Category Archives: Batman

Why So Unintelligible?

It’s a good thing I didn’t see this in the library because I’ve been laughing out loud for two minutes now and I can’t stop. (Don’t worry, if you haven’t seen The Dark Knight there aren’t any spoilers here.)

Both the Joker and Batman are played by the talented Raul [surname unknown].

Arkham Asylum

In lieu of a Dark Knight review — don’t get your hopes up, I’ve been writing my authoritative review of Batman Begins for three years now! — here is what is probably the best fan adaptation of Batman I’ve ever seen. It’s inspired by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s graphic novel and reminds me of the short film by Kevin Conran that got Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow bluelighted (don’t hoot, I loved that movie!)

If anything, it proves that as good as Nolan’s is, there will never be an authoritative version of Batman, that most diversely translatable of characters. Here’s hoping Miguel Mesas is given a shot at the next trilogy in the 2020s:

Hat tip to Beady Eyes Al for the link.

Why So Serious?

I’m not going to comment on Christian Bale’s arrest before more information comes to light. There’s no point in discussing it until they press charges or release him, but since my blog received ten times its usual traffic yesterday, I thought I would add this gratuitous reference to the event just to keep my hits up! (Does this make me a participant in media exploitation? I suppose it would if I had advertisers or received any financial benefit.)

Meanwhile, in the “good news” category, Nate Marshall has resurrected his film blog and is re-inaugurating it with a series on — what else? — The Dark Knight. Since he has read as many Batman comics as I have, if not more, I’m looking forward to his thoughts.

UPDATE: At the same time I was posting this, Bale was released from custody (as I expected) less than five hours after his appointment to turn himself in.

The Dark Knight pReview

Well, having two years of references to Heath Ledger and the Joker certainly pays off when the time is ripe! For three consecutive days my hits-per-day have increased by 50%, meaning today’s hits are 337.5% what they were three days ago. The top post of all time, still attracting tons of hits, is a photoshop manip of Ledger soon after his casting was announced, and this blog appears second in an image search for “the man who laughs“, the original inspiration for the Joker character.

Unfortunately The Dark Knight won’t be released here for another week, but since everybody in the US will be seeing it this weekend, I might as well review the movie as I IMAGINE it to be.

The Past

By way of preface, a few weeks ago I rewatched the 1989 Batman and realized it is probably Burton’s worst film. It is boring and slow, especially due to several gratuitous scenes with the Joker that serve no purpose. The insertion of these scenes feel like a post-production decision to highlight Nicholson’s “revelatory” (but actually just indulgent) performance, but they were probably written in after a pre-production decision to capitalize on Nicholson’s casting and enlarge the role of their marquee name. Either way, the result is story-telling as saggy as Nicholson himself.

Hopefully Nolan resisted the same urge to include unnecessary footage of Heath Ledger just because it is now rare. My guess is that the script was so tight there never were any gratuitous scenes, and that Nolan’s extremely efficient editorial sense is still in tact since he says the only cutting he did was to trim down existing scenes.

Despite its failures, Burton’s Batman still deserves credit for two things: (1) the film’s tone and (2) the design of the Batmobile. Burton returned Batman to his native atmosphere of dark and gothic, which was a creditable accomplishment even if his immediate successor reversed this achievement. The Batmobile itself was the most instantly and enduringly memorable icon of the film, and its introduction — when Batman tells Vicki Vale to get in his car, and she asks “Which one?” before seeing this jet-black jet engine on wheels — is simply perfect.

One more thing Burton might deserve partial credit for is Danny Elfman’s theme, which was later perfected by Shirley Walker for the Animated Series. As a huge fan of the theme, especially as elaborated by Walker, I never thought another score could scream “Batman” to me. But Nolan arrived at an innovative method to achieve just that. His unorthodox hiring of two composers resulted in a score that benefits from the characteristic march of Zimmer while tempering his worst excesses through Howard. Three years after Batman Begins, when I heard the score again in the first Dark Knight trailers, the music just screamed “Batman!” to me.

