Darker reboots. Cinema in the naughties can be summed up by those two words, especially with comic book/superhero movies, thanks in part to Christopher Nolan’s and his re-imagining of DC Comics’ Dark Knight in Batman Begins (2005). The British director’s realistic re-interpretation of Batman was a critical and box office success, lauded for its grittiness and “humanity”, with the focus of Bruce Wayne’s emotional journey as the hero “…Gotham City deserves, but not the one it needs.”, according to Commissioner Gordon.
Batman Begins birthed two sequels, The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Both also were box-office hits and well received by critics. Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy influenced several movies to re-imagine their character’s and stories in the same light. X-Men: First Class, The Amazing Spider-Man, Man Of Steel, and even Craig Daniel’s James Bond, said MTV Movie Blog Writer Shawn Adler. Directors such as Matthew Vaughn have openly state how Nolan’s filmmaking has influenced them to take a realistic approach in superhero movies.
This method has become a trend in Hollywood. It worked quite well for Batman because, well, he IS dark. Even in the comics. The Dark Knight Trilogy deftly examined the deep emotional and psychological trauma of Bruce Wayne witnessing his parent’s death, which then led him to take on the mantle of the bat.
But does this “realism” work for other characters or movies? Let’s take a look:
To film buffs, this term comes up quite a lot. Cinema verite (veri-tey) translated from French means “truthful cinema”, meaning the activities recorded in front of the camera are not directed, scripted, or altered in any way. They are taken as is.
That is why early footage of cinema were shorts of real things happening such as a train passing by a station and people having tea at home. This can be summarized as “Reality”, or a capital “R”.
As cinema progressed, directors realized that they couldn’t just capture cinema verite, but could create their own stories and film them. Ergo, they built a “reality” where events were constructed or altered according to their creativity. This is called “reality”. It can be summarized with a small “r”.
Today, most movies are made primarily for entertainment and spectacle. Very few documentaries can be counted as “cinema verite”. In a way, reality is altered. Most easily, you can count them as reality with a small r, not a big R.
What do comic movies fall into? Since these kinds of movies are based on these amazing larger-than-life personas who were all born from paper, these movies count as “r”. I think it’s safe to say that superheroes don’t exist in real life. Has anyone really seen the Avengers flying around NYC stopping the latest evil villain threat? Yeah, my point exactly.
Since we’ve discussed what cinema and superheroes are, how do these two coincide with the darker reboots? There are two sides to this coin, and we’ll take a look at these via pros and cons.
Rebooting a series with a “realistic” feel to it gives an old franchise a fresh approach. An example would be the Star Trek re-imagined by J.J. Abrams in 2009. While the old Star Trek films delved into philosophy and the Enterprise crew’s journey in space, the new films are character-centered, focused mainly on the relationship of Spock and James Kirk.
It also gave new fans an appreciation of the franchise, which was healthy, since the last Star Trek film was Nemesis way back in 2002. This also worked for James Bond in Casino Royale. Instead of a debonair ladies’ man, here we’re treated to a Bond who’s wonderfully human: An agent bruised and battered, inside and out.
Toying with the idea of these characters existing along with us in real life is also a plus. It gives us a peek into the quirks of the titular characters. For example: The pain and isolation of Batman/Bruce Wayne. The same goes for Marc Webb’s Spider-Man/Peter Parker, since Nolan influenced him. This also applies for Superman/Clark Kent. Majority of the screen time in Man Of Steel was apportioned to the search of his identity and purpose in the world in an attempt humanize an alien (Clark Kent is Kryptonian). Admittedly, that is something totally relatable to moviegoers.
However, there are cons to having darker, gritty movie remakes. For one, the “Wow” factor is totally lost. Remember watching Superman: The Movie in 1978 or Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989? When they came out on screen for the first time, it took everyone’s breath away in amazement. No one could believe these iconic characters were popping right in front of their eyes. Even if Batman did have that dark quality about him, everyone was mesmerized by Keaton’s performance. Due to the realistic approach in movie remakes, characters are forced to be introspective and brooding. Seriously, can you imagine Superman being…emo? Exactly. Because he isn’t. It works for Batman, yes. But what works for Batman doesn’t go for Supes. They’re two completely different characters. That’s where MoS failed. In making it grim, Zack Snyder lost the amazement of bringing Superman to life. Instead of going “Wow!”, audiences reacted with a resounding “What?”
Another downside is that movies take themselves too seriously. And not a lot of people watch to think. They watch to be entertained, not have their brain turned to mush by a cinematic blender. That’s the main difference between the DC and Marvel Cinematic Universe. DC tries too hard, maybe because they’re playing catch up. Marvel’s got the ball in their court. Have you seen The Avengers? It’s got everything blended perfectly: Action, humor, conflict, and a bit of that angst among some characters. Nothing goes overboard.
So to answer the question, no, this realistic approach should not continue any longer in comic book movies. The trend is getting pretty stale. Some new direction and perspective is due. As long as it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it is gladly welcomed. It is worth looking forward to a superhero movie that brings back all that awe and excitement; one that won’t make you go “What?” at the end, but “Wow!”…