19 July 2012

The Road to a Blockbuster: The Dark Box Office Rises

Okay folks, here it is - basically the moment this summer that everyone has been waiting for - perhaps the only film of the year more highly anticipated than That's My Boy (2012), duh, I mean The Avengers (2012) - The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Here at the Road to a Blockbuster section we've been analysing the critical, cultural, and commercial potential of each big release this Summer, and needless to say, The Dark Knight Rises ought to take all this to 11. Everyone's at fever pitch for this one, and ultimately there may not be much more to say than what everyone knows! We'll find something.

Zubat Rises
I don't know what it is about Batman that makes him just about the most popular superhero ever. No other comic book dude has had such a series of legendary adaptations in TV, Animation, and big blockbuster films. Four of the six contemporary Batman films have set Opening Weekend records in their day (Batman [1989], Batman Returns [1992], Batman Forever [1995], and The Dark Knight [2008], for those counting), and this is the only film that comes to mind that could possibly upset The Avengers mind-blowing $207 million it pulled down last May. No matter if it breaks a single record or not though, it's a foregone conclusion that this is going to pull down some serious coin.

We ought to compare it with The Dark Knight, though. This should be the ultimate litmus test of whether or not TDK was fueled mostly by the presence Heath Ledger's Joker and the actor's tragic death months before the premiere. Bane is an intriguing villain though his history and the buzz over his presence doesn't nearly match the Joker's. Catwoman here is interesting as well - is the intrigue of the Nolanesque Selina Kyle treatment enough to get an unbelievable amount of people in the seats? I'm actually more interested in finding out (and currently convinced) that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is secretly playing Robin and Marion Cotillard is secretly playing Talia al Ghul.

Still, in an age where we just saw the release of a Fourth Ice Age movie, there's something comforting about a finite resolution to a film franchise. Of course, this is exactly what Spider-Man 3 (2007) was and look how that turned out. The thing of it is, even though Warner Bros. is clearly going to clamour for more Batman and a reboot of the franchise 5-10 years down the line (possibly sooner) is inevitable. The problem with this is that the Nolan Batman is so definitive for so many people out there. He's tapped into something that inherently reflects the time period it was made (whether it's the War on Terror or Bain Capital...), but this is an iteration of the Dark Knight that has connected with people on such an intense level that any other interpretation is almost unthinkable.

This, in itself, is somewhat unbelievable considering how much fans honoured Keaton's Bruce and Nicholson's Joker and held those shoddy Burton films as unsoilable pieces of art. In this light maybe it's possible that the Nolan Batman flicks will eventually become an afterthought as the next visionary auteur takes the reigns.

Nahhh, that's unlikely.

Hey! Lookin' pretty retarded!
By all consideration this is huge, though. And it's not huge like diving masks and bologna tie-ins. There's a kind of elegance and class that Nolan's films exude. It's an integrity that people buy into - ultimately more so than the kind of Candy Popcorn The Avengers and its feeders puff on. It's kind of a shame because, ultimately, through everything this is still a Hollywood Superhero movie, which I think people lose sight of easily. There will clearly be a strong Oscar campaign going along with this, especially after the snub of The Dark Knight essentially led the Academy to expand its nomination process to accommodate the occasional crazy stupid mainstream film that sidles its way into the minds of rabid fans. This shouldn't happen - the idea of Batman is still as silly it was when George Clooney played him gay in Batman & Robin (1997). Just because Nolan and crew are excessively self-serious doesn't make the character any less ridiculous.

I might get some flack for that. Actually here's the best beat-by-beat scenario:

  • Ragged from 8 years of non-stop crime-fighting and running from the police, Bruce "Bat-Crazy" Wayne meets the unstoppable Bane who rallies the 99% against the 1% of Gotham in obvious political allegory
  • Bane kicks his ass, breaks his back
  • Bruce is nursed back to health by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway, who fight crime in his absence
  • Tempted by Hathaway, Christian Bale eventually falls in love with Gordon-Levitt
  • Nolan shows everything.
  • The Legend Ends

  • Post credit scene involves a 25-minute Hathaway and Cotillard marmalade make-out session.

Incredible. At some point Catwoman says "I don't get into cars with strange men." Batman replies "This isn't a car...and I'm a homosexual."

Anyway, it's fairly clear that this is going to be a huge critical, cultural, and commercial event across the nation. These Batman films always seem to be integral parts of our culture and sources for endless discussion, debate, and quotes by fans, both virgin and otherwise. Even shit films from this guy like Batman & Robin are centerpieces for cultural debate, even when that debate is how bad it fucking was. Nolan, though, is one of the few dudes out there who is still making classic, awesome original films (see: Inception [2010]). He's gotten to the point where his name alone is selling a film, and his name attached to his own long Batman pedigree is plenty of fuel for increasing his cheddar supply. He's inspired an almost Raimi-like level of trust that in no way will be ruined by his third outing.

Stay tuned for many more Bat-posts this weekend, including a lengthy debate whether or not Nolan should have included a canister of Bat-Shark Repellent, because hey, you never know. Bane's the kind of dude to have a Giant Shark Tank.

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