6:44 pm - 05/01/2012

'Dark Knight Rises,' 'Avengers,' and the great superhero showdown of 2012

It isn’t hyperbole to say that this summer will witness the release of the two biggest superhero movies ever made. This Friday, Marvel Studios will finally bring its madcap five-year plan to fruition with the release of The Avengers, a mega-sequel action bonanza. But, as my colleague Adam B. Vary points out, moviegoers who see The Avengers this weekend will be treated to a preview for a very different comic book film: The Dark Knight Rises, the concluding chapter of Christopher Nolan’s bleak epoch-defining Batman trilogy. It’s not just that The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises offer different perspectives on the superhero genre. The two movies are diametrically opposed down to the microscopic level.

Nolan’s Batman series was conceived during the mid-’00s boom in big-budget grit. Call it the Bleakbuster Era, a cultural moment during which The Bourne Identity and Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds and post-Cuaron Harry Potter minted money off of moral ambiguity and 9/11 allegory. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight feature conversations about the nature of evil, and villains sprinkled with terrorist allegory. As far as we can tell, The Dark Knight Rises is about an urban uprising symbolizing Occupy Wall Street or the Tea Party, depending on your politics.

And then there’s The Avengers. The fifth film produced by Marvel Studios, Avengers unites four franchises into one film. And while Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and the two Iron Man movies each featured different styles, they’re united by a candy-colored sensibility and whimsy. Without spoiling anything about Avengers, I’ll say that the movie is close in spirit to the Sam Raimi/Jon Favreau model of superhero movie — which is to say, it’s about as far from Christopher Nolan as you can get.

The differences pile up as you dig deeper into the two movies. Rises reflects Nolan’s preference for practical effects over digital; Avengers features shots of digital superheroes firing digital energy bolts at digital enemy things. Dark Knight Rises earns press for declaring itself the genuine End of the Batman Saga; Avengers is a saga that never has to end, with the movie standing as an argument and an advertisement for a hundred more Marvel spin-offs and reboots. The two films also reflect the eternal Marvel vs. DC comic book debate, although you could argue that the debate has switched sides: Now, DC has the “realistic” superhero and Marvel has the gods.

Both movies will make an ungodly amount of money. But in the showdown between Rises and Avengers, are we witnessing a battle for the future of the genre — an attempt to define what the superhero movie will be from now on? I know plenty of people have gone sour on Nolan’s particular brand of ponderous-chic moviemaking, but his superhero films focus on personality and reflect an attempt to adapt comic book narratives to cinema. The Avengers is old-fashioned studio product, with a fast-paced production that supersedes any one creative force. (The next Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor sequels will be helmed by franchise-newbie directors.)

I haven’t seen The Dark Knight Rises, and I’ve done my best to avoid hearing anything about it beyond what I see in the trailers. So I’m speaking purely from conjecture when I say that I worry moviegoers will find it disappointing. For one thing, the Spider-Man series established the general three-act structure for superhero franchises — a decent first movie, a great second movie, a bad third movie. More importantly, Internet culture has created a generation defined by high expectations and angry responses when those expectations aren’t met — I can’t help but wonder if the angry reactions to Lost, Battlestar Galactica, and even Mass Effect are warm-ups for a whole series of angry responses to Rises. If there’s one thing that the trailer makes clear, it’s that Dark Knight Rises is going for weird and dark — and it’s not clear that the movie-going masses will be happy with either of those flavors.

Even if Avengers and Dark Knight Rises both make the same amount of money and receive the same critical acclaim, Avengers will likely have the longer tail — among moviegoers, but also in Hollywood. Say you’re a big-shot studio executive trying to build your next superhero franchise. Which movie are you going to make: A dark thriller about a frowning orphan who fights murderous freaks with a tank? Or a fun special-effects flick about a handsome dude who exchanges witty banter with a babe and battles a space villain using the power of love? Keep in mind: The first movie will have two sequels that come out over the course of seven years, but the second movie has the potential for two sequels, five spin-offs, and a reboot. If you like having a job, how do you not choose the second option?

