Some will argue and debate if The Avengers is the best comic book movie ever, and The Avengers definitely deserves to be in that conversation. Is it better that The Dark Knight, which many regard as the best comic book movie ever? To answer that question, I would say in some areas it is, but in other areas it isn’t.
In The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger gave the performance of a lifetime. It was not only my favorite performance in a comic book movie, but my favorite performance in a movie. No one in the Avengers knocks him off the top of the list, but several come really close. Tom Hiddleston makes for perhaps the most deliciously evil comic book villain since Ledger.
On the superhero side, Robert Downey Jr. nails his role as would be expected, and Mark Ruffalo is far better as the Hulk than most could have imagined. In fact, there’s not a bad acting performance in The Avengers, as everyone seems to hold their weight. Still, as far as a singular acting performance, The Dark Knight is better because of Heath Ledger.
Comparing the plot of The Dark Knight against The Avengers is very difficult, because they are very different movies. The Dark Knight did give you more to think about on an intellectual level, but The Avengers isn’t typical mindless summer popcorn fodder. There is a very real sense of danger in The Avengers, as a group of very different people is pulled together for a common cause. However, I would still have to give the edge to The Dark Knight on plot.
Here’s the area where The Avengers beats The Dark Knight. The Dark Knight is intense and dark, but The Avengers is a roller coaster of fun. The Avengers does a better job of weaving in entertaining moments and comedy. It should not be underestimated how difficult a thing this is to pull off successfully, because consider how miserable Batman & Robin failed when it tried to do the same thing.
Another area where I think The Avengers surpasses The Dark Knight is on visual effects. Don’t get me wrong, The Dark Knight offers beautifully-filmed dark scenery and incredible vehicles, but The Avengers just takes it a step further. To pull off six superheroes in a movie and not have it look like a CGI mess is an unparalleled accomplishment.
So The Dark Knight wins if you’re looking for a dark, serious movie that makes you think, and The Avengers wins if your looking for a fun, action-packed movie that leaves you thoroughly entertained. Neither is right or wrong, and they both succeed in the direction they take. In fact, while I would never wish for anything different with The Dark Knight, I think it’s great that The Avengers succeeded with a very different path.
The Dark Knight made everyone in Hollywood think that to make a successful superhero movie you have to make it very dark, and The Avengers just proved that’s not true. Some comic book movies are best when they are dark and serious, but it’s possible to make somewhat lighter and fun comic book movie as well. For comic book movies to thrive, the world needs both. Perhaps, the label should remain for The Dark Knight as the “best comic book movie ever,” but The Avengers deserves a new label as “most entertaining comic book movie ever.”