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The Superhero Yin and Yang: 10 Ways The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises Can't be Better than Each Other

By Rob Payne | Seriously Random Lists | October 17, 2012 | Comments ()


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When Marvel and Joss Whedon's The Avengers came hulking out of the cinematic gate this summer, instantly making $1,000,000,000 (that's a billion if you don't like counting zeroes), the gauntlet was apparently thrown down to its supposed biggest competitor of the year, DC and Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises. Certainly Iron Man and his amazing friends bested Batman and his extended family at the box office, but no movie boasting more than a billion dollars, which Rises also surpassed, can be considered any kind of loser. Besides the fortunes of the already-rich, there's been a quietly seething battle between fans of either superhero epic to determine which of the two is actually the better film. The debate hasn't broken out in the Cheetos-stained fisticuffs that have plagued other, older movie franchise wars, but fan-boy and -girl foot soldiers on both sides tend to be quite passionate in their arguments or rebuttals, as is their wont. Like the never ending battle of wills between Batman and the Joker, the fan dance is one that will likely go on forever. Or until some other genre-defining products come along in the same year.

As for the critics, The Avengers nets a better overall score on Rotten Tomatoes but The Dark Knight Rises metes out a much better rating over on Metacritic. So, it looks like we're at a draw there, as well. However, in my lazy anecdotal research, it would seem that The Avengers generally comes out on top when critics and bloggers stack the two movies against each other and gauge the merits of what each of them were trying to accomplish. More often than not, though, whatever the end result of the comparison, it's nearly always couched in terms of both movies are good, but the one the writer prefers is just "objectively" better - no matter how slight the difference. Of course, the mostly unspoken truth is that neither movie must be in competition with the other, that's just the easiest angle to report on.

One movie made more money, the other also made a ton and was perhaps hindered in making more due to a tragedy on its opening night. Each movie was made by companies in direct competition on comic book store shelves, but the movies' release dates were spread far enough apart to ensure the neither would be hurt by the box office success of the other. Both movies received equivalently high ratings from critics and moviegoers alike. Normally, to deflate this unnecessary rivalry, it would be enough to show what each of the movies did best and how we can appreciate both because of, not in spite of, their differences. The concept of Yin and Yang is a simple way of evoking that, but these two movies go beyond the obvious light and dark, fun and serious dichotomy - with a little bit of gloom in the light, a little bit of levity in the dark - that is often cited as the way to differentiate these two wildly different styles of comic book adaptations. But that proved surprisingly hard to do here because this instance of yinyang goes deeper, into the plots of the movies themselves. Because...

The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises are the same movie.

That is, admittedly, pretty glib. After all, the aforementioned styles of the two films are markedly different, but that's purely a surface observation and only means they are told differently in order to appeal to similar but disparate tastes. Not only are they the Yin (Avengers) and the Yang (Rises) of the comic book movie genre, they're the Yin and the Yang of the exact same story.

***SPOILERS*** (obviously).


Tony Stark is to Bruce Wayne as Bruce Wayne is to Tony Stark
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Obviously nobody needs to be reminded that both Stark and Wayne are wealthy beyond imagination, the heirs to empires their fathers built who then used those fortunes in ways never imagined. For large portions of screen time, both also sport truly terrible facial hair. Both of their story arcs hinge on learning that they can't do everything on their own and, most importantly, that they may have to sacrifice more than they're prepared to give in order to overcome their demons, both personal and manifested in the movies' villains. Speaking of whom...


Loki is to Bane as Bane is to Loki
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Loki and Bane both have some fairly inscrutable plans that drive the plots of each movie: they need to be captured and transported aboard aircraft, they need to force brilliant scientists to work for them, they need to use the heroes' own tools against them, they need to amass foreign armies to take over a major metropolitan area, they both need to increase tension in the heroic ranks causing them to react irrationally, and they both manage to kill only one person of any possible emotional consequence in the entirety of their villainy. They're also both Brits named Tom, but that's probably just a bonus.


