‘Avengers,’ ‘Dark Knight,’ ‘Hobbit’: 2012, the year in awesome

Dec. 20, 2012 | 5:00 a.m.
landmark genre 20121 Avengers, Dark Knight, Hobbit: 2012, the year in awesome

"The Avengers" stands as the highest-grossing film of 2012, having earned more than $1.5 billion in worldwide box office. It didn't fare too poorly among movie critics either. Pictured, from left, Robert Downey Jr., Joss Whedon, Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans. (Zade Rosenthal/Marvel)

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Audiences remained strong throughout the first half of the third season of AMC's "The Walking Dead," which focused on the threat posed by humans in a post-apocalyptic world. Pictured, Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus. (Gene Page/AMC)

landmark genre 20123 Avengers, Dark Knight, Hobbit: 2012, the year in awesome

In October, word arrived that there will be three new live-action "Star Wars" films, though they won't be written or directed by George Lucas. Pictured, Lucas and Mark Hamill. (Lucasfilm)

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Even director Andrew Stanton realized that "John Carter" would have to overcome a number of hurdles to succeed. In the end, it went down as one of the year's flops. Pictured, Taylor Kitsch as John Carter. (Disney)

spidey Avengers, Dark Knight, Hobbit: 2012, the year in awesome

Fifty years ago, “Amazing Fantasy” No. 15 introduced the world to Spider-Man. Pictured, Andrew Garfield in "The Amazing Spider-Man." (Columbia Pictures)

three bonds Avengers, Dark Knight, Hobbit: 2012, the year in awesome

Ian Fleming's super spy earned some of his best reviews in the Sam Mendes-helmed "Skyfall." Looking to keep the franchise current, screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan settled on an enemy-within storyline. Pictured from left, Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Daniel Craig.

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Christopher Nolan has said that with "The Dark Knight Rises," he sought to bring a sense of finality to his brooding, majestic Gotham City triptych. Pictured, Tom Hardy as Bane, Christian Bale as Batman. (Warner Bros.)

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Merida gave the animators at Pixar their first female hero; Kristen Stewart donned a suit of armor as Snow White. (Pixar; Universal)

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March box office receipts were buoyed by the appearance of Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games." Pictured, Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark and Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. (Lionsgate)

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Nintendo sold more than 400,000 units of its new Wii U console in the United States upon its release. Pictured, a gamer tries out a Wii U on display in The Netherlands. (EPA/Robin Van Lonkhuisen)

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Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) set off on an epic quest with Thorin Oakenshield and his band of dwarfs in the first installment of Peter Jackson's new Tolkien trilogy. (James Fisher/Warner Bros.)

San Diego’s Comic-Con International is always full of hype and bombast for movies and TV projects designed to appeal to lovers of genre entertainment. But even in the extensive annals of Hall H lore, the 2010 Marvel panel in which the cast of “The Avengers” assembled on a public stage for the first time still holds a special place in the history of the 6,500-seat auditorium. As the wild crowd cheered stars Robert Downey Jr., Clark Gregg, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo, writer-director Joss Whedon departed from the usual script — one in which filmmakers vow that their upcoming movie will be nothing short of awesome — with typical self-deprecating wit.

“I am going to blow it,” he said amid the cheers.

“I’m not up to it.”

No surprise, really. He was up to it.

“The Avengers” stands as the highest-grossing film of 2012, having earned more than $1.5 billion at the worldwide box office, and it didn’t fare too poorly among movie critics either, many of whom praised Whedon’s flair for characters and singular sense of comic timing from rescuing what could have become a plodding superhero hodgepodge — or alternately, the Tony Stark show — and transforming it into a sprightly popcorn delight.

“Even if you’re frustrated by the relentless calculation of Marvel Studios’ plan for world cinema domination, fed up by the shameless way the studio used several of its earlier, at times pro forma superhero movies to promote this one, even if you don’t particularly like comic-book adaptations, this film just might make a believer of you,” The Times’ Kenneth Turan said in his review.

But the release of “The Avengers” — and word that Whedon is not only set to return as writer-director for a sequel but is also serving as a guiding creative voice in the rollout of the next wave of Marvel’s films — was hardly the only major news event in the worlds of sci-fi, fantasy and horror movies and TV in 2012. Although there’s still time in December for one or two more, this seemed like the appropriate point to recount all the ways in which the year has been a gift for discerning fans of fantastic entertainment.

The Dark Knight Returned: If there was a moody, majestic foil to the colorful glee of “The Avengers,” it was the final installment in Christopher Nolan’s Gotham City triptych. Released in July “The Dark Knight Rises” saw Christian Bale don the cowl for the last time, as Bruce Wayne reluctantly resumes his vigilante ways after years in self-imposed seclusion. He’s drawn out of retirement by imposing terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy),  but the mysterious masked man wasn’t the only new character to enter Nolan’s world in his third Batman movie: Anne Hathaway inspired plenty of eager spinoff talk with her fiercely feminine take on Selina Kyle. The events surrounding Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s beat cop John Blake also sparked plenty of speculation over whether the actor will next occupy the Batcave, but if he does, it won’t be on Nolan’s watch. The filmmaker has said repeatedly that with “The Dark Knight Rises” he sought to bring a sense of finality, a proper conclusion to his critically acclaimed trilogy. Yet while he’s moving on, Nolan’s not leaving the superhero realm altogether — he’s producing Zack Snyder’s anticipated take on Superman, “Man of Steel,” due for release on June 14.

