I don’t talk about film news that often, but there’s been a nexus of superhero movie headlines that I couldn’t ignore. Recently we’ve had both directors and release dates announced for The Avengers and Batman 3: Joss Whedon and May 2012 for the former; the returning Christopher Nolan and July 2012 for the latter. So, why don’t we ponder for a moment the ramifications of these announcements?
One big reason I usually don’t talk about film news is because there’s so much speculation and industry politics involved; to be honest, it gets pretty boring. I don’t especially care about the financial angle, and therefore tend to ignore Variety-style announcements about budgets and contracts and so on. But this is big news, on a cultural level. And it’s especially interesting because of the contrast between these huge, highly anticipated projects. Whedon’s Avengers movie will be the final result of a giant, corporate engine turning out a half-dozen superhero movies to set it up; it’ll be the full realization of Paramount/Marvel’s ambitions, and filmmaking on an epic scale.
Meanwhile, Nolan’s Dark Knight follow-up will still be the mainstream of a corporation, in this case Warner Bros. But it looks like it’ll be based much more in the decisions of creative individuals, namely Nolan and his screenwriter brother Jonathan. I might be oversimplifying how much of a binary this is, especially since I have no idea how much of an authorial imprint Whedon will leave. But this much I know: Whedon will be picking this project from where Jon Favreau, Louis Leterrier, Joe Johnston, and Kenneth Branagh left off. Nolan came in and revived a disgraced franchise through the strength of his talent and ideas. If you can’t tell, I find myself increasingly drawn to Christopher Nolan, and how well he’s maintained his creative integrity while directing big-budget action epics.
I’m not too well-acquainted with Whedon’s work, but the man’s admittedly a nerd deity and one-man sci-fi/horror empire. Still, I’m very curious about how this will translate into working on Marvel’s franchise-defining mega-project. To sum up: this news raises lots of questions about the place of the director in superhero movies. Questions that interest me as a fan both of superheroes and auteur cinema. Like comics, superhero movies have often been classified as below art simply by virtue of their subject matter, and I think Nolan’s helping to change that by taking Batman very seriously, and by giving his films the qualities you’d expect of any good/great movie. The Dark Knight had solid – sometimes extraordinary – performances, a labyrinthine narrative of anarchy and revenge, and some amount of thematic weight. This is the blockbuster action movie striving toward something higher.
So expectations are understandably high for Batman 3, as well as Nolan’s upcoming Inception. I’m skeptical about whether The Avengers will achieve similar crossover success, but anything could happen. Mainly I’m impressed by the sheer coordination necessary to get this project into the air. By the time it’s released, it’ll have 6 different feature-length origin stories behind it, so it’ll have a lot to live up to as well. And with such a huge, diverse ensemble… well, this movie should ample opportunity to become a sprawling chaotic mess. I won’t deny it: I love an enormous, well-told story. I love small, personal stories better, but I can’t resist something if it’s overwhelmingly huge, like the LOTR and Star Wars trilogies. Batman 3 will probably have a monopoly on intelligent, brooding superheroes in 2012. So come on, Whedon: dumb or not, impress me with a story so nerdy in flavor and epic in scope that I’ll have no choice but to enjoy it.