With The Avengers’ recent milestone as the third-highest grossing film of all time, this summer certainly marks a new era of the history of the comic-book movie. Though DC and Marvel adaptations have always been bred for summer blockbuster success, The Avengers really brings to the forefront that these days, superhero movies can be just as critically successful as they are profitable. With The Amazing Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises and several other superhero films coming out, audiences have a lot to look forward to.
No discussion on successful superhero movies can go without mention of Christopher Nolan’s reboot (or rather, resuscitation) of Batman. Batman Begins premiered in 2005 amid a wave of gritty reboots. After Nolan successfully erased a Joel Schumacher-nippled batsuit from the public consciousness, the notion of Peter Parker singing in a nightclub wearing tight jeans in Spider-Man 3 was even more awful in 2007 than it would have been a few years prior.
Then The Dark Knight (2008) proved to be not just an amazing superhero film but also an amazing film, period. Heath Ledger’s posthumous Oscar for his role as the Joker would have been unthinkable in an era where Mr. Freeze was considered a worthwhile adversary. With The Dark Knight, standards changed.
Huge box office receipts and an Oscar victory were bound to get the attention of other studios. Witness the movies that followed: Watchmen, Kick-Ass, Iron Man and of course, The Avengers. More importantly, Jonah Hex, Green Lantern and even the X-Men films — the latter so successful in the earlier 2000s — received poor reviews and lower profits compared to its critically successful counterparts.
If a poorly developed superhero movie won’t bring in as much profit anymore, studios are going to try their best to create something greater than standard popcorn fare, knowing that ultimately it will yield the greatest reward. The Avengers was years in the making out of fear of a huge flop and was dependent on five previous Marvel films to familiarize audiences with its superheroes.
But it appears that the DC and Marvel paths are headed in different trajectories. This is perhaps best illustrated by the differences between the brooding, dramatic method actor Christian Bale and everybody’s favorite quick-tongued playboy with wads of cash playing the same, Robert Downey Jr.
DC’s Batman franchise illustrates that a larger-than-life character like Bruce Wayne needs a tight script and an actor to disappear into the role. Batman movies can really delve into the “grittiness” of the gritty reboot like how Casino Royale could for the James Bond franchise, because its main characters are already so well known to the public.
On the other hand, a non-superhero-versed audience is not as familiar with Iron Man, Captain America or Thor by comparison. So Marvel focused on backstory and also garnering audience empathy. The films revolve more around the superhero’s personalities and are decidedly lighter in tone than Nolan’s franchise. The choice of directors from Joss Whedon to Jon Favreau cements this difference.
Expect the July 3 release of DC’s The Amazing Spider-Man to be quite different than those of the pre-Dark Knight era. Though keeping with the wisecracking nature of Spider-Man from the comics, the film will be much darker in tone than the Sam Raimi films and with a stronger love story at its core. With already positive reviews, there isn’t much holding back Spider-Man from becoming a smash hit.
Not much needs to be said about the next DC movie. The Dark Knight Rises has had so much hype since the end credits of The Dark Knight that the Internet almost broke when advance ticket sales opened.
Probably because of The Avengers’ success, the long-contemplated production of a Justice League movie has come to fruition. The DC film needs to keep each hero’s individuality and larger-than-life presence in mind, take tonal cues from Watchmen and steer clear of the sure-to-fail ideas of the stalled 2007 production, which would have starred Adam Brody as The Flash and Armie Hammer as Batman. However, if Bale and Henry Cavill were to lead the cast, their acting chops could even balance out Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern.
A lot is riding on 2013’s The Man of Steel with Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman. Directed by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) and produced by Nolan, there is no doubt that this film will restart the franchise with aplomb. Replacing Kate Bosworth with Amy Adams for the role of Lois Lane already increases the film’s potential, and the inclusion of Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane can’t hurt.
The Marvel corner will be rounded out with 2013’s Iron Man 3 and Wolverine, 2014’s Deadpool and X-Men: First Class 2 and 2015’s Captain America 2 and Thor 2, all part of the “second sequence” of films to eventually be capped off by another Avengers flick. Despite the plethora of sequels, Marvel seems to have examined each film’s contribution to the universe and will shift to a bleaker tone in response to the current cinematic climate. For instance, Marvel producer Kevin Feige has taken a cue from their rivals, stating that Iron Man 3 will be “a full-on Tony Stark-centric movie” with a much bleaker tone. Adding Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce and Rebecca Hall to the ensemble cast will certainly boost the dramatic potential of the film.
Now, as for a The Avengers vs. The Justice League film: Just give it time.