Chris Lay, a member of Geek Orthodox Church on FB, described it as “a 2.5 hour setup for the ‘bonus’ credit sequence.” Yep, that pretty much sums it up.
Chris Lay, a member of Geek Orthodox Church on FB, described it as “a 2.5 hour setup for the ‘bonus’ credit sequence.” Yep, that pretty much sums it up.
For the record, I did not think that The Amazing Spider-Man was a terribly good movie. I thought it had promise. I was incredibly excited to see it based on the strength of the cast and the interesting choice for director. I think that, with a little hard work, the inevitable sequel could be fantastic. But, as a film by itself, The Amazing Spider-Man just flat-out didn’t work on a lot of fairly basic levels.
I’m open to people trying to argue the point. In fact, a lot of critics and fans whose opinions I really respect seemed to enjoy the film quite a bit. But I’m far from alone in leaving pretty dissatisfied, either, so I want to discuss a little bit about what worked, what didn’t, and what I hope to see from the sequel.
The story was written weeks ago, even if people are only getting around to seeing the movie now: Disney’s John Carter is a flop. (at least in America – it opened very well overseas) But does it deserve to be?
No! The short story: John Carter is an fun, confident sci-fi epic for the whole family that was hobbled by a poor marketing campaign. It should be watched by everyone who enjoys Star Wars or Avatar. For the long story, click through…
“I’ve carefully studied every Justice Leaguer, past and present, and created contingency plans to neutralize you should that become necessary.” ~Batman to the Justice League
Within the special features is an interesting interview. It is led by Mike Uslan with Dennis O’Neil, Dan Didio, and Scott Snyder commenting on various aspects of Batman as well as DC comics itself at times.
I saw 70 movies last year, and these were the best.
“The Dark Knight Rises?” I hear you ask quietly, a little confused and scared that you have somehow overlooked a classic Batman story, that your geek cred has been challenged. “What, good sir, is this?” you would ask in that ceaselessly polite way you only ever see on the Internet.
Christopher Nolan, who recently finally confirmed that he would be directing the third Batman film and that it would be his last, spoke today with the L.A. Times. Nolan is notoriously loathe to drop too many hints about his movies too far in advance, but he did drop a few hints in the article (which I would be more than willing to bet all of you have already left this page to go read).
First and foremost: the title. Nolan’s third and final Batman movie will be called The Dark Knight Rises. Other confirmations? The film will NOT be shot in 3D (thank goodness, says I), the villain will NOT be the Riddler or Mr. Freeze, and Nolan will NOT tell you what you want to know.
Anyway, hop on over to the LA Times to read the story and start getting excited. Only, uh, two more years until the movie hits!
Let the hype machine begin!
– Cal Cleary
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is a film adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s fine “Scott Pilgrim” series. It stars Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, along with a large cast of excellent actors from comic heroes Chris Evans and Brandon Routh to newcomers or little-known actors like Ellen Wong and Mae Whitman. It is directed by Edgar Wright, of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead fame. And it is among the best movies to come out this year.
A mash-up of romantic comedy and action film, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World lacks the ramshackle, loosely plotted charms of O’Malley’s comics, but it makes up for it with a killer pace and some of the best visuals I’ve ever seen in a movie. More so than something like Avatar, Scott Pilgrim seems to herald a brighter future for CGI-driven action. Like Avatar, the action of the film, quite possibly the reality of the film, leans heavily on computer animation. Unlike Avatar, Wright & Co. didn’t master the effects and then give up – they went on to craft a world, one filled with fascinating characters and touching moments in between bizarre, musical-style sequences of playful violence. In Avatar, you admired the effects and tried to forgive the shoddy plotting and lazy characterization. In Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, you accept the effects and live in the movie.
Wright and his casting team made some brilliant choices, and then made some more, and then kept on making them: even the bit parts of the film, characters like Jill, Envy, Comeau, etc… are impeccably cast, maintaing not only the look of the comics, but the sensibility of the story. Aubrey Plaza, Alison Pill, and Kieron Culkin stand out as, respectively, Julie Powers, Kim Pine, and Wallace Wells, and steal almost every scene they’re in, but there’s not a single bad casting decision in the movie.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is not a movie everyone will like, but it’s a movie everyone should see. Like it’s closest relative, Kung-Fu Hustle, it combines shockingly deft comedy with some of the best action you will ever see, but while Kung-Fu Hustle is an obvious touchstone (as is Wright’s hyper-referential/excellent sitcom Spaced), Scott Pilgrim is a truly unique film.
