ReBoot: The Guardian Code is a Canadian animation/live-action crossover that follows the lives of four teenagers as they start life at Alan Turing High School. The four young heroes – Austin aka Vector (Ty Wood), Tamra aka Engima (Sydney Scotia), Parker aka Googz (Ajay Friese) and Trey aka Defrag (Gabriel Darku) – are not your average teenagers. On the first day of school, they’re pulled into cyberspace where they must defend the internet from hackers, viruses and all kinds of malware. ReBoot: The Guardian Code is a Netflix Original TV Series with the first 10 episodes available on March 30th, 2018.
When I saw that Netflix was going to bring ReBoot back to my screen in the form of The Guardian Code, I had that all too familiar mix of curiosity and dread. For those of you too young (or not geeky enough) the original ReBoot aired in 1994, and was a bit of a landmark in animation. This was CGI cartoon a year before Toy Story hit the big screen. The show followed the adventures of Bob, a Guardian charged with defending the Mainframe against a host of baddies. The show started off as your typical after-school fare but by the end of its second series, it really got into its stride. ReBoot actually dealt with some fairly adult themes and definitely took a turn towards being a much darker show.
I’m told that ReBoot: The Guardian Code is technically non-canonical, but it is effectively a reboot of ReBoot. I’m sorry, I’ve been dying to use that since I first read about the show’s impending arrival. There are certainly more than a few passing nods to the original series; in fact, it goes way beyond a passing nod and is more like a big nudge and wink as several characters from the original make an appearance in some form or other.
I have to admit I was quite disappointed with ReBoot: The Guardian Code (or R:TGC as no one is calling it). The original show basically used characters and cities to illustrate the way a computer worked – the illustrations were wildly wide of the mark, but there was some internal logic. It was showing the audience life inside a machine, and it was pretty good fun. (Incidentally, if you get the chance to check out the original series you absolutely should.)
The first issue I have with the reboot (with a lowercase “r”) is that it mixes the real world and the digital world, or “cyberspace” (typing that made me feel dirty and nauseous) as it’s referred to in the show. The four heroes (Austin, Parker, Tamra, and Trey) are brought together because they’re really good at an online game and there they are thrust into cyberspace (I feel so dirty), with flashy suits and cool powers. It really feels like Power Rangers or, perhaps more appropriately, VR Troopers (does anyone bar me remember that exists?).
Perhaps I’m just too old to relate to life in high school now, but I found the bits in the real-world to be utterly cringeworthy. I think this is amplified because it’s not just the four Guardians that we follow through high school. There’s also Vera Vera (Hannah Vandenbygaart), an AI from cyberspace (ugh, I hate myself) who manages to find her way into the real-world with the help of a biological reconstructor, because why wouldn’t you connect what is effectively a 3D printer that deals in flesh, bone, blood and guts to the internet? We get a lot of the normal high school tropes and also the usual fish out of water “comedy” moments as Vera attempts to pass for human.
I found the jumps between the real-world sections and the CGI rendered worlds to just be so jarring. The high school drama stuff feels like a subpar teen soap and the bits in the machine world just feel brief. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but it felt hard to buy into the fact that these kids were actually zapping in and out of the computer. It definitely suffers from the same problems that the Power Rangers had, in that it feels like it’s two separate shows that are at odds with each other. At least Power Rangers has the excuse of actually being two shows sewn together. I really never bought that the characters inside the computer were the same people as outside the computer. Whenever the gang are mucking about in cyberspace we get very Iron Man-inspired shots of them inside their helmets, complete with a fancy HUD and the odd sassy quip thrown in (think along the lines of a substandard Spider-Man). I think this is included to try and reinforce the point that there are meant to be real people under those helmets, but in reality, it just helped to slow down the CGI action and took me out of the story even more. I’m pretty sure it was also included because Marvel have used it to quite good effect and so it’s worth throwing in there.
There are some hints around a larger story arc running in the background. A lot of which is very much story by numbers. We’ve got Austin’s dead father, who is supposedly involved with the creation of the Guardians program that sucks his son into a computer. Although I have to say (and this isn’t a spoiler, just my own thoughts all through the show) that I am not convinced that Austin’s dad is actually dead, but I’ll have to wait and see on that one. There’s an evil and mysterious hacker called The Sorcerer who seems to be attacking random parts of the internet for no real reason. I know that he was a hacker because he wore a hoodie, with the hood up, for the entirety of the show’s 10-episode run. I know he’s evil because he had a very dingy and gloomy lair and thanks to a few lingering shots on his hands, I found he has very dirty fingernails. These fingernails were far too dirty to be that way by accident, so it is definitely a stylistic choice, and the camera focused on them for too long for it not to be a character trait. I think this is what watching 10 episodes of ReBoot: The Guardian Code in the space of 4 hours has reduced me too. I was actively seeking out weird little details to distract myself from the mediocre teen drama. (“Oh no, Trey isn’t getting good grades. Oh, hold on, he’s passed the test with no real signs of work so everything is fine.”)
I really wanted to like this series but it just feels too disjointed to be really enjoyable. It tries to do two things and doesn’t do either of them brilliantly. I could have definitely done without the high school dramas and would have been happy to just see the series updated for a new internet-connected world. The possibilities for making a series like this that is no longer constrained to a single mainframe computer are really interesting. Sadly, what we actually get doesn’t really make enough of the potential. The show does at least provide some closure to the cliffhanger ending of the original series, but even that isn’t done particularly well.
I’ll probably be back later in the year when the next half of The Guardian Code is available because I’m an eternal optimist and deep down I think that show might start paying off all of the mysteries it has (clumsily) set up. I’m also a sucker for nostalgia, and if there’s a chance of more of the original characters getting more screen time I’ll have to be onboard.
I think if you’re a fan of the original then this isn’t really going to do much for you. Perhaps some kind soul online can edit out all of the real-world crap and just make a show set entirely in the digital world – that might be half decent. It could just be that as a fan of the original this was always going to be a disappointment to me, and perhaps I am just too old to enjoy this now. Ultimately, if I think about this series as a standalone property, without the baggage of nostalgia, it is still left wanting. It tries to do two different shows and neither is particularly good.