There are several ways to look at Todd Phillips’ 2019 movie Joker. It is obviously grounded in DC Comics’ vast history, however it is not what most comic book aficionados would consider a “comic book” movie. Yes, it is set in Gotham City. Yes, there are references to Arkham Asylum as well as characters like Thomas Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth, and even a young Bruce Wayne. However it would be grossly unfair to judge this movie as a Batman movie or even consider it in the same frame of mind as the introduction of the Joker in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman or Christopher Nolan’s 2008 The Dark Knight (and hinted at the end of Christopher Nolan’s 2005 Batman Begins). Both movies featured The Joker as the villain, and there was a clear relationship between him and Batman, but as I suggested, this does not appear to be a typical comic book movie.
For the record, I have not actually seen “Joker” yet. I am basing this op-ed piece on what news is currently available, video clips, trailers, etc. This piece may be flawed, but it is my opinion, and you are welcome to take exception with it if you choose to do so.
We see Arthur Fleck as someone akin to Arthur Miller’s “Willy Loman” in Death of a Salesman – a man of little perceived significance and yet to come to terms with who he is. Arthur Fleck is the kind of guy who gets the crap beat out of him in viral videos. He is a stand-up comedian who has had more bombs than Dresden. From what we see of him, there is a slow progression into madness or at the very least, we see him come to terms with his madness and rebirth as the Joker, something more than a stage persona. Arthur Fleck has accepted this as who he is as he becomes visible to a wider audience thanks to an appearance on “Live with Murray Franklin.” The fact that “Murray Franklin” is played by no less than Robert De Niro lends a gravity to what could have been a simple comic book movie, but even saying that is doing a gross disservice to Joker. The movie is a love note to Martin Scorsese’s 1982 masterpiece The King of Comedy.
Joker is as Warner Bros Publicity has stated, “a cautionary tale.”
So far Joker has enjoyed unprecedented critical acclaim and response from international film festivals, however it has also endured pre-judgment from comic book fans who are quick to dismiss it as NOT a comic book movie. A friend of mine was excited to see this when the teaser first hit social media, however recently he said he wouldn’t bother seeing it as it was not in his estimation a legitimate telling of the origins of the Joker as generations of comic books, TV shows, cartoons, and movies have portrayed it. There was Alan Moore & Brian Bolland’s timeless Batman: The Killing Joke (from which Joker seems to draw inspiration). There is also the older story element of Batman chasing a man in a red hood who falls in a vat of chemicals. Being immersed in chemicals apparently rendered this man’s hair green, his face white, and his lips red giving Gotham City the Clown Prince of Crime, The Joker. While the red hood was not integral to the Joker’s origin in some cases, Batman was, and in the case of The Dark Knight, the Joker existed as a response to Batman establishing a symbiotic relationship.
A lot of dissatisfaction from comic book aficionados seems to come from the basic question of “Where’s Batman?” It is bad enough that adaptations of stories sometimes play fast and loose with established mythology, and some fans seem quick to voice that they’re not going to see Joker. I confess that I was one of these fans, however after deeper consideration, dismissing Joker as not a Batman movie would be just the same as what happens to Arthur Fleck in the movie – dismissing him as insignificant. Joker appears to be a frighteningly intimate portrayal of a man’s descent into madness and embracing it as others have not accepted him or his true nature. As such, I could easily see how this could and should receive massive amounts of critical success, however it is not what I would consider or accept as a comic book movie or a Batman story. Perhaps this version of the Joker would appear in an adaptation of DC Comics’ Crisis on Infinite Earths, and that certainly would be interesting, but I have reservations about that. It would be better to judge this as a character study.
This past weekend my wife and I tried to be adults, but Fandango’s inexplicable UI rendered my better/prettier/sexier/amazinger half confuzzled. The tickets we purchased to see “Split” by M. Night Shamalamadingdong were for the wrong date (as in three days prior to when we were currently out). D’oh! Mistakes happen, no biggie. But with a sitter on the clock, and time dwindling, we opted instead to catch “Get Out” by Jordan Peele. Until we noticed that the entire theater was sold out — save for two seats not together. And boy, it’d be a hindrance to a date night to not sit together.
So we saw “Lego Batman.” It would be the second time I’d seen it in as many weeks.
I won’t bury the lede: “Lego Batman” is amazing. It’s a visual and auditory roller coaster that nearly never comes up for air. In fact, I can honestly think back to only two sequences in the over two hours of show time where there are actual silent, simple pauses of reflection. All other times it was non-stop jokes, fights, and fun-fun-fun.
