Love it or leave it, comic-book fanboys
By Steven Patrick
Think of Hollywood's comic-book reboots and Chris Nolan's Batman trilogy, more so than any other superhero movie, is what comes to mind. It's because Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were sweeping, epic movies based on a brooding hero who was constantly tormented by his inner demons.
Nolan took the spirit of Frank Miller's comic-book vision and transformed it into a dark, cinematic opera. Under his direction, Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne was a shadowy character and every scene was filled with the quiet anger of a masked vigilante waiting to erupt. This was a far cry from Adam West's wholesome 1960s TV Batman.
Hollywood's attempts to step to the bad side of Batman began in the late 1980s. Tim Burton's Batman, with an unlikely Michael Keaton as the hero and Jack Nicholson stealing the show as The Joker, kick-started the modern superhero movie genre after the original Superman series had failed in the mid-'80s.
Batman Returns was an entertaining sequel and a cinematic spectacle, again with the villains—Danny DeVito as The Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman—robbing their scenes. Watch these movies today, however, and they don't quite hit the mark on an emotional level.
Joel Schumacher produced the next two instalments, Batman Forever with Val Kilmer and Batman And Robin with George Clooney. In typical Schumacher fashion, the cinematic spectacle got bigger and bigger while the essential plot—the dark psyche that drove a billionaire to become a crime-fighting hero—got thinner and thinner.
But when the character was rebooted for a new franchise in 2005, Nolan and Bale took their movie deeper into the actual characterisation of the Batman instead of relying on special effects and celebrity stunt casting. They reprised their roles for the 2008 sequel, with Heath Ledger playing a Joker so deranged and sinister that it made Nicholson's Joker look like a clown.
At the time, the movie broke several records in its theatrical run—earning over US$1bil at the box-office worldwide and becoming the 12th highest grossing movie of all time. And as we wait with bated breath for the third and last part of the series, The Dark Knight Rises, to premiere on 20th July, consider this: has Batman's success spawned a comic-book reboot mêlée?
Bryan Singer, who helmed X-Men and X2, rebooted the tale of Clark Kent and the last of Krypton in 2006. Well, rebooting in the sense of ignoring the original Superman III and Superman IV and picking up where Superman II ended in 1980. Brandon Routh took over from Christopher Reeves, and while the movie fared pretty well with critics and audiences, studio execs were less than pleased with the box-office take, so a sequel was axed.
Still, you can't keep a man in blue tights and a red cape and a giant S on his chest down for long. Hollywood remains adamant about turning the quintessential Alien-American superhero into another box-office hit. So next year we'll see another attempt called Man Of Steel, developed by Zack Snyder of The Watchmen, based on a story co-written by Christopher Nolan. How Henry Cavill will cut it in Nolan’s dark and claustrophobic world is anyone's guess.
Another comic-book superhero that's endured several attempts at a reboot is the not-so-jolly green giant, The Hulk. Ang Lee, between Crouching Tiger and Brokeback Mountain, gave it go in 2002. Eric Bana turned in a credible performance as Bruce Banner, the nuclear physics genius you wouldn't want to get angry. Sadly, the puny CGI movements of the Hulk just made viewers mad.
In 2008, Hollywood tried to go green again with the always dependable Edward Norton as The Incredible Hulk. But despite bringing his trademark screen intensity to the character, Norton was unceremoniously dropped from the third reboot as part of The Avengers series. Instead, Mark Ruffalo was cast as a mild-mannered and relatively in control Banner who turned into a smiley and sometimes even funny Hulk that audience seemed to love.
All this brings us to the latest Spider-Man reboot. The original trilogy by Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker ran from 2002 to 2007, which might seem like an eternity ago to younger moviegoers. For today's kids, the Marc Webb directed Amazing Spider-Man stars Andrew Garfield as the new Parker, who seems to have bitten off a bit of the Batman's brooding head—and audiences are flocking into his parlour.
So there's just one question left to ask: when is the new Daredevil coming out?
Published: 13th July 2012