Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Rise


There's a great episode of Batman: The Animated Series called Legends of the Dark Knight. In it, three kids recount their understanding of Batman. As they tell their stories, we see them play out, in styles from the classic Dick Sprang style to full on Frank Miller in Dark Knight Returns mode.

I like a lot of things about that episode, including getting the opportunity to see those styles fully animated.

But what fills my fanboy heart with the most joy is the broader message to us, the viewer, that all of the Batman "legends" have their own validity, and they're all the one some kid got swept away by and "believes" in.

And it was with that in mind, that I enjoyed Batman Begins, and I did enjoy it a lot, and looked forward to The Dark Knight like everyone else.

But unlike most of "everyone else", I was mildly disappointed.

I didn't write a full review or thoughts here, because it wasn't enough to be interesting. I didn't hate it. It was just too long and the action was poorly staged and edited, and it was too heavy-handed in explaining what it all means. I kind of liked it, though. Perhaps just my continuing affection for Christopher Nolan's take on the character and his world.

I also thought Aaron Eckhart was great as Harvey Dent/Two-Face.

I was way less excited about what Nolan and Heath Ledger did with The Joker. I know, Ledger won a posthumous Oscar and it's taken for granted. When people criticize the movie, they always start with "I mean, Heath Ledger was amazing as The Joker and all, but..."

I'd long enjoyed Ledger's work and was very much looking forward to what he did with that character, for whatever that's worth, but I think this bubble needs to be burst.

I need to revisit both of the first two movies in this series, I think, but my impression at the time was that it felt like Clint Howard had played The Joker in something and that Ledger's Joker wanted to be Howard's Joker or thought he was Howard's Joker or something like that.

And while I find in writing this that I'm not alone in seeing the Clint Howard connection, partyboy agrees, I think the feeling that Ledger's Joker was giving a performance is a major part of what Nolan and Ledger worked to accomplish.

It's a funny feeling for me, because I suspect I'd be a big fan of that imaginary Clint Howard Joker - although this all shows that those feelings can be off - but I don't like it through the filter, but I suspect that most of the audience and the Academy and such would have dismissed the Howard Joker as terrible "b-movie" acting.

I was not exceptionally excited to go to The Dark Knight Rises.

However, with nothing changed since Goodbye, Marvel, I have not seen The Avengers and don't expect to... certainly not anytime soon... so I felt like I should see a big Hollywood comic book movie, even if I'm no longer sure I'm happy with any of them.

Well, my feelings on all of them can wait, but this one I liked better than I expected to.

In I Likes Me Sum Dark Knight Rises by Buzz Dixon, "Re-edit the 3 films together w/cut scenes & additional footage ala the TV mini-series edit of Godfather / Godfather 2. They’ve already got 7.5 hours of film that could easily be re-edited into a minimum of 10 hour long episodes."

I like this idea. I'm among those who is glad to have seen The Godfather Saga over the course of my viewing lifetime, although it certainly loses something in telling the story that way, and I'd not suggest it as way to first view the movies.

I'm a big fan of alternate versions and such, though. Almost always. Even when I don't like them. I like the idea of them.

And right now, with The Dark Knight Rises freshly having stoked my positive feelings toward the Nolan Batmans, even using elements from The Dark Knight in ways that specifically make me want to re-explore it, and that sounds like the perfect way to.

I don't have a strong feeling on Bane. Despite being associated by many as one of the symptoms of the now generally dismissed '90s comic book boom, I've enjoyed the Bane stories I've read. I'm not sure if he wouldn't have worked better as a once and out character, "break the bat" never to be seen again type character, but what do I know?

I liked Tom Hardy in the part. I know the mask and voice have gotten criticism, but they worked for me. I even thought he was strangely hypnotically convincing when he spoke to the crowds.

I think the post-occupation Gotham was underdeveloped as a concept. I wonder if this was cut from a movie that already stretched to an eyebrow-raising 2 hours and 45 minutes. It could be something else that could be improved in the "Dark Knight Saga".

Unfortunately, nothing will fix the fights. Nolan seemed to me, on first viewing, to have a better sense of the overall action being clearer than in the previous two movies, but the fist fights between Batman and Bane are painfully dull, like two middle-aged boxers trying to draw the fight out and not embarrass themselves.

There's no excuse for them not to be brawling, fists out, saliva flying... a big arm-swinging comic book fight. I'm sure someone puts this down to "realism", an accusation frequently falsely lodged against the Nolan movies by people who have apparently never experienced reality. The plot of this is enormous and supervillainous, it deserved physical action to match.

It's still not my Batman, but it's perhaps a more interesting take on the legend than I gave credit to.

In high school, I told my friend Wade Bradford about my idea to do a Batman that was darker and more of a detective. When Batman by Tim Burton came out, I remember he said they made my idea. I think I half-heartedly agreed in the course of conversation. I may have even half thought he was right.

I'm sure it was in the air, and I honestly can't think how aware I was of "The Dark Knight Returns" and The Killing Joke. I know that Burton's Batman wasn't what I really envisioned. It lacked the detective part.

I think what I pictured then was closer to If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich? from "Batman: The Animated Series" or Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, so I feel strongly like the Animated Batman is my Batman.

Especially since those are so much better than anything I might really have accomplished at that time.

Now, if you asked me to think up what the next Batman should be, I'd look to the trends. Nolan took this as far into "darkness" as multi-million dollar audiences are willing to go.

I'd look at the success of The Avengers. I'd say that a lighter approaches time has come. I'd look right in the face of Batman: The Brave and the Bold and I'd figure out how close I could get to that in live action without looking like Joel Schumacher.

Funny thing to me, though, as I'm reading Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby by Charles Hatfield. Right now I'm reading about the '60s and the rise of Marvel and the interpretations of its success.

It's weird to think that today Marvel Studios seems fun and light-hearted and the DC movies are being praised, when they're praised, for "realism" and such. It seems backward.

So, from here, I just want to address one final issue:

Dear Warner Brothers,

We can assume at some point with Anne Hathaway being a lovely woman and part of what is looking to be a successful movie and, in some way or other, the end of a very successful series, you'll be looking at a Catwoman movie as a way to keep the success alive.

You spent a decade developing a Catwoman movie after the success of Batman Returns. From what I've read, each one was worse than the last.

Certainly none was possibly worse than what you finally made.

Obviously this character is a struggle for you to get your minds around. Perhaps it's the costumed anti-hero/thief/former supervillain thing.

So, here's my suggestion. Read Selina's Big Score by the brilliant Darwyn Cooke. It moves away from the deep dark, while still working within the world of crime. It's fun and punchy, but with its direct Richard Stark mimicry, it's a far cry from Schumacher, Adam West or even my own "Batman: The Brave and the Bold" notions.

Adapt it. Perhaps you can get Cooke to adapt it, even do storyboards.

Don't hire some big fancy pants director. Just get a solid journeyman. I'd try someone with experience on Mad Men or Magic City. It shouldn't be an actual period piece, but using someone who gets that vibe would set you on the right track.

If that feels too awesome... or at least too stylized... then just adapt one of the stories by the equally brilliant Ed Brubaker from that same time, many of them also have art by Cooke.

Don't overthink this. Those stories are amazing! DC has done the heavy lifting for you.

You're welcome.


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