One of the more interesting debates I’ve seen creep up lately in my social network posits that “Lego Batman” is indeed the best filmed adventure of the caped crusader. Through the mixture of camp, thoroughly deep comic references, and a balanced story that actually deals with the emotional baggage of Bruce Wayne in a thoughtful non-emo-broody-whiny-baby way… most nerds are finding a hard time placing any other Bat-film above the Danish brick-based flick.
Are they wrong?
By way of Gene Ha sharing it, Ty Templeton says so. Ty places “Lego Batman” at honorable mention status… falling fourth to “The Dark Knight,” “Mask of the Phantasm,” and “Batman: The Movie”.
If I’m being bold myself, I agree that “Lego Batman” isn’t the best Bat-movie. “The Dark Knight” still is. It won’t be topped in my lifetime. I’m nearly certain on that. But I’d proudly put the Lego flick in a comfortable second place. The two films are truly polar opposites, and nearly incomparable given their intended target audiences. But the devil is in the details, and as Templeton himself denotes: Zach Galifinakas doesn’t do the Joker any justice. Whether it’s the script itself or the delivery of the lines, it’s odd that the yin to Batman’s yang truly is the yoke that holds “Lego Batman” down just enough to place it solidly as the best all-ages Bat-flick… but nowhere near the best overall film in the franchise.
This week’s article is a celebration though, not a nit-picky snark fest. Minor voice foibles aside, “Lego Batman” has a cup that runneth over in fan-service. By building on Will Arnet’s id-cum-Batman take on the character — equal parts Frank Miller’s “God-Damned Batman” and Adam West’s “Gosh-Darned Batman” — we finally get a Batman that changes from act one to final curtain. Look long and hard at every other film; I dare you to see true growth. Letting the villain fall off a church, or out of the back of a train doth not a hero make.
Bats aside, “Lego” also features the first true collaboration between Bat-family members that stays nearly believable. Taking orphan endangerment with a grain of salt and you’re left with the most complex female character in a Bat-movie, period. Babs Gordon in “Lego Batman” leaves little girls as proud as the boys exiting the theater. Suck on those bricks, Dr. Chase Meridian.
And did I mention the movie gives frames of film to Crazy Quilt, Zodiac, Calendar Man, Orca, Clayface-as-voiced-by-Allison-Brie, and still manages to tie in Lord Voldemort, King Kong, Sauron, and the flying monkeys of Wizard of Oz into the final battle? On that merit alone, “Lego Batman” boggled and baffles the mind with pure joy.
In the annals of Bat-films “Lego Batman” is a tough act to follow. Especially when Ben Affleck is already souring to the character. While it may never go down as the best, it will clearly hold sway in nerdy debates to come over the next millennia which flicks are really any more fun.
“All great articles end with amazingly relevant quotes. And Marc Alan Fishman is the best quoter of all time.” – Batman
The other day I was talking with editor Mike Gold about the political state of our country – Mike and I have marathon conversations about politics – and I asked him if he had seen and/or heard the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit Court by President Obama for a seat on the Supreme Court. “He’s into comics,” I said. Or was.
So how do I know about the comics connection? Just in case you missed the nomination or haven’t read it somewhere, here is the relevant part – at least for readers of comics and ComicMix – of the transcript of President Obama’s introduction of Judge Garland to us, the general public:
“He was born and raised in the Land of Lincoln, in my home town of Chicago, my home state of Illinois. His other volunteered in the community. His father ran a small business out of their home. Inheriting that work ethic, Merrick became valedictorian of his public high school. He earned a scholarship to Harvard, where he graduated summa cum laude.
“And he put himself through Harvard Law School by working as a tutor, by stocking shoes in a shoe store, and in what is always a painful moment for any young man, by selling his comic book collection. (laughter)
“It’s tough;” the President added. “Been there.” (laughter)
Which also means, in case you didn’t catch it, that President Obama also read and collected comics. And is still a fan. (According to Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, our President has used Heath Ledger’s Joker as an analogy to what ISIS is doing:
“After isis beheaded three American civilians in Syria, it became obvious to Obama that defeating the group was of more immediate urgency to the U.S. than overthrowing Bashar al-Assad.
“Advisers recall that Obama would cite a pivotal moment in The Dark Knight, the 2008 Batman movie, to help explain not only how he understood the role of isis, but how he understood the larger ecosystem in which it grew. ‘There’s a scene in the beginning in which the gang leaders of Gotham are meeting,’ the president would say. ‘These are men who had the city divided up. They were thugs, but there was a kind of order. Everyone had his turf. And then the Joker comes in and lights the whole city on fire. isil is the Joker. It has the capacity to set the whole region on fire. That’s why we have to fight it.’”
