#352. Wealthy Superheroes

In the realm of superheroes, there is a certain amount of suspension of disbelief when it comes to how a hero obtained their powers. From alien lifeforms who found themselves on Earth (a la Superman) to regular people who encounter deadly energies that mutate them into super-human beings, most superheroes have unbelievable origin stories. Then there are the “wealthy” superheroes. They don’t really have any superpowers other than their intellect and a massive fortune bequeathed to them via their deceased parents who succeeded in capitalism and industry. While heroes like Spider-man are a little more relatable to the common man due to their financial plight being in the lower middle-class, wealthy superheroes fight crime through an endless barrage of gadgets that could only be afforded by a continuous stream of money. This week’s two films highlight some notable, wealthy superheroes.

Year: 1989
Rating: PG-13
Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours

Surprisingly enough, DC Comics has not one, but two wealthy superheroes in its lineup. Until recently, most people weren’t aware of Green Arrow, but the TV show Arrow has helped to bring this hero into the mainstream. Of course, this superhero pales in the name recognition that comes with Batman. Not only did Bruce Wayne grow up in the lap of luxury provided by his father, Dr. Thomas Wayne, but since both his parents were killed when he was young, he became the sole heir to the Wayne fortune. Because of the way his parents were murdered, his vengeance-filled vigilante attitude toward wrongdoing spurned him into crime fighting. While Bruce Wayne trained his body to be the superhero he is today, the money he has spent on gadgets, vehicles, and hideouts far surpass the amount available to someone just working at a newspaper.

As Gotham City prepares for its bicentennial, many events are taking place to ensure it goes off without a hitch. The mayor has put district attorney Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams) and Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle) on notice that they need to clean up crime in the city before the big day. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) is using his influence as a billionaire businessman to host a fundraiser gala at Wayne Manor. When he notices Commissioner Gordon excusing himself from the party, he goes out to investigate as Batman. Through Batman’s meddling, mobster Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) accidentally falls into a vat of chemicals and emerges as “The Joker,” bringing terror to the city in the form of the “Smilex” chemical. As people start dying with smiles on their faces, it’s up to Batman to stop The Joker before he can unleash the chemical on the bicentennial parade.

Iron ManIron Man
Year: 2008
Rating: PG-13
Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours

In the superhero battleground that is DC vs. Marvel, if DC Comics has a wealthy superhero in the form of Batman, Marvel must have a corollary superhero to balance the playing field. While Tony Stark doesn’t have the tragic backstory that Bruce Wayne does, he is still the heir to a vast fortune accrued by his industrialist father. There are other differences as well, including Tony Stark’s focus on engineering to create his gadgets himself, as well as the technological advances that come via this emphasis that allow Stark to gain superpowers through his “Iron Man” armor. And while Bruce Wayne is hesitant to reveal his secret identity, Tony Stark is so much of a narcissist that he welcomes the attention he gains by being connected to the superhero known as Iron Man. In any case, Stark’s “superpower” would not be possible if he didn’t have the money to make it happen.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is so confident in the weapons technology of Stark Industries that he makes a visit to Afghanistan to show off their latest creation: the “Jericho” missile. Unfortunately, through some underhanded dealings, he soon finds his own weapons used against him as he’s captured by terrorists and held hostage. In the scuffle, a piece of shrapnel is caught in his heart and the only thing keeping it from killing him is a magnet in his chest. While his wealth and influence mean nothing in the cave where he’s trapped, he still has his intellect and uses it to fashion a suit of armor that allows him to escape. Once back in civilization, Tony investigates how these terrorists managed to obtain weapons from his company while also developing an improved version of his “Iron Man” suit to take down terrorists. Upon finding the mole, Tony must fight to maintain the integrity of his company’s name.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 very rich vigilantes

#047. DC vs. Marvel

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
Year: 2012
Rating: PG-13
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.

The Avengers
Year: 2012
Rating: PG-13
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.