2012: The Year Of The Smart Superhero Movie

Jan 1, 2012
Originally published on January 1, 2012 5:24 pm

Although last year was the year of the "staggeringly disappointing superhero movie," according to NPR arts and entertainment reporter Neda Ulaby, 2012 may mark the year of the smart superhero movie with releases of The Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises.

Ulaby tells weekend All Things Considered guest host Rebecca Sheir that superheroes have always reflected what's going on in politics, "whether it's Captain America punching Hitler on the cover of a comic book in 1941 or the X-Men that much more recently explicitly critiqued issues like homophobia or the Patriot Act."

Studios aren't doing well, but continue to produce superhero movies. Perhaps they hope "someone in a cape is going to swoop in and save the day," Ulaby says.

There are other big screen offerings to look forward to in 2012: The Great Gatsby and The Hobbit are two of the most anticipated literary adaptations. Movie readers are looking forward to The Hunger Games, which is based on the popular young adult novel. The book series has sold more than 12 million copies and is intended to be a mass-market blockbuster.

Kids should get ready for the movie version of The Lorax, which will be released on Dr. Seuss' birthday in March.

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Today, we've been glancing head at 2012 and talking about developments we might see in the world of education, politics, business and foreign policy. We turn now to the world of entertainment.

When we asked NPR's arts reporter Ned Ulaby how we might be entertained this year, she identified two distinct trends: literary adaptations on the large and small screens and smart - yes, smart - superhero movies.

So what are the biggest literary adaptations slated for 2012?

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: A couple of books you might have heard of: "The Great Gatsby."



SHEIR: Never. Sorry. Should I have? I...

ULABY: Well, you know, the movie is coming out, but it's not coming out until late, late next year. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, Tobey Maguire as Nick, and Carey Mulligan as Daisy. The other big movie is "The Hobbit." And its great strength appears to be that it looks exactly like the earlier "Lord of the Ring" films, although actually it's their prequel.


MARTIN FREEMAN: (as Bilbo Baggins) My dear Frodo, while I can honestly say I have told you the truth, I may not have told you all of it.

ULABY: And then there's a little film called "The Hunger Games."

SHEIR: Oh, "The Hunger Games" based, of course, on the super popular young adult novel.

ULABY: Now, if you aren't aware of "The Hunger Games," it's about teenagers fighting to the death in this totalitarian state.


DONALD SUTHERLAND: (as President Snow) And so it was decreed that each year, the 12 districts of Panem shall offer up and tribute one young man and woman between the ages of 12 and 18 to be trained in the art of survival.

ULABY: OK. The book series has sold more than 12 million copies. The studio that's making it, Lionsgate, invested $100 million in the budget. So this is intended to be a mass market blockbuster, not just a movie for kids.

SHEIR: Well, speaking of that, are there any good literary adaptations coming out this year that are just for kids?

ULABY: Well, if you like Dr. Seuss and you like the environment, there is a movie version of "The Lorax" coming out just for you. That's in March. It's coming out on Dr. Seuss' birthday.

SHEIR: Now, another type of movie I know you're keeping your eye on for 2012 is the superhero movie?

ULABY: Mm-hmm.

SHEIR: Although last year, that genre didn't really fare too well in theaters. Do you think this year will be any different?

ULABY: I just have to underscore how last year was the year of the staggeringly disappointing superhero movie. "Captain America," "Green Hornet," they all just seemed like villainous waste of time and money. This year is the year of the smart superhero movie. We've got three very, very promising titles. One is "The Amazing Spider-Man" starring Andrew Garfield, who was so wonderful in "The Social Network," also Emma Stone, and it was directed by the guy who did "500 Days of Summer." Then we've got "The Avengers," which you could almost describe as a kind of prestige ensemble film, except it's also a big flashy action picture.

It's got Robert Downey Jr. as the Iron Man, as well as Gwyneth Paltrow and Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk. And then we've got "The Dark Knight Rises." And this is the third time out in a batmobile for Christopher Nolan, who's the director, and Christian Bale, who's the star. And this time, Anne Hathaway joins them as Catwoman.

SHEIR: Well, speaking of Catwoman, she of course features prominently in "Dark Knight Rises," and that's one of the films that seems, with the superhero genre, they touch on American politics. Here's a clip from the trailer where Catwoman channels the 99 percent.


ANNE HATHAWAY: (As Catwoman) You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you're all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.

ULABY: Right. They actually filmed a battle scene near Occupy Wall Street in November. And on one level, yeah, Bruce Wayne, who's Batman's alter ego (unintelligible), he's the one percent. But this is also a guy who spends his night suiting up and defending the victimized. In terms of politics, superheroes have always reflected what's going on, whether it's Captain America punching Hitler on the cover of a comic book in 1941 or the X-Men that much more recently explicitly critiqued issues like homophobia or the Patriot Act.

SHEIR: Do you think that's why perhaps the superhero movie endures? Are there other reasons?

ULABY: Well, blowing stuff up.


ULABY: Yeah. That's timeless. It's like, yeah, you know, and they're mythological, Rebecca. People need myths. We've relied on them for thousands of years. And superhero stories are about underdogs who become strong. And, you know, another reason why superhero movies keep getting made might be because studios just aren't doing as well as they used to. And I think they keep hoping someone in a cape is going to swoop in and save the day.


SHEIR: That's NPR's Neda Ulaby. She reports on arts, entertainment and cultural trends for the NPR arts desk. Neda, thanks so much and happy New Year.

ULABY: And happy New Year to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.