So did Bilbo Baggins: The hobbit who undertakes an unexpected journey in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” might consider adventures to be “nasty disturbing uncomfortable things” that make one late for dinner, but at the urging of the wise wizard Gandalf the Grey, little Bilbo Baggins nevertheless sets off on an epic quest with Thorin Oakenshield and his band of dwarfs at arms to help them reclaim their lost treasure and their homeland. The first chapter of that story, “Unexpected Journey” comprises the initial leg of Peter Jackson’s return trip to Middle-earth and is set to be followed next year by “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” and “The Hobbit: There and Back Again” in 2014. Jackson, of course, employed the groundbreaking 48-frames-per second technology to bring moviegoers into Tolkien’s universe, though not everyone immediately warmed to the hyper-realistic imagery. Still, the movie broke box-office records when it opened Dec. 14, pulling in upward of $84 million, as fantasy fans thrilled to see Jackson trod the beloved territory that he knows so intimately. Also, “The Hobbit” has the, um, distinction of being maybe the only major studio release of the year to receive its own theme menu at Denny’s restaurants. To Erebor — and breakfast!

THERE ARE GOING TO BE MORE ‘STAR WARS’ MOVIES — AND THEY WON’T BE WRITTEN OR DIRECTED BY GEORGE LUCAS: Rarely does movie news warrant the use of the Caps Lock button, but word that Episodes VII, VIII and IX will, in fact, be coming to multiplexes certainly qualifies. The surprise announcement quickly followed the announcement that Disney had agreed to acquire Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion. The deal stunned Hollywood — typically rumors about such transactions are whispered for weeks before they happen, but not so here. Michael Arndt, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Toy Story 3,” is writing the script for the next live-action “Star Wars” film, which is due to reach theaters in 2015, the first in the planned trilogy; Lucas, who ceded his seat as president of Lucasfilm to former co-chair Kathleen Kennedy, will serve as a “creative consultant” on the three films. As for who will direct, pretty much every A-lister has been touted for the job — though current buzz appears to be favoring David Fincher and/or Jon Favreau. Stay tuned.

Emilia Clarke in "Game of Thrones." (HBO)

Emilia Clarke in “Game of Thrones.” (HBO)

Princesses got powerful: Maybe it’s appropriate given the addition of Leia to the Disney princess canon, but young royal women got a much deserved makeover this year. “Brave’s” bow-and-arrow wielding Merida gave the animators at Pixar their first female hero; Kristen Stewart donned a suit of armor for her take on the fairest one of all in “Snow White and the Huntsman”; earlier in the year, Lily Collins also swapped her skirts for some swashbuckling Snow White action in “Mirror Mirror.” Even on the small screen, similar transformations were taking place. Ginnifer Goodwin’s Snow White on ABC’s family-friendly “Once Upon a Time” is a self-reliant elementary schoolteacher, while on HBO’s emphatically adult “Game of Thrones,” princess Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is the leader of a race of nomadic warriors who hatches baby dragons, walks through fire and eats the heart of a stallion. Even “John Carter’s” colorful princess Dejah Thoris was hardly one to back down from conflict, though, unfortunately, her fortitude wasn’t enough to save the doomed Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation.

Speaking of John Carter…: The movie didn’t qualify as a gift necessarily, but the arrival of Andrew Stanton’s take on Burroughs’ hero was certainly a landmark moment this year, though not the sort that Stanton or Disney originally had in mind. The Confederate soldier transported from the 19th century West to the arid plains of Barsoom celebrated his centennial with the $250-million effects-laden production starring “Friday Night Lights” hottie Taylor Kitsch. Expectations were high for the movie — many of today’s big-name filmmakers remembered Burroughs’ outre tales with great fondness, perhaps none more so than Stanton. But even he realized that “John Carter” would have to overcome a number of hurdles to succeed; the film was in a precarious position if for no other reason than its source material had been mined for countless earlier sci-fi tales. A pure retelling could easily appear derivative to uninitiated moviegoers. Plainly put, the movie foundered, opening to a lackluster $30 million in the U.S., although it went on to gross $283 million worldwide.  Still, that was not nearly enough to pay off the studio’s hefty investment of more than $250 million plus marketing, nor warrant the sequel Stanton had begun outlining. “John Carter” wasn’t the only big, expensive movie to bomb this year — Universal’s “Battleship” and Warner Bros.’ “Dark Shadows” both underperformed. But “John Carter” bombed first and loudest, and seemed, even months before its release, to be caught in an irreversible spiral of bad buzz.

