Fighting in the Dark

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I didn’t watch the Super Bowl, not one bit of it. Both teams annoyed me—the Ravens with their obnoxious linebacker and the 49ers with their homophobic defensemen—and, really, I stop caring about football (or any sport, for that matter) the moment my hometown team is out of it.

So, that night, Stephanie and I watched a few episodes of the TV show Parenthood on Netflix. And earlier, during the day, rather than succumbing to the football hype machine, we sat in my parents’ living room and watched Iron Man on FX, on their big screen TV, in glorious high-definition.

I’d forgotten how much I loved that movie, and I spent much of its running time trying to divert people from the casual conversation that was ongoing into watching the film. I’m sure I was getting annoying. But, man, it’s a good flick.

It does have one noticeable flaw, though. And it’s a flaw many superhero movies—and many modern action movies, in general—share: the fight at night.

Think about how often, since the rise of CGI in film, you’ve seen the climactic battles take place at night. Sure, there’s always been a tendency to set these sorts of fights in the dark because of our collective fear of the dark. But it’s become a Hollywood cliché over the past twenty years to have a film that is otherwise set entirely during daylight end in the middle of the night, under a moonless sky, in order to mask where the studio ran out of money to render a better effect.

Here’s a list of films in my media library that end in the dark: Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, The Amazing Spider-Man, Avatar, Batman Begins, Daredevil, The Dark Knight, all of the Harry Potter films, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Kick-Ass, all of The Matrix films, all three of Raimi’s Spider-Man flicks, X-Men, and X-Men: The Last Stand. And that’s just the stuff I own.

But, here’s the thing: they’ve started to turn things around. One of the things—one of the many things—that made The Avengers such an enjoyable film for me was that its final battle took place during broad daylight. The film actually begins in the middle of the night and ends in the daytime, a total reversal of the cliché. When Hulk smashes Chitauri, we get to see those ass-kickings in all their brightly-lit glory. When Iron Man swoops in and blasts his repulsors off of Cap’s shield in a moment of bad-assery that had me leaping out of my chair in the theater, it’s right there under the mid-day sun. There’s no hiding the bad effects in that final sequence; if there are warts, Marvel and Joss Whedon aren’t afraid of us seeing them. And I believe that the decision to set the final sequence of The Avengers in the daytime contributed significantly to its mainstream success. Because of that choice, the end of the film feels much more like a classic adventure film than any of its predecessors.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m getting old. I’ll take new-fangled if I have to, but I love something that can be both new-fangled and classic at the same time. I hate having to squint my way through the final bits of my favorite action flicks—maybe having a high-def TV of my own would help, but I’m not sure—and I’m willing to give major Brownie points to any film or filmmaker who helps a brother out.