There are three certainties in this world: death, taxes and Batman’s next venture to the silver screen will be in a form of a reboot. Christopher Nolan’s take on the Batman saga will come to its natural conclusion this Friday when The Dark Knight Rises opens to a massive box office take. Already it is receiving critical acclaim and may be a force to be reckoned with come awards time.
The Dark Knight saga was more of a graphic novel approach to the material, akin to the likes of Frank Miller’s “The Dark Night Returns” and “Batman: Year One.” These films were one-shots that didn’t fit into DC’s and Warner Brothers’ ultimate plan of creating a DC Cinematic Universe. The plans may have been scuttled a bit with the less-than-stellar performance of last year’s Green Lantern, but have no doubt the powers that be are thinking of teaming up Batman with the Man of Steel (who’s reboot will come via Zack Snyder next summer) in the very near future, either in a standalone or a Justice League film.
The problem with the current Batman series is the realistic angle Nolan has taken. While this approach has worked wonders for the trilogy, it also eliminates the fantastical approach needed to get these two titans of comics to clash. While Gotham exists in the world of science, Metropolis needs to be in the realm of fantasy, a place where an alien super being can come to this world, kiss gravity good-bye and soar through the skies.
Marvel was able to combine the two realms (science and fantasy) through a carefully maintained progression of films that slowly led the audience from their man of science (Tony Stark) to the alien invasion at the end of this year’s The Avengers. It took five movies to reach that point but the audience was primed and ready. The Nolan series has shied away from fantasy to the point were if Superman where to be seen at the end of The Dark Knight Rises (as great as a moment that would be), it would be completely jarring and would take the audience out of the film. It would be viewed as a Deus Ex Machina and a horrible attempt to combine these two franchises. This approach would be more accepted in the Joel Schumacher version of the Dark Knight but has no place in the current series.
To get Superman into the picture, the Batman series need to start anew. A whole new approach needs to be taken that would allow Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne to coexist. A justified reboot is in order. The question is will audiences be willing to begin again? There are many ways to successfully reboot a franchise that would be acceptable to the masses. There are also many ways that a reboot could misfire.
One of the problems with The Amazing Spider-man is the lack of justification. The first Spider-man film came out in 2002 and told the origins of Peter Parker in a satisfying manner. It hit the required beats of the source (high school nerd Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider, loses Uncle Ben due to negligence on his own part and learns that with great power comes great responsibility) and did so in a creative and fantastic way. It was an emotional journey of discovery that audiences loved.
Cut to ten years and three films later, Sony cannot come to terms with the creative team of the Spider-man trilogy (as it is now known) for a fourth and, instead of trying to work off of a solid foundation already established, chose to tear it up and start again. The Amazing Spider-man is a move that reeks more of monetary gain and not creativity. It is somewhat known that if there was not a Spider-man movie released by the end of this year then Sony would have to give the franchise back to Marvel. Spider-man had been a huge money maker for them in the past and they were not willing to give it up. That is why Sony made the decision to reboot the franchise. It was not the need to shed light on a different aspect of the origin but something they can churn out quick to keep the rights. (This approach was also used for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and failed horribly. Also look towards a rebooted Fantastic Four and Daredevil before too long, both in an attempt to keep those franchises.)
The Amazing Spider-man also didn’t do enough to differentiate itself from its predecessor. Almost everything they did in the first hour of the production had been done before just 10 years prior. Easily the worst aspect of the new adventure was the retelling of the origin. It covered the same exact ground, beat by beat, and added little to nothing that would justify its inclusion. The filmmakers tried to throw Peter’s missing parents into the mix but that particular subplot went nowhere. Instead, it was meant more for the eventual sequel than the telling of this story. The briefcase that instigated the plot could have been found later at the house and did not require Uncle Ben to be present. Once the first hour and origin had past, the movie was finally able to move forward and attempt to establish its own identity. Unfortunately for it, the first hour anchors down most of their efforts.
To look for a more successful way to reboot, one doesn’t need to look too far. Batman Begins was to originally be the fifth part of Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s franchise, entitled Batman Triumphant. After the abysmal failure of Batman & Robin, a different approach was needed. The movie series was born in the dark and gritty corner of Tim Burton’s subconscious but quickly devolved into the camp and cheesiness of Schumacher’s approach (in his defense, it was the producers who pushed this angle on the franchise. That still doesn’t let him off the hook for making the horrible movies.) The series started to look like the Adam West television show from the 1960’s. Audiences rejected the approach vehemently, and the series was deemed unsalvageable.
Enter an indie director who made a mind blowing film about a man suffering from short-term memory loss. His approach to the comic book hero was, and is still, a radical idea that few films have followed. What if Bruce Wayne existed in our world? Gone are the devices that would have fit more in Q’s laboratory (no more bat credit cards, bat planes, bat skates, bat suits with nipples) and enter a more grounded approach of equipment based on current military technology. No more will Batman fall from the outer layers of the atmosphere and survive because he “surfed” a wave of ice. Instead, Bruce Wayne comes home battered, bruised and worse for the wear. Batman used to kill indiscriminately (a major departure from the comic book). Now, Bruce fights for justice with a conscience, never taking a life if he can avoid it. It differentiated itself from all other iterations. This was Christopher Nolan putting his stamp on the material.
When the sequel came around, Nolan took on another monumental task. How does one top Jack Nicholson? Christopher’s reboot of the Joker was initially met with abject optimism. Sure, he could make the audience forget about Batman & Robin but how can he make them forget about Jack? Nolan’s answer to that was to avoid the more humorous aspects of Jack’s approach and delve into the psychology of a man who existed only for chaos. Heath Ledger’s approach to Batman’s greatest foe was horrific, frightening and yet somewhat tragic. As the credits rolled and the Joker emerged somewhat victorious (he took a man beyond infallible and turned him into a complete monster), the audience was left asking one question. Jack who?
With Christopher Nolan spearheading the next iterations of Superman and Batman (albeit only in a producing role), there is no doubt that when the Dark Knight returns to the screen in the near future, the rebooted franchise will continue to be of a substantial quality. As much as the general public may scoff at the many reboots, remakes and sequels that tower over the cinematic landscape, they usually are quick to get behind the genuine article. Few may fall through the cracks (or somehow block the scenery like the Transformers and Twilight franchises) but have faith. The Batman series is in good hands.
P.S. The author of this blog actually did like the second half of The Amazing Spider-man, just not the remake portion.