Unlike many films and shows that toss out pop culture references left and right (say, Epic Movie or Family Guy), Scott Pilgrim is, well, good. The references, far from random, serve to bring us deeper and deeper into Scott’s brain and tell us why he’s doing what he’s doing, an audio-visual shorthand that clues us into Scott’s head.
It isn’t flawless, not even close. The last minute of the film feels tacked on, like studio testing suggested that what they were building to was too frightening and mature an ending to consider. The film could have used an extra 10-20 minutes, to space the fights a little better and give Scott and Ramona’s burgeoning relationship a chance to breathe. Or just to flesh out Ramona a little more, an important character given somewhat short shrift by the film.
But it’s not often that a film suffers from too much ambition these days, and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World certainly has that. Bursting with ideas and with a sense of style all its own, you won’t see anything like it for a long, long time. See it in theaters. Even if you don’t love it, and there’s every chance you won’t, you’ll be glad that you did. It’s funny. It’s exciting. It’s smart. And it has a shocking amount of heart for an CGI-heavy action film that involves demon hipster chicks and people exploding into handfuls of coins.
Sorry for being so damn late about this. I saw 44 movies last year, and these were the best.
According to Deadline, an internal memo circulating at Warner Bros. has set a release date for the still untitled third “Batman” film: July 20th, 2012. Though production has not yet begun, the script, by Goyer and Jonathan Nolan, is near completion, and this puts the film on a deadline that should mean we’ll start getting information on the film in the very near future.
So, who are you all hoping to see in this film? What villains should pop up? Personally, I think Deadshot or the Riddler could be done really well in Nolan’s version of the Batverse, and this isn’t just an excuse to bust out this fan-made poster from the Superhero Hype boards for the unknown final movie.
‘Tis the season! With the end of the decade and Halloween approaching, now’s the best time to torture your soul with the best horror this decade has to offer. Now, please, forgive me. The horror genre, like everything else, is getting blurrier. It’s hard to tell just what exactly is a horror film these days. I attempted to honor the genre, while keeping a clear opinion of what the best are. Enjoy!
10. 30 Days of Night
It was either this or Zombieland. A) You already know and love Zombieland. B) This is a comic site! I have to mention the adaptations when I can. 30 Days of Night could’ve easily been mediocre. An essential part of the book’s success was Templesmith’s art. Having said that, this movie looks pretty damn good. Snow always feels epic. 30 Days of Night is well-acted and well-made. It manages to naturally stretch Niles’ novel, making it, in some ways, better. To those of you who vomit at the sight of sparkly, beautiful teenage vampires, watch 30 Days of Night. These are just about the ugliest vampires ever filmed, and that’s a good thing.
9. Land of the Dead
I would’ve loved to re-watch this one, but I figure I have to get this out before Halloween. Romero’s return wasn’t as earth-shattering as we may have liked, but there’s plenty of merit here. For one thing, Land of the Dead looks great and features actors who can actually act. For another, Romero still manages to scare us with creatures who aren’t all that scary, providing uniquely gory deaths for his decent actors. And what would a Romero Dead flick be without some social commentary? With “Fiddler’s Green,” he managed to capture both the atmosphere of rich nations, who live in luxury while many still live in hell-holes, and of a post-post 9/11 world. While we sit comfortably, discussing American Idol, the evil is still lurking, and, perhaps, evolving.
8. The Mist
Ok, it’s kind of a zombie movie with bugs, but that’s different, right? In fact, thanks to the titular mist, the creatures can be grand and epic, without looking too cheesy. We’ve got some great actors here: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Toby Jones. They help elevate the material. Frank Darabont, the director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, completes his King trilogy, and it’s a lot of gruesome fun. This being a comic site, I have to mention Darabont’s Walking Dead TV involvement. If you want to see if he’s right for that adaptation, this movie will give you a clue.
