Last summer was one of the biggest for superhero movies so far, but 2012 is primed to be dominated by the genre even more. Big, bad Batman trilogy-closer The Dark Knight Rises is of course the film that is anticipated most eagerly. I’m part of a tiny minority of folks who actively dislike Christopher Nolan’s boneheaded ‘ideas’ and his mechanical approach to narrative. And then there’s The Amazing Spider-Man, the somewhat radical reboot of the once-unstoppable Raimi franchise, which floundered with the commercially successful but ultimately unpopular Spider-Man 3. (I actually like the film and its anything-goes mentality, but again: mine is the minority opinion.) And then there’s Marvel’s The Avengers, which has carefully pre-aligned the fanboy contingent with a series of carefully coordinated Comic-Con presentations and, of course, by putting Joss Whedon in the writer/director’s chair. One thing’s for sure: if The Avengers is in any way unsuccessful, it won’t be his fault.
Looking over some of the poster designs for these three upcoming superhero behemoths, it’s interesting to note some of the big differences and similarities between them. The first posters for The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man play up their “edgy grittiness” to the hilt. Both images are dark, threatening, and entirely devoid of recognizable human faces. Instead, they both use shadow and negative space in ways that play up both films’ verisimilitude and urban settings. There’s something ridiculous about the idea that the new Spider-Man movie will give us “the untold story” about Peter Parker becoming a superhero after his origin story has been established in such detail by the previous franchise. But just as Nolan’s Batman series has given us a re-authored take on the archetypal superhero with a “new relevance” for the post-9/11 world, I suppose the new Spider-Man film can now do the exact same thing for the post-post-9/11 world.
The new British poster design for The Avengers clearly goes the other way entirely, organizing a mash-up of bizarrely placed, emphatically recognizable characters in actors striking strong poses. Although the end result brings to mind the old adage that one should never drink and Photoshop, this cluttered, downright ugly mess of a poster design picks up a little bit of the “gritty urban” trend with its apocalyptic, greyed-out background. But both the excessively branded title design and the scattered placement of statuesque movie stars suggests more of a Silver Age style, very much in line with the feature-length trailer for the film we’ve seen so far. In any event, all three of these films are clearly being branded to the hilt, either using the more “authentic” appeal of Nolan and Webb’s clearly implausible definition of verisimilitude, or by the celebrity-fueled action figure posing of the assembled Marvel heroes. In either case, the end result is too calculated by far, and frankly impossible for me to get excited about.