2012 was a massive year for comic book films. The biggest one of all was Marvel Studios' The Avengers.
Joss Whedon's film was an unprecedented culmination of 5 films starring 4 different characters. Suffice to say, something like this had never been done before. It was a risk on Marvel's part, but it paid off massively.
The Avengers is the third highest grossing movie of all time, making over 1.5 billion dollars. No other film has gotten to one billion as quickly. Obviously, it was a success with audiences, but it was also popular with critics and comic book fans. It didn't take itself super seriously like Nolan's Batman films but wasn't campy either. It found the perfect middle ground to deliver a very entertaining film. The Avengers even got an Academy Award nomination for best visual effects.
The main line up consisted of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and The Hulk. Supporting members included Black Widow, was introduced in Iron Man 2, and Hawkeye, who cameoed in Thor. Both characters are agents of SHIELD. They look similar to their "Ultimate" versions, but their personalities are closer to the 616 mainstream Marvel universe.
Most of the characters are portrayed by the same actors and actresses as the previous films, with one notable exception. Edward Norton, star of The Incredible Hulk, did not reprise his role. In his place was Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. Many reasons have been given for this, such as Norton wanting too much control over production. Whatever the cause, it was probably for the best. Norton is more of a serious actor and might not have fit in with the more lighthearted tone of The Avengers.
The Avengers has been a highly influential film, especially in regards to comic adaptations. It has shown that using a "shared universe" can mean huge profits. Not long after it was released, Warner Brothers announced that they would be making a Justice League movie, which would involve DC Comics' biggest heroes teaming up. To the average viewer this may look like DC ripping off Marvel, despite the Justice League predating the Avengers.
The success of The Avengers has also seemingly influenced other studios that own Marvel properties. There are rumors that FOX will place the X-Men and the Fantastic Four in a shared universe with a potential crossover. Sony is also apparently to be headed in this direction. They are looking to create a mini shared universe with the Spider-Man characters, with a Sinister Six movie being rumored.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
The other massive comic book movie of 2012 was The Dark Knight Rises, the final entry in Christopher Nolan's epic trilogy.
In a way, this is was as unprecedented as The Avengers, in that it was really the first intended conclusion to a superhero film saga. Other series have always left it open ended for sequels.
It didn't make quite as big of a splash as its predecessor, but it made over $1 billion worldwide, with $448 million of that coming from the United States. This makes it the 3rd highest grossing superhero film and the tenth highest of all movies period. As of September 15th, it sits at number 51 on the IMDB top 250.
It is a very impressive film that stands up with the rest of the trilogy and has many of the same strengths and weaknesses of the previous two. All of them seem excellent your first time seeing them in the theater but don't hold up as well to repeat viewings.
Like the first two, The Dark Knight Rises suffers from some instance of clunky exposition, such as the scenes describing the "clean slate". I also thought it was rather obvious that Marion Cotillard's character would end up being a villain. Maybe I was biased having heard rumors that she would be Talia al Ghul, but I think her comments about bringing "balance to the world" kind of gave it away.
Furthermore, I'm not a big fan of they had Batman retired for 8 years. This does not seem very true to the character. Many dispute this, pointing out that Batman has been retired in certain comics before. But that was when Batman was old and had already been through multiple Robins. In this universe he was only active for a few years before quitting.
There were a few different comics that inspired the film. Perhaps the most significant was Knightfall, the story arc published from 1993 to 1994. Specifically, the scene where Bane breaks Batman's back is very reminiscent of the equivalent scene in the comics.
Another cited influence was Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. It does the share the basic concept of a weakened Batman getting back into it. The 1999 storyline No Man's Land, where Gotham is cut off from the rest of the world, is also an inspiration.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
After the difficulties with Sam Raimi and the never-filmed Spider-Man 4, Sony decided to go with a reboot that ended up being polarizing among the hardcore fanbase.
I must admit that I was never a huge Spider-Man and I didn't have a vested interest in the character. I didn't get into the Raimi trilogy as it never seemed like my style. I found this version, directed by Marc Webb, more entertaining than previous trilogy.
Many things are similar to the Raimi films, with one interesting exception being that Andrew Garfield's version has mechanical webshooters that he made himself (like in the comics) as opposed to biological ones that are the result of his mutation.
Another major difference is that Mary Jane is not featured at all, with the character of Gwen Stacy(Emma Stone) in her place. The film also uses a villain that had not been seen on film before in The Lizard aka Curt Connors.
This film also sets up Oscorp, which comes into play in the second film, released in 2014.
The Amazing Spider-Man was a huge success, raking in over $750 million globally on a budget of $230 million (according to Wikipedia). The reviews were mostly positive as well.
The character of Judge Dredd has been around since 1977, appearing in the British anthology 2000 A.D. He was created by artist John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra.
Most simply know him from the Sylvester Stallone film, to the dismay of comic readers that are familiar with the more serious take. The 2012 version, directed by Pete Travis (Vantage Point) and starring Karl Urban, certainly takes the character more seriously. Fans generally consider this version to be truer to the spirit of the comics.
Box Office Mojo gives the worldwide gross at $35 million, while Wikipedia puts it at $41 million, Either way this doesn't even make back the reported budget of $45-50 million.
Critics however gave Dredd mostly positive reviews and it has found a bit of a cult following. A sequel was talked about, but it's future is uncertain at the moment.
GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE
Finally, we come to easily the worst comic film of 2012. It was directed by the talentless directing duo that goes by Neveldine/Taylor. They are responsible for cinematic atrocities such as Crank, the sequel to Crank, Gamer, and Jonah Hex.
The Ghost Rider sequel didn't do well critically, but it made over a $130 million only a budget of less than $60 mil.
Despite this there are currently no plans for a third installment, Nicolas Cage even stated that he was done with the role.
In 2013, the rights went back to Marvel Studios. Due to the rather negative reaction to the first two from comic book fans, I don't think we will be seeing a standalone Ghost Rider movie anytime soon. The best fans of the character should hope for would be for him in to show up as a minor character somewhere in the MCU.
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