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Year of Darkness: From Star Trek to Superman, Mood is Pretty Bleak

We’ve got a long, dark year ahead of us. Not the weather, but rather this season’s biggest movie franchises: From Star Trek: Into Darkness (May 17) to Thor: The Dark World (Nov. 8), it seems as if every sci-fi universe will have a darker storyline. Now, I get that a movie isn’t dark simply because it says so in the title (e.g. Darkwing Duck). I also realize it’s natural to capitalize on the success of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy by throwing some filters on the camera and adding that foreboding “woooooobbb” sound to your trailer. But I’m a little skeptical that every franchise needs to go dark to win at the box office.

James Mangold, director of The Wolverine (July 27), recently said he was excited to “go a little darker and a little deeper than they’ve gone with this character.” A darker Wolverine? Isn’t Hugh Jackman scowling enough already? What I enjoy about his performance as Logan is his humor. For me, no amount of ass-kicking will top the way Jackman told us he was a professor of “art” in X2. Watching a downtrodden character come out with a great punchline can feel as cathartic as seeing him survive torture or beat the villain. Mangold has promised a tougher, more violent Wolverine, but darkness doesn’t necessarily add depth.

Wolverine is already a dark dude going darker. But what about a darker Superman? The trailer for Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (June 14) reveals a self-doubting Superman sporting what I can only describe as a breakup beard. This Superman is so dark that even his costume is muted. Perhaps even more telling, when young Clark Kent asks whether he should have let a busload of children die to keep his powers a secret, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) says “Maybe.” And you thought Midwesterners were nice people!

The line feels like an over-the-top effort to subvert Superman’s pop-culture identity as a wholesome guy who loves humanity (and a smooth chin). Nolan, the franchise reboot’s producer, promises that writer David S. Goyer has made Superman “relatable and relevant.” Is “relatable and relevant” now code for “morally ambiguous and dark”? We live in dark times, but it’s disappointing to see directors turn to the same well again and again when remaking popular characters for “a new generation.” I’m part of that generation, dammit, and I could use a break from the dark!

Star Trek movies from previous decades have offered action and adventure over gritty realism, so it’s a little worrisome to see the franchise go Into Darkness this summer. Granted, The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine had some successful dark storylines, but when the films have tried to dig deep, the results are often mixed (as in Generations). I would be more skeptical of a dark Star Trek if it hadn’t been for the previous installment, which set up alternative origin stories for Kirk and Spock. Both men have now lost a parent (just like you-know-who in Gotham), and their new, grim origins as heroes may give writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci enough emotional oomph to give us a bleak, but compelling, vision of the Star Trek universe. Star Trek has always dealt with “haves” and “have-nots” — those with access to fun replicators and go-go boots, and those living under oppressive regimes. Today that theme does appear more relevant and relatable than ever before.

I’ll try to withhold judgment on the Summer o’ Darkness, but if we end up with The Hangover Part III: Dark of the Darkest Dark, I might just have to quit.


  • Juan

    Just because the trailers make it look ‘dark’ doesn’t mean it well be. I can show you a number of epic Doctor Who trailers that makes it look ‘dark’ but we all know different. No point judging or jumping to conclusions before seeing the movie. I can guarantee that neither Iron Man 3 or Thor will be that dark as you seem to make it. And I’m pretty certain the same can be said for Star Trek too, while it may be darker than the first one, that doesn’t mean it will be dark in itself.

    As for Superman, I like the new and refreshing direction and I think it’ll work for him so I don’t care.

  • Juan

    Just because the trailers make it look ‘dark’ doesn’t mean it well be. I can show you a number of epic Doctor Who trailers that makes it look ‘dark’ but we all know different. No point judging or jumping to conclusions before seeing the movie. I can guarantee that neither Iron Man 3 or Thor will be that dark as you seem to make it. And I’m pretty certain the same can be said for Star Trek too, while it may be darker than the first one, that doesn’t mean it will be dark in itself.

