Editorial: Contemporary Superhero Films Should Take a Lesson from BATMAN: THE MOVIE

     April 16, 2012


Last week, we reported that Zack Snyder was going for an “edgy” Superman in the reboot Man of Steel.  But even before Snyder got his hands on the property, Superman Returns went with a more morose Man of Tomorrow by playing up his loneliness and stalking his ex-girlfriend.  Sam Raimi‘s Spider-Man movies were reasonably light until they slammed into the third act, and then the character had to go much darker for Spider-Man 3.  Now the Spider-Man reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, is playing up the gritty aspects of the web-slinger’s story.  Almost all of the Avengers prequel movies have a reasonable balance of action, humor, and pathos, but with the exception of Captain America, they’re all aggressively modern.  Does it have to be this way?  Do we have to ground every superhero in a PG-13 reality?  And would audiences accept anything different?

x-men-movie-image-ian-mckellen-magnetoSuperhero movies have become a smashing success since they first took off back in the early 2000s with X-Men and Spider-Man.  Those two movies also laid out an important ground rule: keep the characters grounded in the real world.  For X-Men, that meant ditching the spandex.  Spider-Man had always been somewhat grounded in reality since it was set in a real city (as opposed to Metropolis or Gotham) and Peter Parker had to face everyday problems like trying to pay the rent.  But both those movies needed to make excuses for even the slightest hint of something goofy.  Magneto’s helmet was to stop Professor X’s telepathy.  The Green Goblin helmet came from Norman Osborne’s collection of masks (not literally, but it provided a basis for why Osborne would be attracted to wearing a goofy helmet).  Spider-Man at least has the courtesy to not bother with an explanation of how Peter got his fancy Spider-Man suit.

For the most part, fantastical elements in superhero movies apparently require an excuse.  It’s not enough for the Fantastic Four to have suits to match their abilities.  The suits need to have special properties that will make the Invisible Woman completely invisible or make sure the Human Torch’s outfit doesn’t burst into flames.  And all names need to be justified.  The papers need to tell Tony Stark that his superhero alter ego is “Iron Man”.  The teens in X-Men: First Class have to come up with fun code names.

There’s a difference between trying to fill in plot holes and going on the defensive.  Superhero movies mostly seem to be working overtime on the latter.  Why does every single detail need an explanation?  Perhaps it’s because a hypothetical audience won’t accept the contrast of an outsized hero traipsing around a “real” world.  To an extent, it’s a reasonable assumption.  Something that works in a comic book won’t automatically transfer to movies.  For the story Bryan Singer was trying to tell in X-Men, Wolverine in yellow spandex probably wouldn’t have worked (and as it was pointed out many times during the run up to the film’s release, the X-Men originally wore uniforms in the comics).

But now it’s one size fits all, and the rules that helped superhero movies get a foothold are now stifling what these movies can be.  Thor is a Norse God/space-alien who lives in a majestic dimension, and his movie wants him to get out of his dimension and start hanging out on Earth.  Thor keeps cutting back to Loki so we never completely leave Asgard, but Asgard only seems to have three locations: the castle, the “Bifrost” (heaven forbid we call it the “Rainbow Bridge” like it was in the comics), and Jotunheim.  But the title character has to fit into the Avengers‘ real world so everything magical has to be stripped down.

The push for “realism” is understandable, but it’s also creating a homogenization of the genre.  The powers, the villains, and the suits are changing, but everyone must remain “human” and “relatable”.  But why is that the trade-off?  Why do we have to load-up on character flaws and gritty heroism to make these movies “work”?

I enjoyed the hell out of Captain America, but the movie was hit with the criticism that Steve Rogers was too one-dimension.  He’s a do-gooder who doesn’t change over the course of the movie.  But why does this make him uninteresting?  He has the same values at the beginning of the movie as he does at the end, but he’s not the same person.  He’s someone who has realized his dream of being the person he always felt he was meant to be.  I never felt bored watching Captain America fight bad guys.  I was wrapped up in watching someone who was a paragon of virtue.  It was inspirational.

superman-george-reevesThere doesn’t seem to be room to be inspiration in the majority of superhero movies.  There’s room for grit, sacrifice, and learning responsibility.  A character who is simply “good” is boring and doesn’t generate conflict.  That’s why Zack Snyder needs an “edgy” Superman.  The Superman of the 1950s TV series doesn’t get to live in our world.  He’s a “boy scout” so therefore he’s uninteresting.  Superman suffers from a distinct lack of being Batman.

What if Superman didn’t have to be bogged down in introspection or seriousness?  Would that be so bad?  Superman has lots of superpowers, so why can’t he fight big villains like Darkseid?  Or what about a collection of less powerful but still fun villains like Metallo, Kryptonite Man, and Titano?  Throw Jimmy Olsen down a well, tie Lois Lane to some railroad tracks, and let Blue Boy save the day.  No grit.  No loneliness.  Just something grand and uplifting.  Something PG.

But “PG” is death.  There have been 30 Marvel and DC movies since X-Men, and none of them have been rated less than PG-13.  No studio is willing to even entertain the possibility that superhero movies could be a little more light-hearted.  Teenage boys will revolt and pre-teen boys apparently don’t count as ticket buyers.  Studios have run the numbers and the numbers say you need a  PG-13 rating, and that means you’ve got a shed a little blood, say some dirty words, and the hero has to stare off into the middle distance and realize his* destiny.

