I’ve spent the better part of the past week watching the entirety of the Marvel Film Universe. I didn’t watch the movies in order, by any means. But I did watch, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain Ameria: The First Avenger and of course, The Avengers.
With Iron Man 3 hitting theaters on Friday, and Movie Season officially kicking off. (I consider whatever Marvel release comes out in May to be the opening of Movie Season) I know there’s going to be a lot of comparisons to, well, everything, but I’m betting the thing it gets compared to the most is The Dark Knight Rises. And honestly, while the comparison is apt, it’s faulty at the same time.
My Broadway training kicks in sometimes and I see things through that lens, no matter what I’m actually looking at. So as I drove home from the train station yesterday I started thinking about Broadway shows, and how they’re all considered the same genre and yet there can be an ocean between them and how they work, and what they do.
I feel like comic book movies kind of do the same thing.
And when it comes to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy VS The Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s like comparing Stephen Sondheim to Andrew Lloyd Weber.
Sondheim’s musicals are complicated and deep and hard to follow and ambitious. They hit points that you didn’t know musicals could hit, and when he wrote Follies and Company in the late 60’s and early 70’s, the game was changed completely. Musicals weren’t allowed to just entertain anymore, at least not the good ones. It’s the same thing that happened after The Dark Knight came out. It was brilliant and special, and completely changed the game. People were paying attention to these movies. They mattered in a different way.
But Iron Man and the other Marvel movies were important too. Just like when Weber wrote Jesus Christ Superstar and suddenly there were even more new rules. Yes, shows could say something and be important and profound, but that didn’t mean that they had to be completely idiosyncratic and tough to access. They can be fun, and poppy and still say something, just maybe not something quite so profound or universal. Also, they can be spectacular and Cats can sing and dance in the moonlight, and people on roller skates can be trains, and ambiguously fascist dictator’s wives can be heroines, and everyone will love it. That’s what Iron Man and the other Marvel movies did. I mean, not exactly, but they showed us that people will watch a rich guy in a super suit, or a giant green rage monster, or a Norse god, or an American hero throwback or all at once and absolutely love it! (In this example, Superman is Rodger’s and Hammerstein, totally important and revolutionary, but in hindsight, kind of corny. Tim Burton’s Batman, Kander and Ebb, everyone knows that it’s great, but no one really gets it, X-Men is Cole Porter, because I love Cole Porter and I love X-Men)
Anyway, the point I’m making is the one isn’t better or worse. They’re different and are going for different things and yet to someone who isn’t passionate about Broadway musicals, The Phantom of The Opera and Sunday in The Park With George are considered the same genre. So it is with The Dark Knight Trilogy and The Marvel Cinematic Universe. They’re technically the same genre, but they’re not trying to do the same thing, they’re just grouped together because the world at large doesn’t understand that there’s something different!