I also saw The Amazing Spider Man a few weeks back and forget to share thoughts (shame on me), so, again without spoilers, I thought it was far superior to the other Spider Man films, in plot and characterisation. It’s fun without shying away from dark topics, has some great effects, and I loved the supporting cast.
WITH SPOILERS, and apologies for rambling, here’s a bit more on both films, plus why after seeing both of them The Avengers still owns my heart:
The supporting cast makes The Dark Knight Rises. Albert and Mr Fox are back with their smart-tongued ways and are joined by a Catwoman who can hold her own. Actually, I liked Catwoman. She had a lot of cliché going on, but she could kick-ass and hold her own, even in a male prison, had her own agenda but was still the kind of woman who stopped a fellow thief and a kid from being beaten up and, I believe, had a female lover, which ‘well done DC!’ although you could have made it more explicit. She did, however, end up kissing Bruce and is seen with him at the end in a scene Albert had previously referred to as hoping to see Bruce with a wife, so there’s that.
Not being a reader of the Batman comics I didn’t see the villainous twist coming, which was good, because why can’t a woman be the bad guy? A smart one at that, lying in wait all that time and capable of climbing out of the prison – even Bruce took a couple of tries. Since the villain could never live up to Ledger’s Joker the twist gave it an edge. However, she slept with Bruce. I understand she’s getting close to him, gaining his trust, making him care so that when she turns on him later it really, really hurts…but I think she was more than capable of doing that without sleeping with him *sigh*.
I loved Blake. It was brilliant to see this other orphan kid who took a different route – going into the police rather than being a vigilante and showing how that can be a struggle too. And he figures out who Batman is, by using his brain! Fantastic. Then it turns out that he’s Robin and he rises at the end in the Bat Cave. I loved that moment.
I didn’t love some of the plot ridiculosity, but I expected some and had taking the mick out of it afterwards with the people I went to watch it with. I wasn’t hugely invested in the film, so it didn’t hugely bother me.
I loved the supporting cast in The Amazing Spider Man too, but I also loved the approach that was taken, showing more of the reality of a teenager being a superhero. We get to see tension in his home life, which there would be, and I loved this Uncle Ben who isn’t perfect, who’s human, and I felt for him when he died. Aunt May was wonderful with some perfect facial expressions and of course she waits up for Peter. Peter and Gwen actually act like teenagers. Then there’s that fantastic moment whilst sitting on a rooftop in full spidey gear Peter gets a phone call from Aunt May to collect eggs. Which he then forgets, because of bad guy stuff, heh.
Peter actually grows in this as well, and not just in one leap from a vigilante to a hero. He goes from wanting to find Uncle Ben’s murderer, to having fun beating up bad guys, to helping people, to taking responsibility for his contribution to the bad guy situation, to taking responsibility for his own actions in general with that lovely exchange at the end where his teacher says, ‘don’t make promises you can’t keep’ and Peter whispers, ‘but those are the best kind’. I also appreciate that he doesn’t make all these leaps on his own. I like that Gwen’s dad challenges Peter and that neither of them are shown to be right.
And let’s talk about Gwen Stacey, because I love Gwen Stacey. She’s smart, already an intern, the top of the class, into science, and tutors other kids. It’s okay that MJ from the other Spider Man films wasn’t any of those things, but Gwen isn’t just class-smart. She notices Peter sticking up for another kid before he’s Spider Man and jumps in there herself. She knows her dad and figures out that he made Peter promise to leave her alone. She knows that Peter is Spider Man and that being with him is a bad idea, because her dad is a cop and she knows how that story goes. On top of that? She’s actually integral to bringing down the bad guy. She synthesises the serum to save the day, evacuates everyone, stays in the lab until the serum is done, realises the bad guy is going to use the dispenser thing and tries to hide it, tries to fight him off, and then successfully gets the completed serum out of the building.
All of that is really, really wonderful, but there’s more: she’s not perfect. She’s a seventeen-year-old girl who decides she wants to be with Peter even if it hurts and has an amusing, realistic exchange with her dad where she turns down hot chocolate, realises she sounds mean and apologises, and then tries to scare her dad off by mentioning cramps. To stop him from realising that there’s a boy in her room.
I appreciated Catwoman, I loved Gwen Stacey, and the Black Widow is fantastic. Can I dare to think that we’re moving towards a better representation of women in superhero films? Fingers crossed!
But here’s why The Avengers still owns my heart:
I loved the supporting casts in The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider Man, but they have limitations. Bruce gives two reasons for wearing a mask – to protect the people that he cares about and because Batman could then be anyone; anyone could be the hero. The problem is that the hero isn’t just anyone. It’s Bruce Wayne, it’s Peter Parker, and they have problems in their other lives that they have to contend with as well and often those other problems can leak into their time spent as superheroes. Batman and Bruce, Spider Man and Peter, they’re not two separate people.