By the way, Judge Garland, President Obama, and editor Mike Gold all come from Chicago. (Must be something in the water.) And there’s another little tidbit of “Six Degrees of (Comics) Separation,” which I will leave to Mike to tell you.
Do you think that Judge Garland and President Obama still read comics when they’re not (in Garland’s case – no pun intended) reading briefs, sitting on the bench, and deciding cases; or (in Obama’s case) dealing with the many and awesome responsibilities of the Presidency, like being the first President since Theodore Roosevelt led the Rough Riders over San Juan Hill to visit Cuba. But Teddy wasn’t President then, and Jimmy Carter was not a sitting President when he went to Cuba in 2011. Hmm, just checked. It’s been 88 years (January, 1928) since President Calvin Coolidge arrived on Cuban shores via the battleship U.S.S. Texas for the Pan American Conference – which, among other things, led to our perpetual lease of Guantanamo Bay, which is now home to America’s infamous terrorist detention center and naval base… ironically commanded by Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men,” the movie in which Nicholson told Tom Cruise “You can’t handle the truth!”
Back to the point, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if there were at least three comics or graphic novels somewhere in Garland’s house – or the White House. We already know, thanks to Goldberg’s interview with the President, that Obama has seen The Dark Knight. I would guess that Judge Garland has seen Nolan’s work, too.
With my writer’s mind concocting scenarios, I can imagine the judge and the President, after talking about the Supreme Court nomination, sitting down in the White House media room and watching both Avengers movies, or Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America: Winter Soldier. Maybe they binged on Daredevil or Jessica Jones. Or maybe they caught up on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., or Flash, or Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow. And I can easily see Obama inviting Malia and Sasha to join them for Supergirl. (Superman Returns and/or Man of Steel? Not so much. But that’s my own prejudice at work.)
Meanwhile the Repugnanticans are up to their usual obnoxious tricks. Led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who continues the party’s bigoted refusal to accept Obama as President, the bastards are vowing not to confirm any Supreme Court nominee until after the 2016 election. “Let the people decide,” they are saying. Well, first of all, we the People do not vote for Supreme Court justices. Secondly, they seem to putting all their eggs into one basket, that basket being that a Republican will win the Presidency. Thirdly, Merrick Gardner has previously been “approved” by Republicans when he was nominated to the D.C. circuit court, for example:
Orrin Hatch (R-Utah): “Merrick B. Garland is highly qualified to sit on the D.C. circuit. His intelligence and his scholarship cannot be questioned… His legal experience is equally impressive… Accordingly, I believe Mr. Garland is a fine nominee. I know him personally, I know of his integrity, I know of his legal ability, I know of his honesty, I know of his acumen, and he belongs on the court. I believe he is not only a fine nominee, but is as good as Republicans can expect from this administration. In fact, I would place him at the top of the list.”
I love it when the Repugnanticans get caught in “black-splatter,” a perfect term, coined by Bill Maher, for what’s really been going on in Congress since 2009.
But let’s say the Repugnanticans are unable to stop the process. Let’s say that I’m a member of the Senate Judiaciary Committee, and I am going to question Judge Merrick Garland on his legal views and leanings.
“Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” – Alfred to Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight
To be honest, I think that’s ISIS, especially after the violence in Paris on Friday night.
One of the things I’ve gathered about them from my reading is that they are an apocalyptic cult. They’re looking for the end of the world. Yes, they are Muslim and quote and believe a very literal version of the Koran. But they also believe and are working towards the end of the world. Christianity has had and does have its own apocalyptic cults (e.g. the Rev. Jim Jones in Jonestown) and I read an interesting and, I think, apt, analogy somewhere, suggesting that ISIS is to Islam what the KKK is to Christianity.
The purpose of terrorism is, of course, to cause fear in your enemies but I think it’s also to provoke reactions. To make the governments affected (or allied) “clamp down.” Donald Trump thinks the Paris assault proves the necessity of the wall he wants built, although he has not explained how a wall between America and Mexico would keep out ISIS terrorists.
There are and will be those (especially on the right) who will call for military action. That may be what ISIS wants; such actions could increase the number of volunteers – and money – that flows to them. And there’s that end of the world thing – provoke one last great battle. Hey, Christianity has the Book of Revelations and that has a similar scenario. Whoever’s version you listen to, it’s pretty sure that they feel that God/Allah/Jehovah/Whomever is on their side.