The Dark Knight Rises might mark the end of the notion that superhero movies can be real movies, instead of just products that look good on quarterly earnings reports. Or maybe The Avengers is just the next stage in the genre’s evolution — a genial step away from of a decade of grim action heroes, an endearingly self-aware return to old-fashioned ’80s beefcakery. Whichever you prefer, the two movies represent a genre at a crossroads — and a summer that may just define the next cycle of blockbuster movies.

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bodyline 1st-May-2012 10:53 pm (UTC)
grotesque_xxx 1st-May-2012 11:00 pm (UTC)
myhipusername 1st-May-2012 11:53 pm (UTC)
omg chills rn
bostongirl2003 2nd-May-2012 02:02 am (UTC)
I hate that stupid fucking cowl.
sweet_children9 1st-May-2012 11:13 pm (UTC)
This. I like batman but I love the batman comics for the villains and Bane isn't one of my faves.
starchain 1st-May-2012 11:16 pm (UTC)
Avengers all the way, Batman is too serious for me.
brucelynn 1st-May-2012 11:18 pm (UTC)
advo 1st-May-2012 11:59 pm (UTC)
I'm more Team DC but in movie verse, Marvel >>> DC comics so embarrassingly much.
andthenwevomit 2nd-May-2012 12:48 am (UTC)
bless this first comment
de_throned 2nd-May-2012 02:20 am (UTC)
oliverqueen 2nd-May-2012 02:26 am (UTC)
theblackwidow 2nd-May-2012 03:09 am (UTC)
maisontv 2nd-May-2012 03:27 am (UTC)
landwarinasia 2nd-May-2012 03:32 am (UTC)
Yep yep yep.

They need to give Batman a fucking rest already.
ace_of_spades6 2nd-May-2012 04:43 am (UTC)
jarlisle 2nd-May-2012 08:33 am (UTC)
oui. i love batman but no chance against the avengers

Edited at 2012-05-02 08:34 am (UTC)
induced_panic 2nd-May-2012 07:20 pm (UTC)
Fuck yes!
chironstar 3rd-May-2012 07:33 am (UTC)
virgo7598 1st-May-2012 10:53 pm (UTC)
Peeing my pants excited for both movies

Can't we all just get along?
ljubavirakija 1st-May-2012 11:05 pm (UTC)
la_fours 1st-May-2012 11:16 pm (UTC)
enael 2nd-May-2012 12:11 am (UTC)
bodyline 1st-May-2012 10:55 pm (UTC)
Damien Wayne in the making.
sharangurl 1st-May-2012 10:59 pm (UTC)
omg... Yas! They'd make beautiful babies (that sounds so wrong cuz they are married)

cricketgrl 1st-May-2012 11:11 pm (UTC)
Helena "Huntress" Wayne>>>>>any other bastard offspring.
mcwicca 2nd-May-2012 12:19 am (UTC)
omg I read this as Damon Wayans and was so confused
juanitatequila 2nd-May-2012 01:59 am (UTC)
now i will always think of damian when i see this gif/scene. lolol
cricketgrl 1st-May-2012 11:12 pm (UTC)
Sadly, they (Marion and Christian) will probably have way more chemistry than Anne & Christian.

