Commenting on the critics with Simon Columb...
Ben Child writes in The Guardian about the "challenge" ahead for The Dark Knight Rises:
"Christopher Nolan finds himself in an unusual position as we prepare for the arrival of The Dark Knight Rises in cinemas on 20 July. For the first time since the release of the film's predecessor four years ago, his Batman saga is not the biggest superhero story in town. That honour, at least for the time being, rests with Avengers Assemble, currently getting even better reviews than The Dark Knight, and showing signs that it will perform more strongly at the box office. Meanwhile, The Amazing Spider-Man waits in the wings: the unknown quantity that just might take out both its rivals (provided the shonky CGI Lizard we've seen in preview footage doesn't mess everything up for director Marc Webb)."
Read the full article here.
Ever since Iron Man, we have all been desperate to see how this entire set-up of comic book characters would pan out. The huge hype behind Avengers Assemble shows that, as the first serious Summer release, it is now the the 'bar' which others are compared to. But there is a huge difference Ben Childs fails to realise when comparing The Dark Knight Rises against The Amazing Spider-Man and The Avengers.
The vast majority of comic book fans will be well aware of some film politics behind the releases. The Amazing Spider-Man is a reboot due to escalating costs of the Sam Raimi / Tobey Maguire franchise and an awareness of how Maguire was only getting older... and clearly, the big bucks are rooted in the teenage market (See Twilight, The Hunger Games, et al). Mid-thirties Spider-Man (in fact, Maguire would be a 40-year-old Spider-Man in 2015) was hardly the best sell when true 'older men' heroes - Batman, Superman, etc. - are due for release. People like the youth, teenage fun and coming-of-age elements to Spider-Man - not simply the fact that he climbs on walls. Indeed, the writing was on the wall and Sony would have been foolish to not reboot the franchise if they wanted more longevity... and more money.
Regarding The Avengers, it has been planned for a long time. If Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger had failed, it would still have gone ahead on the basis of Iron Man alone. This is Marvel's long-term investment and they have perfectly planned how to execute the series to ensure consistent, successful box-office figures. Hell, they screwed up the whole Iron Man 2 story by shoving in plot points only relevant to a film due two years later.
They fired / forced out talent including Terrence Howard, Edward Norton and director Jon Favreau because they were not part of The Avengers plan. Howard I believe wanted more money, but Norton and Favreau clearly had their own intentions regarding characters and plot, and Marvel Studios (from a financial stance) understandably put into perspective the bigger picture. No actor or director will jeopardise the huge plan the Marvel team have put in place. Consistent actors, they knew, fans wouldn't care about. The only actor who may have control over anything here is Robert Downey Jr., and now he has been stapled to at least Iron Man 3 and The Avengers 2, producer Kevin Feige has happily stated "I hope Downey makes a lot of movies for us as Stark. If and when he doesn’t, and I’m still here making these movies, we don’t take him to Afghanistan and have him wounded again. I think we James Bond it.". So, maybe Downey is not safe. The Avengers was, and always will be, a producer's dream - and a property that is completely controlled by financially-motivated - and therefore "play-it-safe"- producers.
The Dark Knight Rises on the other hand is an example of a franchise that was born out of creativity, passion and a personal desire to deliver a Batman story with depth. Batman Begins made less money on its opening weekend than Batman Forever, and worldwide it made less than Tim Burton's original Batman back in 1989! Nolan made a film which he had his own vision for and he delivered - ignoring any unexpected losses a studio would deem unacceptable. They trusted him and knew that, ultimately, Batman Begins made enough money to warrant a sequel. The Dark Knight was successful and satisfying due to the solid foundations created three years prior. In addition to this, it had an intelligent - even profound - story with inspired casting (I think we all recall the "huh?" when Heath Ledger was cast as The Joker. How wrong we were). The Dark Knight Rises is the final installment. There is no 'Justice-League' initiative. There is no 'list of baddies' for Christian Bale's Batman to work his way through. Chris Nolan hasn't got Penguin planned for 'The Dark Knight Rises Again' or a Riddler re-emerging in 'Batman V'. Creatively and sensibly, Nolan is closing the lid on this Batman story.
What The Dark Knight Rises has over The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man is credibility first and finance second. Christopher Nolan proved with Inception - and indeed all his films so far - that he is no flash-in-the-pan. He is an artist with a vision which Warner Bros. trusts. Joss Whedon and Marc Webb may satisfy the fans, but if they challenged producers, they would be pulled off and another director would replace them. Believe me, The Avengers is a success because Marvel planned it out that way - the question is whether they can continue this success now that we have seen how easy all of this was. What isn't easy is sticking to your vision and building a daring and challenging idea based on an established property like Batman. Hats off to Chris Nolan, but also to Warner Bros. for trusting him.