I was going to make a joke here about gritty reboots being the new black, but that doesn't work. A gritty reboot just takes something and puts black on it. Don't get me wrong, a gritty reboot can be fantastic (Batman Begins) but it can also be atrocious (Daredevil), pointless (The HulkStar Trek).
I have to lay most of the problem at the feet of Batman Begins. BB was a fantastic movie that producers missed the point of. BB took a superhero who's always had a problem with camp and whose latest films had spiraled out of control into self-parody and got rid of all the extraneous BS. Instead of ridiculous bat-themed gadgets we had tools that were actually useful. Instead of Gotham as a bright neon Blade Runner parody we got a shadow-shrouded city that Batman could actually function in. Instead of Three Stooges-esque comedy fight sequences we got commando-style combat encounters that were believable.
These were great, but they weren't what made BB a great movie. BB was great because they were real characters. Bruce Wayne wasn't interesting because he angsted but because angst was a realistic reaction to what he'd gone through. Christopher Nolan and David Goyer wrote, and Christian Bale played, someone who was crazy enough that we all believed he could become Batman and was sympathetic enough that we wanted him to. BB was about character.
But Hollywood didn't pay attention to that. They saw sets with low illumination and characters with tragic pasts and said, "Aha! Keep everything dark! That's what makes a great movie!"
No, no, no, no, no!
To paraphrase Aristotle, if characters behave in a believable manner and experience logical consequences, at the conclusion of the story the audience will experience a useful fear. It doesn't matter if the circumstances aren't realistic so long as the characters behave in a believable fashion given the circumstances. That requires real characters.
Spiderman 3 was a fairly dark movie but the characters were morons. People don't hate it because of the dance sequence and emo hair - they hate it because the dance sequence and emo hair are out of character, coming completely out of left field. The first season of Heroes was amazing because it was filled with fascinating characters who behaved like real people despite the absurdity of dormant superhero genes, because we believed them when they reacted to such genes. The subsequent seasons fell apart because the story began to dominate the characters, and once that happens you realize how insipid the story really is.
I'm truly worried about Spiderman's gritty reboot. I'm worried it's going to be all grit and they're going to forget what made the first two movies so wonderful in the first place.
Then there's the issue of rebooting origin stories. The origin story is the easiest to portray because it's the easiest to envision realistic reactions, but we need stories that go beyond puberty and mid-life crisis metaphors (X-Men and Iron Man respectively). We need stories about what it means to live in the new life you've created for yourself. BB was a great film but it was The Dark Knight that truly had something to say, and it was a message our society needs very badly.
Hollywood, don't keep being gritty for the sake of being gritty and don't keep rebooting because it's easier than going forward. I want to see:
- A Superman movie that makes use of the "alien among us" concept to deal with 21st century loneliness.
- A Spiderman movie that uses choosing between two dreams as a theme and not a cheap way to raise the stakes.
- An X-Men movie that contrasts the team's bemoaning their outsider status with the Brotherhood's celebration of it (though one scene in X-2 did this very well.
I want stories that matter and characters I care about, not just endless dark-framed long shots followed by closeups of the hereos' faces.