This July, Christopher Nolan will complete his Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises.  Nolan’s approach to Batman has been to set the character in the “real” world.  Anything remotely comic-book-y is verboten.  There is no Batmobile; there’s the Tumbler.  There’s no Two-Face; there’s “Harvey Two-Face”.  In The Dark Knight, Gotham City looked like Chicago, and because of tax breaks for the production, Gotham City will look like Pittsburgh in The Dark Knight Rises.  Say what you will about Tim Burton and Joel Schmacher‘s takes on Batman (and there’s plenty to say), but they dreamed bigger.  Nolan’s take has merit, but it also wants to take the “super” out of superhero.  Yes, Batman doesn’t have superpowers, but he’s still extraordinary.  But there’s no room for Bat Shark-Repellant.

batman-the-movie-shark-repellant-imageBat Shark-Repellant was used by the Caped Crusader in 1966′s Batman: The Movie.  For those who haven’t seen the film, it’s an absolute joy.  It’s big, it’s cartoony, it’s campy, and it doesn’t care.  No filmmaker or studio would risk a plot where the villains dehydrate the world leaders into colored sand.  And if a modern superhero movie dared to make this leap, it would twist itself into circles to provide some reasonable explanation, which would defeat the purpose of making such a grand leap in the first place.  Can teenagers not accept a movie where Batman is running down a boardwalk, carrying a giant bomb over his head?  Contemporary superhero movies don’t have to be this campy, but an over-the-top, exuberant style has merit.  There’s no shame in liking a bombastic, unabashedly silly superhero movie if it’s done right (if it’s done wrong, you have Batman & Robin).  The shame comes from keeping superheroes in rigid box of “reality” when the genre has so much more to offer.  Like Bat Shark-Repellant.

*Sad fact: Elektra and Catwoman are the only female-led superhero movies.  Anyone who attributes their failure to a female hero has clearly ignored the fact that both films are terrible.


Around The Web
  • Peter

    Thank you for the commentary, very enjoyable. I see where you are going with the editorial, but I have to slightly disagree on a few points. I think what makes a superhero interesting is not whether he wears spandex or has a batsuit with nipples, it’s whether the character written for the big screen has an interesting arc. Hal Jordan had fantastical elements to deal with in the Green Lantern, but the moved tanked because the screenplay sucked. Whether PG 13 or PG the audiences are more sophisticated than even 20 years ago; they have more entertainment options, so studios must work harder to give them a story worthy of the comic creator’s original intention. Beyond that Nolan rocks. I love your site! Best Peter

  • Dre Dre

    No, i dont want to see Christian Bale’s Batman using “batshark repellent” and a PG rated superhero movie has been made, its the Incredibles, animated of course…

  • mattedscreen

    A lighthearted Superman movie? Matt, normally I am on your side with a lot of issues, but you seem to have clearly forgotten the lighthearted fare that was dumped on us with the latter half of Superman 2, Superman 3, and Superman 4 The Quest for Peace. We don’t need a repeat of that horror… EVER. After Superman Returns, I’m eager for a Superman who actually is proactive and DOES something!

  • Alan

    Good Lord

  • Prasanna

    Oh Come on! And cut the crap. If you are bored of what’s going on, why don’t you go watch Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies?

  • TK

    The first Fantastic Four was rated PG.

    • pj_campbell

      It was the second, not the first. But you’re right. We’ve had PG superhero movies before.

  • wacko3205

    Holy Buh-EFN-Jezus Batman…where do articles of such crapitude come from.

    Thor, Iron-Man, & Captain America were amazing…far beyond expectation…& hell…I even liked Blade trilogy…to a certain extent.

    Hemsworth in Thor was pure perfection of what I’d pictured/expected a young arogant Asgard brat to be & Loki was amazing.

    I think some soap boxes are just…I don’t know…more full of shAt than soap.

    Today’s CB films are fine…I even dug Watchmen & KickAss for what they were…but the Nolan trilogy & the Avengers offshoots have been perfect to a T.

  • SymonSays

    Love your site. I think your commentary made some good points. I do, however, disagree that the use of fantastical elements ie bat nipples or yellow spandex does not correlate to a ‘fun’ superhero movie anymore than a leather-clad vampire hunter now serving time for tax evasion. I think what makes audiences enjoy movies is solid characters that are relatable and grounded in some reality. Green Lantern was a movie grounded in more fantastical elements and yet it tanked because the characters were flat and the screenplay sucked. Iron Man was quirky, yet retained elements of the Fantastic. Whether PG 13 or PG, audiences are more sophisticated now with tastes to match for their entertainment dollar. In Chris we trust! “Now is not the time for fear, that comes later.” Bane, Dark Knight Rises

  • Jason

    Just a few instances of how the author is incorrect:

    1. At the time the X-Men movie came out, the X-Men in the comics wore similar leather uniforms, not spandex. Also, they were set in a real place (Westchester County, NY & NYC).

    2. Magneto’s helmet is stated in the comics to be for the express purpose of stopping Professor X’s telepathy. Otherwise Xavier could end every conflict instantly.

    3. The Fantastic Four’s costumes are again, stated in the comics to be made of “unstable molecules,” so that they don’t burn/stay visible/not stretch. Again, not a movie invention, but actually the films trying to stay somewhat true to the source materials.

    4. Bifrost is the actual Norse mythological name for the rainbow bridge. Also used in the comics. Is it wrong to call it by its name? Also, in several different arcs of Thor comics, they are referred to, even self-referentially, as aliens.

    5. The Marvel films draw largely from the Ultimate Marvel line, which was expressly started by Marvel to try to further update the characters and their world, hence the focus on “real-world” integration.

    Now for a more substantive mini-rebuttal:

    Isn’t it enough of a conceit to say that there is a billionaire ninja vigilante, and just let that be enough ridiculousness?

    And as much as I don’t like it, PG-13 movies do make more money than R (or PG). I don’t think there should be any ratings system or censorship, but it’s here to stay. So I can’t fault Hollywood studios for trying to maximize the profit they’ll make on what the larger public already views as a childish medium.

    Hollywood tried the campy stuff first; for example, the 90′s Batman films got increasingly campy until they had to abandon the franchise for 8 years and comic book movies in general declined. Keeping it more real keeps it more respectable, at least for now. I’m sure there will eventually be a throwback comic movie applauded for its vision and willingness to differ.

    • brandon

      1. The X-Men costume change didn’t come until after the movie came out. It was during Grant Morrison’s run on the series that the costuems were introduced, along with Beast’s new mutations.

