Both Marvel and DC saw superhero success at the 2012 box office - with The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises raking in $1.5 billion and $1.08 billion worldwide respectively. Moviegoers young and old turned out in droves to see Joss Whedon's Avengers team-up movie and, two months later, Christopher Nolan's trilogy-ending showdown between Batman and Bane - with many fans returning for second, third, and fourth viewings of the high profile comic book offerings. Buzz for both films was overwhelmingly positive, causing many industry insiders to debate whether or not either mainstream comic book adaptation might see a "Best Picture" nomination from The Academy (or, at the very least, similar award shows offerings). After all, we are living in a world where Heath Ledger won an Oscar for portraying the Clown Prince of Crime.
Still, it doesn't sound as though everyone is basking in the summer 2012 comic book movie afterglow - as a new online poll overwhelmingly dubbed Avengers the "Most Overrated Movie of 2012" while fan-favorite director David Cronenberg clarified controversial comments about Nolan's Batman trilogy and subsequently asserted that comic book films are "incredibly limited."
Big box office dollars do not always equate to quality filmmaking - so it's fair to criticize even the most successful films for being "overrated" or "creatively limited." However, a more likely explanation for the discrepancy is a subjective definition of what makes a "good" movie. It's a debate that we see a lot in the comments here at Screen Rant, the difference between "artistry" and "entertainment" - where some moviegoers might consider Avengers to be the most enjoyable film experience of 2012 despite falling short of the "artistic integrity" of "sophisticated" films like Lincoln and Argo.
Let's start with those Los Angeles Times online poll results for "The Most Overrated Movie of 2012":
- The Avengers - 85.39%
- Prometheus - 4.62%
- Ted - 3.03%
- Cloud Atlas - 2.38%
- The Master - 1.78%
- Project X - 1.78%
- Brave - 1.02%
Admittedly, sample size and respondent demographics are not shown - making it impossible to know whether or not the poll (which has since been closed) is statistically significant. Online polls are hardly the most reliable form of sampling but the discrepancy between The Avengers and second place Prometheus, is certainly striking. As a result, the gap could be largely due to expectations - especially after the film enjoyed the biggest opening of all time.
Still, despite numerous fun moments and eye-popping visuals, there were moviegoers who sat down for the Marvel mash-up film and felt overwhelmed by the amount of alienating shared universe story material (had they missed any of the Phase One tie-ins) and, taking off our rose-tinted 2012 glasses, The Avengers (like The Dark Knight Rises) also saw its share of plot holes and underdeveloped side-elements. Still, looking at the numbers, it's hard to avoid the sense that some casual moviegoers who had initially been Avengers-crazy have cooled on the film since its May debut.
Frankly, considering the persistent (and vocal) backlash surrounding Ridley Scott's return to the Alien universe (read our review), we'd have expected Prometheus (love it or hate it) to have snagged a much higher percentage of the poll.
Maybe the discrepancy isn't so much the quality of The Avengers film but the limitations of its source material? Is it possible that even the most successful comic book movie of all time, for many moviegoers, is still only going to be considered an average-quality film overall? That seems to be the foundation of David Cronenberg's argument that comic book movies have "limited" creative and artistic potential.
As mentioned, in a Playlist interview Cronenberg first contextualizes some controversial comments he previously made about Nolan's Batman films but goes on to assert that, even though the comic book adaptation genre has seen some unique and creative work, it's held-back from being "the highest level of cinematic art" by adolescent-inspired source material:
"What I was saying was that a comic book movie is really a comic book movie. Comic books were -- especially those comic books which I was raised on (I loved Captain Marvel) -- created for adolescents and they have a core that is adolescent [...] To me, that limits the discourse of your movie if you're basing it accurately on that, and you cannot rise to the highest level of cinematic art. That's my take on it. I went on to say that, of course, technically they can be incredibly interesting, since there are very clever people making the movie and of course have a lot of money they are throwing at it. But creatively, artistically, they are incredibly limited."
Few people will claim that Avengers is "the highest level of cinematic art" but, in conjunction with the Los Angeles Times poll, Cronenberg's generalization about "limited" discourse in the larger comic book movie genre (not to mention its future potential) draws interesting parallels. Many fans will first dispute Cronenberg's argument by pointing to the fact that his critically-acclaimed 2005 film, A History of Violence, was adapted from John Wagner and Vince Locke's 1997 graphic novel of the same name - meaning that the director's point "comic books were created for adolescents" is an argument over the blurry line between "comic book" and "graphic novel" semantics. As a result, it's possible, if Cronenberg was challenged with a less-campy set of comic book reading material (i.e. NOT Captain Marvel), he might also discover there's room for other (and more mature) discourses in the genre.
Nevertheless, the combination of the Los Angeles Times poll and Cronenberg's comments paint a similar picture - for now, at least, moviegoers and filmmakers seem content to shell out box office revenue and understated praise for the comic book movie genre but, at the same time, will not actually champion the integrity or overall quality of the subsequent superhero content. 2013 isn't likely to change a lot of minds either: Superman (Man of Steel), Iron Man (Iron Man 3), Wolverine (The Wolverine), and Thor (Thor: The Dark World), while among our most-anticipated films, are some of the more over-the-top or super-powered characters in the current genre landscape - i.e. unlikely to deliver the perfect blend of epic and emotionally impactful character moments that will silence proponents of the "comic book movies cannot be art" perspective.
Let us know what you think of the comic book movie "quality" debate in the comments as well as vote in our recreated Los Angeles Times' "Most Overrated Movie of 2012" poll below. NOTE: We used the same choices as the LA Times poll for the sake of comparison (meaning that the Screen Rant writers and editors don't necessarily agree with the assembled Times choices):
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for more on comic book films as well as future movie, TV, and gaming news.