why these movies are fun
The term 'fun' is pretty loose and I'm probably about to trip down a loophole by defining 'fun' with my own personal impression when I type 'Nolan's Bat series holds an enjoyment most others don't'. I'm a minority because I found Rises immensely more enjoyable than Avengers, and that's not a runaround for any deeper comparison between the two. The reason I enjoyed one movie and not the other came down to a taste for the tone of one but a distaste for the tone of other. And the tone I'm talking about sometimes supersedes standard measures of script and pacing and plotting, and is almost always exclusive to the comic book adaptation genre.
Realistic takes on these superheroes is entertaining. There's an intelligence to it that's beside cinematic qualities we usually reserve for intelligence. Most, if not all, superheroes are rooted in silly kitschy origins from bygone cultures and lower outdated standards. The single most interesting element in lasting comic franchises are their reflections of the decade and culture, and the way new writers and new artists have taken the silliness of 30s, 40s origins and expanded upon them with a consistency and ferocity unseen in other genres of storytelling. Comics, unlike novels, are a relatively new element in mainstream storytelling. Comics, unlike movies, are a relatively awkward match for mainstream sensibilities. While the bones of stories themselves have been packed with enough meat to fill whole tomes of Batman or Superman stories, the kitsch of costumes and colors and comic panels remain, holding the storyline within the medium, preventing it from growing wider accessibility. A lot of comic book fans were happy because mainstream is finally prepared to embrace that kitsch; with the success of Avengers, a movie that less incorporated superheroes into cinema than filmed superheroes straight from the comics, fraught with mind control sticks, other dimensions, gods, monsters, relics and camp. Those fans are probably excited that so many people have gotten used to the costumes and the colors and the grandstanding and the formula of it all. But that's not what interests me about the genre. That's not where I find my fun.
I want to watch superheroes gradually, gracefully, sometimes gaudily sophisticated into the formula of serious cinema, just because that's often times the farthest thing to reach for a comic book superhero. I'm not demeaning the comics, since plenty of series are serious writings. I'm just pointing out the difference between comic formula and cinema formula, and encouraging the translation between the two. Comic adaptations have a dimension most movies don't have because comic adaptations have a process of transformation, rearranging one formula for another, sophisticating one standard into another. It's a process of conceptualization you don't really get to see happen in other movies, and it's exactly what excites me about superhero flicks.
Nolan, however strained, ponderous or pretentious you decide, has always taken that step with every character, concept and mythology he incorporates into the Bat series. A lot of these are lifted directly from choice passages or plotlines in the comics with cinematic potential. A lot of them aren't. When someone like me praises the series for its intelligence, I'm not looking at an intelligence in cinema alone, complimenting its pace or its script or any of those standard buttons. I'm looking at an intelligence in translation-- a creative rearrangement on top of superheroes whose foundations are so strong they can survive reinvention and remain true to themselves. Nolan's Batman series is intelligent because of its reinvention and not necessarily because of more typical compliments. Collapsing gotham into a class / civil war in Rises isn't intelligent because it necessarily plots itself in a real world fashion, it's intelligent because of the way it incorporates the doom of Batman's comic book mythos into the cinematic world. It's intelligent because of the way it escalates the threat of previous movies. It's intelligent because of the way it becomes a paradigm for the heightened realities of the series' "city building", and all of these things are unique challenges in a unique genre.
Audience members who are watching these movies just as movies, without any cursory awareness of the comics, or any interest in how those comics are reinvented, are missing out on this dimension in the series. You can look at Bane as a gritty Jaws from Bond, but the intelligence in the reinvention comes from the changes in the character's design & demeanor (if not necessarily backstory). That's why the publicity for this series has been so interesting. A single image of the Joker can be intelligent in a way no other pre-release image for any other genre of movies can be-- attentive fans can notice the change in appearance as a conceptual change, and appreciate that change on the same level mainstream movie fans appreciate the actual plot. If some of these superheroes really are the equivalent of our modern myths, the atmosphere of those myths, reflected in the designs and the tones and the mood, are almost as important as the myths themselves.
This is what I find entertaining in superhero movies today. This is what I'm looking for. This is a fun totally separated from how many bullets were fired, explosions were set off or lasers were laser'd. I'm sitting in the audience processing these adaptions along with the movie, and their interpretations sometimes supersede the actual script, storyline, direction, what-have-you. And I'm sort of explaining this to myself as I type this post because I wasn't sure why I disagreed so much with posters who didn't get much in the way of fun from Nolan's Batman.
It's only a matter of opinion, but this is one of the reasons these movies are so much fun. Attention to these translations is one of the reasons I feel Nolan's series has more dimension than some less successful adaptations. It's a fuller experience you only get from translating mythologies that have imprinted pop culture for well over half a century. And that's coming from somebody who only has a cursory knowledge of the comics.