      2. It is never explained in the comics that Magneto designed his helmet to stop Professor X’s telepathic attacks, it just simply does, and when it is mentioned, it isn’t until the Ultimate series, which took place after the first movie.

      3. The Fantastic Four didn’t originally wear costumes, and the Unstable Molecules you speak of were an invention of Reed Richards after they did start wearing costumes, not a result of their exposure to radiation in space.

      4. Matt never said Thor wasn’t a space alien in the comics so I don’t know why you felt the need to argue this point.

      We can be mad at Hollywood for trying to make more money by altering source material, but that wasn’t the point of the article.

    • T.J.

      “billionaire ninja vigilante”…PRICELESS!

    • boffo

      6. harvey two-face is from btas

    • Stinky

      “Isn’t it enough of a conceit to say that there is a billionaire ninja vigilante, and just let that be enough ridiculousness?”

      …excellent point.

      ‘Green Hornet’ tried to lighten the mood. It worked in a few parts.

      Edgy Superman just drives me a f’n wall. Pointless.

      What’s next? Edgy Ant-Man? Haunted Plastic Man?

      But, this is Hollywood. If there is a billion dollar franchise blueprint, bet your blue tights every mofo in town is going to try and copy it.

      At some point a new style will drop in the superhero landscape and all the properties will fall in line. Don’t hold your breath, however.

      • brandon

        Don’t give them any ideas about a dark and gritty Plastic-Man because the source material is there, what with his criminal background and all.

  • Warpcrafter

    X-Men First Class had to be PG-13 so that Wolverine could say “Go fuck yourself.” Seriously, it was the best part of the whole movie.

    • Grayden

      Best. Cameo. EVER.

  • Sccitylhh

    I seriously can’t understand the nature of your objection, Matt. How is it less desirable that modern superhero films have multi-dimensional characters and ”real-ish” environments to live in? This is just a personal observation, but I tend to pay much stronger attention to films that have interesting characters and give the illusion of having real life consequences.

    I’ll give you credit for this though: Superman suffers from a distinct lack of being Batman. There’s your answer. Batman is more congruent with the world we’re living in now.

    • Debo

      I think you’re exactly right. Batman does fit into our world as we know it. However, if you remember back to when Goyer went to Nolan with his new take on Supes, you’ll remember them saying that they’re taking the character in a new direction that hasn’t been addressed yet, and I think Superman will be heading into our world. Where does he fit in our society today? Certainly not in an “Ode to Donner” remake via Singer. I think their goal will be to show us where Superman fits in context to our world today.

  • Budders

    Sorry Author, we want GOOD, solid respectable movies, not just ones that are corny and fun to watch a couple times. Those types of movies are minimally successful and are good for a laugh, but unless they’re so hyper-ridiculous like 1966 Batman (which is commonly remembered as a so-bad-its-good movie), then they’re just gunna be forgotten.

  • Cory Prinkey

    Thanks for that, just wanted to post a correction on the ratings… Fantastic four rise of the silver surfer was rated PG, so not all comic book movies since 2000 have been rated PG-13 or higher.

  • junierizzle

    Matt, they made the movie you want, it came out last week. It’s called The Three Stooges.

    To be honest I love Batman: The Movie. But that is a completely different kind of movie. Obviously Nolan did not want to make a movie like that. You can have camp, Batman: The Movie and realism, The Dark Knight.

    Of course if camp is done right then it can be great. ANYTHING that is done right can be great. I can’t stand when people say “If done right then it will be good” Of course if its done right then it will be good. That goes without saying.

  • Strong Enough

    Nolan just has a different take on Batman.

    Nothing wrong with visiting a new way to film a superhero movie everytime they reboot it.

    The next director that gets Batman i;m sure will have a differetn vision all together.

  • Nick

    Every movie between batman returns and x-men was extremely campy and even returns and x-men never tried to be realistic. Only the Nolan films have taken the realistic approach you pretend is so prevalent now. You forget the Batman serials of old were pretty dark and realistic as well.

    In fact all of the superhero movies that we laugh at for being utter crap (both fantastic four’s, spawn, second set of batmans) all follow the formula you ask for the return to.

    Not all superhero movies need be dark and serious, but then they ARENT. That is the whole point. you just wrote an article about a problem that you (and a variety of other comic book fans with nothing better to do) made up in your mind. This is nothing more than a revised version of the same old classic folly of “but things were better back in the good old days.” No, they werent! They were DIFFERENT. The Times were different, the problems were different, the culture was different. That does not translate to better or worse, it is simply DIFFERENT. Going back to them will not make movies better, it will simply make them irrelevant to our current culture, making them WORSE.

  • Nick

    Not all superhero movies need be dark and serious, but then they ARENT. That is the whole point. you just wrote an article about a problem that you (and a variety of other comic book fans with nothing better to do) made up in your minds. This is nothing more than a revised version of the same old classic folly of “but things were better back in the good old days.” No, they werent! They were DIFFERENT. The Times were different, the problems were different, the culture was different. That does not translate to better or worse, it is simply DIFFERENT. Going back to them will not make movies better, it will simply make them irrelevant to our current culture, making them WORSE.

  • Dustin

    This is a good article. But it’s easier said than done. If a movie like the old Batman movies were made today, they would be bombs and everyone would see that movie as a joke, no matter how delighted you are by it. Audiences don’t want to see a dumb silly batman movie for kids under 8, they want to be taken seriously (at least sometimes).

  • The Rocketeer

    I completely agree with Matt.

    Maybe everyone else commenting are kids who want things to be ‘soo edgy’; Chidren who want to play adults.

    That type of innocense seen in films like ‘The Rocketeer’ – that is something the world seems to be losing. *That* is another good reason why Joe Johnston was hired to direct Captain America.

    Matt: This is probably the best article you’ve ever written.

