In 1989, a little would-be blusterous rabble-rouser who fell deeply in love with classic genre film history made a little independent film about an inconsequential twerp of a hero named Batman. And he just about conquered the world in doing so. Problems aside – namely the fact that it wasn’t much of a Batman film – it was a competent bit of Gothic blockbuster fluff and well-deserving of a sequel by the same filmmaker. And, with the sheer quantity of money the film brought in, Warner Bros. wasn’t about to go and deny the opportunity for another several hundred million dollars their way.
Now. There is an old saying about what happens when you give hungry, passionate directors too much money and they become stagnant and bored with their success. That happened with Tim Burton, just as it always happens with unique voices of his sort in the all-devouring Hollywood machine. But it didn’t happen with Batman Returns. Correction: it absolutely did not happen with Batman Returns, one of the dreariest, gnarliest Hollywood blockbusters ever released, and dare I say one of the most anti-blockbuster.
As we keep on barreling forward toward Marvel’s Phase Three films and pretending it will be meaningfully different from Phase Two or Phase One, Marvel continues to pass the time along the way by merrily trucking along with more of the same. Well, I should be generous – each film is ever-so-slightly different while still managing to lie easily within the series’ collective less-than-notable ambitions. For this 2014 sequel to the competent 2011 cheer-fest, things get a little bit darker and more socially confused as the filmmakers choose to mash-up their consummate action-stravaganza with a political thriller that aims to reshape the Marvel Cinematic Universe (that the filmmakers are under the impression the Marvel Cinematic Universe is well-defined enough to be meaningfully “reshaped” speaks more to the egos at play than anything else, as well as the film’s self-conscious bid for serious-film status). Unfortunately, and as is becoming a common problem for this series, the film’s ambitions are somewhat undone by the all-encompassing fact that it just had to go and be a Marvel film. That it is one of the better ones while still being essentially an also-ran should tell you all you need to know about how you’ll come down in the end. But either way, solid filmmaking in the name of a somewhat tepid goal continues to be the name of the game, for better or for worse.