hollywood’s profoundly retarded (and I mean that in the most explicit and accurate sense of the word) dependence on underlying material, no matter what it is, has led us to one of the most outrageous dead ends I’ve ever seen in my 30-plus years as a movie nerd. I survived the ’80s, thinking it was one of the most empty periods of pop culture imaginable. Now I’m watching as today’s studio culture treats the ’80s like this bottomless source of material to revisit, meaning I’m watching a horrible blurry Xerox of a decade that I found nearly intolerable the first time around, and it’s like a nightmare that’s impossible to escape.
I look at the news that has been breaking today, and all of it leaves me numb. A sequel to “Clash Of The Titans,” a remake that barely worked of a film that was deeply flawed the first time. A knee-jerk sequel to “How To Train Your Dragon,” because Dreamworks never made a good film they couldn’t ruin with pointless sequels. A sequel to “Journey To The Center Of The Earth,” a film that I don’t personally known a single fan of, and already a remake of well-worn material. Comic books. A Magic 8-ball movie. Prequels. And all of it just stacking up, snow drifts of the same, towering so high that it all blocks out even the possibility of something fresh breaking through.
It’s great fun when someone drunk gets up, grabs the microphone, and lets loose their best Robert Plant howl or an Axl Rose whine, and in a room full of 100 people or 200 people, it’s a thrill. But that same drunk wouldn’t mount a giant 400 city tour backed by a $50 million production, and if they did, chances are it would just be a sad display. I understand the urge when I see kids make their own shot-on-video ten-minute “Star Wars” films. I can appreciate the passion that led to “Raiders Of The Lost Ark: The Adaptation.”
But when that’s the only game being played by the actual studios that run our entire industry, it makes me feel like we are in the final days of this particular paradigm, and I’m genuinely scared that we’ve burned down this business and we just don’t realize it yet.
So go ahead. Reboot “Commando.” Better yet, make it a prequel to a reboot of a sequel of a reimagining. Why not? It’s all just white noise at this point anyway. Pour me another drink. Hand me the mic. I feel like singing “Creep,” and I don’t care if no one wants to hear it. Hooray for Hollywood, indeed.
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