The Art of the Reboot - Batman, Star Trek, Bond
'The term reboot, in media
dealing with serial fiction, means to discard much or even all previous
continuity in the series and start anew with fresh ideas...'
Reboots. Cinema seems to be full of them lately. Some are necessary and
some are unnecessary. It has probably got out of hand (look at the
horror genre for example) but the big three franchise reboots of recent
years - Batman, Star Trek, & James Bond - are of particular
interest. Which one worked the best?
The Batman Reboot
The original series of Batman films, started by Tim Burton in 1989,
left a few questions hanging in the air with their depiction of a
reasonably mature Batman fighting crime with a minimum of backstory.
Where in the name of Adam West did he learn how to be Batman? Who
taught him martial arts? Where did he get his gadgets and car from?
Does anyone secretly help him? Batman Begins, an excellent reboot/rethink of the franchise, answers
these questions and establishes itself in the Premier League of comic
The film opens with a young Bruce Wayne falling through an old well on
the grounds of his family's estate and thus discovering the batcave
that he will put to use as Batman. The film then cuts to the adult
Bruce Wayne. Wayne is in a bedraggled state in a Far East Prison. He is
there to study criminals and toughen himself up, though for what and
why he isn't quite sure. In a series of flashbacks we see the death of
his parents and Wayne turn his back on his fortune and the corrupt
Gotham City to stow away on a ship. He is visited by the mysterious
Ducard (played by Liam Neeson). Ducard works for the even more
mysterious Ras Al Gul and tells Wayne that if he carries a rare flower
to the top of the mountain he will find the answers he is looking for.
He finds a strange Ninja Sect when he arrives and begins the path that
will lead to him becoming Batman...
What is great about Batman Begins? The casting for starters. It was an
inspired move to cast British actor Christian Bale as Wayne/Batman.
Bale is a good actor and adds a bit of gravitas to the centre of the
film. He's more than buff enough to fill the Batsuit and does a good
job in separating the Wayne/Batman identities. He's refreshingly
intimidating as Batman (Batman is supposed to scare criminals afterall)
but often acts the drunken spoilt millionaire fool with Wayne. And yes,
Bale is very James bond in some of the Bruce Wayne sequences. In real
life Batman's identity would be rumbled in days but it was a nice touch
to show that Batman at least uses his Bruce Wayne identity to make
Wayne an unlikely person to be Batman in the eyes of Gotham.
Liam Neeson is great as Ducard. I've sometimes found him a bit dull in
other films but he spouts wonderful comic book gobbledygook with such
seriousness here I must doff my cap to him. The respect for the comics
and mythology of Batman is very evident throughout the film and the
scenes with Ducart, with panoramic mountain views, give Batman Begins
an ambition and scope beyond the patchy Batman films produced from
1989-1997. The second half of the film moves the action to Gotham and
the production design, which is at times closer to Bladerunner than Tim
Burton's gothic take on the character, is fantastic. There is also a
spectacular and enjoyable chase involving the new Batmobile that gives
Nolan a chance to flex his action muscles.
I should add that Michael Caine is an absolute delight as Alfred and
Cillian Murphy makes his mark as secondary villain Scarecrow. Batman
Begins is crammed with terrific actors like Tom Wilkinson and Gary
Oldman. Oldman, in a rare non-villain role, looks just like Jim Gordon
from Frank Miller's Batman Year One, a graphic novel that provided a
major part of the inspiration for Batman Begins. Morgan Freeman is as
likeable as ever as Lucious Fox, an employee in a mysterious section of
Wayne Enterprises who becomes an ally and is essentially Wayne's
version of Q from the Bond films. Perhaps the only weak link is the
bland Katie Holmes, a vague love interest for Bruce Wayne.
Director Christopher Nolan, a brave choice at the time for Batman
Begins, puts Batman into a more real world than the gothic/camp Batman
films produced in the late eighties and early nineties and this effect
is heightened by our fresh knowledge of how Batman came to be. The film
has many striking images and makes good use of Scarecrow's
mind-altering gas for some nightmarish effects. The climax is exciting
and the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Alfred is deftly developed
and touching. There is a lot of backstory to convey in Batman Begins
and the film allows plenty of time to develop the emergence of Batman.