7. 28 Days Later
Again, I would’ve loved to re-watch this. I even rented it, and I will watch it, but I’m a slave to this post. Danny Boyle was a good director before Slumdog Millionaire. I swear he was, and this film is part of the proof. I mentioned in my introduction how the horror genre has gotten blurry. Indeed, this film helped start that, with many rabid fans crying, “These aren’t zombies!” Well, whatever they are, they’re scary as hell. 28 Days Later has many impressive, grim shots of a destroyed London. It has great performances from the then-newcomer Cillian Murphy and the always-fantastic Brendan Gleeson. This may have helped splinter the zombie genre, but at least it’s pretty damn good.
6. Shaun of the Dead
This movie hammered home what George Romero has known since the 70’s: zombies are hilarious! They’re such boring monsters. In this film, we can barely tell them apart from the boring humans, maybe that’s just because they’re British. Shaun of the Dead is hilarious, but it also manages to touch upon the important elements of zombie movies, such as banding together, social commentary, and that wonderful gore.
5. Drag Me to Hell
I don’t want to oversell this, but Drag Me to Hell is arguably Raimi’s best film. We’re back to Evil Dead 2, with the perfect mixture of terror and comedy. Christine isn’t as lovable as Ash. She’s not really meant to be. However, Alison Lohman is a perfect horror heroine. She has the innocent looks and a wonderful scream. Amongst the laughs and gasps, this movie teaches us some very valuable lessons. Never deny an old gypsy! And never dig up a body in the worst storm of the decade!
Yeah, it’s one film, damn it. Funny thing about this being on a “best” list, it’s trying so hard to be bad. That said, this is probably the most enjoyable pick on my list. Ok, so Deathproof isn’t much of a horror film, even though hot girls are getting hunted and slaughtered by a badass Kurt Russell, but Planet Terror is horror all the way, in the vein of a Carpenter flick. You’ve got the babes. You’ve got the gore. You’ve even got the great actors, like Bruce Willis! And if you’re not at least a little scared of testicle harvesting, I don’t know what to tell ya.
3. American Psycho
Finally, a slasher movie where the murders don’t matter, even within the context of the film! Bateman’s murders are an expression of his boredom and vanity. Mary Harron took this material and made it an exploration of male insanity, rather than just Bateman’s. You’ve all seen these guys. They’re on Wall Street. They’re trying to sell you something. They might even be firing you. American Psycho documents masculine squabbles in deliciously, horrific detail. Perhaps, most chilling of all, the film asks, “What if these assholes really are killing, and, with wealth & power, their mess is wiped clean?”
I was mugged by God. That was my initial reaction to this film. True of almost every great film, on the first viewing, we’re not really sure what we’ve seen. This movie’s depth is so endless, it threatens to swallow you whole, taunting you to disregard it as Eurotrash. What I am sure of is the bravery of Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsburg, who follow Trier’s insanity to the end. Trier is a madman, as most great directors are, and his images, no matter how shattering to our senses, are fully realized here.
1. Sweeney Todd
The bloodiest musical, Burton’s possible best, and indeed, the greatest horror film of the decade. Burton stays faithful to the original tale, as well as Sondheim’s music. Depp and Carter are dressed like 30’s horror stars, paying homage to both the genre and the original film. I never felt Sondheim’s music should be gloriously sung, no matter how talented Angela Lansbury is. These songs are sad and personal, and though Burton’s cast aren’t singers, they are actors, and they deliver their tunes in the best possible way. You won’t find any prancing or choreography here. Sweeney Todd is a dark, terrifying tragedy that will slash its way into your nightmares as efficiently as Mr. Todd’s razors.
Yes, I have read the original Watchmen book by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins. In fact, I just reread it to prepare myself for the intense analysis that would surely follow this adaptation’s release. So let’s get the important stuff out of the way, shall we?
If you’re a fan, will you enjoy this?
Yes, indeed you should. It’s all very exciting to see our favorite moments from the book shown on the big (IMAX, baby!) screen. Though do prepare yourself, you may be a little negative after your first viewing. That’s only natural. I felt the same way, but I’m sure that a few months, I’ll be incredibly happy with this film.
If you’re not a fan, will you enjoy this?
Yes and no. Yes, a lot of the important material from the book is there. So I can definitely see some newcomers loving this film. However, a lot of the book’s subtler moments and characters have been played down or completely cut from the film. Though a newbie can enjoy and even love this movie, it can’t compare to the affection you would have felt if you read the graphic novel first.