Part of me wants that military action against ISIS. I got very angry (again) with the violence. I wanted, I want, that violence visited upon those who planned it, who ordered it. I want it Biblical, baby, with fire and brimstone. I may be agnostic but I was raised as I was raised and that’s part of it.
Problem is, this was born out of violence. We helped launch ISIS with our adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are victims and refugees and some of them, not all but some, are a result of our adventuring. ISIS has a lot of weapons that come from the US of A, gleaned when the Iraqi troops that we trained ran away, dropping everything behind.
We need to figure out our response and it needs to be a reasoned response, not from the gut or shot from the hip, because the Paris attack is guaranteed not to be the last such atrocity. There will be more and sooner or later some attack will come to our shores. No amount of rhetoric from the right or the left will prevent it. We’d best be prepared and think about how we want to respond when that attack comes. Remember, the other side is not looking for world domination; they’re looking for apocalypse.
Or we can all sit back and sing along with R.E.M. –
“It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine”
I was watching perhaps my favorite new TV show of the season, The Blacklist, last Monday. James Spader’s Raymond “Red” Reddington exacts a fierce revenge on those who wronged him. Reddington has done terrible things throughout the series and yet I find myself drawn to him, even rooting for him. I doubt that I’m the only one.
It’s not the first time for me. There was James Gandolfini in The Sopranos and, to an even greater extent, Michael Chiklis in The Shield. Who is the real center of The Dark Knight – Christian Bales’ Batman or Heath Ledger’s Joker? It’s a tradition that goes back a long way – the most interesting character in Shakespeare’s Othello isn’t the title character but Iago, the great and cunning villain of the play.
I really enjoy writing the bad guys as well. My favorite Star Wars creation? Probably the rogue and con man Vilmahr “Villie” Grahrk. Over at DC, I had a whole series centering on the villains – Suicide Squad. My faves among them – probably Amanda Waller, Captain Boomerang, and Deadshot. It’s not hard to spot. Hell, even John Gaunt, GrimJack, is not a hero except maybe by default.
So… what is the attraction? I am, by most accounts, a nice guy. So where does all this come from? The bad guys have to come from somewhere inside of me. Why are all of us attracted by the Joker, or Hannibal Lecter, or Raymond Reddington and the others?
Going back to my acting days, it was always fun to play a villain. First of all, they usually had the best lines. More important, I think the villains do things that you and I have atavistic urges to do, but our own conditioning, our own morality, keep us from acting on those urges. By identifying with the bad guys, by emotionally investing myself with them and their acts, I do the crime without having to worry about paying the price. I get the thrill without having to worry about the consequences.
I especially enjoy writing characters like Captain Boomerang. Boomerbutt (as others called him) was remarkably well-adjusted in a rather reprehensible way. He knew exactly who he was and he was happy with it. No angst, no desire to make himself better. Nobody liked Captain Boomerang more than Boomerang himself; it might be safe to say that he was the only one who liked Boomerang at all. He was fine with that as well.
Another secret of villains is that they don’t think of themselves, for the most part, as bad. They may think that the rules don’t apply to them but they feel they have the perfect right to do what they’re doing.
I don’t like every villain. Simple thugs and bullies – not very interesting. Same goes for the megalomaniac who wants to rule the world. Usually they’re pretty one note. No, give me the guy or gal with intelligence or at least a low cunning, a sense of humor, a worldview of some kind, a touch of theatricality and who has no compunction about doing what they do. Ah, that’s a villain I can sink my literary teeth into!
Get ready to journey into the intriguing, neo-noir universe of Brüteville, a dystopian city where high-octane thrills, gangster mayhem, and a generous dose of subversive, satirical bent collide! On January 21, 2014, Shout! Factory will unleash the outrageous action-comedy cult hit BULLET IN THE FACE: THE COMPLETE SERIES on DVD. Creator and executive producer Alan Spencer (Sledge Hammer!) developed the series with producers and executive producers Jesse Prupas and Evi Regev of Muse Entertainment and Just For Laughs Television. All-star cast includes Max Williams (Night of the Living Dead) as Gunter Vogler, Neil Napier (Riddick) as Lieutenant Karl Hagerman, Jessica Steen (NCIS) as Commissioner Eva Braden, and Kate Kelton (Haven) as Martine Mahler, alongside special guest stars Eddie Izzard (Valkyrie, Ocean’s Thirteen) and Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight, The Expendables) as notorious crime lords. Featuring special audio commentary by Alan Spencer,BULLET IN THE FACE: THE COMPLETE SERIES DVD is priced to own at $19.97 SRP.