Black Widow is to Catwoman as Catwoman is to Black Widow
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Attractive white women in skintight not-leather jumpsuits with a penchant for acrobatics and gun play, right? Of course, they also both come from shady backgrounds and shaky loyalties before joining the side of the angels -- but that's also the source materials. Then it's a good thing both Natasha Romanov and Selina Kyle also want to erase those shady pasts so they can have better, less fragile lives. They happen to kick a lot of ass and save the day, too.


Betrayal and Redemption
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Relating directly to Catwoman's redemption, after betraying Batman by sending him unprepared directly to Bane, is one of the main overarching themes in both movies. Hawkeye and Prof. Selvig both betray S.H.I.E.L.D. (against their own will, yes) for Loki and then redeem themselves in the last act, just like Selina. Of course, Miranda Tate Talia al Ghul also betrays Bruce and doesn't redeem herself by film's end. Not to worry! That just makes Nolan's version of Thanos.


The Avengers Initiative is Reactivated and Batman Comes out of Retirement (twice)
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One could argue that Nick Fury successfully reactivating the "Avengers Initiative" first mentioned in the Iron Man series was a foregone conclusion for a movie named The Avengers. Well, then the same is equally true for Batman un-retiring in a movie called The Dark Knight Rises, no matter how many other meanings and puns can be inferred. What about the fact that Batman returns to duty fairly early in the movie, while the Avengers aren't a team until the very end? Bruce Wayne does indeed put on the cape and cowl earlier in his movie, but it's arguably not until he returns from Bane's prison that Batman is actually back in Gotham. Logically it's an iffy proposition, but thematically it makes just as much sense as Bruce Banner suddenly able to control "the other guy."


Green Energy is Used as a Weapon, Requiring a Nuclear Response
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To be fair, the "nuclear response" in Rises is the same MacGuffin as the "green energy" weapon, whereas in Avengers the Cosmic Cube and the S.H.I.E.L.D. nuke are two different things. That said, it is fairly redundant for two different superhero movies to reference some magical and/or miraculous clean energy solutions that are then used as weapons against the very people they were meant to help. Then those must people must be saved by literally flying nukes out of the city -- with Gotham Bay apparently as adequate a disposal site as a portal to deep space. Speaking of those nukes...


The Hero's Sacrifice Can't Be Done Alone
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Whether it's a missile or a ticking time-bomb, those are some pretty big ways to highlight the significance of Iron Man's and Batman's dual sacrifices at the end of each movie. Granted, neither die and one was kind of a dick by making everyone think he had, but both needed to happen for the stories to reach their satisfying conclusions. Not coincidentally, neither plan would have worked if others didn't step in to give provide big assists: Fury trying to shoot down one of his own jets and confronting S.H.I.E.L.D.'s super secret benefactors; Prof. Selvig trying to help Black Widow disrupt the Cube's portal; all the other Avengers, natch; Lucius Fox trying to disable the bomb by flooding the chamber; Gordon going above and beyond to track the bomb; the aforementioned Bake-slaying Catwoman; all the other Gotham police officers, including JGL's John Blake. I mean, for giant ensembles, that's just good writing.


They Aren't Afraid, They're Always Angry
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All right, I agree, this is a little ridiculous. But it is somewhat fascinating that both of these movies deal so directly with the benefit anger can bring to a dealing with a problem. Especially if you want that problem dealt with forthrightly and with no other possible solution but your own. Might makes right is definitely a comic book convention (and no I don't mean like the one in San Diego), but anger is fairly specific to the Hulk and Batman as it informs everything that they do. Again, that's just good writing, but the similar emphasis on such similar lines -- "I'm always angry" and "I'm not afraid, I'm angry" -- is fairly original for summer blockbusters.


The Franchise(s) Must Go On
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I mean, obviously. The studios make too much money for these moves -- and not just these types of movies -- to not continue being churned out into theaters around the world. Even if it's more likely that Warner Bros. will simply recast and reboot rather than continue on with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, there will be another Batman movie (regardless of the proposed Justice League movie) within the next ten years, probably five. But I'm less interested in the needs of franchises in general than in how these movies set their futures up with two very distinct images. For Rises it was John Blake discover the Batcave with Bruce's permission to continue the war on crime*, for Avengers it was a lingering look at the only remaining letter on Stark Tower, the "A," implying we'll see Avengers Tower in the next film. Both images are hopeful about tomorrow, despite being tinged with a sense of the destruction that came before and the likelihood of it returning in the indeterminate future.