Some might feel that there could have been a bit more action in the
film but I think the big set-pieces, when they arrive, work better for
being part of a restrained film that tries to give the audience some
character development rather than shoehorn in too many popcorn stunts.
The shaky cam and fast-editing, a bit like the Bourne films, is a bit
overdone during some dimly lit fight scenes but Nolan, overall, must be
commended for giving this fresh take on Batman a reasonably new feel,
as far as one can in the Batman 'universe'. Batman Begins is in the
top-tier of comic book films and was the best treatment of the
character to reach the screen at the time.
The second film in the Batman reboot, 2008's The Dark Knight, is a
truly cinematic experience and pays off the viewer multiple times with
new revelations and visually arresting set pieces. I think it probably
raises the bar for all future blockbusters and is the most unique
experience I have had in a cinema since being accidentally locked
inside one with two friends after a screening of a Teenage Mutant Ninja
Turtles film. The start of The Dark Knight finds Bruce Wayne (Christian
Bale) still roaming the rooftops and streets of Gotham fighting crime
as Batman but also starting to question his future. How much longer can
he take the physical punishment that being Batman involves? Could he
ever have an ordinary life?
Wayne identifies hotshot district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart)
as the man who could clean up Gotham without the benefit of a mask and
throws some of his considerable fortune and influence behind him. If
Dent can make Gotham a safer place then the city may no longer need a
Batman and Bruce could contemplate a new life, possibly with Rachael
Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), ironically now Dent's girlfriend. These
plans are thrown into chaos by the entry of a new criminal figure known
as the 'Joker'. The Joker unleashes a reign of terror that threatens to
overwhelm Batman, the police and the city itself...
One problem I had with Tim Burton's two Batman films is they had a very
studio bound atmosphere at times as a result of the gothic fantasy
tone. They had some great stuff but were ultimately somehow less than
the sum of their parts. Christopher's Nolan's Batman films are by
contrast set in a city that we can more readily accept as a real place
with real location work and many sequences in daylight. By throwing
open the world that Batman lives in even more, The Dark Knight creates
a more realistic tone and also makes the film look much bigger in
scope. It is by far the biggest, darkest, and best Batman film yet
The opening sequence has the Joker robbing a bank and already you see
that Nolan has opened up the world he is operating in and know that the
film will be much more of a sprawling epic than Batman Begins. Crime
films were said to be a big influence on The Dark Knight and there are
street scenes packed with extras that remind one of Michael Mann's Heat
and some criminal/mob scenes that could be from a Mafia film. I suspect
Nolan even drew inspiration from films like Magnolia that shuffle a big
cast over a long story. Some evacuation scenes in the film reminded me
of Die Hard With A Vengance in places, although that may just have been
me, and Nolan, a James Bond fan, makes Bruce Wayne a very James Bondian
character at times.
Morgan Freeman's Lucious Fox character supplies Wayne with a dazzling
amount of cool gadgets and technology to use in various inventive ways.
It's ironic really that the Bond films ditched Q for being too silly
whereas The Dark Knight - a sombre and well, dark, film - still uses
the character in a clever way for its own ends. The Dark Knight also
includes one of the best James Bond pre-credit sequences never made
when Batman attempts to kidnap a Hong Kong criminal from a skyscraper
and escape via a waiting plane. There are moments in this film that
should have the viewer in awe.
Some reviews of The Dark Knight had led me to believe that Christian
Bale and Batman were a bit sidelined in this film by the villain. I
didn't find that to be honest. I think casting Christian Bale - who is
a bit of an old thesp - as Batman was a very clever move. He's very
physical and gruff-voiced as Batman but also terrific as Bruce Wayne.
His scenes with Michael Caine's Alfred are all a delight as is his
quiet rapport with Morgan Freeman. In real life everyone would probably
guess in a second that Wayne was Batman but when Bale acts the buffoon
as Bruce Wayne as a ruse for people not to suspect he could be Batman
you go along with it. Bale of course is also perfectly at home doing
all the conflicted, tortured stuff.