Fun and Mayhem in Brüteville!
Violent criminal Gunter Vogler (Max E. Williams) is a sociopath. He hates everyone and everything. When a bloody jewelry store robbery goes awry and he is shot by his accomplice and girlfriend, Martine (Kate Kelton), he eventually wakes up in a hospital having received a face transplant. Gunter now has the face of a police officer he had killed earlier and as payback, the police tell him he now has to work for them and fight crime.
With old friends becoming his new foes and enemies turning into allies, Gunter suffers an identity crisis that has him seeking revenge against the entire human race. Law enforcement thought that with Gunter in their ranks, they were fighting fire with fire, but instead, Gunter is scorching the Earth. He is a one-man wrecking crew, a raging inferno carrying a police badge. He’s also a man on a mission to reunite with the woman he loves, Martine, who gave him the ultimate parting shot…a “Bullet in the Face.”
Co-starring Eddie Izzard as Tannhäuser, an agoraphobic criminal with a flair for the dramatic, and Eric Roberts as Racken, an old school, mob boss with a complete disregard for human life, BULLET IN THE FACE is a gruesome satire much darker then creator Alan Spencer’s previous series Sledge Hammer!.
The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers has announced their Scribe Award nominees for 2013.
Acknowledging excellence in this very specific skill, IAMTW’s Scribe Awards deal exclusively with licensed works that tie in with other media such as television, movies, gaming, or comic books. They include original works set in established universes, and adaptations of stories that have appeared in other formats and cross all genres. Tie-in works run the gamut from westerns to mysteries to procedurals, from science fiction to fantasy to horror, from action and adventure to superheroes. Gunsmoke, Murder She Wrote, CSI, Star Trek, Star Wars, Shadowrun, Resident Evil, James Bond, Iron Man, these represent just a few.
The Scribe Awards are being presented in July at ComicCon International.
Darksiders: The Abomination Vault by Ari Marmell
Pathfinder: City of the Fallen Sky by Tim Pratt
Mike Hammer: Lady, Go Die! by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Star Trek: The Persistence of Memory by David Mack
Star Trek: Rings of Time by Greg Cox
Tannhäuser: Rising Sun, Falling Shadows by Robert Jeschonek
Dungeons and Dragons Online: Skein of Shadows by Marsheila Rockwell
Poptropica: Astroknights Island by Tracey West
Clockwork Angels by Kevin Anderson
Batman: The Dark Knight Legend by Stacia Deutsch
Batman: The Dark Knight Rises by Greg Cox
Dark Shadows: Dress Me in Dark Dreams by Marty Ross
Dark Shadows: The Eternal Actress by Nev Fountain
Doctor Who Companion Chronicles: Project Nirvana by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
I will stipulate that The Dark Knight Rises is not necessarily the movie Christopher Nolan set out to make. The tragic death of Heath Ledger derailed his plans to conclude the trilogy with more between Batman and the Joker so he spent the last four years rethinking how he wanted to end his trilogy. What he crafted is a definitive conclusion to his vision of Batman and it is a mostly satisfying film experience. Now out on disc from Warner Home Video, we’re given a chance to re-evaluate it.
Gotham City is a place of corruption, we’ve been told this extensively in Batman Begins and the presence of the Clown Prince of Crime in The Dark Knight reinforces that. As a result, the theme returns in the third installment but with every passing film, Gotham is less and less of a character and more of a stand-in for New York City. In the first part, Gotham had the Wayne-built monorail system, a city bathed in grays and blacks, and the rise of a costumed champion to help stem the corruption before Ra’s al Ghul and his League of Shadows destroyed it. Exactly why Gotham of all the cities in the world is the vilest and deserving of fiery justice has never made sense in this trilogy.
The second film showed us how the city’s corrosive nature could take down even the most noble of men, district attorney Harvey Dent/ When the acid ruined half his face, the act sent him into the darkness and Two-Face emerged. Nolan twisted events so that Batman took the blame to preserve Dent’s reputation telling Commissioner Gordon he was giving the city the Batman it needed, a bogeyman to be feared. And then he vanished.
