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How The Dark Knight Will Change Superhero Movies

The Dark Knight Will Change Superhero Movies ” width=”560″/>

Nick Nadel’s Tuesday column examines the increasingly busy intersection between comic books and the movies.

In 1978, Richard Donner’s Superman showed the world that a man could fly and ushered in the era of the superhero movie. Since then, we’ve been treated to the good ( Spider-Man 2 , X2 ), the bad (Ghost Rider, Fantastic Four ), and the just plain ugly ( Batman & Robin , Tank Girl .) Now, 30 years later, in the “summer of the superhero,” The Dark Knight has propelled the genre into a bold new world. Here’s how Christopher Nolan’s masterwork will set the tone for the future of superhero cinema.

(Spoilers ahead, in case you haven’t contributed to The Dark Knight’s record-breaking success.)

No More Living in the Past
It’s not much of a stretch to say that The Dark Knight is
the most relevant mainstream film of the year. Rarely, if ever, has a
comic book film been so attuned to the times. Everything from our fears
of urban terrorism to the nature of justice and heroism in a darkening
world is touched upon in Nolan’s Gotham. And for the first time in a
Batman film, Gotham feels like a city that could exist right now.
(Albeit one with occasional pop-ins from the Scarecrow.) Nolan’s vision
is less comic book, more 24 meets The Departed .
(Who would’ve ever thought that the clunky old Bat-computer could be
used as a metaphor for the morality of wiretapping?) Prior to Dark Knight, comic book movies have existed in a perpetually stylized “retro-land”; Superman Returns may as well have been set in the ’40s. At long last, Christopher Nolan has brought the genre into the new millennium.

Villains Will Step Up Their Game
any comic book movie villain ever live up to Heath Ledger’s Joker? The
late actor has given us the most frightening rendition of the character
in any medium, and easily one of the most unforgettable villains in
movie history. How can Iron Man 2 or Spider-Man 4 hope to compete in the bad guy department? (There’s just no going back to the Sandman, folks.) Not to mention that Dark Knight succeeded in capturing the yin and yang of the Batman/Joker relationship established in Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel, The Killing Joke. Moore
the theme, stated by Ledger in the film, that Batman and Joker
“complete” each other in an endless
cycle of crazy versus extremely crazy. (Sadly, Joker’s parting words to
Batman that the two would be together for a long time to come are now
bittersweet.) If future comic book films hope to approach the level of
Ledgers Joker, their creators will need to dig as deeply into their source material as Nolan did.

CGI Won’t Be Enough
computer effects have done wonders for the genre — they’ve made Spidey
swing and Ghost Rider flame. (Okay, maybe that last one isn’t such a
wonder.) But Dark Knight, with its focus on old-school
stuntwork and minimal use of digital gimmickry, proves that comic book
movies need not be filled to the brim with shiny effects. Remember the
good old fashioned car chase? Nolan gives us one of the most thrilling
in recent memory, with nary a computer-generated image in sight. It’s
not enough that Silver Surfer sails on his board or Kitty Pryde phases
through walls. Comic book films need to be films first and foremost.

The World Will Be Ready to Watch The Watchmen
In a fortunate bit of timing, the official Watchmen trailer premiered before The Dark Knight.
Since mainstream audiences seem to be on board with a Batman film that
questions whether or not the hero is actually a hero, can they now be
ready for the famously grim and downbeat Watchmen? And it’s apocalyptic ending? Hancock, Dark Knight, Hellboy 2, and even Wanted have all used comic book heroics to explore mature themes. The stage is finally set for Watchmen, the granddaddy of all mature-themed superhero comics. And if it’s a success, we can thank The Dark Knight for paving the way.

When not writing, Nick
Nadel is in line at the comic book store alongside the other geeks, er,
fans of speculative fiction. His most prized possession is a 1960s
Batman comic wherein
the Dynamic Duo are trapped inside a fortune cookie factory. He lives
in Brooklyn and updates his aptly named website ( with comedy writing and videos.

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