Heath Ledger has won numerous plaudits for his Joker and I have to say
I think he deserves all of them. The Joker of the comics I read was
often aristocratic and erudite. Jack Nicholson's Joker, though great
fun, was played for laughs. This Joker, Ledger's Joker, is just a force
of nature. A mad bomber terrifying everyone in the city. Ledger's Joker
is scary because we know he doesn't care about anything except chaos.
He isn't motivated by money. Ledger is compelling, strange and funny as
the iconic villain. It's fair to say it will be difficult for anyone to
ever top his take on this character in any future interpretation. The
image of Ledger bounding away from the hospital as it explodes behind
him is an especially memorable image in a film that has many.
Another thing about the Joker here is that he isn't given some tiresome
backstory like the villains in the previous Batman films. The fact that
he's a bit vague and we never see him in a clinched villain HQ makes
the character more enigmatic and frightening. He's just an unstoppable
force loose somewhere. Aaron Eckhart, an excellent actor, pitches it
just right as Harvey Dent. The point of the character is that he can go
either way and the actor does a good job with his task as Harvey's
patience is tested. Dent is neither too unrealistically brilliant or
unlikeable when introduced, which is about right I think. Maggie
Gyllenhaal is a distinct improvement over the wooden Katie Holmes as
Rachael and actually has a bit of chemistry with her male co-stars, a
rarity sometimes in these types of films. Gary Oldman is again perfect
as Jim Gordon and has an expanded role in the film. Wherever you look
The Dark Knight features interesting actors.
Is The Dark Knight a little pretentious? Probably, but I don't think it
matters too much. You have to go for broke if you want to make the
ultimate Batman epic - and this film is as close to that as anything is
ever likely to be. I was surprised by how far they went to be honest.
This is not a film for children and there are some surprisingly
scary/violent moments for what is, I suppose, essentially a summer
blockbuster, like Batman being attacked by dogs, and the Joker having a
blade protrude from his shoes like Rosa Klebb before he kicks at
Batman. It's a long way removed from the days of Joel Schumacher.
In The Dark Knight, the kitchen sink is thrown at Gotham and Batman by
the screenwriters and the villain. It's understandable that the film
turned out to be even darker and longer than many expected.
Dramatically though this is a strength of the film. It never sells
itself out and is prepared to pull the rug away from the audience in a
more daring way than you are used to with popular/comic book films. You
do start to feel that anything can happen in this film after a while.
I was knocked out by the look of The Dark Knight and the invention
behind it. The Hong Kong sequence, the Batcycle on the streets of
Gotham after a huge Batmobile chase. Incidentally, the Batcycle chase
with the lorry seemed from the trailer to be the BIG end/climax to The
Dark Knight. It's a measure of how huge and ambitious this film is that
it's really just another set piece nowhere near the end of the film!
The moment where Batman uses Sonar Vision later in the film is another
brilliantly inventive idea and used wonderfully by Nolan and the FX
team. There are countless moments or images from the film that made me
smile in a geeky way. I honestly don't think a Batman fan could have
asked for much more from The Dark Knight.
The Star Trek Reboot
With the growing trend for cinematic reboots - Batman, James Bond - it
was only a matter of time I suppose until the ailing Star Trek
franchise received a similar rebranding. The Next Generation run of
films had long fizzled out to indifferent box-office numbers and
Enterprise, the last television series, was axed after just four
seasons, adding to a general feeling that Star Trek, as an overall
product, had gradually disappeared up its own metaphorical black hole.