We pick up eight years later and Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse and here’s where I started having trouble with the story. If Batman was the bogeyman, then you need to see him now and then to reinforce the message. Instead, he broods in Wayne Manor with a silly beard, mourning the death of Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes/Maggie Gyllenhaal) who rejected him pretty solidly in the first film and again the second, although Alfred (Michael Caine) kept the news from him. Wayne lost his parents and spent seven years to become a force of vengeance, returning to Gotham to rid it of the evil that turned children into orphans. His girlfriend rejects him and dies so he broods for eight years? I don’t buy that at all. And what has he done for eight years? We’re never told. One could conclude that the physical toll of the first two films have rattled him badly, eradicating his knee cartilage and causing head trauma which might explain his mood, but we’re left guessing.
Gotham, we’re told, has enjoyed nearly a decade of unprecedented peace thanks to the draconian Dent Act which apparently handed down such stiff sentences (without chance of parole) that after stuffing 1000 criminals in the poorly located Blackgate Prison, crime has dropped to little more than jaywalking. Mayor Garcia (Nestor Carbonell) has remained in office but the political tides are turning and he intends to replace Gordon, a commissioner needed during a war, less so during peaceful times.
As all of this happens, the masked terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy) has come to Gotham. For six months, he has been overseeing a surreptitious mining of the city’s infrastructure, building an underground army that has become the stuff of rumor and legend. Why and what motivates him remains a mystery until the final act.
Apparently the city’s corrupting nature has woken up and forces are at play that brings Wayne and his alter ego back into the spotlight. That both reappear nearly simultaneously and no one makes the connection shows how somnambulant the city’s populace has grown. Initially, he dips his toe back into the game of life not because Alfred harangued him for the umpteenth time but when Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) manages to steal his mother’s pearl necklace, a physical reminder of his loss. Her carefree approach also sparks something missing in his own soul.
Apparently, the city’s acidic touch has been centered on their financial sector and there John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn) has been manipulating the markets, using Wayne’s stolen fingerprints, to force Wayne to lose control of his company so Daggett can gain access to the fusion device that could mean clean energy for the city but can also be weaponized and therefore is mothballed by Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). Daggett, we learn, hired Bane to help him gain control of the device, but Bane took the contract in order to further his own agenda.
Batman’s return is exciting to one and all as a veteran cop tells another, “You’re in for a treat”. Nolan does an excellent job brining the action to life and the film is a visual stunner. Where he falls down repeatedly is neglecting to give the characters’ much depth. Wayne and Kyle and maybe Gordon have shades to them while everyone else is cardboard. Apparently, out of thousands of cops, the only one with a brain is John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and others throughout the film show up, more the plot along and vanish so none feel real. Alfred whines in a one-note performance, the Mayor is cypher, and even Bane lacks the shades of brilliance he had in the comics. There are some storytelling gaps of logic as well that appear here and there, making you scratch your head.
Events proceed until Bane detonates his bombs, isolating Gotham from the world in a nod towards the No Man’s Land storyline and his thugs turn the city into a prison state. A city that refused to kill one another in the second film suddenly cowers beneath Bane’s bellicose tones. Sorry, don’t buy it at all. Bane gains access to the fusion device turns it into a nuclear bomb but only a handful of people seem to know it will destruct in five months one way or the other given its unstable nature. We briefly see citizen’s justice as the 99% exact vengeance against the 1% presiding over by Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), dispensing not fear but death sentences. Finally, the city’s corruptive nature, very thing Ra’s has tried to stamp out, has taken hold of its citizens. What life during this time was like should have been explored in far greater depth, similar to the two boat dilemma seen in the second film.
Bane breaks Batman’s back. Anyone who read the comics knows this is coming and we anticipate an interesting recovery sequence, one that does not rely on the magical healing touch used in the comics. That Bane left Gotham to fly Batman to the very pit that spawned him, half a world away, makes little sense. Nolan went for a far more painful and realistic solution but also it slows the film’s momentum to a crawl and we really don’t learn much about Bruce Wayne during this protracted sequence.
He finds his mojo, returns to Gotham and really does become the Batman the city needs. His presence is inspirational: to children, to Gordon, and even to Kyle. The final act is the retaking of Gotham and destruction of the bomb. It’s overly long and at times tedious as people stop to do things that make little sense given how little time they have and knowing how unstable the bomb is. Gordon, for example, takes time to go to the suburbs (or so it looks) to collect the inept Foley (Matthew Modine).
As the clock ticks inexorably to 0:00, characters stop to talk, a lot. The story slows to a crawl as characters finally reveal their true feelings and motivations and here. The worst story logic is probably showing us five seconds until a nuclear explosion but somehow Batman escapes the blast radius with any burns.
Nolan offers us the few storytelling surprises in the whole film. Among them is Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) who has had something to do with the fusion device and Wayne for years, and has hints of an interesting character, left unexplored.