    As for Superman, I like the new and refreshing direction and I think it’ll work for him so I don’t care.

  • Me

    “Darkness” helps test a character’s mettle and reveal who they truly are and speaks to the relatable struggles we all face.  It’s more interesting to see this kind of pathos than stupid fluff.

  • Molly Whipple

    I’m glad to see someone else is not in love with the “dark” and that they are of this younger generation. Unfortunately as long as people flock to see stuff like Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy they’re going to keep making it. I’m hoping that popularity was more about Batman than the dark thematic nature and that attempts to go dark to copy it will fall flat enough to allow brighter heroes to reemerge, protagonists you actually can feel good about and would want to aspire to be. That to me is what comic book type heroes should tend to be rather than the plethora of anti-heroes we’ve been fed ever since the late 80s.

    And so this crop of films sounds worrisome to me although I suspect Marvel will stick to its formula which is fairly upbeat in nature. Oddly my favorite movie from last year was Dredd which did poorly at the box office. Despite the reputation of the character and the dark nature of his world the Judge Anderson character was perfect example of how present a strong female character and bring hope to the darkness without getting silly.

  • Cmtalley

    Blame the Mayan calendar. They said the world was supposed  to end last year. 

  • Notharrisonford

    Grim and gritty movies has worked to varying degrees.  I really don’t feel like the bleak Amazing Spider-Man was very good and Dark Knight Rises was devoid of almost any joy or fun.  However last year’s Chronicle and Dredd had dark and heavy tones that worked for those movies, maybe because the scale was small.

    However I would point to The Avengers, which I do believe is the best superhero movie ever made.  It was still able to have strong, relatable, fascinating characterization while being fun and humorous.  I hope that people don’t overlook that these are fantasy stories and there can lighter fare of high quality.

  • Mwedmer

    On the subject of Man of Steel, there is absolutely nothing in that trailer that goes against the character of Superman. If you think there is, then you know nothing about the character.
    Jonathan, wanted to protect Clark from those that would seek him out and do anything to take him away. That is why he was upset that Clark got involved. No different than in the 1st Chris Reeve film when Clark was not allowed to play sports.
    Clark giving himself up to the Military was his way of showing that he could be trusted. Remember, this is a reboot from the beginning. I prefer the muted colors. Just because the comic has an extremely limited pallette, it doesn’t mean that  the films have to make everyone Day Glow colored.Wolverine, NEEDS to be more violent. As good as X2 was, he never once had blood on his claws. NEVER. How can you have 12″ knives coming out of your hands, doing all sorts of stabby stabby things, and not get blood on them? Answer: You cannot.

    Be thankful that many of these franchises are taking the characters more seriously.

  • Orphan

    Anna: I think the real problem here is that movies these days are in competition with other forms of multi media namely some video games that have enjoyed huge success by being increasingly dark and violent and are interactive.Count as well the number of rebooted or other horror movie franchises these days that are way over the top (Saw and it’s ilk,along with anything produced by Rob Zombie) and producers are left with where previous films have gone to guarantee success.Saying that these films need a few jokes sprinkled in is easier said than done without throwing off the pace of the film.The fact that Wolverine may have had a few one liners in X-Men 3 or the first Wolverine Origins didn’t save either film from being complete garbage.Going dark won’t save Star Trek either with it’s lame central premise of Young Kirk and Spock as a starting point.Basically because of market pressure we will see a more modern grown up take on pop culture entertainment that will work sometimes or not or we will see the utter destruction of some iconic premises into totally bad parody ala Green Hornet,Dark Shadows,and the upcoming Lone Ranger.The across the board whining and complaining about “it’s too dark” just drives me crazy.Go watch Gumby and Pokey and leave the rest of us alone.