Alright, now that we’ve got the general stuff out of the way, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. To me, there are four things that composite a film adaptation: acting, score, look, and faithfulness.
Acting: Surprisingly good, I thought.
Dr. Manhattan/Billy Crudup: It’s mostly about the voice for him. He supposedly did all the motions for Manhattan, but that’s not very important. I liked his voice. He played it calm, collected, and alien, which is pretty perfect.
Laurie Jupiter/Malin Akerman: She was never once called Juspeczyk in the movie, by the way. Laurie was probably treated the worst in the book, from a creative standpoint. Moore didn’t really know what to with her (And that comes from Moore himself, so don’t stab me). In the film, Akerman plays Laurie as a badass chick and that’s about it. I think that’s Snyder’s take, not Malin’s. Malin did the best job she could, and the result it fairly positive. Although, without the complexities she eventually had in the book (See, I saved myself), her character was uninteresting.
Ozymandias/Matthew Goode: Easily the worst performance in the film. Some of that credit belongs to Snyder. I didn’t like his costume. He was completely played as a villain from the first time you saw him (More on that later). Goode never once made me believe that Ozymandias was trying to do some good. He just played him as a pretentious, rich prick.
Dan Dreiberg/Patrick Wilson: Honestly, the second best performance in the film. Dan is the hero of the film, as he should be. Though he looks a bit like Batman (Especially in this movie) and is based on Blue Beetle, he’s most like Spider-Man. He’s the everyman. Wilson just nailed the performance and since I’ve always been a fan of his, I couldn’t be happier.
The Comedian/Jeffrey Dean Morgan: The best performance in the film! Only in a few scenes, but he dominated the screen every time he was up there. Sounds like the Comedian from the book, right? That’s because Jeffrey Dean Morgan absolutely hit it out of the park! The dude is on Grey’s Fucking Anatomy, and yet, whether he was incinerating Charlie or pouring out his soul, Morgan demonstrated top-notch acting.
Rorschach/Jackie Earle Haley: Even though I have Jackie as my third best performance in the movie, he might have actually done the best job. Though his Rorschach ends up third in the “How much is he like his character in the book” category, Haley had it the hardest in this film. Rorschach doesn’t translate well to the big screen with his Batman-esque voice, short sentences, and mannerisms in general. The fact that Haley presented a mostly-faithful Rorschach is a clear sign of the man’s immense acting talent. Rorschach was a bit ridiculous at times, but Haley did a fantastic “hurm” and a few great lines,” I’m not locked in here with you! You’re locked in here with ME!”
Score: The original music was just ok. I didn’t notice it much. Didn’t some idiot say “If you don’t notice the score then that means it’s great”? Anyway, what I can talk about is the soundtrack. We get that stupid My Chemical Bullshit cover of Bob Dylan’s Desolation Row during the end credits. Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable is in a Nostalgia commercial while the Comedian is fighting for his life. Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’ is played over the opening credits. Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence is played over the Comedian’s funeral. KC & the Sunshine Band’s I’m Your Boogie Man is played while the Comedian is breaking up a riot (With violent results). Philip Glass’ Pruit Igoe & Prophecies is played during some Dr. Manhattan scenes. And of course, we get some of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries while the VC are getting slaughtered in Vietnam, sound familiar? There are a few more songs, but those are my favorites. They’re great (Except that Chemical Romance crap) and well-known, but they’re misused at times. Still, Watchmen’s music is pretty sweet.
Look: Filmed entirely for IMAX and I saw it on IMAX, I have to say, the film looked terrific. The makeup was a little weak at times and so were some of the costumes, but the sets and graphics looked great. It was thrilling to see things like Archie come to life, and I saw that ship at Comic-Con, which was cool as well.
Faithfulness: Ok, first off, as I said earlier, this adaptation was fairly faithful. However, just to geek out, I’ll try to remember everything that was different.
