Hollywood Into Darkness
Christopher Nolan has ruined everything.
The success of The Dark Knight - now bested by its own sequel, The Dark Knight Rises - has caused a shift in big-budget movies, particularly in the comic book superhero genre. Its sense of grittiness has so reverberated through Hollywood that more and more films seem to be adapting a "darker is better" attitude.
Case in point: the upcoming Superman reboot, Man of Steel. First came this poster:
Christopher Nolan's Bat-films were a breath of fresh air after the high camp of Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin sucked all the air out of the cineplex. And the darkness works for Batman, a character with a tragic history and grim agenda.
And honestly, it has worked for other movies as well. I just recently came out of my first viewing of Skyfall, possibly the grimmest title in James Bond's 50-year-old resume. (Even over Quantum of Solace, which was grim by necessity, given its revenge-driven plot.) From the frankly apocalyptic main titles to the almost unrelenting violence of the film's denouement, I was quite hooked.
But James Bond is a guy not unlike Batman. (Plus, my fellow Flickcharter, Travis McClain - our resident expert on all things 007 - tells me how Ian Fleming's original novels are much less campy than the films.) Both characters seem versatile enough to handle a wide variety of genres. It's why you can have the heroes being portrayed by actors as varied as Adam West and Roger Moore to Christian Bale and Daniel Craig. Why you can have Arnold Schwarzenegger one-lining his way across the screen in a neon suit of armor and have Heath Ledger twitch and terrify in an oily green wig. Why Moore can ham his way to victory while Craig gets his down-and-dirty Jason Bourne impression on.
A character like Superman, who stands for optimism and the betterment of mankind, might not fare so well under the Dark Knight treatment. A new trailer for Man of Steel is due to be released alongside The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and at that point, I suppose we'll know more.
However, Superman isn't the only franchise succumbing to a Dark Knight aesthetic. And the phenomenon is not localized to comic book movies.
After three and a half years, we are finally rounding the last corner and heading for the home stretch to next summer's release of the sequel to J.J. Abrams' 2009 hit, Star Trek (currently ranked the #2 of 2009 on Flickchart), a movie that reinvigorated a franchise on life support. They've taken their time with it. J.J. has gotten Super 8 out of his system, and the writers had lots of time to make certain the story for their sequel is just right.
J.J. Abrams projects are notorious for their veil of secrecy, but as we approach the release of a 9-minute preview of the Star Trek sequel attached to The Hobbit in IMAX theaters, some tidbits have come to light. The writers have been on record as stating that they've looked to The Dark Knight for an example of how to do a sequel right. Laudable, since The Dark Knight is one of very few sequels to arguably improve upon its predecessor, but the release of the Star Trek sequel's full title led me to believe that the creators may have taken this idea a little too seriously.
And now, there's a poster:
Star Trek Into Darkness. A title that makes me realize just how much Hollywood has taken the "darkness" to heart. Did The Dark Knight really have such an impact? Or has evidence of this darker trend been building since 9/11? Star Trek Into Darkness is the most blatant plugging of the word "dark" into a title since Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
I'm not opposed to a bit of grimness in a film; I have films like The Dark Knight and Se7en in my Top 20, after all. There's a place for this kind of thing in entertainment, and it can be a great way to exorcise some demons.
But here's the thing: Star Trek is not Batman.
(It's not The Expendables, either.)
Crumbled-building logos are cool.
Star Trek was built upon an innate sense of optimism. The idea that, in the future, mankind will have bettered itself and come together in a common goal of peaceful exploration. None of that is evident in this poster for Star Trek Into Darkness, particularly given the official synopsis that Paramount has released:
"When the crew of the Enterprise is called back home, they find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, leaving our world in a state of crisis. With a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction. As our heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew."
It doesn't promise boldly going to strange new worlds, that's for sure. The recently-released teaser trailer would seem to confirm my suspicions:
So, basically, Captain Kirk and crew go to hell and battle the devil, who is bent on destroying the Earth. There's even a few shots suggesting they go to lava-torn Mustafar for a grand final battle, a la Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
The 2009 film brought this crew together for a new generation. One might think it was time to get exploring; instead, there's a very Dark Knight Rises-flavored threat to homeworld security. Of course, a sense of conflict is crucial to good storytelling. One of the best of the previous ten Trek films, The Wrath of Khan, featured a strong villain with a personal vendetta against Kirk, after all. But other attempts have been made to ape Khan's success, and haven't met with such success (notably, the box-office bomb, Star Trek Nemesis, in 2002).
There is a Star Trek television episode in which one character asks another, "Without the darkness, how would we recognize the light?" This is true enough, but I'm just concerned that some of popular fiction's greater beacons of light will get dragged down into the mud with Batman. Superman and the crew of the starship Enterprise might, in a sense, be a bit more limited in their range than Batman or James Bond, in terms of how to write them and remain true to their characters. But sometimes great creativity in storytelling is born of limitation. There's a place for conflict, and challenges for heroes to overcome, but I don't think some of film's most optimistic characters should have to dirty their camera lenses to draw in viewers. With any luck, next summer's going to prove me wrong.
Then again, if the darkness keeps selling tickets...the shadows may just be here to stay.