  • Thedriver73

    I am sick of all the “grim ‘n gritty” that has been foisted upon us in varying degrees since the late 80’s. I did not see the new Spidey movie, I will not see the new Supes movie, and I really didn’t enjoy the Dark Knight Rises. I will give Trek a chance, as well as the Marvel movies, but I have no qualms about cutting them loose as well.

  • Pietrafranca

    Well, it’s a bleak world, you know…

  • croty

    its gonna a be great summer

  • LightningBug

    “Not dark” is not equal to “stupid fluff.”

  • Mark S.

    A lot of the comic books these movies are based on are not as dark their adaptations. Comic books can be bright, fun, and explore complex themes, especially Superman and classic X-Men, or classic comics in general. So many dark storylines are just reiterations of more fun classic stories anyway. Wolverine’s best solo adventures and Batman are dark/gritty, so it makes sense to maintain the tone. And that’s what’s nice, when there is variety and the movies understand and appreciate the natures of their characters. Who needs the Dark Knight reincarnated in every movie? Superman should balance Batman, not lean towards him like a wilting franchise hoping to rub up on the bat for some recognition. The box office and audience can be so one note on it’s take in genre. Trends of the moment rather than an understanding based in history rule audience’s thinking, even when they aren’t children. Movies are dark nowadays to conform to some stereotype/cliche that dark is intellectual. Stories can be morally ambiguous and test their characters without being literally or metaphorically dark. That’s used to be what made them accessible. Read a spider-man comic. And when people say dark is relatable what does that mean? When does the average American consider choosing to keep their secrets over helping a busload of children? When a bus crashed around my area, a woman took all the children into her home until their parents arrived. What’s going on with people, usually men, that they relate to these dark takes? Most people just work and take care of their families, I thought. Sometimes it just seems indulgent. But it would be nice if someone was more specific as to how The Dark Knight is the every day man. B/c I thought the point was that he was exceptional, extra-ordinary. Superman was the extra-ordinary light we should aspire to reach; Batman, the shadow.

  • Zor-El of Argo

     Dark works for Batman. By his very nature Batman is a dark character. Superman should not be dark and neither should Star Trek. Both concepts are meant to inspire hope and as such should only have dark stories if said story ends with either Superman or the Enterprise leading us out of darkness.

  • Roger

    The Man of Steel trailer is NOT “dark.” Did the writer pay ANY attention to the latter half of the trailer or would doing so have undermined the argument?

  • Shallbecomeabat

    What I find funny is how fandom is suddenly hating on dark and serious and ten to five years ago its all we ever wanted. Secondly, this crap about every comicbookmovie trying to be gritty is bull too, since the only dark and gritty superhero movies in the last ten years have been Nolans Batman trilogy and Watchmen. The rest has been lighthearted “fun”. And have Ou read a Wolverine comic in the last years? He is a dark character. Superman is not, but seeing him grounded in a serious world will make his light shine even brighter.
    I for one, take a dark and serious approach (when its not overdone, a la Burtons homicidal Batman) over “fun” any day of the week.

  • Steve

    I guess you missed the interview where Zack Snyder says Superman is an “unabashed hero” in MAN OF STEEL.

    I think you’re the one who’s all dark and gloomy. :P

  • Tomfitz1

    Perhaps the more overused phrase would be appropriate here:
    “It’s always darkest before the dawn …”

  • beane2099

    I agree.  I think one of the things that I like best about the original Superman was that while it had its emotional moments, it was still a very upbeat movie.  Good is good, bad is bad.  I don’t even like when a director says the word “dark” in their interviews these days (mostly cause of interviews form the staff on Episode III) even if they say “this scene takes place in the dark.” 

    And for those who think Batman only works as a dark character, I’d direct your attention to Batman: Brave and the Bold, which was a great show.

  • Michael Fitz-Gibbon

    Superman should not be bleak. That trailer makes it look like The Two Towers. 

  • Thirty

    Crosses fingers. Prays for the release of  The Hangover Part III: Dark of the Darkest Dark.

  • Thirty

     “pay Any attention”. That’s a good one.