A Tale of Two Beat Downs
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'Nuff said.


It should be noted that the above indulgences are not exhaustive comparisons that showcase the two movies' core similarities amidst their more obvious divergences is greatly appreciated, just the ones I found most compelling or entertaining. Those parallels now force us to ask, how can either movie be better than the other when they are fundamentally the same? Answer: They can't. But that probably won't stop anyone from believing The Avengers is so clearly better than The Dark Knight Rises, or vice-versa. That's fine for those who can't resist a pointless debate. The rest of us know it is moot, because The Dark Knight was already the genre's best in show.

* Footage not found.


Rob Payne also writes the comic The Unstoppable Force, tweets on the Twitter, tumbls on the Tumblr, and his wares can be purchased here. He's going to try to stop writing about Nolan, Whedon, and superheroes for the rest of the year, but no promises.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • WAldenIV

    Lucius didn't flood the reactor chamber. Talia flooded it. Lucius was preparing the reactor to receive and stabilize the core. Talia flooded the chamber to destroy the reactor and prevent the core from being stabilized.

  • nickjaa

    This is stupid and wrong. Bane beating up Batman is the same as Hulk beating up Loki? There might be a sequel therefore they're the same movie? They involve redemption? So you're telling me these movies have fights, potential sequels and a character redeems themselves, therefore they're the same. No, that's just every fucking big budget movie there is.

  • Three_nineteen

    I haven't seen TDKR, so I can't speak to that part, but it concerns me a little that you think the lesson we should learn from The Hulk's character arc is that you can benefit from using anger to deal with a problem.

  • Tdk

    Fox didn't flood the chamber...they needed the chamber to stabilize the bomb/reactor.

  • Dirk Broadfinger

    Sometimes I read the comments on RoPay articles and wonder whether or not I read the same thing as the rest of you guys.
    I suggest, from now on, he start out every one asking if anyone has ever heard the term "tongue-in-cheek."

  • rio

    ah ah love it. the first thing I said at the end of the dark knight rises was: "Did Nolan and Whedon exchange notes? Billioniare philantropist with a double superhero identity sacrife himself to save new york from nuclear doom but survives? I mean not that it makes me that smart to have noticed it but oh well.

  • RudeMorgue

    I like to think I'm a polite person, but this article sucks.

  • Yes, your comment is the definition of polite, reasonable, and constructive discourse. Thanks!

  • You people do realize that the immediate proclamations of preferring one over the other, which without counting seems fairly equal on both sides, proves my point right? Just enjoy them, or don't, however you want. If they'd come out in different years, we probably wouldn't even be having this conversation.

  • dan

    what do you mean you people

  • It's the little things, isn't it?

  • greg

    rob you ignorant slut
    Avengers succeeds at what it's trying to do more than
    TDKR which is more convoluted than complex (the villains' motivations, batman's experience with the pit, etc.)
    Also the film's ending ruins the homage to A tale of two cities
    Instead of batman faking his death the creators should have someone
    like Gordon or Alfred die in his place

  • I love this comment. Being compared to Jane Curtain is a HUGE compliment. Seriously. Thanks, Greg!

  • Palaeologos

    As long as we're doing comparisons, I think it would've been fairer to compare "The Avengers" to "The Dark Knight", which I would've called a draw. Comparing to the former to TDKR is no contest; though TDKR grew on me, the wit and kinetic brilliance of "The Avengers" was unmatched. I will admit, though, that TDKR stuck with me far longer after viewing, and that's a definite compliment.

  • Jannymac

    Apples and oranges comparison simply because TDK is the end of a franchise and the Avengers is the beginning of one. With the Batman movie we bring to it all of the knowledge of the prior films, while Avengers was exciting in the new and different man-they-really-pulled-it-off kind of way.

