Culture Crash 19-04: A New Future for Comic Book Movies

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine what’s new and old in entertainment.

The comic book movie landscape appears to be transforming. It’s no secret that comic book movies absolutely dominate at the box office; Last year, the top-grossing movie in the US was Black Panther, while number two was Avengers: Infinity War. And, at the global box office, those two were also the frontrunners, their places were just flipped. 2018 additionally saw smash successes in Aquaman, Venom, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

And it’s that last one that may show us the comic book movie’s way forward. Spider-Verse was released in December and has made over $300 million worldwide. The movie is groundbreaking and fun and truly something unique in a field that can often feel too cookie-cutter. But here’s something a little odd about the movie: it was released right between 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming and the forthcoming Spider-Man: Far From Home… but it has nothing to do with either of them. Spider-Man now has two full-fledged film franchises running simultaneously, one of which is populated itself with many different Spider-heroes.

And Spidey isn’t alone! This year will see WB and DC release Joker, which will star Joaquin Phoenix as Batman’s nemesis, the Joker… but is not related to Heath Leger’s iconic turn in The Dark Knight or Jared Leto’s less beloved take on the character in Suicide Squad. And, oh yeah, the character has also appeared in The Lego Batman Movie franchise and the DCEU’s own line of animated films which don’t intersect.

Now, maybe we should have seen this coming. After all, comic books themselves often have overlapping timelines and unrelated storylines running concurrently. But following the success of the MCU’s Avengers films, it seemed that comic movies had settled into this TV-like expansive universe storytelling. But now, the demand for comic book movies has exceeded the bounds of just one continuity at a time. More of these movies are coming, so many more coming. And of course, that might mean a glut of more middling blockbusters. But if these new franchises are all given the consideration and care that Spider-Verse got, well then that’s not a bad thing at all. So, here’s to hoping.

I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 18-28: The Dark Knight 10 Years Later

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture.  What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

This week marks the 10th anniversary of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, a movie that is, at once, a Class-A crime movie, an action thrill-ride, a psychological thriller, and a summer blockbuster. Even more remarkable: the film succeeds on every level. It features some of the most incredible cinematography ever captured in Chicago, a zeitgeisty debate about privacy and security in a post-9/11 world, a perfect showdown between two legendary foes: Batman and The Joker, thrilling action that never seems incessant. And of course: it features Heath Ledger as The Joker, a casting which was originally mocked on the internet, but ended up giving us probably the best villan in the history of cinema.

Immediately, The Dark Knight’s cultural impact was felt. The Joker was the Halloween costume of the year, the phrase “Why so serious?” entered the lexicon, so did “Some men just want to watch the world burn” and so did the final speech from Commissioner Jim Gordon says Batman’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now.

And at long last, a superhero movie was a serious Oscars contender. It was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and won two, including Heath Ledger’s posthumous award for Best Supporting Actor. Notably absent from its list of nominations was one for Best Picture, a snub seen as so egregious and out-of-touch that the Academy expanded the field of nominees for future ceremonies specifically to avoid similar instances in the future.

It also cemented Christopher Nolan as one of the best directors of our time. After Batman Begins and The Prestige, the world was interested. But delivering a spectacle like The Dark Knight was what clinched it.

And more personally: the movie inspired me to love movies in the first place. I was 15 years old when The Dark Knight hit theaters. I had loved Batman Begins three years earlier, and for the first time, I jumped online and followed a film’s production. Being from the Chicago suburbs, I would see on the news that they shut streets down for filming, which just further fanned the flames of my excitement. My parents agreed that my brother could take me with him to see it at midnight, and I was literally counting down the days. Years of anticipation led to…one of the most memorable nights of my life. There was such a buzz in the theater, people were cheering so loud that at times, it was a struggle to even hear the lines. My  heart stopped when the “sky-hook” extracted Batman from a Hong Kong skyscraper, I watched in awe when a truck was actually flipped over, and I was entranced by the Joker’s final monolog, hanging upside down, explaining his backwards views on the world. Watching the movie in that theater, it all clicked. I understood finally understood how rewarding a trip to the theater could really be.

In 2008, I was heading into my freshman year of high school. The following day at football camp, so  many of us were bleary-eyed from seeing Batman at midnight that our coaches just called it, and let us play flag football for fun instead of running sprints. 10 years later, the movie still brings with it all the excitement for being 15 years old and getting to stay out late to see a movie.
The Dark Knight is a decade old and re-invented the most popular movie genre in the entire world. For 10 years, every movie franchise, from Star Wars and Bond to Marvel and even Batman’s own DC, have tried to incorporate elements of The Dark Knight and aimed to finally top Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece. None have succeeded.

I’m Evan Rook.

Coming Up on Viewpoints Show 18-28

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