There must be something in our DNA that causes us to long for superheroes. How else to account for the persistent stream of annual summer movie blockbusters involving These larger-than-life figures. This summer is no exception with The Dark Knight (Batman) currently grossing $471 million, making it the second highest money-maker of all time behind Titanic.
Ironman is second this summer with $317 million. The Incredible Hulk is 10th with $134 million.
Superheroes have been around a long time. Think Beowulf battling Grendel and Ulysses poking out the eye of Cyclops. Superman has his kryptonite and Achilles his heel. I suspect any cross-cultural review would easily identify men (and a few women) who rise above the mass of people to protect them from evil, whether natural or human.
I don’t want to be unkind but I think The Hulk is less a superhero, and more of an annoyance-a big violent annoyance-but an annoyance none the less. You will remember that scientist Bruce Banner accidentally gets injected with some kind of juice that turns him into a 10-foot-tall green monster when he gets angry. I know people like this: If the service is slow at the restaurant, they go crazy, but they don’t grow into an out-of-control monster. Thank God. Ed Norton is fine as The Hulk in the current version of the movie, but The Hulk ultimately doesn’t work because in the end he’s only a dude with serious anger-management issues.
Ironman is a better superhero. His transformation is much more subtle than The Hulk’s. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a wealthy arms manufacturer captured by Middle Eastern terrorists and sees the error of his ways. He then invents a fantastic iron flying suit that is even better than a Jos. Banks suit on sale. He fights Obadiah Stone (Jeff Bridges) who builds an even better suit-the Iron Monger. This movie is great as long as it focuses on Tony Stark and his transformation, but Ironman loses steam in the second half when protracted fighting between Ironman and Iron Monger just feels like Transformers II. No one really cares about giant clunky machines knocking the crap out of one another.
But we do care about Batman. Batman uses science to improve his crime-fighting skills (like James Bond), but Batman is all human. He bleeds. He has to work out and practice his awesome karate-like moves. No pills, injections or short cuts for him. Like the lone sheriff or citizen facing down the outlaws (Shane, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) Batman stands pretty much alone against the criminals of Gotham City. We like him more because he’s more like us. The other reason The Dark Knight is so successful, of course, is the riveting performance of Heath Ledger as The Joker. I wonder if I am the only one who kind of wanted the Joker to whip Batman so he would stop talking so weird.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my best movie experience of the whole year. Last week, Marsha and I went to see Mama Mia. I had low expectations, and initially I wasn’t disappointed. Mama Mia is about a mother (Meryl Streep) and her daughter (Amanda Seyfriend) who is getting married.
Amanda secretly invites her three possible dads to the big wedding in a beautiful Greek town on the Mediterranean. The movie musical showcases the songs of ABBA, a Swedish group from the ’70s. The songs are ridiculously catchy. (“Dancing Queen,” “Take A Chance,” et al.) Many scenes were unintentionally funny-like when Pierce Bronson, one of the putative dads-actually sings.
Put it this way: Simon Colwell would have killed him. The actors soldiered enthusiastically on, and by the end I pretty much liked this absurd piece of fluff.
But here’s the kicker-across the aisle from us, a mom had brought a gaggle of junior high girls to Mama Mia. They knew all the words to all the songs, and appeared to have sitting dance routines. Their energy and enthusiasm were so genuine and without reservation that I told Marsha I wanted what they had. Living in the moment is not a bad way to go.
Afterwards I saw these kids on the street outside The Lake. I told them I would never forget Mama Mia because of them, and then I slapped high fives all around. A week later, I smile every time I think of my experience at The Lake when I saw Mama Mia.