A big one was that Hollis Mason didn’t die. Uh, the lesbian, Joey, and her girlfriend were completely cut out. Actually, just about all of Watchmen’s human connection was cut out. So when New York blew up, you didn’t really care. In the book, we had followed Joey, the Newspaper salesman, the kid reading the Black Freighter comic, and especially Dr. Long (That guy was cool) for a long time. In the movie, we didn’t care about them at all. As I’m sure you already know, the squid is gone, but thankfully, the ending is pretty much the same. Although, the squid was one of those experiments that Veidt was working on, so without that, there’s no reason for his cat. And yet, his cat was still there to do nothing except die and again, I didn’t care. In the book, Dan never saw Rorschach die. In fact, did he even know about it? In the movie, Dan is out in the snow watching for some reason. Oh, of course you know about the Black Freighter and all the back matter getting cut out, right? At least we’ll have a DVD for some of that. There are more differences I’m sure, but I’ll stop here.
So overall, I really did enjoy the movie. The acting, score, and look were great for the most part. And this is probably as faithful as Hollywood will ever get with the Watchmen. I still have to stress, read the book first! Not only do you miss out on some layers in the film, but I also feel that many of Watchmen’s twists are telegraphed. I think it was pretty obvious who the villain is in the movie. Also, it is pretty much revealed who Laurie’s real father is within the first thirty minutes. So please, read the book first, folks. For those of you who already have, go out and have a blast!
“But it isn’t related to comics?” I know that. It does have two comic book movies on it though, does that count? I love comics, but I also love movies. I saw quite a few of them this year and to be honest, it’s fun to voice my top ten on here. It doesn’t fit well on this site, but we do have a movie review section and a top ten fill in the blank section. So without further blabbing, I give you my top ten!
10. Iron Man
Finally, we get a superhero movie where the action and special effects are one of the worst things about it. In fact, that last action scene was one of Iron Man’s biggest flaws. Jon Favreau is not an action director. However, the big fight was better than most in the superhero genre because we were actually invested in these characters. Terrific acting, witty, and thoroughly entertaining, Iron Man is the perfect comic book flick. Oh, and Robert Downey Jr. is the man.
Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected public office in California. That sounds like the typical “socially aware” Hollywood film, right? But this is a great movie. Yes, Penn is magnificent as always. He creates a full portrait of Milk, flaws and all. It’s to be expected that Harvey is portrayed as a trailblazing hero, but we also get lines like “I have had four relationships in my life. And three of them tried to commit suicide, and it’s my fault…” Strong support from Josh Brolin, James Franco, Emile Hersh and Gus Van Sant’s direction help make this an excellent film. And yes, this movie is powerful and important. Same-sex marriage is legal in only two states. That’s ridiculous, but this movie doesn’t try to convert you. It only tries to make you aware.
“Sure the acting is great, but it’s not a good story.” That’s the usual complaint I hear about this movie. It’s hard to put this film’s “story” into words. As Father Flynn’s opening sermon informs us, it’s about doubt. When we view sessions of conversation, we don’t believe we’ve actually seen a story, but we have. Doubt is based on a play and perhaps it should’ve stayed on Broadway, but how else could we have seen the talent of Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis? There’s a reason every single one of them (Including Davis who only had a fifteen-minute scene at most) has been nominated for an Academy Award. What’s most important is that in every single scene, this movie gets us thinking. That is a rare thing.
7. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
It’s too bad this movie isn’t on many top ten lists, but I understand it. Putting this above films like Milk and Doubt seems weird, but it is appropriate. This is the funniest movie of the year. There’s not much more to be said about it. Comedy is the hardest thing to explain because it’s all about personal taste. All I can say is that this movie makes me really happy. Mila Kunis is adorable. Russell Brand is hilarious. Oh and who doesn’t love a Dracula musical with puppets?
6. In Bruges
A lot of people missed In Bruges because it was released around January. Nothing good ever comes out in January. This however, was awesome! Who knew Colin Farrell could act and be funny?! Ralph Fiennes is fantastic as always and an old favorite character actor of mine, Brendan Gleeson, proves to everyone else how great he is. In Bruges is the best hit man buddy picture since Pulp Fiction. It’s funny and it also features a borderline racist midget in a school uniform. This is a great flick!
5. Revolutionary Road
This is the horribly sad conclusion to Jack and Rose’s story. The traditional romantic couple trapped in a suburban nightmare. Revolutionary Road is a more modern take on the “Born in the wrong time” tragedy. Frank and April are caged within their 50’s Pleasantville surroundings aching to be free of each other. The white male is king and women are bound to the kitchen. Revolutionary Road captures these elements in painfully tragic detail. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio have grown so much since Titanic and it’s perfect that this was the next project they did together. Sam Mendes has crafted a brilliant movie that is hard to watch, but is also important and unforgettable.
