Batman Over Spider-man?: Steve’s Reflection on The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-man

The question in this post’s title (Batman over Spider-man?) has two meanings. The first has to do with why I thought The Dark Knight Rises was a better movie than The Amazing Spider-man. The second has to do with why James Holmes chose to commit his horrendous crime at the opening of The Dark Knight Rises rather than the opening of the The Amazing Spider-man. As it turns out, the answers to those two questions are related. I would prefer to ignore the second sense of the question, but that seems impossible at this time. Eventually, the connection of that crime to the movie will fade somewhat, but, at the moment they are too intertwined to avoid some reflection on the events in Aurora.

A little background on my Dark Knight experience: At the time that Holmes was opening fire upon the theater patrons in Aurora, I was at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises here in Montana. I do not regularly attend midnight showings, but at the urging of my son I decided to give it a try. During the first twenty minutes or so of the movie I was thinking that it was a big mistake. There were a few guys (and, yes, they were all males) yelling out comments. I think their actions had more to do with it being the midnight hour and quite possibly alcohol consumption than with the fact that it was The Dark Knight Rises being shown. These selfish boors were clearly reveling in their attention-seeking activities. Interestingly, there has been much pondering in the last week about the role that attention-seeking played in Holmes’ actions. As I became increasingly irritated, another guy decided to take matters into his own hands. (Again, it is interesting that at a Batman movie someone should decide to play the role of the vigilante.) He approached the guy making the loudest and most frequent comments and requested that he cease and desist. A scuffle broke out. An usher quickly moved the offending parties to the lobby where the disturbance continued. A surprisingly large number of folks rushed out to the lobby to see what was happening. I guess they thought the drama there would be more intriguing than what was being offered on the screen. Before long things settled down and we were able to enjoy the rest of the movie in relative peace.

Given that experience, it felt quite strange to hear about the events in Aurora. As I’ve already mentioned, I don’t believe that the events in our theater had much to do with the particular movie being shown. However, I do think that Holmes purposefully chose The Dark Knight Rises, although his actions were clearly based on the second movie in the trilogy because he could not have seen the new movie yet and he refered to himself as the Joker. Why this movie rather than, for instance, The Amazing Spider-man that opened just a couple of weeks before DK Rises? As many have noted, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is darker than most superhero movies, but I think there is more to it than that. Spider-man, along with most, if not all, other superhero movies, comes from the realm of fantasy. Heroes in the real world simply do not take on the properties of spiders and villans do not become large and vicious lizards. Batman’s gadgets aside, the Dark Knight movies come much closer to reality. Batman’s mask, the Joker’s makeup and whatever it was that Bane was wearing are the thin veneer that separates these characters from the real world. Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker was a particularly powerful evocation of the evil that we face in the world. We need not live in fear of someone becoming a rampaging giant lizard, but someone could be as twisted as the Joker. James Holmes was speaking the truth when he said that he is the Joker. I do not mean to imply that these movies made him do what he did. Without these movies his inclination to evil would have found another context in which to be manifested. Nonetheless, I am not at all surprised that he chose The Dark Knight Rises over The Amazing Spider-man.

Getting back to my reactions to the movies themselves, all of this does play into why I thought The Dark Knight Rises was a better movie than The Amazing Spider-man. It is not just that DK Rises was more realistic than Spider-man. There is certainly a place for fantasy in the movies. In fact, sometimes fantasy can help us more clearly see the truth of our reality, but I didn’t feel that was the case with Spider-man. Movies are works of art and art serves two basic purposes: to entertain us and to enlighten us. A work of art may lean more in one direction than the other, but they are both generally there to some degree. Marc Webb, the director of Spider-man, leaned more towards entertainment, and Christopher Nolan more towards enlightenment, but they both had protagonists that were seeking answers to a fundamental existential question. It was put this way in Spider-man. Towards the end of the movie, Peter Parker’s English teacher says that a professor once told her that there were only ten plotlines in all of literature. She says that is wrong and claims there is only one plotline: who am I? Both Batman and Spider-man struggle with that question. That struggle included wondering about the degree of responsibility that they owed to others. However, the struggle seemed more superficial in Spider-man. Maybe because the story was set during the time that Peter Parker was in high school, Spider-man felt like a coming of age story that happened to feature a superhero, while DK Rises felt like it was attempting to dig deeper into the human condition.

I’ll soon post my first rankings for 2012 movies. When I do, I’ll include a few particular likes and dislikes for these movies. But, to wrap things up here, I’ll simply say that Spider-man  had two big drawbacks for me. As much as I enjoyed Andrew Garfield as Spidey, I felt over all the characters were stock types and that the movie did have a number of plotlines that were clichéd. The movie had a been there, done that feel to it. I guess I would side with those who wonder if we really needed this reboot. The second problem was that there were too many inconsistencies within the movie. Even a fantasy movie needs to have internal logic. Two examples: when Dr. Conner converts back into human form in the sewer he is wearing a robe; much is made of the fact that Peter’s hands are sticky when he turns into Spider-man, but he is shown looking through his father’s papers and they don’t stick, while moments later the keys from his computer keypad do stick. On the other hand, in The Dark Knight Rises I found many of the characters intriguing and my engagement with the film wasn’t disrupted by inconsistencies. It’s not an all-time classic, but it’s darn good. Despite its flaws, The Amazing Spider-man is fairly entertaining. Bottom line: I recommend both of them, but if you can only see one, make it The Dark Knight Rises.

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