I was recently enjoying a fast-food lunch with my old friend Josh, and we were discussing the film we'd just seen. (A little something called The Dark Knight.) And in the middle of my ramblings I accidentally said something slightly insightful. It went a little something like this: "The thing about superheroes is that, on the outside, what with the costumes and the nifty gizmos and all the punching, they're kids stuff, which is great. But once you scratch the surface just a little bit, you're dealing with acres of subtext that kids can barely comprehend."
And then Josh asked me what my point was. It's this: We finally have some filmmakers who aren't afraid to handle superhero movies for grown-ups. I'd hardly call Hancock a family-type flick, both of the recent Marvel movies (Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk) managed to treat their "older" audiences with respect, last weekend's Hellboy 2 is chock-full of dazzling ideas, and now this: The Dark Knight. Dang. My review will arrive later this week, but I won't be the only one calling it the Godfather 2 of superhero movies. (In a lot of ways it's also a bit like The Empire Strikes Back! Tonally, anyway.) Best of all, the movie is a big meaty DRAMA, and I don't mean "drama" as in "masterpiece theater."
I mean drama like when you take something bizarre and fantastic and somehow winnow it down to explore all sorts of universal human conditions. It would take two or three more screenings to explain precisely why the (relative) grown-up in me wants to celebrate The Dark Knight so enthusiastically, but I'll just say it's a damn good piece of fun-time movie-watching -- plus it's got a whole lot going on just beneath the surface. (If Scorsese did a superhero movie, I suspect it'd look a lot like The Dark Knight.) In another direction, Hellboy 2 has all sorts of playfully dark material swimming through it. Nothing too nasty, but there's a reason you read your kids the "homogenized" bedtime stories instead of the original Grimm fairy tales.
And to those who may disagree, who would bemoan the newfound maturity of the superhero flicks, I say this: It's a relatively new sub-genre, so let's not pigeonhole the superheroes as exclusively "kids' stuff," please. I know your family loves to go see Iron Man and Fantastic Four 2 and Spider-Man 3 and all that, but it's right there in the title, parents: The Dark Knight is a dark film, god bless it. If you're looking for 90 minutes of light action, stick to something in your DVD collection, because The Dark Knight is made mainly for grown-ups.
Note: This is not to say I can't appreciate the "lighter" superhero flicks. For what they are, the first two Spider-Man movies are fantastic pieces of flash, heart, and excitement. And of course we should thank X-Men 2 for being one of the first to dole out some clever subtext amidst all its hyper-kinetic mayhem.