The Dark Knight is arguably the most anticipated movie of the summer, maybe even the year. Because of this, expectations are through the roof, to say the least, both financially and critically. Everything seems to be coming together for this to be THE movie event of the summer. But just how high can it go?
Hollywood’s dabbling with sequels has been going on close to the birth of cinema. One of the very first sequels, The Bride of Frankenstein, back in the 1930’s, showed that a successsor could be more than just a cash grab. Then, of course, there is the magnum opus of all sequels, The Godfather Part II, one of only two sequels, along with The Return of the King, to win the Oscar for best picture. The Empire Strikes Back, Terminator 2, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly are some more examples of sequels that not only match but even surpass their predecessors.
Unfortunately, these are the exception to the rule that “all sequels are inferior to their originals”. It is one of the worst feelings in the world when you are highly anticipating a new chapter to an original film that you loved only to finally watch the sequel and be disappointed. There are countless examples but some of the most popular ones are The Matrix Reloaded, Return of the Jedi, The Godfather Part III, and the newest addition, Spider-Man 3.
The “all sequels are inferior to their originals” rule applies to nearly every genre with horror sequels being the most common. One sub-genre that is consistently an exception to this rule, though, is the comic book film. The second film in a superhero/comic book franchise is actually usually considered to be the best. Most of the popular comic book second entries, Spider-Man 2, X2: X-Men United, Batman Returns, Superman II, and even Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, are widely considered to be better than the first film in each respective franchise.
With this type of movie, the setup and introduction to the superhero can frequently be an awkward and slow endeavor. Superhero films are usually at their most exciting when the action quotient is raised, and this exhilaration is what drives fans of the comic books into theaters in the first place. This favors the sequel in this sub-genre since the setup has already happened. Also, while not exactly a sequel, the recently released The Incredible Hulk plays out like one because the setup is pretty much finished after the opening credits, leaving more room for exciting action sequences (and shortening the run time meaning more showtimes per day) . The fans have reacted positively with nearly everyone agreeing that this reboot is better than the 2003 version of The Hulk.
This, of course, bodes well for The Dark Knight, a sequel to a film which is already highly regarded as one of the best of its kind. Personally, I liked Batman Begins quite a bit. Christian Bale is the best actor to wear the famous cape, and I really appreciated director Christopher Nolan’s darker and more serious tone which suits Batman better. On the flip side, I thought the movie was a bit too busy with way too many villains and not enough room to devote to any one of them the screen time they deserved. My favorite villain in that movie, Scarecrow, saw his demise well before the movie ended. With The Dark Knight, however, it appears as though The Joker, Batman’s most famous arch-nemesis and arguably the most famous villain in the comic book world, will get ample screen time. Plus, lest we forget that the actor playing the Joker, Heath Ledger, is playing his last role in a movie due to his unfortunate passing away, only raising the anticipation.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the best reviewed comic book/superhero movie is a tie between Spider-Man 2 and Iron Man, both with a 93% positive rating. Batman Begins scored 84% positive, already better than any of the campier Tim Burton or Joel Schumacher directed versions back in the 1980’s and the 90’s. The Dark Knight has potential to do even better with the critics. At this point, it would be a shock if the reviews were below Begins, and mid-to-high 90’s is not out of the question. These are incredibly high standards to live up to, but I feel confident that this film can.
In a few days, I will delve into the financial side of the film, exploring the possible box office outcomes that may result. The Dark Knight opens on Friday, July 18, and you can guarantee I will be one of the first in line. For now, here is one of my favorite Dark Knight YouTube videos, comparing Heath Ledger’s Joker to Jack Nicholson’s from Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989.