Lesson: Focus. Have a clear, confident, and unique interpretation of the property.
Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins is arguably the greatest of all cinematic reboots, and certainly the most influential. It established many reboot practices, such as resetting continuity, returning more faithfully to the source material, and moving in a darker, ‘realistic’ direction.
While the film’s impact on both reboots and Hollywood as a whole cannot be overstated, the single greatest lesson Batman Begins taught us is that for a reboot – or any cinematic adaptation, for that matter – to truly succeed, the filmmaker must have a clear, confident, and focused interpretation of the property, one that respects the original material while offering audiences a fresh and insightful understanding.
This is where Batman Begins succeeds most spectacularly. While it is obvious throughout that Nolan has a deep and abiding knowledge of the greater Batman mythos, he constantly forces us to see the character in a new and different light. His Bruce Wayne exists in the real world, our world, where dressing up like a bat to fight crime is not taken for granted. Other writers, like Frank Miller or Dennis O’Neal, have explored the psychology behind Batman’s origin, but never to this degree. Nolan wants to understand the trauma that defines and compels Bruce Wayne on a fundamentally pathological level, and he is meticulous in illustrating every step of Wayne’s transformation.
The result is an undeniably focused film, one centered around concepts of fear – a universal emotion that connects cops, criminals, and superheroes alike – and symbolic power. Bruce’s efforts are portrayed not as simple heroism, but as a profoundly broken man’s quest to grasp a modicum of control in a world spinning into darkness. While the film’s sequels, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, generally garnered more acclaim, each finds its thematic and narrative roots in the foundation Batman Begins provides, a foundation that is confident, concentrated, and insightful at each and every turn.
This is the first and greatest rule to building a better reboot. The previous live-action Batman series withered and died precisely because no one involved had any clear vision for the franchise. Batman Begins succeeded on every possible level because Nolan and his collaborators knew exactly what they wanted to do with Batman, and they had the talent to realize every inch of their unique interpretation. They offered audiences something unlike anything that had ever been seen, and legitimized the idea of the reboot in the process.
This is a trait shared by all creatively successful reboots. It is a trait the next filmmaker who tackles Batman will certainly have to embrace, for simply repeating what Nolan did will not suffice. Whoever comes next will have to reinterpret Batman themselves, just as all who take charge on reboots must have a unique vision for their respective property.
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