  • A Realist

    Matt, if any movie studio listened to your advice, they would go out of business. Thank God you’re not a movie producer.

    It’s pretty simple- audiences don’t want what you’re selling.

    Also, Jason was RIGHT ON THE MONEY. Please learn more about your subjects before you comment on them.

  • Kaspar Hauser

    I disagree with a lot of things that you wrote, but I don’t want to go deep in it right now.

    My thoughts about Snyder’s “edgy” Superman are expressed in the commentary space of that article, so I will not repeat them here.

    Short, what I think is that your vision is too simplistic, everything seems to be black and white. If something is not inocent and goofy, then it’s dark and too serious.

    Captain America is a boring movie to me, not because Steve Rogers wants to do good things, but because he has no conflicts. And let me be clear: “conflicts” doesn’t mean that he should cry all the time, question his sense of morality or kill the bad guys. “Conflict” means that he needs some obstacle (external AND internal) to break through.

    So, what I’m saying is that you don’t need to approach a super hero with a lot of seriousness, but you need to give to the audience something to care about.

  • Sean

    I see your point about over-explaining comic details, but the prescription to embrace some sort of Adam West / Joel Schumacher-type campiness is a horrible idea.

    The gold standard for these films is still The Dark Knight, Spiderman 2, X2. A major part of the success of these films was that, as sequels, they could avoid a great deal of exposition and focus on the story. But, they were not successes because they imitated the 1966 Batman travesty.

  • rob

    The fact is that the world is a very different place than it was in 1966. It just is. And it’s not just Superheroes getting more serious. Look at Daniel Craig’s Bond.

    The world is a far more cynical place than it was 46 years ago. And like it or not, the studios have a business to run and realism is what sells.

    Here’s a question Matt, do you really think the studios even know how to do campy anymore? I really doubt that Batman & Robin was a fluke.

  • potterboy


    oh and how do you know Gotham will look like Pittsburg in TDKR? have you seen the movie? sure it was shot on Pittsburg, but they also shot scenes in New York. The Filmmakers are smart enough. Don’t you have Faith with Nolan and Wally Pfister. goddamn Matt, why don’t they just fire you. what’s up with this editorial? don’t you already make editorials everyweek with your news article/editorial.

    • junierizzle

      That is the bottom line. Goldberg has been making fun of TDKR since the first trailet hit. This “editorial” is yet another shot at Nolan and his Batman.

  • Dave Trumbore

    I wouldn’t mind seeing a lighter take on Plastic Man or even Ant Man.

  • Ben

    Well said. I don’t agree with all of your points, but I admire your expression of a perspective that goes against the grain. But I DO find the current superhero films inspiring. The thing is, because Steve Rogers was so bland in “Captain America,” I really didn’t care whether he defeated Red Skull. But Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man is a true, individual with so many human quirks–when he duels the Green Goblin, it’s genuinely inspiring because you’ve fallen in love with him and want him to win (the same goes for Christopher Nolan’s Batman). I don’t want to see superheroes watered down, but why not let in some fantastic lightness? Anyway, thank you for giving “Batman: The Movie” it’s due. It’s a truly hilarious film and, yes, inspiring in its madness. :)

  • Sal

    The thing is that Batman begins was dark but in an okay level. It was a good movie. Then Nolan brings the dark knight which is more of a thriller than a COMIC BOOK MOVIE. It’s not even an action movie. It is an action thriller and because many people went and see it -me included- and it became a huge box office hit somehow every new movie wants to be like Batman. Well it wasn’t a good adaptation for me. Batman was never that dark in my time and I am only 25.

    • Nick


      People seem to be forgetting the origins of batman. It was meant to be a noir detective serial, and guess what. Batman had a gun and killed people. It didn’t become the super campy thing everyone thinks it is “supposed to be” until adam west’s batman. Yeah that’s right, the thing that twisted batman into something it wasn’t was in fact the thing so many people hold up as what batman should be. Nolan’s Batman is FAR closer to the original than Adam West’s batman. But I wouldn’t want to burden anyone else’s opinions with things like facts and reason, Mr. Goldberg I am looking at you.

      • Todd Sullivan

        No, Batman wasn’t just a Noir thriller. His tone was more cartoony even in the days when he brandished a gun. He took on comic book stock villains — mad scientists, evil oriental kabals, supernatural entities like mummies, and even common gangsters. He was a product of serials and hence people used the term “comic book” to describe such situations in every day life. And what is this superlative hype on Nolan? I think there was a film in 1989 that received much critical kudos for its iconoclastic take on Batman. Oh yeah, it was called “Batman”!!!! And the critics described it as being “darker” “more realistic” “more faithful.” If you were alive in ’89 and were a genuine Batman fan, Burton’s uncanny vision really connected with you. like how everyone is a Batman expert now that The Dark Knight has come out and everyone wants to catch up with the character to put his/her two cents in, minimizing significant events in his history to exult Nolan. Do what you must but time will show that Nolan’s take is far less imaginative than people give him credit for.

    • Mal

      What? Batman was never dark in your time? I’m pretty Batman was plenty dark in the time you became a “fan”. Ever heard of the storyline “Knightfall” from 93? How about “No Man’s Land”? How about “A Death in the Family”? Now ask yourself, are you a Batman fan or did you only watch the animated series, which mind you, got pretty damn dark sometimes (“Over the Edge”, Two-Face and Clayface’s origin episodes)

      Also, Matt. Do you even read comics? Some the information in your article is so inaccurate it made me want to go back in time, and vomit on the computer you wrote this crap on. Cyber Bully, Yeah!

    • Nick

      Todd: I agree batman (1989) is more faithful in the spirit of the original comics then either of the films I mentioned. My comment is only half a response to Sal and half a response to Matt’s original point. Dark Knight is more faithful to the original serials than the Batman tv show imo. Also I would argue that the nolan verse is more faithful then the 89 version to the comics as a whole in terms of content. The 89 version got the tone much closer to the original serials, yes, but the movie completely scrapped the comic book cannon. So did Nolans, but he left much more in tact.