Star Trek just hadn't been a big deal for a long time so in came JJ
Abrams of Lost and Mission Impossible III fame, essentially charged
with making the franchise lucrative and trendy, more mainstream and
down with the kids. On the minus side, Abrams, who admits to not being
a gigantic Star Trek fan in the past with vast swathes of the
television output passing him by, tramples roughshod all over the loose
continuity of the Star Trek universe (effectively creating an alternate
history of his own) and parts of his approach are too action intensive
and generic. On the plus side, the clever Abrams is a lot better at
making films than the likes of Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli
and delivers a fast-paced, colourful and highly entertaining summer
blockbuster that will appeal to many who don't usually watch Star
'Star Trek' dusts off that old oft-rumoured gambit of making a film
about the young Kirk and Spock and the early days of the Starship
Enterprise. It's an idea that works reasonably well here although a
small part of me will probably always feel that it's slightly
blasphemous to have new actors playing these iconic characters. The
plot of the film revolves around Nero (Eric Bana), a nutty Romulan who
is obsessed with revenge against the Federation and Spock for an event
that occurred in the future. Nero travels back in time to the early
days of Kirk and Spock where the freshly minted crew of the Enterprise
find themselves battling to stop his plans to destroy Earth and Vulcan.
There is a major event in this film which resets the Star Trek universe
and essentially creates a new one. Are we in an alternate universe? Are
there two different Enterprise crews? I know this is only a film and
they wanted to free themselves from having to conform to Star Trek
history too slavishly, but Abrams seems to erase the Star Trek canon
here and it did bug me. "James T Kirk was considered to be a great
man,"says Nero. "He went on to captain the USS Enterprise... but that
was another life."
The film begins with an attack on the USS kelvin by Nero's huge mining
ship. The Kelvin contains the parents of James T Kirk, who we meet, and
this sequence is both arresting and quite poignant, happily confirming
that a sense of real scope and grandness is back in Star Trek. Our
first introduction to Kirk though is not a promising one. He's about 10
years old and speeding along a dusty road in a sportscar and Back to
the Future II jacket, being chased by a policeman on a hover cycle. We
get dance music and blatant product placement too. Thankfully though,
Star Trek essence returns for the excellent scenes featuring Spock as a
boy on Vulcan, being teased by children for having a human mother and
involved in some sort of enjoyably high-tech Vulcan school/test.
Zachary Quinto is inspired casting as a younger, more uppity Spock, and
certainly looks the part with his severe fringe and serious eyebrows.
It's a credit to Quinto that you completely forget he's Sylar from
Heroes and I got a big kick out of having him quote Sherlock Holmes at
one point. Ben Cross is well cast too as Sarek in the film and I wish
he'd had a few more scenes. "You will always be a child of two worlds,"
says Sarek to Spock. "And fully capable of deciding your own destiny.
The question you face is, which path will you choose?"
Kirk meanwhile, now older, is beaten up by Starfleet students after
trying to chat-up the slinky Uhura (Zoe Saldaña) in a bar, but a
meeting with Captain Pike (a well cast Bruce Greenwood) convinces him
that Starfleet could be an option. In a rather contrived development,
Kirk turns up to Starfleet a couple of days later as if he's just
volunteered for five-a-side football practice or something. Luckily,
Chris Pine, widely expected to be the possible weak link when casting
was announced, is surprisingly good as Kirk and brings a playful
quality that taps into Sir William of Shatner quite enjoyably at times.
When Pine nonchalantly munches on an apple and dispatches comically
unworried orders during the 'Kobayashi Maru' test you really start to
see him becoming Captain Kirk. When the crew are more or less all in
place, the film kicks into gear and never really relents.
The only person here who seems to be doing a direct impersonation of
his illustrious predecessor is Karl Urban as Leonard 'Bones' McCoy, but
it's a great one as far as impersonations go and Urban sounds spookily
like Deforest Kelly at times. "One tiny crack in the hull and our blood
boils in thirteen seconds," says Bones meeting Kirk for the first time
on a shuttle. "Solar flare might crop up, cook us in our seats. And
wait till you're sitting pretty with a case of Andorian shingles, see
if you're so relaxed when your eyeballs are bleeding. Space is disease
and danger wrapped in darkness and silence!" John Cho doesn't have much
to do as Sulu (disappointingly lacking George Takei's deep theatrical
voice) and Anton Yelchin as Chekov reads out a lot of announcements in
a a heavy comedy Russian accent. I didn't mind Yelchin but he did end
up sounding like Frank Spencer to me somewhere along the line and I was
sad to see that Walter Koenig's Davy Jones look had been
Elsewhere, Zoe Saldaña makes a perfectly fine Uhura although her
role seemed to reduce as the film went on. I must say though, I'm not
too sure about Simon Pegg as Scotty. Pegg basically affects a Scottish
accent and acts whacky, looking rather less like the original
actor/character than the rest of the cast. Pegg seems so excited to be
in the film you fear for his blood pressure if they make another one.
