With The Amazing Spider-Man hitting the screens this week and The Dark Knight Rises set for a mid-July release, the race between the two superheroes at the box office begins. Will they set new records

In the world of superheroes this summer, we are promised an ending and a beginning. Counter-intuitively, more than the ‘beginning’ — the new Spiderman reboot — it’s the ‘ending’ that seems more tempting, i.e., the concluding instalment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

A trilogy is a satisfying way to tell a story, so it’s understandable that Sony nixed Spiderman 4 (of the previous Sam Raimi series, featuring Tobey Maguire), but the surprise is how soon the reboot has appeared. Unlike the previous Batman franchise — an embarrassment, by the time it starred George Clooney (1997) — the Raimi trilogy was well-received.

But let me admit personal preferences upfront: Batman was always the more interesting superhero and Nolan’s first two films captured the grittiness of the Caped Crusader’s universe.

Still, British actor Andrew Garfield, portraying the new Spidey as a loner teen, has got some good advance reviews. Spiderman will appeal strongly to the young market; as Garfield has noted in interviews, “Spider-Man has always been the only teenage superhero.”

As release dates approach, the superhero race is on between the ‘final’ Batman and the ‘first’ Spiderman – for critical acclaim, and more critically, box office success.

Both movies will pay homage to the comic books, in terms of plotlines and characters. Nolan has bowed to tradition by introducing different super-villains from the comics in each film. Here Batman’s foe — and possible slayer — is terrorist leader Bane, played by Tom Hardy as a vicious but brainy brute. Also part of the line-up is Anne Hathaway as Catwoman.

Meanwhile, director Marc Webb’s reboot uses the title of Marvel’s first — and longest — Spidey comic book series, The Amazing Spider-Man. Certain plot points remain: nerdy Peter Parker (Garfield), raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben, gets bitten by a super-spider, then dons a red-and-blue suit and does vertiginous leaps off high buildings.

However, Webb’s film does appear darker — and not just because it’s in 3D. It will go more deeply into the back story of Spidey’s mysteriously absent parents. This leads to a confrontation with his father's former research partner, Dr Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), whose villainous alter ego is The Lizard. Love interest is Gwen Stacy — played by Emma Stone, who’s dating Garfield off-screen as well.

As for Nolan’s final Bat-movie, it begins eight years after the previous film — which saw an escalation of violence in Gotham City courtesy the psychopathic Joker, and which ended with Batman accepting responsibility for Two Face’s crimes.

In the new film, Batman’s nemesis Bane creates so much havoc, that Batman is forced to come out of retirement to save the city. Christian Bale reprises the lead role of Bruce Wayne/Batman, with a returning cast of Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth, Gary Oldman as James Gordon and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox — with not much revealed yet about potential love interest Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard).

The first images of Bane clad in a bizarre mask created quite a buzz. “Bane is someone ravaged by pain from a trauma suffered long ago,” explained Nolan in an interview. The mask pumps an anaesthetic that keeps his pain at a manageable level so he can function.

Hardy added 30 pounds of muscle for the role, and Garfield followed a much-discussed six-month intense fitness regimen. While superhero movies don't really call for method acting chops, the people involved take it seriously; you have to, given that the new Spidey budget is rumoured to be US $220 million and Batman’s, US $250 million.

Tech treat

Technology will no doubt play a role in the “I want the largest slice of your entertainment dollar” race. Spidey has gone the 3D route, the Spider suit has got a revamp, and mechanical web-shooters now enable the superhero’s web-spinning abilities.

As for Batman, his techie gizmos get upgrades, especially as he’s a rare superhero without actual superpowers; a lot of footage has been shot with IMAX cameras; and the soundtrack has interactive elements. Composer Hans Zimmer asked fans to send voice clips of them chanting, which was layered to create a powerful sound.

In the build-up, both superheroes have appeared in excellent trailers — supplemented by viral marketing, games and promos — but the dangers of over-hype are well known.

In the overall superhero box office race, Raimi’s Spider-Man was the highest-grossing superhero film of all time when released, was then surpassed by Spider-Man 3 (2007), in turn overtaken by The Dark Knight (2008). Right now, the top spot is held by The Avengers — is it under threat? Time to place your bets.