      I personally dont need comic book movies to reflect the original comic books all that much. New takes are what keep old ideas fresh. But even if we are talking about being faithful to the “Comic Book” ideal nothing Goldberg says makes any sense.

  • Jake

    Your editorial is racked with problems, because of either lazy thinking or arrogance or both.

    Firstly, your argument – about Snyder’s Superman film being ‘gritty’ – is not based on the most credible of tesimonies. It comes from Dylan Sprayberry, the 13 year-old actor who plays Clark Kent. That’s right: it doesn’t even come from any of the adult actors, let alone the filmmakers, but from a child. All the filmmakers have said is that they are going to contemporise the film, which does not necesarily mean darken.

    Secondly, Nolan may have a producer credit on the film, but he is not an on-set producer, as his commitments to ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ means that he cannot be in two locations at once. It is like how Spielberg is credited as a producer or executie producer on a number of projects: for many projects, he gives advice to the filmmakers on story and in the editing bay, but does not spend a great deal of time on production. How’s this for proof: late last year, Cavill said he has never even met Nolan.

    Thirdly, you said in the earlier that you don’t want “cheap conflict”. But every character needs some kind of flaw: some vulnerability, weakness, need that they need to overcome in order to achieve their goal. ‘Captain America’ fell apart somewhat in the last act because Rogers does not have a flaw or a weakness to overcome, which meant that his defeat of the the villain did not come from genuine growth but being stronger than Red Skull.

    Fourthly, Superman needs a weakness in order to be a rounded and fully developed character. And that does not necessarily mean a physical weakness, but an emotional one, too. It isn’t “cheap conflict” to give him some kind of dimension or vulnerability: just simple drama. Otherwise, the film will simply involve one strong guy defeating another strong guy because he is stronger, a prospect that is neither interesting or particularly compelling. If you have read any of the unmade scripts lying around since the early ’90s, you will realize that these screenwriters (Kevin Smith and Dan Gilroy, in particular) failed to give the character any depth or subtext, which means that all the dialogue sequences are boring because Superman/Clark Kent had no emotional stakes.

    Goldberg, I am jsut glad that you have no involvement in the film, because you seem to have no understanding of the basic concepts of storytelling, although I could have gathered that from your reviews …

  • WEV

    “No grit. No loneliness. Just something grand and uplifting. Something PG”……erm that Superman has already been made, it was directed by richard Donner ;)

    You make some good points though, but il say i think it depends on the character and its comic book roots on what the films tone should be and how the characters are portrayed. For example i think Sam Raimi‘s Spider-man films (1&2) were spot on with the go lucky vibe and humor, and overall sense of fun, i don’t really favor the direction that “The Amazing Spider-man” is going, to me personally i think Spider-man is a film that should NOT be gritty IMO.
    As for Bats, i think Nolans take is just a deeper one, what he clearly is interested in is the psychology behind these characters, and i believe his approach is simply what if these characters were put in the real world, how would they function ect ect. We have Burtons “fantastical” Batman already, so im glad we have both his and Nolans takes and im sure we’ll get a reboot and a whole new and different take on the Dark Knight.

    To be honest i think your just being over picky, i thought Thor was great, overall it had a good fun vibe to it, same with Cpt America and Iron Man. I just dont think you can go as campy as your suggesting without it becoming a spoof. So deal with it ;)

  • Jonny

    Thor himself says to Jane that the Bifrost is more like a “rainbow bridge” than her technical name “einstein rosen bridge” for it, so forget that one. Do you even watch the movies you talk about? lol.

    • Jonny

      Btw, Loki and his powers of magic..Thor and his powers, etc, are never made more “human/relatable”. They are Gods, the movie isn’t ashamed of that, of feels it needs to explain it thoroughly. Same with Xmen really. Mutation = superpowers.

      Ps. About PG-13. People under 13 do go to the cinema, yes. But rarely alone, normally with an adult. And the adults wouldn’t blink twice at taking a 9 year old into Ironman or anything that gets a PG-13. Its a win-win for the studios. PG would turn off alot of older folks, 15 wouldn’t allow adults to bring the kids. If you wanna watch Batman&Robin its on DVD..

  • bob

    Don’t forget Diabolik, it’s even better than Batman, the colors, the soundtrack, it’s pure pop culture.

  • Elitist Prick

    I think a lot of the commenters are mistaking Matt’s opinion as wanting ALL superhero movies to take a Adam West-Batman-approach. I don’t think that’s it at all; it’s just SOMETIMES these movies shouldn’t take themselves so seriously. Batman works best, in my opinion, as a more grounded and dark character, but maybe Superman or Thor can use a more-wink-and-a-nod approach. I would love to see some of the galactically powerful or even sillier villains face off against Superman. Better than Lex Luthor AGAIN.

    I didn’t like Captain America; the problems with that movie are unrelated to the fact that the titular character is a perpetual do-gooder and more to do with Joe Johnston’s inability to put an interesting five consecutive minutes on film. Captain America/Steve Rogers IS a perpetual do-gooder, it’s part of his soul and why he’s the Cap in the first place. If you’re going to make a movie about him, it’s something you have to take into account. In fact, part of what’s inherent in comic book characters is the fact that they don’t change or it takes them years to evolve with the times. That’s why they’re comic book superheroes.

    Also, I think lighter, more fun superhero movies might help other franchises as well. I mean, if EVERY comic book movie is grim and dark, then it becomes a cliche. However, if you have, as suggested, a lighter Ant Man and Plastic Man along with a gritty Batman, it makes both approaches more appealing and less laborious. I mean, who really wants to see a soul-crushingly bleak Superman? Is that what the character has ever been about?

  • Tony

    Read enjoyable read, nice write up Matt.