  • brian

    Don't we also bring to the avengers all the knowledge of the prior marvel films like IM 1 and 2 thor and captain america
    Also if one wanted one could stop watching future marvel films and regard this one as the end of the series

  • lowercase_ryan

    Also I think you glossed over the team/unity aspect of the Avengers. Sure TDKR rises had many pitching in to help Bruce Wayne, but you can hardly say they banded together. In the end they were all helping Batman. The Avengers felt decidedly different. There was an equality that came with them fighting side by side. You all know the scene I'm talking about, when the Avengers circle up in the street.

  • lowercase_ryan

    "How can either movie be better than the other when they are fundamentally the same? They can't."

    I'm kind of shocked you feel this way. Since when do we judge films on their fundamentals? It's the nuances, the details, the style...everything beyond the basic structure of a film that determines a it's final grade.

    They may be fundamentally the same, but in execution they were completely different. And we can absolutely judge them on that.

  • I talked about the stylistic differences, I didn't say they weren't important. That's where the yin and yang aspect comes in. Judge all you want, we all have our own preferences, I just don't see the need for the innate competition people put the movies in. It's like when people felt the need to compete over "Community" and "Parks and Rec."

  • Donna SHerman

    I can't help wondering if there's a tone of facetiousness that's not coming through here.

    First of all, like @disqus_fGfiTonFm0:disqus said, a lot of these are either stretches or superficial similarities you could pull from almost any pair of movies.

    Second, are you actually arguing that we can't compare them equivalently because they are too similar? Doesn't that make them easier to compare? If you were going at this from the "apples to oranges" angle I'd be on board, but to say you can't compare apples to apples? You can! That's exactly the sort of thing that is PERFECT to compare. I wouldn't compare a pair of shoes to a hole puncher, because they serve totally different functions, but am I not supposed to compare the shoe to another shoe because, hey, they're the "EXACT SAME THING"?

    Good sir, I am confused.

  • Bert_McGurt

    I'll have you know that my shoes have often and reliably served as hole punchers at various points in my life.

  • seannyd

    Unfortunately, I feel like the entire premise of the article is inaccurate because you can have two versions of literally the exact same story and have one be better than the other. Case in point, Gus Van Sant's Psycho vs. Hitchcocks. These couldn't be any more of the exact same story and the Hitchcock version is clearly superior.

    There simply isn't an objectively better movie when it comes to these two. I feel "The Avengers" is more fun and is an exciting movie to watch while "The Dark Knight Rises" is a flawed but satisfying final chapter of a super serious retelling of the Batman mythos.

    Personally, I simply love to revel in the fact that as a 28 year old man I was able to watch an Avengers movie, a Spider-Man movie, and a Batman movie all in a two month period. And they were all GOOD. (Your mileage may have varied.) This is something my eight year old self getting up early every day to watch the Spider-Man, X-Men, and Batman animated series never could have even dreamed of.

    I'm just so much more grateful that this is a thing that exists in my life than trying to determine who wins a pointless pissing match.

  • Frankly, I love that you can disagree with my premise and still end up at the same basic conclusion. Viva la revolution!

  • Hawkeye Fierce

    This was well done and made me feel like a total asshat for not noticing some of the glaringly obvious similarities.

    As far as the debate about what's best, I just want to cry to the geek community, "Can't we all just get along?" There doesn't have to be a Super Duper Number One Bestest Ever--is no one else THRILLED that we are living in a time when comic book movies are this good, and there's multiple films?

    It wasn't so long ago that comic book adaptations were shunned and avoided, or executed with such amazing craptitude that it sunk the chance of further, better attempts exponentially.

    Now they give them big budgets, real writers and screenplays, actual actors, even FAN SERVICE. I'm just so freakin overjoyed that they don't suck all the time. I mean, it still happens (Fantastic Four, I'm looking at you). But that just makes me appreciate the well done films that much more.

    I posit that we may very well be living in the Golden Age of Comic Book Movies. Fookin A!

  • All that header pic needs is a little bit of rain and thennnnn....

  • I'm as big a Whedon fan there is. But TDKR is easily better than The Avengers.