The design of the film is very impressive but Scotty's engine room is
given a vague industrial look with plastic flap doors that makes it
look more like the storage area of a small supermarket than the
high-tech pulse of a Starship. What is great though is the addition of
Leonard Nimoy as 'Spock Prime' in a role that, pleasantly, was more
involved than the brief cameo I'd expected. He's a bit slower these
days but Nimoy brings some welcome gravitas and calm into a film that
is, just occasionally, a tad too frantic and loud (for Star Trek). The
quieter moments, when they come, are rewarding, but you do wish there
had been a few more of them. It's always a pleasure though to see Nimoy
play this character onscreen and his brief encounter with the young
Spock is worth the wait with a clever final line for Nimoy, subverting
an old staple.
It has almost become a cliche to say the villain was disappointing when
reviewing a big popcorn film and Eric Bana isn't given the greatest
baddie ever to leap off the page in Nero who, ironically, lacks the
calculating menace of Tom Hardy's largely forgotten Praetor Shinzon,
another Romulan villain from 2002's Star Trek: Nemesis. I did enjoy
though Spock's wonderfully understated description of Nero as "A
Star Trek is certainly a highly entertaining film and moves at a rapid
velocity. I missed a bit of the old Star Trek 'sweep' and majesty -
here, everything in space seems to be chaotic and claustrophobic with
ships being shot upside down or something - and I do feel that some of
the Star Trek essence has been sacrificed for a more generic action
approach at times, but you would have to be a deeply miserable
character to deny that this is a enjoyable rollercoaster ride that
throws plenty of colour and spectacle at the screen. I don't recall my
attention drifting at any point and there are countless little moments
that will have any Star Trek fan smiling - like the little beeps and
whooshes of the ship from the original series and the funky new
transporter effects. The interactions between the cast are pretty good
on the whole and you can see the bond between Kirk and Spock slowly
starting to form after the early tension in their relationship. There
is also a palpable spirit of adventure in the film at times with phaser
battles and last minute transports etc, all up to speed.
Overall, Star Trek accomplishes its reboot mission in making the brand
more hip and mainstream. Despite my quibbles about certain elements -
and I'm still not sure about the new 'timeline' - this is undeniably a
superior summer blockbuster and a lavish film that is frequently a lot
The James Bond Reboot
This has been covered a lot on the website so I thought I'd include
some of my random thoughts on Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace taken
from the reviews I wrote some time ago.
The major problem with Casino Royale for this James Bond nerd was the
casting of 38-year-old Daniel Craig as the 'young' Bond. The actor
doesn't even look 38 in the film let alone 28. This contradiction was
something that bugged me. Yes, they changed Bond's age to fit in with
the casting on the official website and so on, but I was still left
with the impression they were saying in this one Bond is a young
whippersnapper on his first mission despite the fact that the actor
playing him looks ancient compared to the other Bond actors in their
Daniel Craig is much better at the action than scenes where he has to
display a lightness of touch. Your reaction to Casino Royale depends
very much on your reaction to Daniel Craig. For me personally, the
whole charm of the James Bond series was in the sophisticated handsome
devil hero, a unique counter-point to the everyman heroes in vests and
dirty shirts found in other films. This is lost with Daniel Craig and I
found it disappointing that Eon could not have grounded the series with
a younger actor who looked more like James Bond. If Craig's wrinkly mug
represents Ian Fleming's James Bond then either the world has gone mad
or I have. He falls short in projecting the urbane, refined qualities I
always presumed were supposed to be part of the point - and fun -
of James Bond.
