Batman has been in his share of superhero films ever since he made his big cinematic debut in 1989, some of which were great (or could’ve been great) and some that were… not so great. Of all the superhero films featuring the Caped Crusader though, Batman Begins still stands above the rest for not only rebooting Batman in a plausible way but for leaving behind a legacy that left a mixed mark on Hollywood cinematic trends for years to come.
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Let’s start with the good things Batman Begins brought to the superhero film table. Unlike every film starring the Dark Knight before it, Batman Begins managed to make its protagonist pretty damn interesting for once by diving deep into what made him tick and actually making him the focus.
It also didn’t hurt that Batman Begins not only had a believable leading actor in Christian Bale, who essentially plays four different characters in the role, well as an all-star cast playing both the big and smaller supporting parts.
But beyond the focus on Bruce Wayne and the great cast, the most impressive thing Batman Begins was pulling off a delicate balancing act of making things grounded enough in reality to be plausible but not so realistic that it’s completely devoid of the usual superhero film bullshit.
Sure we can buy that Bruce Wayne built his Batman suit using military tech, but there’s just no way to believably tell a story about a billionaire playboy who dresses up like a bat to play vigilante every night because he wants to make the world a better place. Batman Begins grounds what it can and trusts its audience to suspend their disbelief enough to buy it. And it worked.
So in that sense, Batman Begins showed that reboots of well-worn superhero franchises are doable and it is possible to reimagine comic book movies in a grounded way that is palatable to both nerds and film snobs.
On the flip side, Batman Begins also left behind the unfortunate legacy of popularising the “gritty reboot.” When Hollywood saw Christopher Nolan’s take on the Caped Crusader, all it took away from it was “gritty reboot = winner.”
Hollywood didn’t understand the foundational strength on which Batman Begins‘ dark tone was built upon, how the character lent complemented this sort of aesthetic rather than the other way around, and how detailed backstories don’t need to be told for every character.
In the decade or so following the release of Batman Begins, it seems like there’s a new gritty reboot of some old franchise or a “darker take” on some popular property every few weeks. Some of them mostly worked, like Casino Royale, J.J. Abrams’ two Star Trek films, and Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.
But a majority of these “gritty reboot/darker takes” either disappointed or just failed miserably – like Robocop, The Amazing Spider-Man, Hellboy, Terminator, and The Mummy just to name a few – because Hollywood learned the wrong thing from Batman Begins. A grimdark aesthetic does not equal a good movie.
Batman Begins didn’t deliberately set out usher in a new age of half-arsed reboots and gritty aesthetics. It’s just the way Hollywood works. But the frequent cinematic misses that attempted to jump on the reboot trend started by Batman Begins show that there was something special about this particular incarnation of the Dark Knight.
It’s just too bad that most of these “gritty reboots” of superhero and franchise films missed the point of what made Batman Begins so good.
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