  • Clay Gilbert

    This is a little off topic, but I’m curious as to why people think there’s going to be anything “parody” about the new Lone Ranger film?  Have you seen the trailers?  There’s nothing in them to suggest anything apart from the tone one would expect from a Lone Ranger film.  The fashions have changed a bit, but the tone looks right to me, and I’m a long-time fan.

  • shaunn

    I don’ t think that Superman will necessarily be “dark” in the sense that you describe. From what I’ve read, the filmmakers want it to be a “realistic” take on humankind’s first contact with an alien being – a being who happens to have the powers of a god and whose presence might be revealed in the context of an attack from another alien being like him. (I’m just guessing here, but a lot of what I’ve seen of this film suggests a plot similar to JMS’s Superman: Earth One) I think that Superman himself will be dealing with the uncertainty of how the world will react to him, a perfectly reasonable fear to have.

    As for Wolverine – well, I agree with you, but the films have tended to be much lighter than the comics. Making Wolverine “dark” would bring him closer to his comic roots. 

  • Ian


    Gawd, I remember when comics and sci-fi/fantasy movies used to be FUN.  Why is it all this “dark” crap seems to be what is peddled anymore?  What ever happened to inspiration and positivity?  If the first Star Wars were to be made today, Obi-Wan would have told Luke that the Force is an energy field of depression and despair, and to tap into it one has to be so depressed one wants to slice one’s head off with their lightsaber.

  • Rob

    What’s “dark” is the fact that people will piss and moan about anything these days. 
    These movies will be excellent.  Quit complaining.

  • Shell Germann

    A tone of realism also doesn’t equate to dark and dismal either.

  • Thirty

    Dude, have you seen the film they made after the first Star Wars film?

  • Pietro Maximoff

    Dark of the Darkest Dark – sounds like a very good film actually…

  • Brian Middleton Jr

    Pretty sure Nolan wasn’t the first one to make a dark film, or to put his characters through the ringer :).  I imagine there will be some light moments in Trek, the last movie was built on them.

  • Sean Avery

    I really don’t mind seeing darkness in a movie when it is needed . But I don’t like the idea that because the batman movies were dark and successful we should make more movies dark . Batman was successful because he is a dark character . Wolverine will probably be good for the same reason . Superman on the other hand has never been dark . In DC comics I feel superman was always the light to batman”s dark so making a dark superman will take away from the character . 

  • Sonny Crockett

    Superman needed this. The movie does seem “Nolan-esque,” but truth be told, the trailer looks REAL, not “dark.” The Chris Reeve movies (the first two anyways) were perfect for their time (the first may STILL be the best comic genre book of all time) and Superman Returns was an attempt to tap into a time that doesn’t exist anymore. Making Superman gritty, edgy and extremely powerful is the movie THIS time needs. If only he really existed…

  • Sonny Crockett

    Superman needed this. The movie does seem “Nolan-esque,” but truth be told, the trailer looks REAL, not “dark.” The Chris Reeve movies (the first two anyways) were perfect for their time (the first may STILL be the best comic genre book of all time) and Superman Returns was an attempt to tap into a time that doesn’t exist anymore. Making Superman gritty, edgy and extremely powerful is the movie THIS time needs. If only he really existed…

  • West

    I think a trailer that suggests darkness yet does not deliver does a disservice to all parties.  So, despite how poorly many, many films have been marketed, if they bill it as dark, I’ll choose to believe that they are telling the truth.

    I would have to take a good look at the fine print on that guarantee you’re offering.  The creators’ descriptions of the next Iron Man film go against what you’ve suggested here so I’m kinda tempted to take their word.

    As for Superman, I can live with a new and refreshing direction but a dark direction didn’t work for the last film so I don’t care to see it in this one.

  • West

    It concerns me that a dark take on a dark character, like Batman, might suggest that all characters work best in darkness.

