Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Batman Begins" - A Retrospective

It's hard to believe it has been seven years since Batman Begins first hit theaters.  The first of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy is what not only started this current series of Batman films, but it also introduced me to one of my favorite actors currently working (Christian Bale), and more importantly made me aware of Christopher Nolan, who I believe to be the most dynamic filmmaker currently in the Hollywood studio system.  Let me take you back seven years to fully grasp where Hollywood was, as for myself.

Seven years ago, Hollywod was just coming into the thick of the superhero movie craze.  In 2000 X-Men came out and did respectable box office, however it was not until two years later, when Spider-Man  hit theaters, that superheroes became the next big thing in Hollywood.  After Spidey proved so profitable, every studio was wanting to make a superhero movie and get in on the game.  Now, look at WB, owners of DC Comics, therefore having all of the movie rights to their characters.

By 2005, it had been eight years with no Batman movies, but not without a lack of trying.  Warners was frantic in trying to get a Batman movie off the ground after the poor reception to Batman & Robin.  They tried to get another Joel Schumacher-directed Bat-film made, that fell apart shortly after Batman & Robin, they even tried to mine some higher concept ideas, such as Batman vs. Superman and Batman Beyond (Batman of the future).  Batman was in, what is known in Hollywood, as development hell.  Thankfully, screenwriter David Goyer came along, wrote what is now known as Batman Begins, and Warners had enough faith in Christopher Nolan after he knocked the small scale neo-noir, Insomnia, out of the park for them to give him the gig as director, and the rest was history.  However, audiences were still either skeptical or confused.

Here's a new Batman movie from a relatively unknown director, with a lesser known actor in the lead, and a very secretive campaign strategy that revealed little of what the film was about.  As well, the film was promising a dark and brooding take on the character, when audiences had just a year earlier made the comic book sweetness of Spider-Man 2 a mega-hit.  Not to mention the fact that so many audience members thought it was a prequel to Tim Burton's Batman and not the reboot of the Batman on film series that it was.  Of course, the biggest branch of skepticism came from how burned so many filmgoers and fans felt after Batman & Robin.  Could they really trust WB to ever deliver a good Batman movie again?

For me, I was only fifteen at the time the film came out.  I was excited for it, like any fifteen-year-old is for the next big Summer blockbuster, but my expectations and what was actually seen when it finally was released, were two different things.  I mean, all of the trailers leading up the film were cut so well, they really hid a lot of the story details.  Sure the cinematography was darker, the world was less colorful, and it boasted tons of action, but that is all I really expected from it, an action flick and not much else.  It was shrouded in so much secrecy, and that is one of the reasons I feel the film slowly crawled to success.

Batman Begins was by no means an out of the gate winner at the box office.  I remember going to the midnight showing of the film, having seen a sold out midnight showing of Star Wars:  Episode III only a month before, and the theater was only a quarter of the way full for Batman Begins.  As I mentioned, the somewhat lower scale marketing campaign could have been to blame, but I also think it was audience weariness from the whole Batman & Robin fiasco.  The last time anyone saw Batman onscreen, it was no longer cool and was laughable, so few showed up those first few weeks of its release, and they don't even realize what they missed.

What I had initially thought would be a simple action movie that could not meet the depth of character from the previous year's Spider-Man 2, not only managed to go deeper in terms of character than even that film did, but it also presented a fun and emotional thrill ride that rocked my world the same way as when I saw the original Star Wars for the first time.  For a bit of laughs, read my review for the film from seven years ago over on imdb.  It's poorly written, but it tells you how I felt about that film, and how I still do.  Batman Begins quickly became one of my favorite movies of all-time.  It had captured the Batman character better than any other incarnation.  It was more faithful, more true to the comic book mythology, and as a lifelong comic book fan, I was smitten, so smitten in fact I saw it the following afternoon and went on to see it one more time in theaters before getting it on DVD and watching it repeatedly at home.  I even started to seek out Chris Nolan's films, and saw his follow-up film, The Prestige, on opening night, loving it almost as much.  As well, I became obsessed with following the news on the sequel for the next three years, till that film finally came out.

In total, the film went on to gross a tad over $200 million in its domestic box office run.  A respectable tally for a film that was reviving a dead franchise.  It was definitely a word of mouth success.  A few people saw it, told their friends, then they saw it, and the cycle continued to repeat till it was profitable enough to warrant a sequel.  WB must have taken a big sigh of relief at that point.  From that point on, its darker, more realistic approach to the comic book material started to seep into almost every superhero film after (even if it wasn't always called for).

As for me, Batman Begins is still one of the most seminal films of my lifetime.  Not only does it still remain in my top 20 favorites of all-time, but it was one of the films that heavily inspired me to become a filmmaker.  It was around that time in my life that I discovered filmmaking was what I wanted to do, and Christopher Nolan's film, the way it was shot and the way the story was told visually, just had me rethinking how blockbusters could be made.  It inspired me, and still does to this day.  I am greatly appreciative to Nolan, Goyer, and the rest of the cast and crew for the impact their work had on me and my dreams.

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