In the wake of The Dark Knight making almost $500 million [places pinky at corner of mouth] we can hardly be surprised that Warner Brothers, owner of DC Comics and the characters thereof, plans to fire off more superhero movies in the next couple of years. However, whereas most of us would credit TDK‘s success to being, I don’t know, well-made, one executive at Warner’s is convinced that its success can be attributed more to tone than quality:
“Like the recent Batman sequel — which has become the highest-grossing film of the year thus far — Mr. Robinov wants his next pack of superhero movies to be bathed in the same brooding tone as The Dark Knight. Creatively, he sees exploring the evil side to characters as the key to unlocking some of Warner Bros.’ DC properties. ‘We’re going to try to go dark to the extent that the characters allow it,’ he says. That goes for the company’s Superman franchise as well.” [Emphasis mine]
A dark movie about Batman works because Batman is a dark character; he does the whole superhero thing because his parents were gunned down right before his eyes when he was a kid. In the real world, he would probably be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Furthermore, while Batman, his environment, and his enemies certainly stretch reality, they are at least theoretically possible; especially as presented in Batman Begins and TDK. The events of the past two weeks in Beijing certainly demonstrate what a determined person can drive his/her body to do. It’s not out of the question for the same determined person to develop excellent hand-to-hand combat (like Napoleon Dynamite) and detective skills. Of course, in addition to his or her drive he or she would also need some considerable genetic gifts and an enormous fortune. But Christopher Nolan and the rest of the production team were wise to try to place Batman as close to reality as possible. That is why these movies work.
In addition, the themes of TDK are foreshadowed in Gordon’s lines to Batman at the end of Batman Begins:
“What about escalation? We start carrying semi-automatics, they buy automatics. We start wearing Kevlar; they buy armor-piercing rounds. And you’re wearing a mask and jumping off rooftops.”
The point that TDK makes so well is that nobody can push back against the bad guys and expect them to crawl off and sulk. If you punch the bully in the nose, don’t be surprised if the bully hits back. It’s an ugly truth that is demonstrated well with a character like Batman.
But if you look at the rest of DC’s stable of characters, well…
The Flash – Forensic scientist Barry Allen gets coated with an unknown mixture of chemicals at the exact same moment that he is struck by lightning. Instead of being horribly disfigured for life from chemical burns or just fried down to a cinder by the lightning, he develops superhuman speed and becomes a costumed crime fighter.
Wonder Woman – An Amazon princess comes to America flying an invisible plane and wearing a star-spangled bikini bottom. Instead of ending up on American Gladiators or hanging out with Gary Busey, she becomes a costumed crime fighter.
Green Lantern – Test-pilot Hal Jordan is whisked off to the desert by a dying alien (whose ship crash-landed there) to join an elite intergalactic police force who wear green power rings that draw their power from, you guessed it, a green lantern. Instead of immediately checking into the nearest psychiatric unit for meds and a cat-scan, he becomes a costumed crime fighter.
And last but not least:
Superman – an alien (of a race of people that look exactly like human beings!) from a destroyed planet crash lands on Earth as an infant. Instead of being picked up by the government and locked up in Area 51 for the rest of his existence, he grows up and becomes a costumed crime fighter.
I’m not knocking any of these characters; reading about their exploits gave me countless hours of joy as a kid (except for Wonder Woman…she was for girls). But none of these premises exactly lends themselves to a dark, realistic story.
How are they going to make Superman dark and “edgy”, exactly? Show him dropping purse-snatchers from the sky, or using his x-ray vision to be a peeping tom? It’s going to come off like a Robert Smigel skit.
Depending on what I see in the trailers, I may see some or all of these movies. But something about Robinov’s comments gives me the feeling that we can expect a bunch of somber, joyless, self-important movies about people running around in brightly-colored leotards coming down the pike in the years ahead. I will be happy to be proven wrong, though.