I just see the Catwoman storyline being a huge disappointment along the same lines as Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane.
mammary_glands 1st-May-2012 11:29 pm (UTC)
winegums 1st-May-2012 11:33 pm (UTC)
too much beauty in one frame, good thing there are shadows or else we'd go blind from their collective gorgeousness.
moddchicc 1st-May-2012 10:54 pm (UTC)
I'm stoked for both movies. Largely for RDJ, Scarlett, JGL and Anne, LOL.
pin_stripe 1st-May-2012 11:00 pm (UTC)
is all i care about in this post
loganx2 1st-May-2012 11:00 pm (UTC)
Those new pics of him walking with Julianne Moore did things to me...so hot.
virgo7598 1st-May-2012 11:09 pm (UTC)
I was excited at how much JGL was featured in the new trailer
vanishingbee 1st-May-2012 11:29 pm (UTC)
seriously the actors for both films are just INSANE

too much talent, too much hotness, HOW DO YOU DEAL?
manaconda 1st-May-2012 10:54 pm (UTC)
lol i nearly got into a throwdown with a guy in my nursing seminar over avengers vs. justice league. i imagine there would have been blood if nolan's trilogy got involved.

i don't have very many expectations for dkr, tbh, but i find the nolans to be overrated anyway. i'll see it at midnight anyway, though, ngl.

Edited at 2012-05-01 10:55 pm (UTC)
advo 2nd-May-2012 12:06 am (UTC)
I definitely think the Nolan movies are overrated comic book movies.
jazzypom Justice League would be interesting, actually4th-May-2012 06:20 am (UTC)
I know for myself, I can leave Batman and Superman anyday, but when they are together, I do find their joined stories interesting, in terms of how their backgrounds inform their respective world views. I'd be down for a Justice League movie, and this is coming from a woman who's really meh towards DC anything.
thefreshchuff Re: Justice League would be interesting, actually5th-May-2012 09:21 am (UTC)
I love the stories that bring Superman and Batman together, there's always such a cool sense of each being the only real friend the other has, because they can understand each other in a way normal people couldn't. Plus I read one where at the end it's revealed Batman has a stash of Kryptonite stored away incase he should ever need to bring Superman down; that's the makings for a great movie there.
smackfrikinwhat 1st-May-2012 10:54 pm (UTC)
I just saw the Avengers and I wasn't super excited to see it at first but I thought it was amazing.
kimmy_kun 1st-May-2012 10:55 pm (UTC)
Got my ticket for The Avengers tomorrow. Can't wait, tbh.

Edited at 2012-05-01 11:01 pm (UTC)
jason350 1st-May-2012 10:55 pm (UTC)
Avengers >>> any movie this summer pretty much lmao
manaconda 1st-May-2012 10:56 pm (UTC)
no lies detected
lovedhurtlost 1st-May-2012 10:58 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the only other movie I'm excited for is SWATH.
rogue 1st-May-2012 10:59 pm (UTC)
rightfully so. charlize. will. slay.
false_hate 1st-May-2012 11:26 pm (UTC)
sweet_children9 1st-May-2012 10:59 pm (UTC)
No lies
ljubavirakija 1st-May-2012 11:00 pm (UTC)
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The summer has just begun.
bodyline 1st-May-2012 11:02 pm (UTC)
The only other movies I'm looking forward to this year are The Hobbit and Prometheus.
cricketgrl 1st-May-2012 11:08 pm (UTC)
Prometheus>>>>>>> Avengers

It's just a fact.
kimmy_kun 1st-May-2012 11:16 pm (UTC)
lovejoydiver 1st-May-2012 11:29 pm (UTC)
prometheus >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> the avengers and tdkr tbqh
mammary_glands 1st-May-2012 11:29 pm (UTC)
lies detected
advo 2nd-May-2012 12:07 am (UTC)
I find it very hard to believe anything can top TA
anolinde 2nd-May-2012 12:14 am (UTC)
Magic Mike tho
etoile_amore 1st-May-2012 10:55 pm (UTC)
Even though I'm 100% sure The Avengers will be mind-blowingly awesome, I still think TDKR is going to win. Chris Nolan has never disappointed me.
rogue 1st-May-2012 10:59 pm (UTC)
right? like i came watching the avengers trailers but i broke into tears during the last tdkr one

