Can Batman Save the Summer?

Yet another new trailer for next month's The Dark Knight Rises has been released, leading us to wonder, is Batman the summer's last hope?

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Yet another new trailer for next month's The Dark Knight Rises has been released, showing a bit more of this and that, explosions, fights, etc. Obviously we've seen enough teases of the movie at this point that another one isn't all that exciting, but we are trying to keep our enthusiasm level up as much as possible. Because, much like he's the rescuing crusader of this franchise, Batman may be the summer's last hope.

There's been much grumbling this summer — and, OK, spring, which has really become an extension of the summer movie season — about the failure of so-called tentpole films. And indeed there have been some epic catastrophes. Of course the movie that first comes to mind is Disney's spectacularly dismal John Carter, a misguided-from-the-very-beginning space opera project that couldn't even drum up excitement for the sight of Taylor Kitsch in a loin cloth. And after that came Battleship, and the dreadful Dark Shadows, and a disappointing Men In Black 3 (which has done far better overseas). MIB isn't exactly an enormous bomb the way the other three were, but for a Will Smith summertime alien-o-rama, it's certainly been more anemic than hoped for.

But box office isn't really our concern. The massive success of The Avengers has helped, somewhat, to offset losses elsewhere, and really who cares anyway? We're not getting any of that money, and we'd probably actually prefer the studios get scared away from these too-big warm weather tentpoles. Once in a while, these movies are fine, but not practically every damn weekend for four months. No, our main concern is, selfishly, entertainment. And in that regard, this spring/summer Big Movie season has so far been a glum disappointment. The two films we were probably most looking forward to were the cool, dark-seeming Snow White and the Huntsman and the scary, ominous Prometheus. Both failed to deliver.

Snow White was an admirably ambitious misfire, the kind of movie that has the germs of a few good ideas but ultimately gets overwhelmed by its own flailing for grandeur and winds up in the mud. Charlize Theron was fierce and imperious as expected, and Chris Hemsworth continued to prove himself a budding megastar, but what we had hoped would be at least a little grownup, a little smarter than your average summer fare, ultimately proved more confused and erratic than anything else. It was a high-ish hope dashed on the rocks of mediocrity.

Though it pains us to say it, because we were so excited for this movie, Prometheus too let us down in the smart, grownup movie department. Ridley Scott shot a beautiful film, but the ultimately nonsensical script sank it, as did a perhaps too-good trailer. Nothing could've lived up to that thing! Well, no, that's not true. Something could have. Inception had cool trailers and then was even better as an actual movie. Same for The Dark Knight. Hm. See a pattern here?

Director Christopher Nolan has a pretty stellar summertime track record. He crafts those sorta-for-adults big movies that make the summer seem exciting and buzz-worthy. We thought Prometheus might be one of those films, but the post-premiere chatter was mostly "Wait, what?" and even that's died down. So basically a lot falls on The Dark Knight Rises. It obviously has its own internal expectations to live up to — it's the finale of a grand and elegant trilogy that has won Academy Awards and set box office records. But there is also the quality of our summer to be considered. If this movie isn't as good as we hope it is, if it's a letdown or is just kinda OK, what else do we have to salvage the summer movie season? The Avengers was great but there was nothing really to talk about with that movie. It was just big silly fun. We need something else, something with a little more weight to it.

Pixar's Brave is only looking so-so. The Amazing Spider-Man, though we've heard decent things about it, looks pretty terrible. There might be some hope for August's Total Recall, which has at least some fans. And there are of course movies on a slightly smaller scale, like Seth MacFarlane's comedy Ted and Oliver Stone's Savages. But in terms of big, impressive movies, Dark Knight Rises might be it. I know, I know, we shouldn't discount The Bourne Legacy, but that too feels a little smaller than what we're talking about. Let's call Bourne the last-stand fallback point should Dark Knight Rises prove a wreck.

Though, really, there's no indication it will. Nolan has made few missteps so far, and what we've seen of his latest looks good. But it's still a lot of pressure. In a summer of one big triumph and a bunch of scattered letdowns, we may need Batman more than ever.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.