  • Mike91

    Good article

  • Jables

    I don’t understand people’s problem with Nolan’s batman movies. When Begins came out, it was the first superhero movie of it’s kind and it revolutionized the way Superhero movies were made. So to have a problem with the constant darkness and grittiness, that’s not Nolan following the crowd, he was the one who pretty much originated it. I think there will be perfect room for more of an unrealistic Batman when they reboot the franchise. I would love to see Robin and Ivy in a well done movie.

    Now with this new Spidey movie, yes it is darker, however I think the tone just more reflects the emotions of the character. The beginning stages of Spidey was a dark and emotional time for Pete. I think by having a full CGI lizard as the first villain they are pretty much opening up the field saying they can do any villain, and be nerdy. Raimi’s Spidey started out in reality with Goblin being a war machine, and then Doc Oc being a science experiment. The third one then made no sense because none of the heroes were grounded in that “reality” that Raimi established. However, if you watch all three of those movies again, they are insanely campy. That’s why I love the first and second.

    Anyways, I do agree that I would like to see some movies go a little more “nerdy” and not try to be so “cool”. However, though I do believe that, I still gotta say I love Nolan’s batman films and I wouldn’t want them any other way. I thought First Class was incredibly done, and personally I’m really excited for Marc Webb’s interpretation of Spidey.

    In the end though, I’d like to see someone do to the superhero genre what Cabin in the Woods did to Horror. The genre does need a little kick in the you-know-what. It’s starting to get stale.


  • Vtran

    This is such a well written article but also stupid and hypocritical aimed solely to garner controversies and comments; obviously it worked because I’m commenting myself. Imagine if Batman was to use a shark repellant or running around with a bomb as big as his head trying to get rid of it, you would turn around and criticize how silly the movie is and not worthy of the $9 ticket. Imagine if Superman was a goof and faces no real world problems, you would turn around and say that the story is not complex or interesting. I know extra comments on your articles bring more advertisements, which means more profit, but an article can be written where it can generate interest from people and at the same time, reflects your true opinions and beliefs; it was hypocritical from beginning to end with no truth in your perspectives of movie making.

  • Basgard

    “Harvey Two-Face” is used in Batman: The Animated Series, which also contains the line (used in The Dark Knight) “It’s not that simple. With the Joker it never is.”

    This and some of the oversights another poster mentioned lead me to believe you’re tailoring your facts to suit your theory, but I realize it’s an editorial and I take your point. This is all a trend. Eventually everything plays itself out, becomes self-parody, gets replaced, and comes back when no one expects it because the people who saw it first are too old to care and the youngsters think it’s fresh.
    One thing I’d ask is, have you ever imagined watching superheroes in the real world? They’d look like brightly colored flies in the distance, fighting whatever huge menace threatened the earth. Unless you add a strong human element (and dramatic camera/art angles) to their stories, their powers are actually pretty irrelevant. There are billions of remarkable people in the world, and our technology in many ways rivals what was futuristic on Star Trek in the 60s. Bat shaped ninja stars and heat visions aren’t that great anymore.

    • Todd Sullivan

      You make a great point. A real super hero would be lame in a real world. That’s why great directors create a world. That’s why Burton made Gotham fantastic because Batman is an expression of a fabricated, fantastic world. Can you imagine Oz existing in a real world? No. Oz exists in the realm of imagination like Gotham city where they both belong. That’s where both cities can thrive and exist. But Nolan makes it painfully obvious that Batman could never exist in the real world. Neither could the Joker or Catwoman or clayface unless they were treated realistic.

  • Tarek

    Seriously, I will shock maybe some fans, but the 1966 Batman was laughable at best.

  • Christopher S

    This is exactly the reason you are writing this editorial and not directing a movie. If you want to see campy, shark repellent superhero movies then watch cartoons, or watch the old batman movies. This is like saying North by Northwest was good so don’t make modern spy movies, like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, because the old way was fine. Times change, audiences change, so cinema changes. I know I like explanations for why superheros do certain things in movies. It’s welcomed, we shouldn’t dumb down our superhero movies again. That’s retarded.

    • boffo

      “don’t make modern spy movies, like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, because the old way was fine. Times change”


      • Todd Sullivan

        Uh, by the way, do you think Tinker Tailor is gonna have a sequel out this year? No. But Bond is. Why? Because fantasy trumps reality anytime. The directors who work on Bond know that realism is a concept not a reality. Digital animation employs the concept of “photorealism” even when they are animating talking owls. Nolan’s cosmetic realism is a dream he could have never attained. And the more time wears on, the more the chinks in his faulty artistic philosophy begin to wear at the joints. The producers would rush out all the other George Smiley movies in a heartbeat if it made half the money Bond does. The result is that the audiences who went batshit for two of the lamest movies ever made will stop and wonder why their parents had to take life so seriously. The scripts for Begins and Knight don’t hold up to subsequent viewings. Too many logical gaps. Not production gaffs, but conceptual problems at the script level. I totally agree with this article though some points are wrong. All you wannabe Batman fans should get off Nolan’s nuts. You clearly are not Batman fans because you would be able to tell that Nolan created something so out of step with the spirit of who Batman truly is. Admit it, half of you didn’t know who Nolan was till after you saw the trailer for The Dark Knight. And that was because you went… oooh…. the Joker is soooooo evil…. oooh, my brain tingles…. And the numbers show that Nolan’s name had little recognition post Batman Begins and when they tried to use it to market the Prestige which nobody saw until after they saw The Dark Knight.

  • Sanjuro

    This article is 110% amazing. You are dead on.
    I work at K-6 school and every other week I get begged to bring Batman: The Movie in to work. Kids love it, and adults love it.
    You may be intrested to know most K-6 films have much the same views on these films as most people on this site do. If they see a X-Men film, they talk about it for a few days and then forget it. They like the Spider-Man films, but not Spidey crying and taking his mask off.
    No one likes these changes and they just put a lasting black spot on these films.
    Life is miserable and realistic enough, when I see a superhero film I want spandex, a ass load of villains, and some ‘pows’ and ‘biffs’ for good messure.
    Least we forget the James Bond series soared with Goldfinger when the filmaker embrassed the funny, over the top side of Bond.