i'm way too excited for both. there can never be too many superhero movies.
sharangurl 1st-May-2012 11:01 pm (UTC)
Avengers is going to make me laugh and I'll be into it. But when I'm watching TDKR I'm pretty sure I'll forget I even have a life outside of the movie. That trailer almost made me cry... a freaking trailer.
pseudovirus 2nd-May-2012 02:48 am (UTC)
ia. the avengers will be good and fun i'm and i'm sure i'll enjoy it, but TDKR i'll probably want to see more than once, and i won't be able to forget about it for days after i leave the theater. idk
cab 1st-May-2012 10:55 pm (UTC)
sweet_children9 1st-May-2012 11:03 pm (UTC)
I hope I will love Batman the same way I loved the avengers :)
fwee_prower 1st-May-2012 11:04 pm (UTC)
bitch stfu
cab 1st-May-2012 11:05 pm (UTC)
cricketgrl 1st-May-2012 11:13 pm (UTC)
andres01234 1st-May-2012 11:14 pm (UTC)
cricketgrl 1st-May-2012 11:26 pm (UTC)

I would love an Avengers vs. Phoenix movie but I know that will never happen :(
lovedhurtlost 1st-May-2012 11:04 pm (UTC)
I love that commercial.
ljubavirakija 1st-May-2012 11:06 pm (UTC)
OMG. Is this from the Taco commerical?
advo 2nd-May-2012 12:13 am (UTC)
For me, it's not a question of having to choose. The Nolan movies are just the antithesis of what I think of comic book movies. They are completely removed of everything that defines the genre. They might as well be any trilogy of movies.

My theory is that had Heath not died, the trilogy would not have been nearly as successful.
noelleno 1st-May-2012 10:56 pm (UTC)
I'm more pumped for Avengers than DKR despite being a bigger DC fan in general (and having barely touched the Avengers comics). I just like the atmosphere that's being offered in the former more. I'd love a live-action Justice League film to somehow capture that same style without sucking horrendously, but...ehhh...

I dream impossible dreams.
black_swan87 1st-May-2012 11:02 pm (UTC)
I want a Super Friends movie with the WOnder Twins being the focus
noelleno 1st-May-2012 11:05 pm (UTC)
That wouldn't be particularly terrible actually, especially if they were presented as kind of the small-time, ~relatable~ people by which the moviegoers are led through the rest of the League's antics...

but i'd pretty much demand this interaction or the whole idea's a bust:
advo 2nd-May-2012 12:19 am (UTC)
I'm absolutely a much bigger DC comic fan because I grew up with them. However, Marvel just pwns DC when it comes to the movies. The Nolan movies might be financially successful and get good critical reception, but they are just not good superhero movies.

For me, superhero movies are all about the extraordinary characters triumphing evil. And yes, Batman is a "realistic" superhero, but Batman has never been ordinary. In Nolan's movies, everyone but Batman stands out.
ljubavirakija 1st-May-2012 10:56 pm (UTC)
Right now, pitting these two against each other is silly because TDKR won't be released for another two months
dazeyhaze 1st-May-2012 11:05 pm (UTC)
True. Right now I'm all about The Avengers since I've just seen it but when it gets closer to the release date for DKR I'm going to get excited over it as well.
bcain1992 1st-May-2012 11:21 pm (UTC)
IA. It's right in the middle of Avengers hype so of course everyone will choose that one.
rogue 1st-May-2012 10:56 pm (UTC)
My RA rented an entire theater for our dorm for the Avengers showing this Friday

This makes all those F's worth it.
lovedhurtlost 1st-May-2012 10:57 pm (UTC)
That is awesome.
ljubavirakija 1st-May-2012 11:00 pm (UTC)
That's fucking awesome!
quack 1st-May-2012 11:16 pm (UTC)
jealousss your ra sounds awsome
greenfairy_87 1st-May-2012 11:18 pm (UTC)
Your RA is awesome and deserves a huge thank-you.
andthenwevomit 2nd-May-2012 12:52 am (UTC)
lmao bb your comments are killing me rn
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