  • NateMan

    Sorry, few of these work as similarities for me. Stark and Wayne are both kajillionaires, yes, but their attitudes in their work couldn't be more separate. Wayne is a recluse in both his personal life and professional superheroing; Stark couldn't wait to tell everyone he was Iron Man. Stark has always faced his fights as lightheartedly as possible, and Wayne couldn't be more the opposite.

    Likewise with the villains. Bane is dark, Loki light. Hell, Bane is forced to be expressionless while Loki never quits emoting, whether it's sardonic humor or petulance.

    Black Widow and Catwoman? Meh, closer call. I'd say they're at entirely different places in their character development, though. Catwoman is still out for #1, while the Widow has moved past that.

    The two movies couldn't be further apart on the superhero spectrum for me. They're both great films, both entirely entertaining, but Avengers leaves me with a grin on my face. TDK leaves me feeling glum. I have no doubt I'll watch Avengers again and again, but while I'll certainly buy TDK on Blu-Ray when it comes out, I don't think it'll find its way into the player very often.

  • I literally have a huge smile on my face every time I see Bruce Wayne alive at the cafe and John Blake rise up on that platform in the Batcave. It's perfect. It's the complete opposite of glum.

  • Vi

    Also, I'm inserting my own crass reasoning here: I would fuck everyone in the Avengers. I would not fuck a single person in Batman (sorry Levitt), I hardly even want to be their friends.

  • Tinkerville

    My thoughts exactly. I think most of these comparisons were reaching way too far; none of the characters were actually similar even if they filled a certain role in each.

    I also loved Avengers more than TDKR, but even if I loved both equally I would disagree with this article completely since both movies were trying to achieve very different things.

  • That's the point. Yin. Yang. All that jazz.

  • Natallica

    I do think too they are both great movies, but with completely different natures, emotional registers, meanings and purposes. I concur with your last impression: Avengers made me wanna scream "wheee", TDKR left me pondering.

  • tamatha_uhmelmahaye

    Damnit. Now I want Cheetos.

  • fracas

    I wonder, is the proper spelling "beat downs" or "beats down"? Like passers by or attorneys general.

    Cool article. I enjoyed it.

  • BWeaves

    12) I haven't seen either of them.

  • AudioSuede

    but no movie boasting more than a billion dollars, which Rises also surpassed, can be considered any kind of loser.

    Unless you're in The Producers.

  • Wembley

    Sorry. But Avengers left me completely satisfied. DKR can't say that. I don't think I'm alone on that island.

  • Jon 'Jonny' Preece

    DKR could have been so much more :( avengers was near perfect. but they are completly different worlds. one is magical and one is realistic

  • junierizzle

    To each their own. While Ill never call it a masterpiece, DKR did satisfy me. I like Avengers but I wasn't blown away. Too much CGI at the end. So the Hulk can control his hulkness? WHAT?

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    You're not alone, I'm there, too. DRK, for me, fell apart when they just glossed the whole dumb Wall Street thing. That wouldn't have worked at all , but even assuming it *did* work, Wayne's reaction completely didn't. He should've been fighting it, or if not, we should've been diving a lot more deeply into why he's voluntarily letting his greatest weapon/tool go. As it is, it's just a plot point that gets him low so everything hurts a little more.

    Whereas, while Avengers is admittedly a lot lighter, simpler and less serious, it does pretty much all of that perfectly. I'll take the best pan of brownies ever over a half-assed cheesecake anyday.

  • Totally opposite for me. I found Avengers to be too simplistic and straight-forward, while DKR had twists and turns like a good story should. Avengers was too talky-talky for most of it and then too Transformer-y in the end.

  • firedmyass

    Who's my complex little snowflake? You are. Yes, you are!

  • nickjaa

    that's a weird thing to say to someone.

  • Jakesalterego

    Probably not, but it's nice to know you're all on an island so I don't have to hear you.

  • Wembley

    I LEFT THE AVENGERS SATISFIED!
    THE DARK KNIGHT RISES WAS KIND OF DISAPPOINTING!

  • Bert_McGurt

    11) One stars Sam Jackson and the other has Morgan Freeman.

  • Don't worry. It's subtle, but it's there.

  • Kip Hackman

    I knew he missed something.

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