  • JLC

    I think there’s a fairly obvious reason for this obsession with “edge,” but when I bring it up, I get shouted down in a hurry.

    I’ll just say I agree with Matt and I think the result is a loss of wonder and respect for myth.

  • Rockslide

    Great article, I’m glad I’m not the only one on so many of these points. I don’t agree with everything, but the good majority. I completely loved Captain America, and it was for the same reasons you stated. He wasn’t some jerk who needed humbling or some flawed crack addict or angry at the world or his dad, he was pure, honest, and good. I loved that. He was inspirational and uplifting. He was just what Captain America should be.

    Does that work for Batman, of course not. That’s the point. The studios need to recognize what makes each character that character and try to best represent them in style, feel, and art direction. I agree that they are getting pretty homogenized and unnecessarily so. I don’t want a dark or gritty Spider-Man or Superman. I don’t want a sugary or bright Batman or Wolverine. I would love to see a goofy Booster Gold or Plastic Man movie. I would love a trippy Dr. Strange or Silver Surfer movie. Comics are pretty varied in their style and history, the movies should be too.

  • Danny Boy

    Fuck you

  • Todd Sullivan

    Nolan’s tripe is unimaginative pseudo intellectual hogwash. Moody trash for adults who poo-poo “Twilight.” Takes all the fun and excitement out of heroes. Get over the nipples on Batman people. Batman’s costume was designed to blend in with the fundamental style of the urban architecture. In Batman (1989), the suit was designed to reflect Brutalism; in Returns (1992), the suit was reinvented with stream-lined, art deco platelets; in Forever (1997), the suit was designed to be like a Neo-Classical statue come to life — hence some nipples. Far more annoying is Bale’s raspy, deep-throat growl. More distracting than black bat fetish outfits. I want something fun and endearing and still edgy like the Animated Series or like Whedons work on Buffy and Angel. Begins and Knight are sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. Ledger’s performance is the only part that saves that production. And that’s only if you accept a Joker that is a retarded ghoul with a facial deformity. And what’s the bull about Dark Knight being more faithful? Horsecrackers! The ’89 film had the blessing of Bob Kane himself as perfectly faithful (though he preferred Returns more). The best Batman comics are a balance of light and dark. Nolan is a two tone guitar player. A one note wonder. He can’t give you spectrum. He can only give you score that sounds like a train horn coming at you… uh oh watch out. This is some serious crap people.

    • Batty

      umm the Joker didn’t kill Batman’s parents in the funny books… Joe Chill did… One point to Nolan…. Joker’s alter ego is unknown in the funny books… Another point for Nolan….

      • Todd Sullivan

        umm… Yeah and Joker wasn’t some clown with facepaint and a fucked up scar. Did you forget that part? (-100 for Nolan; + 100 for Burton). “Oh but Joker didn’t have a real back story.” Uh, if you read Detective Comics 168 he sure as hell did. And if you believe Alan Moore who wrote “The Killing Joke” knew a lot more about the story behind that story then you know he referenced it for a reason because for the longest time it was the unofficial official story of the Joker when DC was trying to reboot Batman after Infinite Crisis.

        Oh and the Scarecrow wasn’t just a guy with a potato sack on his head (-300 Nolan). OH oh oh, and Two-Face wasn’t the product of a fire burn. Oh oh oh!!! Wait, and Two-Face was a calculating gangster who did more than just wander around a couple of scenes flipping cars. (Combined total deficit: -2000 Nolan).

        Good thing we have decades worth of Batman comic books tucked away in secret vaults or future generations would only have the pathetic Nolan films and know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the great characters that populated Batman’s world.

        “Oh but Daddy, I thought the scarecrow had a suit and wore a potato sack! I didn’t wore a full scarecrow costume.”

  • ScaredForMovies

    One point of the article talks about how Super Hero movies have to be PG -13 to be successful. I found that Batman: The Animated Series had the perfect tone. It wasn’t PG-13, yet it was dark and serious and it also sprinkled in a little bit of the comic camp for good measure. If you took that series and turned it into a live action movie I believe it would hold up very well against the best of the super hero movies, even if it was rated PG.

  • Oli

    A campy movie has been made….it was called The Green Lantern. And holy crap was it AWFUL!!!!! The scene alone where he recues people in a party by making a giant race track with a hot rod….that was unbearable.

    The movies you describe, that you want to see, are fine for a straight to DVD thing or a animated cartoon movie.

    You are asking movie makers to take 10 step backwards. There were super hero movies prior to Batman, X-Men, Spiderman….and they were unwatchable (The Phantom, Punisher, etc). The bat has been set for superhero movies….. why ask to make movies awful again?