The climax goes as expected and by this point you see how Nolan has set this up to be a conclusion to the trilogy. This has the feeling of beginning, middle, end, with plenty of connective tissue tying all three films together and for that Nolan, his writing partners Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer get kudos. The major players in these films have been masked, rarely revealing their true selves, offering up one face or another needed from the overt Batman/Wayne or Two-Face to players like Daggett and Crane. These conflicting natures were a lovely touch to the films but those who are exactly as they seem – Alfred, Gordon, Rachel – feel like lesser characters as a result.
Bale does a good job showing the pain and emotional emptiness he feels until forces demand he wake up. But to me, the best performance goes to Hathaway who instilled Kyle with moral conflict and enough depth to make her worthy of more. The rest do a commendable job although Hardy seems wasted as Bane since he never gets to really act, just strut and punch. Oldman’s Gordon and Levitt’s Blake are serviceable and everyone else feels more or less stock, robbing the film of its richness.
I have liked but never loved this take on the Batman, from the flimsy cape to the over-muscled tumbler. Nolan had some interesting things to say and explore in these three films but always came up short, never really exploring the themes as they deserve or making the characters feel real enough to react to these events. Gotham City remains a corrupt place in need of justice beyond that the police can offer. It needs the very champion its corruption birthed and it will be interesting to see what the next filmmaker brings to the enduring mythos.
The film comes nicely packaged under a lenticular cover and contains two Blu-ray discs – the film and the special features – with a standard DVD edition of the film as disc three. An Ultraviolet code also can be found within the case. You’ll be very pleased with the quality of the transfer as all the shadows and blacks are well-preserved without losing clarity. The sound is above-average for those who listen to the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track and you won’t miss a note of Hans Zimmer’s excellent score.
The filmmaking was meticulous recorded allowing them to slice and dice the footage into bite-size featurettes covering everything you might want to know about the process. Ending the KnightProduction (68 minutes), Characters (28 minutes), and Reflections (15 minutes), you get some fine pieces on the production then there are the characters, and finally, two short pieces trying to put a bow on the entire trilogy but they both felt far too self-congratulatory. My favorites may have been Anne Hathaway talking about her research into playing Selina Kyle and how the aerial opening was accomplished. A lot of good information is shared with rebuilding Wayne Manor and upgrading the Batcave as a result, information that might have been better shared via the film itself. Interestingly, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are almost absent from the entire disc, which is a shame. Also missing and noticeable in its absence is more about the actual writing process, and the challenges that came from losing Heath Ledger in the second film.
There’s the nearly hour-long The Batmobile documentary and I was one of the many talking heads. A shorter version aired the week the movie debuted but this full version is richer as more people got to talk about the building of the various vehicles along with placing it historic context. Leave it to Denny O’Neill to also place the vehicle in a mythological context, tracing it back to the god’s sky chariots. Some terrific clips and some heart-tugging examples of how the Batmobile can bring joy to ill. This is a terrific piece and I’m glad to have been a part of it.
For those who bother, The Dark Knight Rises Second Screen app integration has replaced the once-standard picture-in-picture track. If you take the trouble to sync it all, you’ll get additional treasures and visuals that are worth a look.
Rounding out the package is the Trailer Archive (8:35), showing how the groundbreaking marketing was achieved, accompanied by the Print Campaign Art Gallery.
Nolan and company had a singular vision and while I may disagree with it, I was entertained by the trilogy and appreciate his refusal to repeat himself, keeping each film a separate piece of a larger story. The disc reminds me that when it’s good, it’s very, very good.
No doubt those of you who troll the Internets or saw The Hobbit were privy to the new trailer for Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel. My Facebook feed was deluged with tons of praise, mirth, and, most scary to me… hope. Maybe it’s being in the company (and five-a-day e-mail chains) of Mike Gold, but color me doubtful. Not that Mike isn’t anything short of a ray of sunshine mind you… but I digress; I’m none-to-impressed with the footage. That is to say, I didn’t see anything that makes me less uneasy about the future of the DCU on film.
Before I get into the nitty gritty, let me first state: the trailer looks good. Great even. There’s a metric ton of things to like about it. Much like it’s Darker-Knightier cousin, the film embraces a realism that the House of Mouse is way to scared (or smart, maybe… more on that later…) to attempt. The cast is absolutely top notch. Kevin Costner’s Pa Kent is one part Field of Dreams and zero part Water World. Amy Adams is both easy on the eyes and known to be more than being easy on the eyes. And supporting cast like Christopher Meloni, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, and Laurence Fishburne? Well, it’s not a surprise that the hype machine is already on overdrive here. And what we do see when the tights are put on? A CG’ed Big Blue that feels weighty, and dare I say… awe-inspiring. Even if the suit looks like it’s been run roughshod through the ‘Texturizer’ filter in Photoshop.
