Thoughts On This Summer’s Superhero Films

This summer was very exciting for comic book fans, to say the least. The Avengers kicked it off, The Amazing Spider-Man kept it going, and The Dark Knight Rises is ending it. Now that I have seen all three, I’d like to share a few thoughts on each. What makes them different, what I liked (or didn’t like) about them, and where I’d like to see the franchises go.

1. The Avengers:

An excellent movie. Probably the best superhero movie I’ve ever seen. Part of the reason was that it so completely embraced the fact that it was a superhero film with a silly premise. Joss Whedon understands that characters’ circumstances do not have to be realistic in order to make them relatable, but their behavior does. And he found a way to have each of the Avengers grow or learn something by the end of the film. And the message of flawed people putting aside their egos and grudges in order to serve the greater good is certainly inspiring.

Tom Hiddleston needs to be mentioned. He simply must be. Here is a classically trained Shakespearean actor, who manages to infuse a comic book villain with so much internal conflict and vulnerability that you can’t help but love him, even as he commits atrocities. Hiddleston’s Loki in Thor was my gold standard for supervillains on the big screen last year. Little did I know how much he was going to up the ante this time around. Bravo, sir. Bravo.

And I haven’t even mentioned the action. Oh, the action! Creatively shot, unrelenting, and fantastically choreographed. The only real complaint I have with The Avengers was that I would have liked to see a few more female members on the team. Agent Hill just seemed a bit…shoehorned in to make up the lack of girl power. Oh, and I would have liked maybe an extra scene explaining how Bruce Banner was able to start controlling the Hulk so suddenly.

As for the future, I don’t know exactly what I’d like to see. I think the Infinity Gauntlet will be happening, but it really deserves its own movie, so maybe the next Avengers flick could be on a smaller scale. Hydra resurrected? Naw, that’s probably for the next Cap movie. Ultron? As long as ¬†they don’t have another invasion scheme, maybe. They could set him up in the Ant Man movie (WHICH WILL BE AWESOME).

2. The Amazing Spider-Man:

I figured this one might be an improvement on the original, but…wow. Almost all of the problems I had with the original trilogy were fixed by Mark Webb’s reboot. The acting is stronger from EVERYBODY. Andrew Garfield is a much more compelling Peter Parker, the story flows so smoothly, the drama is handled with much more finesse, and most important of all, Gwen Stacy is Peter’s equal rather than a damsel in distress like MJ in the other movies.

I also loved how senseless and sudden Uncle Ben’s death is. There’s not a lot of dramatic buildup, there’s not a crowd gathered, there’s no time for Uncle Ben to touch his nephew and speak to him one last time. He’s dead. And the scene is that much more raw and emotional because of it. And Peter’s way of coping with his uncle’s death makes sense to me. He won’t talk to Aunt May, even though she needs it as much as he does. Sally Field also needs singling out for her performance. Too often in the other movies, Rosemary Harris’ Aunt May was just a fragile old woman who has nothing to offer but comic relief and inapplicable advice. But Sally Field portrays a woman who is hurting, who needs comfort, who can get loud when she has to. It made a big difference to me.

Some of the action scenes are a bit weak (despite Peter’s much more tactical usage of webshooters than in the past), and not enough explanation went into the Lizard’s personality or motivations once he showed up, but these are just minor issues in an otherwise refreshing take on the character of Spider-Man.

As for the future, well…it seems we have sort of a “big bad” scenario brewing, doesn’t it? Clearly Peter hasn’t learned the truth about his parents, and clearly Norman Osborn is connected, and clearly there’s the potential for genetically enhanced henchmen to start popping up. And who was that mystery man?

3. The Dark Knight Rises:

Okay, this one’s gonna be the longest, I’m sure. I actually needed some time to even begin to properly express how much I loved this movie. It was bleak and grim, yet ultimately optimistic and uplifting. I probably wouldn’t take kids under the age of 10 to see it, because it is grim and things get worse (MUCH worse) before they get better.

There were just so many things I appreciated about this film on so many levels, from subtle references to the comic books to literary allusions to social commentary. The latter was especially well done. Whereas the last film in the series was an elaborate morality play, this one doesn’t have any firm answers. Bane and his crew want to completely destroy society as we know it. The corrupt upper-class gothamites want to exploit or at least ignore the less fortunate. Somewhere in the middle is Batman, who won’t tolerate the latter, but won’t consider the former. He tries to walk the middle path, and find a solution to the city’s problems.

And of course we also got a closer look at the complex relationship that Bruce and Alfred have. For a long time, Alfred has known that being the Batman wouldn’t end well for Bruce. He actually tells Bruce something I’ve always thought was true: that Gotham needs Bruce more than it needs Batman. Bruce is the one who needs Batman to exist. He feels it’s the only way to give meaning to his parents’ deaths. He’s addicted to the cowl, and Alfred sees it. I won’t spoil the film’s ending, but it really takes your breath away when all of their conflicts are resolved.

This wouldn’t be a Christopher Nolan movie without spellbinding visual effects. This one’s got ’em all. They’re intense and uncompromising, even brutal at times. But that’s The Dark Knight trilogy for you. Now, if I had one complaint, I suppose it would be that we don’t actually see that much of Batman. Maybe that’s just because this is more Bruce Wayne’s story than Batman’s, but I would have liked to see a bit more of him in the suit. I do also have to mention that the addition of so many new characters into the series in the final installment is a little overwhelming, though I had to keep reminding myself that it had been eight years since the end of the previous film.

By the way, when I said that The Avengers was the best superhero movie ever made, I meant it. I don’t really consider Nolan’s Batman to be a superhero. He’s certainly a mythic, melodramatic figure, but the tone of these movies as well as the consistent attempts at realism just make it unable for me to put them in quite the same category. If you asked me which movie I liked better, The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises, I don’t think I could give you an answer. They’re apples and oranges. One’s a Speilberg and the other’s a Coppola.

I don’t think Nolan’s Batman has a future. I won’t spoil anything, but a future’s just not there. If there is a reboot to prepare for a Justice League movie, I think it’s time for things to go a bit more lighthearted for the caped crusader. There are plenty of good stories to tell with Batman. And there are lots of Batman villains I really want to see on film that just wouldn’t have worked with Nolan’s approach. I have no reason to not be optimistic about the future of the Batman franchise.

Anyways, that’s it for me. Feel free to share your thoughts.

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