Honestly, there are times when I think this is the best film of 2008. Wall-E is the best sci-fi movie in years. It may also be the best romantic film in years. Did I mention these are robots in love? Did I mention that this is a kid’s movie with very little dialogue within the first thirty minutes? This film tries to make us aware of our increasingly corporate, corpulent, sedentary, and wasteful society. Wall-E even makes me love an old throwaway musical like Hello Dolly. How the heck did this movie achieve all of this? Because Wall-E is endearing, it’s one of the riskiest and most lovable films of the decade. Wall-E is very special.
3. The Dark Knight
You’ve heard and know everything that’s positive about this film. There is no reason for me to repeat it. I will however, mention the fundamental flaw in Nolan’s Batman. Batman is the least interesting character in the movie! There’s a reason why Bale never gets any attention for this role. Oh sure, we know he’s there, but that’s all he is, there. It’s tragic because Bale is one of the hardest working actors today. He puts everything into a role. If Bale comes back, I hope whoever’s behind the camera uses his full potential. As for Heath, I really will miss that man.
Maybe it’s my love of politics, but I found this to be an incredibly gripping film. This isn’t a biopic. It’s not some sappy nonsense about Nixon’s presidency. It’s about two men involved in a verbal duel. What I said about Christian Bale goes double for Michael Sheen. Sheen was actually given a great role and he absolutely nailed it and still, he was denied recognition, shadowed by his counterpart much like Frost himself was. But Langella was as good as you’ve heard. Howard’s best captures an important historical moment that will leave your mind buzzing. Frost/Nixon deserves the little bald guy this year because sadly, my number one, much like the character it’s about, is left outside the spotlight.
1. The Wrestler
I could go on and on, but I’ll try to keep it short. This is the best performance of Rourke’s life and the year. It’s partly personal for him, which adds to the wonder. This movie isn’t depressing. It’s about performers in their winter years. It’s about mistakes and how it’s never too late to make things better. It’s about pursuing your calling at the expense of your health and loved ones. It glorifies wrestling in its realism. Sure it’s fixed, but that fall wasn’t. It’s about Randy “The Ram”. No, he doesn’t go the distance crying “Adrian!” But we do love “The Ram” through all his mistakes and flaws. And whether Rourke wins the Oscar or not, I’ll be cheering for him.
So there it is. Agree? Disagree? Please let me know. I’m not sure if I can say whether 2008 was a great year for movies or not. I do know that I liked most of the ones I saw. I hope that can continue in 2009. Anyway, thanks for reading even though it wasn’t about comics. Who knows, I may have a top ten comics list in me somewhere.
The following started out as a simple re-review of the film that I was going to post on my Live Journal, but then I just kept typing and typing. It’s kind of random at times, but I’m not trying to write the end-all-be-all essay on why The Dark Knight is the best movie ever. I’m just tossing out some shit, just to get it out of my head. I guess this is mostly for my own educational purposes, but if you enjoy it as well, cool. Or you know, if you want to tell me how full of shit I am, or how bleeding obvious everything I just said is, that’s fine too.
The Dark Knight wasn’t necessarily better the second time around, although I did tell Mandy it was (kind of the knee-jerk cliché response) but nothing can match the first time you see it, but on the second viewing, I did notice a whole bunch of shit I didn’t the first time. Seeing it twice allowed me to focus on the craft and the structure, since the WOW-ness of the story had worked its way (mostly) out of my system. It was also cool watching it in IMAX with all the pretty shots of Hong Kong and Chicago, but the giant screen and the super close seats combined to create one monster of a migraine. I saw it with almost the exact same people as last time, which was less fun than I thought it would be, cus, you know, we already made all those same jokes. It would have been nice to see it again for the first time with other people, like Mandy or Lorealle or the brother. That way, there’d be new jokes after exiting the theatre, right? Ya’ feel me? That’s part of the fun of going to movies for me, to get everyone’s reaction to what we just saw, and…
Anyway, the new stuff to talk about: the first time you watch it, sure, you notice all the familiar genre conventions: action, western, super hero. And you see all the character metaphors and whatnot. But the second time, you start to notice the details. Like, Heath Ledger telegraphing, with the movement of his eyes, the lie he tells about Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent’s locations. Or the fact that the location for the final showdown between the Joker and Batman takes place in an unfinished high-rise, an obvious nod to the first Die Hard film. And, like in that film, it is used in The Dark Knight as a substitute for “The Frontier”, a convention of the Western genre. The more I think about it, the more I see that The Dark Knight isn’t really a Super Hero movie at all, and maybe Nolan’s Batman never was. It’s a Western. And I think that’s why it works.
