When Tim Burton's Batman came out it was something superhero films hadn't really been before. It was big, colorful, and gave us our best iteration of Batman to date (I'll hold that Christian Bale is the best Bruce Wayne). Yes there was a campiness to the film. Hard to avoid when creating a Gotham that's actually Gothic in scope. What is understood in Burton's films is that Batman himself is really only meant to be the straight guy. The thing that makes Batman's comics, films, and cartoons fun, are the larger than life villains. Whether you sit Marvel or DC side of fandom, you have to admit Batman has the best Rogues Gallery.
With the first one we were presented with Jack Nicholson's Joker. He was all bad jokes and exclamation points. A very cartoonish version that pulled on various incarnations through the comics and TV. The true embodiment of the murderous clown. Between that movie and Heath Ledger's incarnation, DC began to make a lot of bad decisions. Their running properties were few, and they decided it was time to get away from the camp. I'll agree, that Ledger was the best Joker and pretty much destroyed the role for anyone attempting it for some years, but Nicholson's is still classic.
Nolan's films are representative of the direction of DC, taking their properties, and trying to drag them down to a grounded level. We've reached the point where they're afraid of naming their heroes. Smallville had a hand in that mess, shying away from naming him Superboy (and man), not wanting to put him in the suit (though admittedly I stopped watching after a few seasons when it began turning to crap, that was openly the producer's approach). Then came Bryan Singer's Superman, which bored the pants off everyone.
With a realistic approach, DC is missing what made their franchises so great in the first place. Children diving into the pages of Superman, saw a being of extraordinary power waving his name and colorful, red overwear like a flag. Their are things I liked about Snyder's Superman, and a lot of things I didn't like. I think most people agree having Superman compromise his own values at the end of the film was not right. Certainly not in character. Maybe it's something a human would do, but he's supposed to be the uncompromising vision that kids look up to. There's also the issue of him supposed to be (somewhat) an analogy of Christ originally, whereas that's thrown out in this one.
The film also destroys Clark Kent, in favor of -yes- finally bringing superman across. He's powerful and that is shown in a way previous incarnations haven't ever done. When he punches, you believe the force behind it. But to me, with half the film feeling like what would usually be crammed into the first 15 minutes of a film, I don't feel the conviction behind those punches.
When asked about the people trapped in the fray of buildings falling and crumbling in Man of Steel, Zack Snyder answered to the effect that a lot of people died. In reality, sure that would happen, but not in Metropolis. The city, and the world might be built on real images, and places, but it's still not. Not everything has to be grim and covered in grey and blue hues.
The flip side of all of this is Marvel who's embraced their comic origins. Thor isn't some sad sack who's angsty over his role in the world. He's Asgardian royalty with a big ole hammer that shoots lightning. Captain America, is a souped up man who survives being frozen for decades. Tony Stark declares triumphantly that he is Iron Man. Marvel accepts what they are and doesn't try to run from it. They have fun with it. They don't focus on bringing the characters down to a real world, they bring our world up to them. That's the difference between Marvel's success in film and DC's bumbling around. They're not afraid to appeal to their own core audience.
The issue of what's wrong with DC comics currently is a whole other mess...
And with that we do have the release of Thor: The Dark World this week. I've always hated Thor in the comics. I think it's a boring and stupid character. A true testament to Marvel's film prowess is that I really like Thor in the movies. The first film, while unbalanced, is still entertaining, and funny. In The Avengers Thor is the perfect straight man in places. Heck I'd love to see a buddy movie with Thor and Hulk. So it comes that I, who hated Thor in the comics, am indeed anticipating seeing the new film.
I will always be a DC kid at heart though so I still have to end on a pro DC point. Stan Lee's knocking Superman's flight ability by saying that Thor's makes sense because he swings a giant hammer will always be idiotic. Sorry "true believers", but that one is just dumb.
So what's on your horizon this weekend?