Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up, this is a lesson Warner learned the hard way with Batman. And yes, that is a direct quote I stole from Batman Begins, and for good reasons. Since we’ll cover 2005 up to 2007, Bats is not the only superhero of old coming back. In this part we see DC Comics showing its teeth after years of nothing (Catwomen is best forgotten), the return of a long lost hero, the end of a trilogy and a bunch of other Marvel properties parading about, trying to look as cool as their bigger brothers, but mostly failing horribly.
Batman Begins was the title that Warner chose for the return of the dark knight. Under the strong hand of Christopher Nolan, who was previously credited for movies like Memento or Insomnia, the new direction of Batman was clear, a darker tale focused on the human side of the hero, exploring his journey, going from a lost man fulled by revenge to the hero that criminals learned to fear by the end of the movie. This was a huge departure from the neon goofy Batman created by Joel Schumacher with Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. Christian Bale was the new Bruce Wayne while Michael Caine was Alfred. It also featured: Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Liam Nesson, Katie Holmes and many others. A fantastic cast for the movie that became a turning point for the superhero genre. And yes, it was a critical and commercial success, ok, maybe not the hit it could have been but considering the bad taste left by Batman and Robin only 8 year before, $205.3 million in North America and $372.7 million worldwide on a $150 million budget, was a great start for this new take on Batman. For me personally, this is still the best superhero movie ever made and what makes it so great is the fact that Batman Begins is a genuinely good movie regardless of the genre.
Fantastic Four, another Marvel property turned to the big screen by Fox, followed but didn’t have the same impact as the X-Men movies had. This was a goofy action-adventure superhero flick that made $154.6 million in North America and $330.5 million worldwide. While it didn’t set the world on fire, it was a fun time at the movies so a sequel was green lit soon after.
Sky High, released in the middle of the 2005 summer, was sort of a live-action The Incredibles but without that Pixar magic sprinkled on top. Nevertheless, it was a good movie that got decent reviews all around. Unfortunately, while Sky High grossed $86.3 million worldwide on a $35 million budget, Disney never had the guts to follow it with a sequel.
Now The Mask of Zorro on the other hand, got a sequel but only 7 years later in the form of The Legend of Zorro. Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones returned along with director Martin Campbell. Unfortunately it was to little to late, the movie was average at best and the magic of the previous entry was gone. The Legend of Zorro only made $142.4 million worldwide (The Mask of Zorro grossed $250 million in 1998) on a $75 million budget. At this point the only way we’ll get Zorro back is in the form of another reboot and with the new-found success of swashbuckling movies (thanks to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise), we might not be all that far from something like that.
X-Men: The Last Stand opened in May 2006 and was supposed to be the end of the X-Men trilogy. Some unfortunate events happened during production, some involving another movie I will cover today. You see, part of what made X-Men and X2: X-Men United so great was director Bryan Singer. He understood the characters and managed to make something very good of what was essentially a very hard to adapt series. With so many characters, it’s easy to get lost and screw things up. Well Bryan Singer left X-Men: The Last Stand to direct Superman Returns, his longtime dream project. Matthew Vaughn took over, but left weeks before filming was set to begin (later returning to direct X-Men: First Class). The cast and crew were ready, so Fox hired Brett Ratner and threw as much money as possible into X-Men: The Last Stand ($210 million no less) in order to make at least something decent in the very short time they had. What came out wasn’t a bad movie but it wasn’t on the level of the first two either. On the other hand it did become the highest grossing of the series with $234.3 million in North America and $459.3 million worldwide. Financial success doesn’t always equal quality and for X-Men: The Last Stand it was very true. After screwing up the series to the point that a sequel became almost impossible, Fox were left with only two options, reboot or spin-offs. Since everyone was rebooting left and right, they chose spin-offs and in all honestly, it wasn’t such a bad idea.
A few paragraphs back I mentioned that Bryan Singer left X-Men to make his dream project, Superman Returns. After the success Warner had with Batman Begins a year before, one might think they would try to reboot Superman as well but this wasn’t the case here. Superman Returns was a full blown sequel to the Superman movies of old, recapturing the classic feel of the first two in the series (truth be told, it ignored the events of Superman III and IV). While it did make a good amount of money ($200 million in North America and $391 million worldwide), production costs were absurdly high ($270 million budget, most expensive movie at the time, just like the original in 1978) that it was deemed a financial disappointment. Unfortunately this Superman was way to classic for what modern audiences were expecting, not to mention with heroes like Batman, Spider-Man or Wolverine, the man of steel was becoming too old. I personally think it was a good, almost great movie that gets a lot more negative publicity then it should. No sequel followed but a reboot is planned for 2013, more about that at another time.