    I’m not sure Superman is one of those characters.  In contrast to something I said above, I don’t think the “darkness” in Pa Kent’s message to Clark was truly as-depicted in the trailer.  I think it was a very bad call, either way, which worries me.  We can’t afford another super fugg-up.

  • Juan

    Obviously both Iron Man and Thor will be darker than the previous ones in that it will be emotionally deeper, and it will be darker in that sense. There’s not just one form of ‘dark’ and it’s the same darkness that I applied to Man of Steel.

    And of course, you know what they say. When you fail once, don’t ever try again.

  • Monkeyhelpertrainer

    True, Olivia Thirlby was one of the major reasons why Dredd rocked so hard! You wouldn’t have really felt the stakes involved if her character hadn’t been there in the movie.

  • Monkeyhelpertrainer

    Well, to be fair, the new Spidey movie wasn’t that dark and had one of the warmest romances in superhero movies till date. 

  • Alex

    Everything is dark and awful now. YOu think they would want to make things a little lighter. The economy ISN’T recovering. The government ISN’T doing it’s job. Criminally insane people are let loose on society for some reason.  They keep coming up with ‘historic’ changes to our society every week and things get worse. A couple of years ago people kept comparing the United States position to that of the late 70s and it’s general sense of things aren’t getting better. High gas prices. higher unemployment. Distrust in public officials. ‘Malaise’ is what they called it.
    Then came Star Wars. A film that came out of nowhere that ran all night and day for a years (or so I’ve  heard) and eventually the decade ended and things got better. That didn’t happen this time and apparently the nightmare is never ending. No new young filmmaker came out with the terrific original film that made so many want to see it again and again. Not to get political, but it seems all the talk of ‘historic’ changes that were told to us are apparently all BAD ONES. I’m sure they be doing more historic things like riding the concept of gender from the books so there’s no man or woman. There will be only ‘Parent 1′ or ‘Parent 2′ on forms. Our crime ridden cities of unempoyed drug addict gang members will happily be patroled by drones. Drones, or as I will refer to them as ‘Target practice’. I’ll be shooting them with my illeagal rifle of an undetermined calibur. Phased Plasma rifle in the 40 Watt range would be my preference.
    I can’t go see a bunch of dark films. Even Dark City seemed more happy than this stuff.

  • M. Walsh

    The Daniel Craig Bond movies…gritty. The Nolan Batman movies…gritty. The Saw movies…gritty. Or more accurately, that’s the buzz word producers are clinging to now. Where everything in the 90’s was “extreme,” everything today has to be “gritty.” Unfortunately, as is often the case, they’re going to apply that notion where it’s not needed or wanted.
    Why did Green Lantern fail? According to Warner Bros, it was because it wasn’t “gritty” enough.

    I imagine one day in the future we’ll look back and make snarky comments mocking this grit trend as most mock the “extreme” days of the 90’s.

    But I always get nervous when a writer, editor, producer, or anyone proclaims they’re making a character “relatable.” I usually interpret that as code for DUCK & COVER.
    From my experience as a fan of comics, movies, TV and well, anything…some of the worst, most misguided, asinine, destructive, and all-around BAD ideas emerged from an effort to make the characters or story “more relatable.”

    Not to beat a dead horse, but it was an effort to make Spider-Man “more relatable” that led Marvel to have him make a deal with the devil.

  • Sammy

    If Star Trek goes so dark light Batman, they will alienate many long time fans. Gene Roddenberry would never have justified that tactic, let the comics do that. He would have made clear that is not the way the Universe works. The Light doesn’t fight fight fight the dark, that is a historical misunderstanding universally. The Light evolves where the dark cannot go, now that would be something new to show the world, or don’t the writers even know this? Dark violence is predictable and been done over and over and attracted crazies to our theaters. Light evolves up and away, and Gene knew this, but today’s writers are stuck in cowboys and Indians and think the play of dark and light is eternal, wrong. Sorry Gene, they just don’t get it.