Though The Hunger Games is still raking in cash at the box office, summer movie season is fast upon us, promising newer, shinier, big-budget schlock, including a long-haired Tom Cruise. Chief among those popcorn distractions is Christopher Nolan’s fanboy-friendly The Dark Knight Rises, which everybody in Hollywood has long assumed will be the year’s top grosser. Recently, however, there have been doubts. According to The Hollywood Reporter, pre-release tracking now shows the even nerdier The Avengers is pacing ahead of the Dark Knight in most key categories. In fact, industry analysts predict the ensemble superhero flick to rake in more than $160-million on its opening weekend (May 4), possibly even dethroning the all-time box-office champ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two.
The impending face-off is more than just a rivalry between the body-conscious, leather-clad Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman. It’s also a duel between parent companies: the Disney-owned Marvel and the Warner Brothers-owned DC Comics.
The long-standing rivalry between the two has deep roots in Hollywood. DC used to dominate the superhero movie scene thanks to the cinematic success of the original Superman and Batman movies, whereas Marvel was relegated to television movies and unsuccessful hero launches. Well, until the success of Spider-Man in 2002, of course. Since then, Marvel has etched away at DC’s Hollywood empire, releasing hit after hit, finally turning a corner in the wake of 2008’s Iron Man. But, their record is not perfect. The Avengers features Marvel’s third cinematic Hulk in nine years, and after Eric Bana and Edward Norton failed to deliver, Mark Ruffalo remains an unknown quantity. But their supremacy remains unchallenged. Last summer, Thor, X-Men First Class, and Captain America, all new Marvel franchises, earned their number one box office berth.
DC has tried to regain their glory days with a botched Superman reboot and last summer’s colossally disappointing Green Lantern, but ultimately, they took the wrong Routh. Of course, the tide may turn yet again with another Superman relaunch due in summer 2013, but for now, all eyes are on this upcoming face-off. Besides, Marvel parent company Disney needs this win more than ever. They’re still hemorrhaging from the $200-million loss of John Carter.
The films have been deliberately staggered two months apart (The Dark Knight Rises comes out July 20), leaving enough time to maximize buzz. Each movie is also on a divergent timeline — one kick-starts a new property based around the merger of singular origin stories, and the other is a cinematic swan song. But, The Dark Knight Rises has maxed out on its hype too early. Last summer was filled with an onslaught of paparazzi photos and idle speculation, with no detail left unturned, which frankly, became dull and boring. Sure, the trailer looks amazing and the film promises a certain mysterious je ne sais quoi.
But with new players like Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Marion Cotillard sworn to secrecy about their roles, and writer-director Nolan keeping his cards close to his chest, the intense secrecy surrounding the movie is arguably helping to quash anticipation. It’s cool and all that Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon is sickly, but why should the audience be intrigued if no other details about the film are going to be revealed? Nolan is relying on too much hype to carry the movie forward, but with no Joker, and no foreseeable narrative, The Dark Knight Rises looks like a lot of hot air.
Meanwhile, The Avengers has simplicity working in its favour. Right away, the film combines everybody’s favourite Marvel heroes into one star-packed vehicle.
Though the cast is seemingly unrecognizable compared to The Dark Knight Rises – which is essentially just Inception 2: Ellen Page’s Revenge, but with more capes, and a Public Enemies star-swap – The Avengers trailer merges the best of each superhero’s trademark, and Robert Downey Jr.’s smarmy Iron Man catchphrases, for an epic end of the world battle that can only be solved by combining all of their powers. Downey Jr. says, “Apparently… I don’t play well with others,” building even more excitement to see how these Marvel crusaders will interact with each other on this seemingly epic quest. And who can deny the mega-wattage of Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo, together at last? Or Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury eye patch? As for Johansson and Hathaway, both are impeccable physical specimens, but the Catwoman costume is a disappointment — the ears read more Mean Girls‘ Hallowe’en than they do Eartha Kitt or Michelle Pfeiffer.
I’m a mouse, duh.
So, is The Dark Knight Rises down and out? Hardly. Expectations for the film are high, but with the release still three months away, there’s plenty of time left to build hype. It wouldn’t hurt to release another Christian Bale on-set rant, or maybe a fully costumed photo or two. In the meantime, with its release date in less than two weeks, The Avengers takes the win, for now.
Joanna Adams writes for Toronto Standard. Follow her on Twitter atâ€ @nowstarringTO.