The Hunger Games began: Just three weeks after the release of “John Carter,” the March box office was buoyed by the appearance of determined, resourceful Katniss Everdeen in Gary Ross‘ big-screen telling of the first book in Suzanne Collins’ wildly popular young adult trilogy, “The Hunger Games.” Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence starred as Katniss, who in an effort to save her sister from a grim fate volunteers to participate in a brutal, televised fight to the death for the amusement of the debauched citizens of the Capitol of Panem. Drawing from such eclectic precursors as Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery,” Norman Jewison’s 1975 sci-fi satire “Rollerball” and the modern fixation with reality TV, writer-director Gary Ross worked closely with Collins to bring her vision to the screen. Ross dropped out of future films however; Francis Lawrence (“I Am Legend”) is directing next year’s sequel, “Catching Fire,” which is scheduled to be released Nov. 22, in addition to the final two-movie version of Collins’ last book in the series, “Mockingjay.”

James Bond turned 50: And never looked more dashing. Ian Fleming’s sexy super spy earned some of his best reviews in the Sam Mendes-helmed “Skyfall.” Looking to keep the franchise current, screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan settled upon an enemy-within storyline that sees Daniel Craig’s blue-eyed Bond contending with London bombings, computer terrorism and the machinations of Javier Bardem’s menacing villain Silva (sporting a wild blond mane). “The entire film is shrink-wrapped in self-examination that somehow manages not to dint, much less destroy, the explosive fun,” wrote The Times’ Betsy Sharkey in her review.

So did Spider-Man: Fifty years ago, “Amazing Fantasy” No. 15 introduced the character, who had a big year not just in comics, but also on Broadway and of course, in TV and film. Director Marc Webb brought his reverent take on the webslinger to the screen July 3, and audiences responded with wild enthusiasm — the movie is the sixth highest grossing title of 2012, having brought in $262 million in domestic box-office receipts. Webb, who had previously made the emotional 2009 indie “(500) Days of Summer,” told Hero Complex that he wanted to make Peter Parker’s outsider status “current” and to tap into the character’s imperfections, his immaturity and his punk rock instinct. There’s no question Andrew Garfield channeled some sarcastic emo angst in his Spidey portrayal — chances are, though, he’ll be a little more grown-up next time around. Webb’s sequel is due to arrive in theaters in 2014.

Andrew Lincoln plays Rick Grimes in "The Walking Dead." (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Andrew Lincoln plays Rick Grimes in “The Walking Dead.” (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The dead walked: AMC’s hit zombie series “The Walking Dead” shattered ratings when it returned for its third season in October, scoring some 10.9 million viewers and topping the new fall shows on broadcast TV. Audiences remained strong throughout the eight episodes that made up the first half of the show’s current run, which focused on the threat posed by humans rather than the zombies that walk the Earth. Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) saw his share of tragedy in a storyline that reshaped his immediate family and the band of survivors he leads to take a prison, a fortress that ultimately promises little in the way of shelter. It’s a location that’s also eyed by the ruthless Governor of the town of Woodbury (David Morrissey), who promises to deliver even more torment and tribulation when the series based on the Robert Kirkman comic book comes back in February.  “Anything could happen,” Kirkman told Hero Complex earlier this year.

PHOTOS: On the set of ‘The Walking Dead’

The Wii U debuted: Nintendo’s newest console — the Wii U launched Nov. 18 with a roster of 23 titles and a price tag of $299.99 or $349.99, depending on the configuration of the machine. There is no questioning the system’s ambitions. By replacing one of the main controllers with what is essentially a tablet, the Wii U brings another monitor into the living room — it holds the promise of dual-screen gameplay and aims to transform the TV viewing experience with its TVii feature. Reviews for the new console have been mixed, but the initial response from gamers was certainly promising: Nintendo sold more than 400,000 units in the United States out of the gate last month.

— Gina McIntyre, with Noelene Clark, Rebecca Keegan and Todd Martens

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex


daniel craig Avengers, Dark Knight, Hobbit: 2012, the year in awesomeBond: Four writers, one spy’s legacy

‘The Hobbit’ collected: Complete coverage

AvX: Jason Aaron talks Prof. X’s death

The year in video games: Indie possibilities

Robert Kirkman on ‘Walking Dead’ future

‘Avengers’: Whedon’s heroes and humor

‘Dark Knight Rises’ reviewed by Neal Adams

Pixar’s ‘Brave’ shoots arrows in the princess ideal

‘John Carter’s’ Martian dreams, Earthly gambles

Spider-Man at 50: The tale of ‘Amazing Fantasy’

‘Game of Thrones’: Dinklage sees new challenges


One Response to ‘Avengers,’ ‘Dark Knight,’ ‘Hobbit’: 2012, the year in awesome

  1. ken says:

    Nice review, though, personally, I believe every movie mentioned here was overshadowed by the underrated gem: Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom.

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