The Future

So what of The Dark Knight? If Burton’s film ended with Batman’s revelation to the Joker, “I didn’t make you, you made me!” then Nolan’s movie ended on the opposite trajectory, in the words of Gordon predicting “escalation” as a direct result of Batman’s instigation, before handing him the calling card of a new criminal: Batman creates the Joker. And as we heard in the audio trailer for The Dark Knight, Alfred corrects Bruce’s complaint that the mob crossed a line by allying with the Joker: “you crossed a line first, though. You hammered them. And in their desperation they turned to a man they didn’t fully understand.” The difference between these visions is easy enough to account for: Burton’s is an expression of America’s self-image during the Cold War while Nolan’s is a reflection of the current zeitgeist.

I don’t think Nolan’s is a misinterpretation of Batman, because he is by nature the most totalitarian of superheroes (I would say “fascist” but post-WWII that term has become a meaningless epithet slung against any political opponent), precisely because he has no supernatural abilities. If Superman is the epitome of self-restraint and divine condescension, always pulling punches and never manifesting his full power, then Batman is (as always) Superman’s opposite. Batman’s lack of superpowers necessarily drives him “to seek the means” — first psychological, then technological — to extend his authority and control over his jurisdiction (and beyond).

In the comics his totalitarian tendencies most notoriously came to a head (as exploited by others, of course) in 2000’s JLA: Tower of Babel and 2005’s The OMAC Project. Despite Frank Miller’s influence it is usually Grant Morrison who is blamed for turning Batman into the omniscient control-freak who would keep files on how to defeat his superpowered friends, should they go rogue, as well as on his enemies.

Batman’s oath not to murder is literally the only thread keeping him from being a villain, but as Harvey Dent says in the trailers, “you either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain.” Sure, it’s self-referential foreshadowing, but for Nolan I think it applies as much to Batman as to Two-Face. In the third movie, if not this one, I think we will see Batman declare some kind of martial Batlaw over Gotham — but maybe that is what the Dark (k)Night is?  As I predicted twelve months ago, I assume the creation of Two-Face will represent some kind of synthesis of Batman and the Joker, if not just a simplistic moral equivalency that Batman is as bad as the Joker.

In defense of Batman their difference, however small, lies in their intentions, but intention has no place in today’s black-and-white utilitarian conception of morality. (For instance with respect to casualties the moral distinction is no longer made between civilians unintentionally killed and intentionally targeted.) But I doubt The Dark Knight will go that far — one can’t enjoy an action movie that acknowledges human collateral damage — and keep Batman’s dilemma down to the classic “Should I kill the Joker or not?”

But at least it will be interesting (however played-out the same dilemma has become in the comics) and unlike Burton’s cop-out, where the Joker fell to his death without being dropped by Batman personally. Even Batman Begins was more ballsy by having Batman say “I won’t kill you but I don’t have to save you,” a very un-Superman-like thing to do. (That said, Bruce had already gone out of his way to save Neeson’s life in the first act, an act of compassion left un-reciprocated, so in terms of movie-morality he had no obligation to do it the second time.) But Neeson’s last words were a question that seems to haunt Bruce in the new film: “Have you finally learned to do what is necessary?” In the trailer we hear Bruce’s arrival, temporary or otherwise, at an answer: “I’ve seen what I have to become to stop men like him.”

That’s enough Batruminating for one night. But without ruining it for me, are my predictions generally on target or has Nolan psyched me out yet again?

Looking through the chinks in the Dark Knight’s armor

The presumably final trailer for The Dark Knight is now out in very good quality.

Trailers are usually made by marketing departments, not the director, but we know Nolan was responsible for the thematically distinct teasers for Batman Begins. So he is probably in control of the Dark Knight trailers as well, but who knows?

Whomever is responsible, this new trailer shows a lot of leg (though never for too long) including the moment before Harvey’s face becomes scarred (at 1:54), as well as a split-second glimpse of his face post-scarring, barely seen on the away-from-camera side of his face which he’s touching with a revolver (at 2:03).

We also see the Joker tossing Rachel out a window (at 1:56), possibly to her death but — given Batman’s penchant for basejumping and gliding seen at the beginning and end of the trailer — not necessarily.

I am really loving Ledger as the Joker; I think he has more Caesar Romero in him than I had previously realized. One shot in particular reminds me of Romero, right when he says “go” (at 1:39).

