Culture: Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a desecration of all we love?

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The Independent Online

It has become a cliché to criticise Hollywood studios for their lack of originality. First came the sequel, then the prequel, then the remake, then the big-screen adaptation of a much-loved TV series... no one can accuse these environmentally conscious Californians of failing to recycle.

Their latest method of creativity avoidance is so uninspired that, as far as I know, the entertainment industry has been too ashamed to give it a name. I'm thinking of films such as Batman Begins (2005), Superman Returns (2006, pictured) and The Incredible Hulk (2008).

What are they, exactly? Take The Incredible Hulk (which is released in June). Is it a big-screen adaptation of the original TV series? A sequel to the 2003 film starring Eric Bana? Or an attempt to relaunch the Hulk franchise after the failure of the previous effort?

What these movies have in common – and I would add Casino Royale (2006) and Star Trek (planned for release next year) to the list – is that the film-makers have been given licence to ignore what has happened previously in the sagas. In the case of Batman Begins, the franchise was at such a low ebb they pretended this was the first time a character called Batman had ever appeared on screen.

Presumably, the thinking is that fans of these franchises will come and see them willy-nilly, but a new audience will also turn up, under the impression that these superheroes have never been seen in cinemas before. It probably helps the studios attract A-list acting and directing talent, too, by convincing them they aren't just making a sequel, but "re-imagining" the whole saga.

One of the many irritating things about these non-sequel sequels is their cavalier attitude to loyal followers of the stories. As someone who loved the original Superman (1978), and slavishly watched all three sequels, I was put out to discover in Superman Returns that Lois Lane and Clark Kent had a son. How, exactly, did they overcome the difficulty that Superman failed to address in the first sequel when he returned to the Fortress of Solitude to divest himself of his powers so he could make love to his girlfriend without killing her? Had the Man of Steel discovered some Supercondom? If so, was it defective? It didn't make any sense.

The truly alarming thing about these hybrids is that it means the Star Wars saga may not be at an end. Any day now I expect George Lucas to announce he is intending to "re-boot" the story in an "all-new" Star Wars film.