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Ten years ago, Batman Begins kicked off Hollywood's gritty reboot rut

Ten years ago, Batman Begins kicked off Hollywood's gritty reboot rut

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Batman Begins, arguably the first truly great Batman movie since 1989, turns 10 today. When it was released in the summer of 2005, it wasn’t the only superhero movie on the block, but it was by far the best, and the impact it had continues to reverberate to this very day. We wouldn’t have Christian Bale's Batman voice without it, for one — nor would we have its even more beloved 2008 sequel The Dark Knight. Most importantly, Batman Begins made dark reboots a thing, a successful template that studios would bank on for years to come. And that’s why I’m calling it out. Batman Begins was the beginning of a rut that Hollywood still hasn’t managed to get out of.

Now, I can tell you’re upset, so let me back up and say that it’s still a great movie. Where other superhero flicks of the time leaned on their effects budgets often to their detriment, director Christopher Nolan gave Begins a grounded, neo-noir feel that helped distract from how inherently silly it is for a billionaire to dress up like a bat and spend his nights beating up mob thugs. As grimy as his take on Gotham City was, Wally Pfister made everything look gorgeous. And the cast? It might not have been Katie Holmes’ most memorable turn, but the film had the likes of Michael Caine and Gary Oldman classing up the joint even further, and Christian Bale quickly made himself a contender for "Best Batman," right up there with Michael Keaton and Kevin Conroy.

Batman Begins isn't the Godfather of 21st Century Superhero Movies

But Batman Begins is not the Godfather of 21st Century Superhero Movies, as some more hardcore fans might have you believe. Yes, it managed to till the scorched earth of the Batman brand after Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin crashed and burned so spectacularly. But by 2005, Hollywood had already been trying (and often, succeeding) to make "good" superhero movies for a while. The X-Men (2000) and Spider-Man (2002) movies saw great mainstream commercial and critical success, and are both considered classics. And don’t forget that there were five other comic book movies in 2005 right alongside it (Fantastic Four, Elektra, V for Vendetta, Sin City, and Constantine). That something like Begins would come along seems almost inevitable.

No, the most important thing about the movie is its being a standard bearer for contemporary gritty realism. Granted, Nolan didn’t have to do much heavy lifting to make that work given Batman’s already noirish themes. But its success taught Hollywood that digging up old stories and repainting them with a darker palette could make a whole generation of moviegoers fill theater seats. We’re living in the age of the reboot, and "dark" is an easy shorthand to follow if studios won’t spring for originality. If not for Nolan’s Batman, we wouldn’t have The Amazing Spider-Man, which retold Peter Parker’s origin story with a few bleak twists. We wouldn’t have Man of Steel, which gave us a dour look at Superman’s first fight to save the world. We wouldn’t have Rise of the Planet of the Apes, RoboCop, or even Godzilla, all grimmer takes on storied properties.

Some of those films turned out quite well, but the formula has long since turned stale. It’s a meme. (Naturally, the internet runs wild with the concept.) In 2015, we’re conditioned to expect that each of our beloved cultural touchstones will eventually get its own grimdark retelling. But there’s something inherently lazy about essentially remixing The Wrath of Khan for a post-9/11 age in Star Trek Into Darkness or turning Dracula into history’s first anti-hero in Dracula Untold.

We're now drowning in a deluge of franchise reboots

Batman Begins helped put us on the path to where we are are now — drowning in a deluge of franchise reboots — but, considering Disney is now redoing everything it’s ever done, the film isn’t solely to blame. And not everyone is going grim. But I groan every time I learn about some gritty rehash about to hit theaters. Again, it’s a great movie, and we’re better off having made the leap away from Joel Schumacher’s take on the Dark Knight. But I wish the movies I love today were a bit brighter and told stories I haven’t heard before.