Expectations Divided: ‘The Avengers’ vs ‘The Dark Knight Rises’


The world might end in 2012 (especially if you believe every dumb thing you’re told), but that’s hardly what we need to be worried about. The REAL issue of 2012 is obvious: what will be better, The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises?

Here’s the trailers, if you need to refresh.

Maybe your loyalties may already be set in stone based on some allegiance to a greedy publishing company who increases the number of pages for advertising the same year they reduce the number of pages for story. But for the rest of us, we’ve been watching with anticipation as teases, trailers, conventions and leaked set pics have dribbled out via the internet and now we’ve got a clear picture of what we can expect we have to wonder which superhero epic we have higher expectations for.

Let’s break it down…

LEGACY

The Dark Knight Rises: Batman has had the prolific screen career of any superhero, even outstripping the Man of Steel for outings on both the big and small screen. He first appeared in the 1940s in two serials mostly dealing with a ‘Jap spy’. These outings may not compare favourable to modern Batman adventures, but they did introduce the Batcave and the current version of Alfred Pennyworth, not to mention becoming the source of satire in the campy 1960s ‘Batman’ television show (yes, it was in fact a spoof of older Batman shows).

Adam West was the first actor to don the tights in a genuine Batman motion picture, introducing the Bat Anti-Shark Spray, and that would be the benchmark that Tim Burton easily stepped over in the late 1980s with the gothic Batman movie, starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson as The Joker. This was followed up with Batman Returns before the reigns were handed over the Joel Schumacher, who all but buried the franchise with Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. In the years that followed Batman dominated the realm of animation with ‘Batman: The Animated Series’, ‘Batman Beyond’, ‘The New Adventures of Batman’, ‘The Batman’ and ‘Batman: The Brave and Bold’. That’s not even taking into account the appearances in various Justice League shows, the unaired ‘Gotham High’ and the ‘Birds of Prey’ spin-off.

Then came the golden age, the era of Nolan. At the time a relative newcomer to Hollywood, Christopher Nolan brought the Batman back bigger and better than ever. Casting Christian Bale as a darker, more realistic costumed avenger. Batman Begins was a smash hit, changing the viewer’s perception of the classic hero. He followed it up shortly after with The Dark Knight, one the biggest movies of all time and with good reason. Batman, as a comic hero and film hero, has never been bigger.

This is what The Dark Knight Rises is following on from. It’s a direct sequel to the biggest box-office superhero film in history. Even without the rich legacy behind the character the expectations would be through the roof.

The Avengers: Unbeknownst to the average cinemagoer, 2011 did not mark the first appearance of Captain America and Thor in cinema – something that they may regret. Captain America, whilst appearing in various forms, had his first accurate depiction in 1990 is a downright terrible film. Cheaply made and campy as hell, it’s best forgotten. Thor first turned up the 1980s, joining The Hulk in the made for TV film The Incredible Hulk Returns. Again, the landmark appearance is best forgotten.

Speaking of the jolly green giant, The Incredible Hulk television series is quite fondly remembered. Less so are his solo film outings. Ang Lee’s 2003 film starring Eric Bana received mixed reviews from critics and slammed by everyone else. The sequel/reboot by Louis Leterrier starring Edward Norton in 2008 fared better but had a lukewarm response.

Aside from those blips on the radar, movie audiences have been introduced to the characters through the recent Marvel cinema productions starting with Iron Man. As these films have been at least decent it has raised the expectations of what’s to come.

THE ENSEMBLE CASTS

The casting of a superhero is pretty crucial – people already have an established idea of the characters. Actors not only need to physically suit the role but manage a performance that appeases the toughest critics of all – fanboys. Bad casting in these roles can sink a movie – examples include Daredevil, Ghostrider and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

The Avengers is obviously being billed as a big ensemble of cast and characters. Some of the biggest superheros in comic history are all coming together. Sharing the screen will be reborn Robert Downey Junior, proven himself Chris Evans, up-and-coming Chris Hemsworth, sex-symbol Scarlett Johansson, indie champ Mark Ruffalo (the latest incarnation of Hulk), cult favourite Jeremy Renner and the legendary Samuel L. Jackson. And that’s not all…also featuring are Tom Hiddleston reprising Loki, Cobie Smulders, Clark Gregg, Stellan Skarsgård and Lou Ferringo as the voice of Hulk.

So what can top a cast like that? How about the cast of The Dark Knight Rises! Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy all reprise their roles from the previous two films, already giving The Avengers a run for star power. Then add in Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, Tom Hardy (aka the British guy from Inception) as Bane, Marion Cotillard (aka the crazy wife from Inception), Joseph Gordon Levitt (aka that other guy from Inception) and various others and you’ve got the winning ensemble.

This isn’t a cast picture, but the last time I posted these images in an article this websites traffic doubled.

THE EXPECTATIONS

Both movies have managed to keep their stories under wraps in spite of the massive amount of material – in the form of photos and videos – turning up week to week online.

All we know about The Avengers is that Loki is behind an attack of Earth that forces the heroes together. But let’s be honest here, we’re not seeing this for the story. This is a movie that is all about the spectacle. The trailer we got this week certainly promised as much. With the characters, and what has already been delivered in previous films, it’s hard to see this as anything than a home run. Except for the juggling act of giving each character their dues. Balancing out this many roles each with their own backstory is a challenge for any director.

Enter Joss Whedon. Creator of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, ‘Angel’, ‘Firefly’ and ‘The Dollhouse’, Whedon is a man who has proven time and time again that he knows how to manage a large ensemble. He’s also a geek god who seems to think on the same level as us street level geeks and in spite of him not having extensive experience in the cinematic field, fans seem confident that he can deliver the goods.

Shifting the focus back onto the Dark Knight’s latest outing – could expectations be higher? Even if James Cameron announced the sequel to Avatar, it wouldn’t have expectations as high because people wouldn’t want anything other than more of the same. The Dark Knight Rises is the concluding chapter of one of the biggest movie trilogies of all time and is expected to end on something big.

The passing of Heath Ledger may have disheartened some, but there was never any indication that The Joker would make a return anyway. Instead we have Bane, who (for the uninitiated) is the villain who broke Batman physically and psychologically. To wind up the trilogy we may see Batman being pushed to his absolute limits. In addition, top level performer Anne Hathaway bringing back on the best-known characters in comic history.

Can this possibly be better than The Dark Knight? I don’t think many people expect it to be, but we want to at least match it. Maybe it could just do that, considering the director Christopher Nolan has not made a bad movie yet. Not many directors can claim that.

CONCLUSION

Let’s face it; they’re both going to rock the house. 2012 is going to be one awesome year for geeks. Each of us look for different things in our superhero movies and whether or not you want a realistic, introspective lonely avenger or a team-up of spandex clad super-powered heroes you’re going to get your fill of awesomeness.

To look at it another way: Batman. The answer is always Batman.