The summer of 2012 saw three new major comic book films hit the big screen, all with different intentions. The Amazing Spider-Man sought to revive a dead franchise by bringing in a whole new cast and crew and starting the story over. The Avengers was a culmination of nerd anticipation building up since Iron Man in 2008 and was designed to stop your heart with superhero overload. Finally, The Dark Knight Rises brought an end to one of the greatest film trilogies of all time, an event on par with the original Star Wars films. All three of these films were impressive, but only one can be named the best comic book film of 2012.
The Villain: The Amazing Spider-Man tried really hard to be a gritty film, but it chose the wrong villain. The Lizard may be menacing, but his computer-generated appearance was jarring in a film that tried to be realistic. His dastardly plan to turn citizens of NYC into lizards was lame and toothless. Marvel films often have weak villains, but The Avengers broke the mold with Loki. While he wasn’t particularly impressive in Thor, Loki really stepped it up for the big game. Wearing a devilishly charming smile, we really get the sense that the character finds pure glee in being evil. But that’s nothing compared to Bane, the burly brute that broke the Bat’s back. Bane is a manipulative mastermind capable of managing an army and inspiring complete devotion to his cause. His desire to plunge Gotham into anarchy before annihilating it with a nuclear bomb is a sadistic evil Loki or Lizard cannot match. Pair his frightening plan with his intimidating mask and skin-crawling voice, and Bane is one of the best villains in comic book film history. Advantage: The Dark Knight Rises
The Tone: One of the most important characteristics of comic book movies is their necessity to be “fun.” The Dark Knight Rises is an excellent, exhilarating movie, but it’s not a typical fun superhero film. Christopher Nolan’s trilogy lacks the lighthearted touches of other comic book films, which elevates them to a status beyond the superhero genre. His Batman trilogy is less a comic book and more an epic crime saga. It’s this reason that puts TDKR in last place for this category. We are looking for the best comic book film, and TDKR is simply not comic booky. The Amazing Spider-Man tried to be both serious and goofy and was left sputtering in an awkward middle ground. The Avengers, on the other hand, is bubble gum and rainbows all the time. Through and through, The Avengers captures the tone of a comic book film perfectly with its superhero-studded cast of characters and its nerdgasm-heavy direction from Joss Whedon. It has its serious moments, but the air is always light in this fun flick. Advantage: The Avengers
The Hero(es): The Amazing Spider-Man handled Peter Parker/Spider-Man really well, giving him a great deal of depth and making him easy to sympathize with. He deals with the tremendous loss of both his parents and his uncle, and he inadvertently leads to the creation of the Lizard. Watching him take charge of his responsibilities is fun, but he doesn’t have that much of an arc by the end of the film. The Avengers clearly has an advantage due to sheer numbers, with at least six major heroes headlining. All are well thought out and have distinct personalities, and watching them interact is a delight. But The Dark Knight Rises takes the cake with Batman/Bruce Wayne, who is brought to the edge of his existence in order to save Gotham. The physical, emotional, and mental stress placed on Bruce is immense, yet he refuses to quit. He has personal reasons to fight, but what he really strives for is to be the symbol that Gotham needs to survive. His selfless actions and incredible obstacles are what put him a cut above the rest. Advantage: TDKR
The Action: Great action sequences are a must in comic book films, and all three of these films satisfy the requirement. But sometimes, The Amazing Spider-Man’s action moves too quickly and is noticeably fake (the scene where Spidey fights the Lizard in the high school was 100% CGI, and it shows), and TDKR is so grounded in reality that it loses the whimsy of an escapist film. The Avengers uses lots of CGI but never looks as hokey as Spider-Man. The countless battles between the heroes are fun to watch and deliver exactly what we expect from a comic book film. Advantage: The Avengers
The Final Battle: No superhero movie is complete without a big boss fight. Spider-Man doesn’t stand a chance here. The Avengers‘ final battle scene is epic in every sense of the word. The camera constantly moves through NYC as different characters fight off an alien swarm, but the staging is so clear and the cinematography is so precise, it’s like watching a ballet. The battle also isn’t as simple as the characters fighting next to each other, but rather, they use each other’s powers to their own advantage, actually acting as a team, rather than individual pieces. The finale of TDKR is astounding, but not because of the final battle. Yes, Batman’s handling of the bomb was awesome, but his fight with Bane didn’t match the intensity of The Avengers. The conclusion of his fight with Bane was especially unsatisfying. Don’t get me wrong, the ending of TDKR is great, but it’s mostly great because of the stuff that happens after the final battle. Advantage: The Avengers
The Verdict: Based on these criteria, I’d have to say that The Avengers was the best comic book film of the summer. While TDKR is the better film by textbook standards, The Avengers is really the epitome of a “comic book” film.
Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? Please leave a comment below.