For the past three days I’ve been wondering if Iron Man would turn out to be my favorite movie of the year but the Bat has come back with a vengeance in my constantly fluctuating geek leaderboard.

I think Indy 4 is going to be the surprise disappointment of the summer. It’ll still make a bucket of money but I predict that it will, like Spidey 3, make 45% of its total earnings in the opening weekend and have no legs. A bold prediction but I follow my instincts!

This Post-Ledger World Is Strange

The post title above is not mine but a statement of my friend Al which I think well expressed the somewhat unexpected feelings prompted by this least expected of all Hollywood deaths.

There are some interesting comments in Variety about how the marketing of TDK, if not the film itself, will be affected by Ledger’s death:

Principal photography on “The Dark Knight” finished in the fall; as of Tuesday, the pic is still skedded for a July 18 bow. The status of the pic’s marketing campaign, however, is uncertain. The first phase is built around the Joker and pics of his character are particularly ghoulish. Warner execs were still grappling with the news on Tuesday and had no comment on how they would proceed. . . .

The “Dark Knight” rollout will present more than a few challenges en route to opening weekend. One poster shows the Joker character drawing a clown’s smile on a mirror with red lipstick and scrawling the words, “Why So Serious?” Tagline was also used to launch a Joker-centric website that the studio used to bow new photos from the pic and a viral scavenger hunt, among other games.

“The Joker character is dealing with chaos and life and death and a lot of dark themes,” one insider with knowledge of the campaign said. “Everyone is going to interpret every line out of his mouth in a different way now.”

I just hope that Nolan & Co. resist the temptation to re-cut the film for sentimental reasons, either to include more Ledger screen time or to make it less disturbing than what was originally intended. But I’m fairly confident Nolan will trust and stand by his pre-Jan. 22 artistic intuition. Hopefully the studio won’t lean on Nolan to exploit Ledger’s death more than the movie is already going to do anyway.

But it sounds like the Joker might not have been too important to a third Batman movie, as Nolan said a couple weeks ago that he doesn’t really have a character arc in TDK:

“Harvey Dent is a tragic figure, and his story is the backbone of this film…. The Joker, he sort of cuts through the film — he’s got no story arc, he’s just a force of nature tearing through. Heath has given an amazing performance in the role, it’s really extraordinary.”

It will be impossible ever to enjoy this performance on its own terms now. His role, and the movie itself, will now be so overshadowed by everything outside the film, that it will be difficult not only to evaluate the movie sensibly but even to experience it without thinking about the actor instead of the character whenever Ledger is on screen.

However, Ledger is an extraodinary actor — his was the only good male performance in Brokeback Mountain, I remind you — and he may just be good enough to make us momentarily forget about his own death during his farewell performance.

Heath Ledger on Ambien

I found the source of the actual quotation everyone has been citing in reference to Ledger and sleeping pills, even as the quote gets further and further from its source. It’s from a New York Times interview on November 4th:

He is here in London filming the latest episode of the “Batman” franchise, “The Dark Knight.” … It is a physically and mentally draining role — his Joker is a “psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy” he said cheerfully — and, as often happens when he throws himself into a part, he is not sleeping much.

“Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night,” he said. “I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.” One night he took an Ambien, which failed to work. He took a second one and fell into a stupor, only to wake up an hour later, his mind still racing.

What those who blame his insomnia on the aftermath of the Joker role are leaving out is the “as often happens” part of the quote. He had just been filming a Terry Gilliam movie in London before he died, so he was in the middle of a role again and thus having trouble sleeping.

The NYT story also has this ominous comparison from the director of I’m Not There:

“Dylan was completely inspired by James Dean, and Heath has a little bit of James Dean in him, even physically, a kind of precocious seriousness,” Mr. Haynes went on.

But I suppose you could find lots of “prescient quotations” about anyone after they die. Forunately most such comments never have the chance to become prescient.

Everybody Can Breathe a Sigh of Relief

The impending expiry of the WGA contract at the end of October is threatening production of the Justice League of America movie intended to be directed by George Miller of Happy Feet fame/notoriety. Admittedly he also directed the Mad Max trilogy so he might not have been completely inept, but the last news we heard was that Jessica Biel was in, then out, as Wonder Woman.