Sure, the Action movie is the bastard son of the Western, and the Super Hero flick the adopted stepson of the latter, but when you’re doing a pure, full-on Western, the conventions you use are wholly different. The film is littered with Western symbolism and ideas. Outcast, outlaw and vigilante to name a few, are all words used in the film to describe Batman. Gotham is the town that needs protecting from the Indians. It’s civilization. And Batman, the hero or the protector, Batman is the outcast, outlaw of the plains. He doesn’t even live in the city proper. Nolan, in his infinite cleverness, points this out in the film when Dent implies that Bruce Wayne isn’t really a citizen of Gotham since he lives way out in “The Palisades”. This is not a throwaway line of dialogue. Neither is Wayne’s retort when he instructs Dent to discover the limitations of his jurisdiction. The film is about the law. It’s about natural law or the laws of morality versus the laws made by a civilized people or a governing body of civilized people. These are Western conventions at their core, borrowed and adapted to Super Hero films. But, you say, Batman doesn’t kill and Western heroes do. Well, in the early days of the Western, the hero or sheriff or drifter wouldn’t kill at all, or if he did kill, he wouldn’t pull the trigger unless he was absolutely forced to, and even then it was only in the act of self-defense. And when the Western hero did have to kill the bad guy, it was usually proclaimed by the meager townsfolk as the pinnacle of justice. Now, in the Nolan films, has Batman not been portrayed in a similar way? In the first film, Batman sacrificed Ra’s al Ghul in order to save Gotham city. Sure, you could say that allowing someone to die is different than outright murdering them, and therefore Batman isn’t a murderer… but that’s entirely the point. Batman is justice. We, as the audience and as the townspeople, need to be able to forgive him. We need the storyteller to provide us with enough reasonable doubt to make excuses for him, because we need him. We need him to enact our revenge in a safe and tolerable way in the story just as we need men and women in our armed forces in real life, because in times of war, killing the enemy is not considered a crime. Now, is it any wonder Batman calls it his “War on Crime”? In the second film, in the process of saving Gordon’s son, didn’t Batman also cause the death of Harvey Dent? When he chose to save Rachel over Dent, was he not making the decision (implied by the Joker) to kill Dent? Of course, the Joker was lying and Rachel paid the price. Isn’t her death on Batman’s hands? Isn’t the death of the old commissioner and the judge and the Batman copycat on his hands too?
Moving on for now, let’s talk about the most obvious indicator to the film’s true genre, the “riding off into the sunset” sequence at the end. Let’s list the conventions of that scene: The boy and his father watching the hero leave; the boy calling out to the hero; the hero riding off into the unknown, the untamed frontier, because he’s too damn uncivilized to be accepted by society. Of course, here, we have Batman riding into the night, since you know, he’s the fucking “Dark Knight” and all.
Ah, what else? How about the strength of character needed to do what’s morally just and what may not necessarily be what’s legally just? This is one of the major ways in which in the Western differs from the Super Hero genre. In a Western, the hero has only his wits and his gun to rely on, just as the bad guys have theirs. Everyone is pretty much equal on the surface. What makes the hero stand out is his strength of character. He knows what must be done. In a Super Hero film, the hero has his wits and his super power. The bad guy of choice usually has one as well, but not always, and the civilians have nothing. The Super Hero is literally a god in these movies. He’s a god that gets to impose his sense of law and order onto to a sometimes unwilling populace. He is “might makes right” in the truest sense of the word. Hmm, no wonder American super hero comics dominate the medium, yet when you go overseas, you see that the super hero genre has been marginalized. Anyway, he utilizes strength of superpower and not strength of character to overcome his problems. Sure, the lines get blurred a little with characters like Spider-Man, but c’mon, in the end the guy can bench press a car. Watch his movies again and you’ll see that he always solves his problems with his fists, as most Super Heroes do. Or, if you’re Superman, you lift stuff. Doesn’t Batman solve it all with his fists? Sure, he employs violence like everyone else, like any Western/Action/Super Hero hero, but unlike the Arnolds and the Spider-Mans, his violence doesn’t actually solve the problem. It makes it worse. How does Batman beat Joker? He doesn’t. Joker beats himself, or you could easily say that Batman’s faith in humanity beats Joker the first time (people on the boats) and his strength of character, his willingness to bear the burden of being the villain beats Joker the second time (preserving Dent’s image). This is a major theme of the film.