I liked the photography and the look of some of the film, especially
towards the end, but Martin Campbell isn't my favourite director. Great
at action, not so great with the static conventional scenes. Casino
Royale does look suitably stylish in places. Like many Bond fans I
found myself following the production of Casino Royale more closely
than previous Bonds and for this reason the film didn't have any major
surprises. Without this scrutiny on my part and with a different actor
I might well have been much more enthusiastic. When I first heard about
the plans for Casino Royale I pictured a young Bond, perhaps in the
Royal Navy for a sequence. I was disappointed by how little the film
lived up to my initial enthusiasm.
The other thing that I wasn't really thrilled about was the whole
'pretend this is the first time you've ever met James Bond' aspect to
the film. It sounded fun at first, the thought of finding out how
specific tastes and talents became a part of his character. In the film
it soon became slightly flimsy. Am I really meant to believe that a
38-year-old James Bond has to be taught about dinner-jackets by Vesper
Lynd? The decision not to use the Bond theme, like the absence of Q and
Moneypenny, I can understand, but it does all serve to make Casino
Royale a strange experience. Some people like the changes but it all
left me rather cold. I admire the attempt to throw the formula up in
the air but I wasn't too convinced that it landed in the right place.
The Bourne influence in Quantum Of Solace is very apparent. Indeed,
there are three or four sequences that could have been lifted straight
out that that rival spy series. A fight in a hotel room which, while
striving to bring a brutal air into Bond, plays like a carbon copy of a
scene in The Bourne Identity. A rooftop chase which is again cut in a
very eccentric fashion and reminds one of The Bourne Ultimatum. I
should point out as well that I was confused by parts of the film. Bond
seemed to be constantly chasing or killing somebody and half the time I
had no idea why.
Even shots of Craig on a motorbike (going comically slowly) remind you
of the amnesiac American spy. It's a matter of personal tastes but I
find this rebooted Bond series is sliding into generic territory. The
absurd decision not to use the famous James Bond music, apart from a
few bars here and there, doesn't help the film either. It's not just Q
and Moneypenny and the staples. It's the whole Bond experience and a
modicum more wit, fun and charm. There are not enough witty lines in
the film for any of the characters as the action continues to pile up.
Quantum Of Solace is a strangely uninvolving film, rattling along with
endless second-unit action. You sense that a better film was lost in a
London editing room over the summer. Bits it of look good but it hardly
delivers on the promise to evoke the look and feel of the great Ken
Adam. And so to Bond himself, here again in the form of Daniel Craig
looking like a has-been boxer who got punched in the face too many
times. Some people like this direction, and good luck to Eon if they
are carving out a new demographic, but I feel that Bond is in serious
danger of becoming a one-dimensional bruiser. There is little of the
panache of the Bond Fleming created here or the charm of the cinematic
So overall, I wasn't greatly overwhelmed by Quantum Of Solace. Although
it looks sleek at times, it's all surface slickness. It steams along
with the earnest vacuity and hollow motivation of one of those Matrix
sequels, all the while trying desperately to be Jason Bourne, with
little or no story.
My final reboot ratings out of ten:
The Batman Reboot 10/10 -
Batman Begins looked at the origins of Batman and was a superior film.
The Dark Knight was even better and enjoyably doffed its cap to
(classic) Bond. The third film in the reboot is already highly
The James Bond Reboot 5/10
- Although highly praised, Casino Royale taught us nothing about the
origins of Bond and seemed to be written for a younger actor than
Daniel Craig who appeared a little long in the tooth to be a rookie
agent. This reboot also loses points for its obsession with the Jason
Bourne series of films. Quantum of Solace continued down this path and
drew criticism for both this and eschewing the Bond staples and sense
of fun. This reboot seems to have hit a blind alley already and will
have to be rebooted itself before long.
The Star Trek Reboot 7/10
- A good film although there was a slight whiff of 'Star Trek for
people who don't like Star Trek' about this. Still, the reboot finally
got the franchise back as a heavyweight box-office contender and it
looks a good bet that the next film will do well too.