I actually think she wouldn’t be such a bad choice for the role, but I still think the movie is just a bad idea in general before Singer’s second Superman film or Nolan’s (hopeful) third if last Batman picture. Even though Superman and Batman would most likely not be played by Brandon Routh and Christian Bale in a Justice League movie — which I think is a good idea whether it were made next year or after the conclusions of the individual franchises — I think it makes most sense not to have the characters appear concurrently in separate continuities.

Let Nolan and Bale finish their trilogy, then reinvent Batman as a character that would be compatible with superpowered partners for a Justice League adventure. Let Singer and Routh have another try at a movie worthy of Action Comics, then recast Superman with an actor that would be more credible as the leader of a team of superheroes.

“It was not how to get into the Joker but how to get him out of my head”

At Wizard World Chicago there was a Dark Knight panel on Saturday composed of Christopher and Jonah Nolan, David Goyer, Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart, and Gary Oldman (but not Heath Ledger). They showed a teaser with actual visual footage this time, which I haven’t been able to find online — check out how tight (and sartorially clever) the security was here — but there is a description of the footage contents here (minor but highly gratifying spoilers).

The most interesting comment from the director was this one:

What are the most important aspects of the Joker that you needed to incorporate in this film?

CHRISTOPHER NOLAN: We looked at it the other way around. We found a way of looking at the character and saw what role he would play in the film. The Joker card at the end of the first film created the right kind of feeling. That was the hook that got us thinking about the next one. We were looking through comics and Joker stories and we started writing the treatment before we even wrote “The Prestige.”

Jonah [his brother and screenwriter] called me and said, “Have you read the first two Joker appearances?” I had but not in a really long time. We’ve come around to something that’s eerily close to those first two appearances.

I’ve never read them but now I’m really curious to read the first two issues with the Joker. All I know is that he was based on Conrad Veidt’s character in The Man Who Laughs, the Victor Hugo adaptation of ten years before which was recently featured in The Black Dahlia (another Eckhart film).

themanwholaughs.png

I’m also impressed by just how clever and shrewd Christian Bale is. After the filmmakers expressed a lack of interest in a World’s Finest film, Bale threw the fans some red meat without actually making a verbal statement that could be quoted:

On a scale of 1 to 10, is there any interest in a Batman/Superman World’s Finest movie?

DAVID GOYER: For me, after working on this project, it’s zero.

JONAH NOLAN: When I was a teenager, my brother gave me a copy of The Dark Knight Returns, which has a very similar scene in it. I couldn’t put a number on it.

CHRISTOPHER NOLAN: Creatively, I’m burned out so I have no interest.

PAUL LEVITZ: What do you say, Christian? Do you want to wrestle Superman? [Audience roars]

CHRISTIAN BALE: [Nods confirming he’d like to as the audience screams in excitement]

The rest of the panel comments are available here.

The Joker and Chaos Theory

Matthew Rossi has an ingenious story concept for the Joker, moving him away from homicidal monomania towards someone who better perpetuates the randomness and chaos he supposedly personifies:

Why did the Joker steal the costume from a local college team’s mascot and wear it while robbing the Gotham Stock Exchange, and for that matter, why did the Joker break into the Gotham Stock Exchange just to steal three stockbroker’s wallets at gunpoint? Why is he paying street gangs to slash the tires of every Audi 5000 in the city?

buddyaces.jpgThe Joker as a practitioner of Chaos Theory would completely confound the Detective who relies on following clues to solve crimes and looks for meaning in details. Villains like the Riddler who deliberately leave clues play to Batman’s strengths, but Batman’s attempt to impose order on an intentionally random series of crimes would necessarily fail if not drive him insane.

I love the thought of Batman insisting on drawing meaning out of clues that turn out to be dead ends. He would inevitably become a pathetic conspiracy theorist, like a Tom Hanks who can find something in anything but discovers at the end of the story that there is no Da Vinci Code after all. Sure, it might be a pessimistic conclusion implying that there is no continuity in the world, but it would at least be an authentically Noir ending for that darkest of private dicks.

The built-in metaphor of randomly shuffled playing cards would also make better use of the Joker’s name than merely his being a clown whose special pathology is telling jokes that aren’t funny.