The key though, to me, is the tone and direction of the film. I’m not saying Warner Bros. shouldn’t be trying to replicate the success of the Nolan-verse. What I am saying though is that it takes the one thing about Superman above all else, optimism, and smashes it to oblivion. From the waning palette Snyder and his cinematographer employ, to the numerous long-shots of angst, sadness, and emoting… it certainly feels like this film will take every last second of its running time to get us to a place of joy. And while I trust Nolan as a producer, and Goyer and Nolan to write the film wonderfully, I can’t help but be tepid to declare anything but skepticism until I see it. Not because I want to be an internet troll, hell-bent on hate. But because I’ve been burned before by the Brothers Warner. Fool me once, shame on me.
Imagine my glee when DC decided to launch big-budget-dollars into a GL picture. They snagged a director who handled action before. They landed a star who could fight Chris Evans for funniest-but-could-be-serious-and-is-good-looking-in-spandex with Ryan Reynolds. It was lauded by Geoff Johns as being everything he’d hoped for. And we went to the multiplex, oath memorized. And we left the multiplex, trying forever to forget it. While there will be debate amongst people which of the Marvel-Avengers-Verse was imperfect (perhaps the Hulk movie, or maybe Thor?)… Green Lantern couldn’t even lick the dirt of the bottom of Mickey’s yellow bootie in comparison. And this was supposed to be the first DC film to rival Marvel.
Let’s do the math. Let’s envision the best possible scenario from Man Of Steel. Say it’s everything we wanted and more. The story, in spite of any cues in the trailer, is full of joy, and more important… action. Good looking action. Empowered by a top notch script akin to The Dark Knight; heady, but satisfying. And better yet? It’s a box-office smash!
This is where my real fear lay. Because, I truly want this film to succeed. I love DC in spite all the venom I’ve spit at it lately. If Man Of Steel is a rousing success, there’s no doubt in my mind that WB will dictate that the eventual Justice League movie will now need to match the Nolan-verse. And for those keeping score, a gazillion sites have posted rumors that Joseph Gordon-Leavitt will play Batman in that film. Movie-goers may be able to buy that Spider-Man and The Hulk can be rebooted every 3-4 years. But would they believe JGL as Bruce Wayne when the last time we saw him he was Robin-Cum-Batman? And if his newly-gifted Batsuit makes him the man behind the cowl, WB is essentially resting the weight of the world on Christopher Nolan’s shoulders. And who here could say that a movie with 7 super-heroes could still feel weighty and realistic? It may by the straw that breaks Nolan’s back (and interest). And then, the helm will be passed to someone (anyone) who wants to not make their version of the Justice League… but the Nolan-version so dictated by Brother Eye. You dig?
And what of the tone and realism? In a Batman movie, playing things close to reality isn’t so much a stretch. Batman is, for the most part, as believable as one would get when it comes to super-heroics. But Superman? Well, that’s the polar opposite. No matter how much super-science you throw at it, it’s still a guy defying every law, be it biological, chemical, or physical… in order to preserve the peace. By his very nature, Superman is the anti-thesis to the real world. And look if you will, to the competition. Marvel presented the world with Iron Man, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor. Each of these movies balances the surreal with the real, and when it came time for the big team up?
We got golden gliding mindless aliens to smash for the better part of an hour. And we ate it up to the tune of a billion or so dollars. Marvel aimed and fired into the heart of the 13+ demographic, and hit the bulls-eye a hundred times over. Batman Begins / The Dark Knight / The Dark Knight Rises did brilliantly too, of course, but as I’ve certainly argued… it wasn’t hard to do it. And let us all be honest again. Rises was good, but not great. Man Of Steel in its 150 second trailer, contained more angst in it per frame than every Marvel movie in the last decade combined. Will it be too much for the movie going public to spend 59 minutes in perplexed sorrow for the final action sequence when Kal-El excepts his destiny and power-punches Zod to oblivion? More importantly… how will we react to it, when the dust settles… and no one asks to get a schwarma?
It’s all speculation, I know. But I couldn’t help myself. When the social media boards light up with praise and joy, I second guess it. Man Of Steel has the potential to do the impossible. But I won’t believe the miracle until I see it with my own eyes. Up, up, and away.