This week’s a relatively light column. Too many other deadlines looming, on top of which I’m getting ready to move to Portland for a month and a half, so I’ve got an apartment to get in order. Next week I hope to address this business of the “new classics” that Entertainment Weekly’s so excited about. At the very least, hopefully I’ll write about something other than superheroes.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about superhero movies lately. It’s almost impossible not to. Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk showed Marvel still has it in ’em. Hellboy and The Dark Knight are just weeks away from release, and the reviews/reactions are pouring in everywhere between favorable and “these films are unbelievable,” and, well…at least the reviews are good this time.

Because the superhero film is in desperate need of revolution. Well, maybe not desperate…they’re still box office gold, so studios will continue to finance them, but creatively they leave a lot to be desired. Even once you move on from the origin story, we pretty much know the beats the sequel will play to – more or less the model Superman II set up. Even Spider-Man 2, in my opinion the finest superhero film ever made (so far), played to very familiar beats; it just made them new and exciting and had a love story worth caring about (I’m a romantic).

So when you have Moriarty at AICN, a damn fine writer whose opinion I largely trust saying things like…

It took me a while to settle into the rhythms of The Dark Knight because it wasn’t anything I expected it to be.

These films are art. Real art. Undeniable art. Adult films about adult ideas. Richly imagined, beautifully acted by some tremendous ensembles, these are both films that represent the very best of what can happen when the right filmmaker gets hold of the right source material and then makes all the right choices.

He’s not a villain like we normally see in these movies, and he’s not even the Joker we normally see in Batman stories. He’s the film’s grand metaphor, given voice by an actor who vanishes into the role, and he’s only one of the many merits of The Dark Knight.

“This is the first mainstream movie to fully digest the events of September 11th and to deal with them in a way that starts to sort out who we are now as a result.”

Beyond that, he reaffirms the point that Hellboy II is a very personal film, a true artistic expression. That drum is being beat across the web, saying it deserves its place alongside The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth.

And yet…I can’t let myself get too excited. First, they’re just too damn far away. Even if Hellboy II opens in just eleven days. But mostly…I’ve been through this twice already, and I’m getting sick of the disappointment. And it’s not that Batman Begins and Superman Returns are bad films. They’re actually really remarkably good. But they didn’t change anything. Superman Returns was supposed to be Casablanca with capes. Too much to hope for, maybe, but somewhere along the way I got the impression that it would be the definitive superhero love story, and it turned out the love story just wasn’t all that compelling. I will argue the point for the rest of my life that it still is, without a doubt, the finest aesthetic achievement in superhero cinema, and the first to have moments and imagery that were truly breathtaking. And that may seem like a minor point, like it being beautiful isn’t important and that it actually distracts from a mediocre script, but to me that’s sort of like saying “yeah, that painting’s beautiful, but so what?” Furthermore, it’s those visuals, to me anyway, that made the film take the superhero film back into a sort of Silver Age feel; a world in which a pair of glasses is a suitable disguise.

But again…it pushed, but it didn’t really change anything, and it wasn’t fully the sort of groundbreaking artistic achievement the genre needs.

Batman Begins was supposed to be the first superhero film with a real, compelling central character. With a cast that impressive and a director of Christopher Nolan’s caliber, the expectation was for, really, an ensemble crime film that happens to take place in a world with a Batman. It almost got there, but in the end the plot was just kinda half-assed and the characters and themes weren’t nearly as interesting (and I kinda hated Bruce at the beginning, but I guess that was the point). And the third act famously played to the stereotypical superhero finale.

I thought I’d at least be able to wait ‘til Watchmen for this to start up again. But I should have known this would happen from the second that first Dark Knight trailer came out. And damn it, I can feel it happening again. I’m desperately trying to curb my enthusiasm, to restrain my expectations and just go in ready for anything. Devin’s words are encouraging in this regard, and I have to try to read his piece every time I think about re-reading Moriarty’s opening paragraphs (I’m gonna try to avoid spoilers, though I know that’s mostly impossible). Unfortunately I don’t have the same sort of refuge handy for Hellboy II, which has somehow become THE under-the-radar film for me this summer (summers are too packed that inevitably I forget about a major release that I’m actually unbelievably excited for).

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