Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Dark Knight Pre-Post

I actually wrote this post on Wednesday, before going to see The Dark Knight on Thursday. I meant to clean it up a bit on Thursday before going to see Batman, but then I got distracted by Rock Band, and so I'm finally posting it now.

So, The Dark Knight comes out this week. That can fairly be called "good news". I'm pretty sure that everyone under the sun is excited about this movie (except my dad for some reason I don't really understand). And, well, in preparation for it, I thought I'd just reminisce about how much I like Batman and stuff like that.

So, when I was young, I was kind of into the movies. I had enjoyed the first movie, but I got bored during the second one, so I didn't like it very much (keep in mind, I was like 6 or something). I was kind of madly in love with Nicole Kidman during Batman Forever, so I was totally into that one. And, well, Batman and Robin was terrible, and even I could tell that. It's interesting to go back to Batman Forever and realize that it's almost unwatchably bad. If you have any fond memories of it at all, don't ever re-watch it. It's embarrassing.

Similarly, it's not very easy to even re-watch the first either. I mean, Tim Burton established the feel of the Batman movies with this one, and it deserved the success it got. But, it's not much of an action movie, and it's kind of slow and the result is that when you come back to it, it suffers a little. On the other hand, I did like the sequel a bit more upon re-watching it, but since I still don't really like it, that's not worth much.

Then things were quiet on the Batman front for a long time. Oddly enough, I started getting into comics and graphic novels and I ended up reading The Dark Knight Returns. My mind was blown. This was the first thing I had read that really made me care about Batman. The tough guy dialogue that Frank Miller writes is just classic and the themes are bad-ass. I was completely enthralled by this version of Batman.

I loved how much of a bad guy he was. How he relished the pain he was causing his victims. How he took pride in his unwillingness to kill, but felt no such qualms about torture. This version of Batman was a vigilante through and through. And so, now every Batman thing I see must be compared to that.

And, well, Batman Begins just happened to come around and compare very, very favorably to just that. I love how dark and evil Gotham City feels in Batman Begins. I love the emphasis on fear. I like that everyone wants to use fear to control each other, even as Bruce Wayne is letting fear control his life (okay, um, sorry about that Donnie Darko reference out of the blue). This isn't the Bruce Wayne of The Dark Knight Returns, but it's not hard to imagine him ending up there someday. I mean, Batman is always at its best when Batman is carefully toeing the line between superhero and monster, and Batman Begins actually brings that into play, and so it was awesome.

Recently, I watched Batman: Gotham Knight, which was also a really fun take on Batman. American Batman writers prepared a couple short stories and some anime directors and studios did the animation and the results are pretty cool. The first one is about the myth of Batman as different kids who all saw Batman in action try to describe what they saw. Each of them provides a fantastic description, of this robot or bat creature or just shadow creature fighting crime. In the end, though, they see Batman and he looks completely human. He's been in a fight all day and he's bleeding and tired (and looks rather out of shape). He's not that myth at all, but the kids are still in awe. Because he is Batman.

The second one, for me at least, has the most powerful image of the entire movie. There's fire all around and the bad guy has a gunto the female cop's head and he's threatening to kill her. Batman, this time looking seven feet tall and deadly, approaches. Through the fire. In the middle of the fire, with flames dancing up his cape and all around him, he stares into the eyes of the bad guy like a creature from Hell, sent to bring this man back down there with him. Then, in a flash, the bad guy is disarmed and the girl is safe. He never stood a chance.

The third one draws Bruce as embarrassingly pretty (in that anime form where the kick ass guys look like girls). It's an interesting story, providing insight into Bruce's morals. When he tries a device to protect himself, it hurts a bystander (not an innocent bystander, mind you). As a result, he refuses to use it, because it puts unnecessary risk to those around him. I like that.

The fourth one is just cool fighting and animation, while the fifth one tells a story of how Bruce learned to "work through pain". It's especially interesting to me for two reasons. The first is that we get to see Bruce with some scruff on his chin and he looked pretty cool that way. The second is that he's traveling the world studying and he attempts to join this order or something to learn to deal with pain. Basically, he lies and uses them to train him to tolerate pain so that he can fight, when they want him to learn to tolerate pain as a means of finding peace. In effect, he uses them to learn their secrets, then betrays their beliefs to satisfy his own desires. I thought it was cool to see that.

And then the last one was more cool action, which I enjoyed as well.

After watching that anime series, I decided to go out and get Frank Miller's Batman: Year One. This is a retelling of Batman's origins, which doesn't so much vary from the source material, as tell the story in Frank Miller's voice. For me, the coolest part of this graphic novel is actually Lt. Gordon. I've always been used to the cartoon version of Gordon where he's pretty much useless. He's old and overweight and incompetent and so has to rely on Batman. Even in Batman Begins, he's incapable of actually doing anything besides not get killed until Batman comes in.

But in Frank Miller's hands, Gordon kicks ass. I mean, really kicks ass. Gordon's fights in that book are actually better than Batman's fights, in my mind. And I think that's a really cool way to look at it. We see a young Bruce learning how to be Batman and then we see this aging gunslinger settling into a new town and cutting out a place for a good cop. Gordon's a hero in this view, and I thought that was really cool.

So, yeah, I'm pretty excited about The Dark Knight. I really want to see what Christopher Nolan does with this Batman. And this Joker for that matter. Oh, and this Two-Face as well. I want to see Batman lose control of the fear he cultivated in the first one. I want to see what he does once this happens. I want to see how he reacts when someone scarier than him arrives on the scene. I'm sure the writers and Christopher Nolan know that you can't use fear to control people forever and eventually their fear will give them strength they didn't have before they were scared. How can Batman control the criminal population in the long term? That's what Batman needs to learn in this movie. And it's going to be a fun ride.

I'll try to get around to writing my actual review of The Dark Knight shortly. That is all.


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