The Great Superhero Movie Slugout of 2012

(SPOILER ALERTs:  “The Amazing Spiderman”, “Batman: The Dark Knight Rises”, and “The Avengers”)

2012 was quite the summer for super-hero movies.  It had three wins, although I feel a little sorry for “The Amazing Spiderman”.

The Avengers

What a fun ride!  This was Joss Whedon at his best: a large cast of characters who believably pull off snarky humorous dialogue, interwoven with high action scenes.  (Conversely, Joss Whedon at his worst was “Alien: Resurrection” where his talent wasn’t well matched to that series’ dark, serious tone.)

The Marvel universe has a different tone from the DC universe.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but to me, Marvel seems a bit more intricate, sophisticated, and light-hearted all at the same time.  The Marvel power hits in the movie world have been the Avengers and the X-Men, groups of heroes that are a tad bit more down to Earth than Superman, and a tad bit more well rounded (they get happy sometime) than Bruce Wayne.  Not that I don’t like Superman or Batman–I do.

The Avengers movie certainly shows that the marketing strategy of a series of individual prequels culminating in one shared finale capstone can work.  Boy, can it work!  The Avenger’s lead-up movies: Iron Man, Thor (yes, Thor.  All you haters, zip it.), and Captain American were all outstanding.  The Hulk with Ed Norton also did not suck.  (I’ve never been a huge fan of the Hulk).

Joss Whedon not only pulled off each hero of the Avengers maintaining their character, playing a key role, and feeling special enough to please fans of each, he also made the Black Widow awesome.  I’m pretty sure everyone was skeptical of her role leading up to the movie; the previews made her feel like she was going to be the token chick with a gun, outclassed by the dudes with superpowers (or supertoys).  She ended up having a power (a real cool one, I might add), and held her own in badassery.  And the villain was hella awesome.  Not in a Bane or Joker kinda way, but he pulled off Loki quite well.

Hell, I even liked the Hulk (which finally made him *feel* like Jekyll and Hyde, one of my favorite vintage sci-fi books).  I loved the line, “Wanna know my secret?  I’m always angry.” (or something close to that)  Made me go, “Ooooo!  Nice.”

All in all, a fun action-fest roller coaster ride that kept me interested even though I’m at a stage in my life where I tend to want to want shorter actions scenes so I can get back to the drama.

The Amazing Spiderman: Better Than Expected

I was skeptical of this one.  I didn’t like the look of the new Peter Parker from the previews, and I liked the original ones (all three) with Toby McGuire.  Ok, the third Spiderman movie was the weakest and maybe only enjoyed by forgiving fanboys, but I’m a forgiving fanboy.  It wasn’t a great movie, but I enjoyed it.  The first one, however, I thought was fantastic when it came out.

So I went into the new Spiderman with a little trepidation.  However, I came out of it thinking it was the best Spiderman so far.  The new Peter Parker pulls off a different kind of geek.  Sometimes he’s annoying, sometimes not.  But the key difference between him and Toby is that Toby’s Peter was always just sad.  And pining.  Pining and sad.  The new Peter is a bit surly at times, awkward at times, and happy.  Sometimes all three at once.

What I like about the new Peter is that he’s a scientist.  This is true to the comic books–he develops his own web spinners, for crying out loud.  Ok, in the move he steels the tech from the Osbourne lab, but he’s still scientifically brilliant.  The first Spiderman movie seemed to miss that fact, making him just the photographer.  Anyway, his web spinners were quite cool, and I found them visually interesting to watch.

I’ve been a fan of the Lizard villain–I collected the comics when I was in high school and grade school.  Another Jekyll and Hyde story.  Although, as my wife points out, Spiderman vs. the Mad Scientist is getting repetitive.  Ok, fair enough.

But know what makes this movie really shine?  Not Spiderman.  The fact that he’s good is awesome–a bad Spiderman would make a bad Spiderman movie.  But the really awesome part is Gwen.  She’s actually an interesting, strong female character.  Not like Mary Jane was, who was, at the end of the day, whiny and mundane with a gloss of cuteness.  OMG.  Maybe she was Spiderman’s Bella.  Ok, not that bad.  I actually like Kirsten Dunst.  (I also liked the movie Antoinette, which I hear didn’t go over as well).  The other great thing about Gwen… they didn’t drag out the whole “you can’t know who I am thing.”  Screw that.  And I’m glad he reneged on his promise to her dad.  Screw that too.  (I mentioned there were spoilers, right).

Not the best movie I ever saw, but certainly worth the price of a ticket.  I left the theater with no regrets.  The only thing that really hurt it was coming out in the same summer between the Avengers and Batman: the Dark Knight Rises.

Batman: The Dark Knight Rises

Wow.  I mean, wow.  So this guy at CNN didn’t like it.  This guy must have bad software on the brain with extra DLC addons of cynicism.  Don’t let this fool you.  This is a fitting end to the series, and I’m not upset about the (again, SPOILER) happy ending.  I had my fill of artistically appropriate tragedies playing Mass-Effect 3, and my heart couldn’t take another one this season I guess.

First off, Bane.  Bane was fantastic.  It’s hard to compare him to Joker, and I’m not sure it’s appropriate.  They’re two different villains, representing two different kinds of evil.  Bane brings the series back to full circle from Batman Begins, and I love his gentle British accent coming from the physical monster he is.  I read the Dark Knight graphic novel where he defeats Batman way back when, and I think this on-screen rendition of him was even better than in the comics.  (Actually, all of Christopher Nolan’s batman memes were better than they were in the comics, which is really hard to pull off for a Batman movie.  This is why I’m pretty excited about “The Man of Steel“, which he is producing).

Batman was still cool as ever, and his kit was cooler yet again.  Loved the motorcycle with the side-turning wheels.

And Catwoman.  I was skeptical of Anne Hathaway (too much of a good-girl look?), but damn she pulled it off!  I liked the idea of Catwoman’s character before, but I have not liked either of the two on-screen renditions (Michelle Pfeiffer or Halley Berry).  Anne Hathaway, you are amazing.  And sexy.  Amazingly sexy.  I have a crush on Catwoman.  I particularly loved the “ears”… glasses/goggles that were down when she was doing her work, and then when she flipped the visor up on top of her head, they gave the silhouette of ears.  Again, Nolan makes the comic book thing on screen without making it a stupid comic book thing on screen.

There are two disconnects in the movie, however.  The first is when Bruce is in the prison hole.  At one point, he says, “the child was Bane!”  And then later (maybe 20 or 40 minutes or so?  hard to tell), he says “the child was Bane!” as if he’s figuring it out for the first time.  I thought, “Huh.  Didn’t he already have this realization?”  The second was his escape at the end.  The way they shot the film, he tells Catwoman, “I have to go, there is no autopilot.”  Then you see him fly out with the bomb.  The bomb goes off… there’s no way he’s getting out and away in time.  Then we find out later the autopilot was installed 6 months ago and he survives.  Then why did he tell Catwoman this?  LOLWUT.  That was just silly and felt gimmicky.  I still liked the movie.

The Verdict

This is tough.  Spiderman is not in the running between the other two (I give it a 7.5/10), but it’s hard to pick a front-runner between the Avengers and Batman.  Both are fitting finales to their prequels, and both had a very different angle.  Batman had more emotional depth, but the Great Nuclear Escape of 2012 vexes me.  I think the Avengers was a slightly tighter movie, so I give the edge to Joss Whedon:  9.6 to Avengers and 9.5 to Batman.