Similar to the rivalry I wrote about earlier between DreamWorks and Disney, the two comic book powerhouses, DC and Marvel are also competing for your box office money. Around the turn of the 21st century, the comic book movie really started to take off. Granted, there had been films in the ’70s and ’80s about comic book heroes (most notably, Superman (1978) and Batman (1989)), but the entire genre of the comic book action film really didn’t hit its stride until the new millennium. Films like Spider-Man (2002) and The Punisher (2004) pushed Marvel into a field that had only been successfully covered by DC heroes. And yet, with more and more heroes being covered with their own individual films, a shift began to occur. This week’s two films highlight the jewels in their respective comic book competitors’ crowns.
The Dark Knight Rises
Length: 165 minutes / 2.75 hours
When someone asks you to name a superhero, the majority of people will say one of two names: Superman or Batman. These two icons of the comic book world are serious powerhouses for DC, as shown by the plethora of sequels and reboots these franchises have been given. Not only have we had Christopher Reeve as Superman, but next year we’ll see yet another attempt at rebooting the Man of Steel franchise (ironically enough, with Christopher Nolan playing a key role in its production). And while the Batman franchise started out well with Tim Burton’s vision of a dark, but less silly Batman (far removed from the Adam West version), eventually the franchise lost control and arrived back at its silly roots.
Christopher Nolan changed all that with perhaps the best reboot the series has ever seen. Taking the caped crusader into a darker, grittier, and a more realistic direction, Nolan pulled Batman away from the ridicule that it had been given by the time George Clooney played the role. To cement his rulership of the Batman franchise, Nolan created not one, not two, but a whole trilogy masterfully tied together with depth and psychological intrigue. I can only hope that many decades will pass before they try to reboot the Batman franchise because the Dark Knight saga stands as the ultimate testament of a masterfully crafted adaptation.
Length: 143 minutes / 2.38 hours
While Marvel may not have the silver bullets of incredibly famous superheroes, they do have a multitude of good stories to draw from. This is where I think Marvel has taken the lead in the last decade. Especially with the botched handling of lesser-known DC heroes like the Green Lantern, Marvel has shown that they can take any of their characters and hold it to continuity, not only within its specific franchise but also against other franchises as well. The sum of the parts ends up being greater than the whole. As DC tries to re-invigorate their Superman franchise to match that of their Batman dynasty, Marvel is pulling out all the stops with an entire arsenal of comic book characters.
Part of the appeal to me of Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) is that it was a movie built on the backs of previous films. Granted, this film marked the appearance of the third actor to play the Hulk in a single decade, but the unique stories of these superheroes having already been covered in their own individual films opened up The Avengers to be an action-packed adventure. Of course, you really have to hand it not only to the casting department over at Marvel but to the movie’s director, Joss Whedon, who could have ended up with a fractured and cobbled-together story involving some very different superheroes. Instead, the unique characteristics of the entire team add a rich depth to the natural comedy that’s created in an earth-ending crisis.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 great comic book blockbusters.