Who can do what Batman does? Who can protect the city of Gotham, and by extension, the world or us? Throughout the film, we are presented with numerous examples of “the hero” and all of these characters are tested in some way, and all of them fail. All save for Batman… and Tiny Lister! Of course, this is again, on purpose. Nolan uses the incident in the boat, where Tiny’s nameless character throws the detonator into the water, to illustrate the point that although we view Tiny as a criminal and a villain, he’s still the type of guy we can rely on to do the right thing in times of great moral need… just like Batman!!!
These are all Western conventions and it’s exactly because of these conventions do we find The Dark Knight infinitely more relatable and enjoyable than other Super Hero movies, like Superman or Spider-Man. Look at those films, how often do the regular people in those movies take issue with their self-proclaimed hero’s vigilantism? In Superman, I’m not sure, I’d need to watch them again, but I don’t think it ever comes up. In Spider-Man, when it does, it’s always as the butt of a joke, usually involving J. Jonah Jameson. In neither of those movies, is this issue taken very seriously. Instead the filmmaker’s usually concentrate on the “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” theme. And big CGI backed set pieces. I mean, shit. That’s all Spider-Man really is. It’s action scenes. At least a couple of the Superman films include a compelling love story B-plot. But, back to the action scenes thing… this is what defines the Super Hero genre. In a regular action movie, a dude decides to take the law into his own hands and fight corruption or evil. He uses guns or his martial arts expertise and wins the day. In the Super Hero version of the Action movie, a dude decides to take the law into his own irradiated super strong flame generating hands and fight corruption or evil. He uses his special superpowers and wins the day. In an action movie, it’s about the guns and the body count. In a Super Hero movie, it’s about ridiculous super powers and stunning visual effects. In both, it’s about glorifying or magnifying the violence; elevating death and destruction to an artistic level. Take for example, the trailer to the new Punisher: Warzone movie. Seems like the perfect blend of both of these bastard genres.
Now, in a pure Western, the themes are never over-shadowed by the violence. Sure, in recent years, or as the genre began to show it’s age in the 70’s, the violence in those films was cranked up to eleven. The emphasis was placed more and more on the “Final Showdown” and not the ideas of morality that the film hoped to wrestle with. This is another conversation entirely, but it’s for this reason (or one of the reasons) that the Action genre was birthed into existence. But, that’s not really what I want to talk about, or bore you with…
It’s for all these reasons that we shouldn’t view this film as just another Super Hero movie that made a ton of money. It really isn’t. It’s classic storytelling, people, and it’s something we haven’t seen in almost a decade. That’s why so many people have seen this movie twice already and plan to see it again, with some having already made the third trip. In my eyes, the Nolan brothers are true masters of Western cinema. There are just too many examples of it in the film to chalk it up to chance, coincidence or accident. Everything in this film is on purpose. Just like The Prestige and just like Memento. This movie deserves all the accolades it has been receiving and will no doubt receive. I find it hard to believe that this won’t be at least nominated for Best Picture and Best Actor next year. And yes, I think it does deserve to be IMDB’s #1 movie right now. Godfather had its day and so did The Shawshank Redemption (which, I’m not sure why it ever did, but…). Godfather was a movie about “us” when it came out all those years ago, but we are not that “us” anymore. We are The Dark Knight “us”.
I was talking to my cousin the other day about whether or not The Dark Knight could possibly overtake Titanic. He said, “No doubt!” and I said, “Not a chance.” This was before I saw it for the second time. Now, I’d be very surprised if it didn’t.