It’s fun for the audience knowing a hero’s secret alter ego, but when Commissioner Gordon says that he doesn’t care who Batman is, that who he is without the mask doesn’t matter to him, he’s limiting the support that he can provide and the interactions that he can have with Bruce/Batman. There is a hint that he could be wrong when he does find out who Batman is and appears to be surprised by it, a hint that maybe he would have acted differently with Batman if he’d known that he was Bruce and what would that have looked like? Would he have been able to keep from acting differently with Bruce in public? There are things that could have been explored that we don’t get.
At the end of The Amazing Spider Man Peter has promised to stay away from Gwen, for her safety, but when his teacher says, ‘don’t make promises you can’t keep’ he whispers to Gwen, ‘but those are the best kind’. Unlike in the previous Spider Man films, Peter isn’t going at it alone without anyone knowing his alter ego. As I said, Gwen is integral to bringing down the bad guy. At the same time, she’s someone that Peter can discuss the rest of his life with as well. Because of this we get to see Peter as a person and a teenager and yet we’re able to see him as Spider Man at the same time. When he puts on his mask he doesn’t become a different person.
‘I am Iron Man’, says Tony Stark and whilst I enjoyed watching the first Iron Man film when people didn’t know who he was, it’s when people discover his identity that it’s really fun – when Rhodey finds out the ‘bogey’ is Tony and when Pepper walks in on him trying to get out of the suit. Iron Man 2, far from my favourite film, does showcase that superheroes are still interesting when the world knows who they are. The other Avengers may not advertise their identities but they don’t appear to hide them. The people in SHIELD on the Helicarrier know who they are at least. It doesn’t make them less interesting; it expands and complicates the interactions that the characters can have with others.
People, plural, is a good thing.
Joss Whedon, however, takes The Avengers a step further. He shows that not only do superhero films work better with people, plural, but also with a plurality of people.
Stan Lee has a great cameo in The Amazing Spider Man where he’s a librarian with headphones on whilst Spider Man has a fight behind him which Stan is oblivious to and destroys the library. It cracked me up. Yet Stan Lee’s cameo at the end of The Avengers is him saying ‘superheroes in New York? Gimme a break!’ as part of a montage of all the different reactions people have to the alien invasion and the appearance of the Avengers. (You can see a gif of all Stan Lee’s Marvel cameos here.) I love that montage, because it shows how people are, in and of themselves, never just one thing – Stan Lee can be a comic book writer and still think that there can’t be superheroes in New York – and that this counts for ALL people.
We get the crane operators helping Spider Man and the police helping Batman in the end, fighting alongside him, but it looks like ‘here’s a segment of society that has chosen to support our hero’. It sweeps you up and makes you feel good, but what about the dissenting voices?
Behind the Avengers there’s SHIELD where Fury and Hill disagree and there’s even a guy on the bridge playing a game, showing the far, banal edge of people in SHIELD. Behind them there’s the World Security Council, who would prefer sending a nuke than the Avengers and with whom Fury disagrees. There are the police who initially call for the National Guard and complain that they won’t be here on time, who don’t follow Captain America’s orders without him giving them a reason to, and who then act. There’s Pepper, who can never be said to obey Tony. Coulson, who has his own thoughts. An ordinary man in Germany who stands when everyone else kneels to Loki, and the few others that stand after him. The more people you have, the more opinions you have and the more possibilities there are. Even an old man might stand up to a ‘god’ and even a SHIELD Agent might play computer games when he should be working.
The Avengers manages not just to balance a team of heroes as opposed to just one superhero, but also manages to give screen time to a ton of other people, and have those people be individuals and contradictions in and of themselves.
To return to the ladies to sum this one up: The Dark Knight Rises had Catwoman, who looks out for herself until she decides to help others, inhabiting a grey area. The Amazing Spider Man has Gwen Stacy, who can be a smart, save the day woman at the same time as being a teenage girl at the same time as being her father’s daughter. The Avengers, however, has Black Widow, who is in it to rescue a man, who she may not love but at the least care about or maybe she just owes him a debt, and she’ll go to war with Loki even though she’s a spy and not a solider because of what he said to her or did to Clint or maybe just because there’s no one else, and she has so many layers good luck figuring them out. Black Widow may be her codename, but it’s far from her only alias.
People, after all, are never just one thing. It isn’t as simple as putting on a mask and that making you two different people.
So, I enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises. I enjoyed The Amazing Spider Man even more. But the Avengers still owns my heart.
(Spider Man as an Avenger anyone? Sorry Bruce, you’ll have to make do with running off with Catwoman. And yeah, on that note, in my head she’s not Bruce’s girlfriend - he’s made a deal with her to get her to come to this restaurant for Alfred to see them and now he owes her something in return. ‘He wishes’ as she says earlier.)
Rather rambling and not my best words, but there you go :)