‘The Dark Knight Rises’ v. ‘The Avengers’

We’ve finally got a trailer that gives us a real sense of what ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ will look like, and golly is it gorgeous and melancholy:

More to the point, I’m excited to see an intellectual debate between this movie and The Avengers. Christopher Nolan’s Batman’s movies have always had an element of monkish sacrifice to them: to be an impactful superhero, Bruce Wayne’s had to surrender his true public image (in the first film, he acts the playboy to disguise his intentions), the love of his life and of the populace, and now, it’s implied, either his life or his physical health. Bane’s declaration that “your punishment must be more severe” is a looking-glass version of how Nolan’s understood the only way for superheroes to make a difference, to self-abnegate, to foreswear their own happiness, to separate themselves from the people they are sacrificing themselves for.

The Marvel franchise, and The Avengers in particular (without spoiling anything), take the opposite tack. Its superheroes become better individuals more closely drawn to their communities for their experiences as superheroes. Tony Stark stops cackling over his power to kill and begins craving the approval of those around him, a selfish motivation that ultimately teaches him to engage with their needs. Thor falls in love with Jane Foster, and with Earth, a process of attachment that turns him from self-involved Asgardian prince into an admirable man. Captain America, in life and in death, gives the American people something to rally around, not to unify in their disgust at his perceived actions. The great tragedy of the Hulk has been that he’s cut off from reason and attachment precisely at the moment that he could provide the greatest amount of strength to protect people or causes. These two movies are going to make serious bank for their studios. But taken together, they’re also a vigorous argument about superheroism. That’s an exciting debate to have, and I’m looking forward to it.