  • howard

    Very interesting, just about the best article and discussion I’ve seen in over a decade of modern superhero movies. I grew up as a book and music and movie kid, very nerdy and picked on, and learned much of my vocabulary and many of my social skills from Marvel. When it comes to movie quality, though, it really doesn’t matter if it has superheroes or any other kind of action/adventure type stuff as long as the plot and acting are personally compelling. There are not a few people in this world, most of whom don’t know this website exists, that didn’t give a flying about tights before The Dark Knight. People went to see it in droves by word of mouth and Facebook because it was excellent and meaningful at the level of The Godfather and The Shawshank Redemption. People passed on Green Lantern, including myself after waiting eagerly, because it blew. Several decades later, they still like the first Christopher Reeve version of Superman because it was hopeful but not corny. As the ur-super (who, by the way, was the founder of the only truly original fiction genre that comic books came up with), Kal-El / Clark Kent is a fundamentally decent guy by which every other superhero is compared and contrasted with. With his staggering power, he could turn everyone who crossed him into a greasy wall stain if he wanted. He doesn’t because of the kind of person he is. Batman was created as the first anti-Superman, the guy in the shadows who would put 20 goons in the hospital and not care. Wonder Woman was created as a female Superman, literally a goddess, full of compassion yet contemptuous of evildoers. There were scads of Superman knockoffs and imitators when he was new, the best and most popular of which was Captain America, whose frailty and mortality made him that much more compelling than that ultimate powerhouse. You can’t say that there’s not conflict with Steve Rogers, because as a righteously moral (but not moralizing) fellow with courage even at 90 pounds, he’s in constant friction with people that equivocate and make compromises due to so-called realism. That goes tenfold when he gets dragged into modernity. Thanks to the genius of Stan Lee, he got brought back to prominence alongside the other Marvel titans. Spider-Man is my favorite. The original story, leaving out all the fancy details, was about a smart troubled teenage boy. That’s who reads superhero comic books, that’s why they read them, and it really was a great inversion of the whole Superman premise that brought naturalism to this most unnatural storytelling. All of the Avengers, X-Men, and Fantastic Four in their original 1960s appearances are kind of an army of broken toys: Spider-Man’s self-destructiveness, Hulk’s violent tantrums, Thor’s overconfident haughtiness, Iron Man’s brash smug hedonism, Daredevil’s one-man law-enforcing, the Thing’s longing for humanity that he thinks he’s lost, Cyclops’s grim lack of any life outside of being a superhero. Hawkeye would badmouth superheroes to their face all the time and got away with it. Unlike more hesitant superheroines like Wasp and Marvel Girl and the Invisible Woman (probably the first nuanced women in comics), the Black Widow would break a villain’s neck every day of the week and not give a damn. Face it: these people have problems, and compared to ancient gods, billionaire ninja vigilantes, and solar-powered aliens, they’re relatable. More surly folks like the Punisher, Wolverine, Ghost Rider, and Iron Fist came later, and much later than that, true nihilists like Spawn and Witchblade. All the spandex and helmets and capes in the world can’t change something about modern audiences: you can’t fool them anymore. We’ve been watching movies for a hundred years and we’re not as easily impressed anymore. Most people (outside you hardcore gore-loving horror fools) don’t enjoy a bloodbath, but we’ve had variants and retellings and parodies of the pure noble Superman story for 70 years. Yes, he’s corny, but we like the corny goodness at least as an archetype to start with. Yes, the cape is stupid as a practical accessory, even if it harkens back to the ancients and their gods. The point of him and all of the rest is that their aspirational. When Obama’s Spider-Man interest was revealed and McCain promptly claimed affection for Batman, I thought: Yeah, that’s both about right. No one wants to see an activist lawyer or a fighter pilot screwing around with a death ray or a rubber shark, and when it comes to dealing with a global war on terror, a global financial crisis, and global climate change, I’d rather have Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, and Dr. Strange on the case than either of them. Hell, I’d rather have Lex Luthor. So hey, see these movies or don’t, because I’ve never been more anxious to see a movie than the Avengers, even if it’s “grim and gritty” for some (bet there will be at least one huge hilarious moment in it somewhere). If you want to take movies seriously, then watch a western or a courtroom drama. If you don’t want to take movies seriously, then watch A Day At The Races and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. As for me, someone who lives in and likes an in-between world both real and fiction, me and mine will be at the early nerd special midnight showing of Avengers in IMAX 3D. Shut up and take my money. ‘Nuff said.

    • Tarek

      Sorry howard, but all I read from your looooong post was: “Very interesting” and “Nuff said”

  • Lizard King

    While I don’t agree with every point made here, I do agree that the superhero genre is in a rut almost as deep as the horror genre. There’s no unpredictability anymore. All the movies follow the same formula. And that is because the formula works. But that doesn’t mean that film makers shouldn’t try edging into new territory. Why stick with ‘good’ when we could be overlooking ‘great’ just because it hasn’t been tried before.

  • nkutzler

    It’s really quite simple- they’re continuing to make dozens of animated movies and shows that reflect the “uplifting” feel of the comics They make Batman after Batman and Spiderman after Spiderman. Meanwhile, it’s proven difficult to make a film that’s campy but not trashy.

  • Kevin

    It amazes me how so many people missed the point of this article. No point in commenting on ignorance. I agree with you Mr. Goldberg. I don’t really need an explanation for every detail of a movie. I know its a fake and that’s the reason I watch them. I want to watch something that I won’t see normally. Super hero movies are becoming pigeon-holed by remaining anchored in reality. I’d love to see Cable or Bishop, unfortunately, I don’t see that happening for quite sometime.

  • gozoo heck

    Blade was the movie that kick started this revolution. Why has no one picked up on this? I am a UK film maker who has decided to make a superhero film.


    Its a satirical look at extremism using the super hero trope. Blade inspired me as the first truly great adult super hero movie. Can’t stand those campy Batman films.

    • Clay

      Good call on Blade, I wish more people would acknowledge that. Blade II is a very good film, in my opinion. It balances an interesting story and character dynamics with an admirable amount of fanboy humor. X2 and Spiderman 2 are on a similar plane. The campiness in these movies should be as egregious as it gets. Anything more and Schumacher’s depths of depravity nudges itself into the discussion.

      Nolan’s Batman films, however, have progressed the genre to levels I didn’t even think existed. Burton’s gothic campiness had its place in the 90s, but this approach just feels dated now. Nolan’s take represents a clear break from Burton and Schumacher schlock. His films probe the psychology of its characters and place them in real world environments that have (the illusion of) real life consequences. As evidenced by this board and article, this mature take has its detractors, but for me these are the perfect films with the perfect character for where we are in 2012. As Nicolas Winding Refn noted with Drive, those films that are able to find the perfect balance between art house and pop entertainment yield something truly special.

  • gozoo heck


    my bad. fed up of just moaning about superhero feature films I decided to make one.

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  • Billy Jack

    Goldberg, you SUCK COCK. Please stop writing. Seriously.

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  • Jordan Herkowski

    Fantastic Four Rise Of The Silver Surfer was PG