Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Tale of Two Comic Book Movies

Scott D. Parker

It was the funniest of trailers. It was the grimmest of trailers.

I have yet to see the new Avengers movie. From all indications, it's going to be the most popcorn-y film of the summer. I've seen all the trailers and, frankly, laughed out loud on almost all of them. How can you not just relish in the snarky hilarity of Robert Downey, Jr.'s portrayer of Tony Stark? Dude could read a phonebook and my sides would be aching. If I wasn't laughing, the geekboy goosebumps prickled my skin. Man! Have you seen these scenes? Alien creatures attacking New York! Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor having a spat! Hawkeye falling from some high place still shooting his arrows up! And the Hulk! Well, he's just the Hulk. These scenes--and likely the whole movie--are a culmination of all that comic book readers have wanted for…well, since forever. To some, it may end up being the ultimate comic book movie.

On the other hand, there is the trailer for The Dark Knight Rises. From all indications, it was attached to the Avengers movie, but it's available here. As I've mentioned before, Batman is my favorite superhero and the last film, The Dark Knight, is one of the best comic book films ever made. It had grandeur, it had scope, it had Heath Ledger's Joker, surely a trump card if there ever was one. It had substance, in short, and depth. This new film, opening in July, will bring to a close what will turn out to be one of the great sagas of film history. But it sure does look depressing, right?

Both films--both outlooks--are based on comic books. Avengers brings the fun. The Dark Knight films bring the angst. The irony is that, for years, the opposite was true in the pages of the comics themselves. Marvel (Avengers) Comics was all about angst, isolation, and the other deep issues the permeated that universe. DC Comics (Batman) skirted depth for fun. How many different Bat-vehicles did Batman have? And, yes, there really was a Bat-Hound. And, yes, Max wore a mask.

Why am I bringing this up today? Because of comparisons. It's already started and will continue until New Year's Eve 2012: which comic book film won the year? Moreover, you *know* the fanboys will have another proxy war over the "better" comic book film. It shouldn't matter. They both share a common origin; that they take divergent paths is only a talking point. It doesn't--shouldn't--make one better than the other. They are different, and different is good.

I fully expect to be wowed by the Avengers movie, to leave the theater with the same exhilaration I felt upon seeing John Carter, the newer Star Trek film, Pirates of the Caribbean #1, Iron Man #1, and Mission Impossible #4. My juices will be flowing and I'll be jazzed for hours. In July, I fully expect to be astounded that a movie--a comic book movie, no less--can carry the sheer weight of four years of expectations and to have pulled off the rare feat: a third movie that bests the second. I expect the scope and the size of the last Christophen Nolen/Batman film to be so good, that it immediately garners Oscar talk.

Two comic books, world apart, but comic book movies nonetheless. They both will be good, just very, very different movies. And that's a good thing. The medium can use it.

Survey Question:

I had this thought earlier this week and I'd like to get y'all's opinion.

Do you like reading books or having read books?

Put another way: do you enjoy the act of reading or do you like having read a book and talking about it (or proving that you have read a particular book) better?


Jay Stringer said...

In large part the differences are also down to where these films are in the story. For all that we've seen each characters individual origins, AVENGERS is the first act of it's story. It's getting the band together for the first time and bonding, so needs a story that justifies the formation of the team and therefore needs to move towards a somewhat uplifting mood. BATBAM BEGINS ended on a somewhat hopeful note after working to justify Bruce Wayne's decision to become Batman. TKD was the second act of a tragedy, and TKR is the third act, at the opposite end of a story arc from AVENGERS, so man of the differences are down to that.

But there are stylistic choices too. Nolan has chosen to play down the silliness that's inherent in superheroes, and the 6's era of comedy Batman, in favour of verisimilitude. Whereas Marvel choose to play up the fun and overlook the fact that Tony Stark is a bipolar alcoholic arms dealer, that Hulk is an addict or a man with serious self loathing issues, or that Cap is proof that drugs can be good.

All fun choices because, as you say, the variety is good. We went through eras after Donner's Superman and then Burton's Batman when every superhero film had to be the same thing. Now we get to see them play to their strengths.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am afraid I don't know enough about these comic figures to enjoy the movie. Do I need to get up to speed to love it or will it explain itself.
I much prefer reading to having read.