Later this week Marvel will release the 12th film in its Marvel Cinematic Universe and the end of its second phase with “Ant-Man.” The superhero film has become the staple of the summer movie season, dominating the box-office and fan anticipation. With the plans of both Marvel and DC already mapped out over the next five or so years, it seems like the age of the superhero will continue indefinitely, but its future wasn’t always as certain.
In the early 2000s, Spider-Man was the biggest superhero in the world with the massive successes of “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man 2.” And for many, that seemed to be enough. In few instances had there really ever been more than one superhero franchise dominating at any particular time. Christopher Reeve’s “Superman” movies were the kings of the 70s, Burton’s “Batman” owned the late 80s early 90s, and now “Spider-Man” rose to the top in the early 00s. This is why when it was announced that Christopher Nolan would be rebooting Batman in 2005 there wasn’t as much hype as there would be had it been announced today.
There are a couple reasons for that. First, Nolan wasn’t Christopher Nolan yet. He had made only two films in Hollywood, “Memento” and “Insomnia” and wasn’t widely known to the general public. This was also just at the real beginning of the reboot era, and even though “Batman & Robin” was a travesty, to start from square one with Batman seemed odd only after eight years.
Then the movie hit and critics and fans instantly became thrilled with Nolan’s gritty take on the Caped Crusader. It was an ideal foil for what the Spider-Man movies were, which while containing some darker elements with its villains, still had a fun, humorous touch from director Sam Raimi and company. “Batman Begins” was different than nearly every superhero movie that preceded it, and the fans responded enthusiastically, making “Batman Begins” the eighth highest grossing film of 2005.
“Batman Begins” is a great movie and worthy of remembrance on those merits only; but perhaps the biggest thing that the film contributed was a launching off point for the two superhero houses, Marvel and DC, to set out on their paths that led us to toady.
Fans and critics responded to Nolan’s gritty superhero, and DC’s next attempts at Superman and Green Lantern were the more nostalgic type and both floundered. Meanwhile, Nolan continued to build his world and produced “The Dark Knight,” which made Batman the reigning superhero champion, and even brought legitimacy to the franchise for many critics and made a strong, but eventually fruitless case, for a Best Picture nomination. With that, DC and Warner Bros. had their mantra, they would make darker, grittier takes on their superheroes.
Marvel went the other way. Rather than try and copy Nolan’s style, they stuck with the more traditional tone of superhero movies and came up with a never before seen plan to give fans the ultimate superhero movie. The MCU started three years later with “Iron Man,” eventually building to 2012’s “The Avengers.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Even though “Spider-Man” came first in this century, “Batman Begins” really got the superhero genre revved up. For quite possibly the first time, there were two superhero movies going at the same time that fans truly cared about. Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy also garnered an adoration that few superhero franchises had before it, and it all started with “Batman Begins.”