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From Gotham to Gautham: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

DKR - Poster

With The Dark Knight becoming one of the highest-grossing films of all time, with its critical and fan reaction so positive, it was no surprise that Warner Bros. wanted a sequel. That wasn’t the only thing at play behind the continuation of this Batman’s story, though. See, DC Comics characters had pretty much owned television and film for nearly sixty years. Their characters had been on the Silver Screen since the Fleischer Brothers first brought Superman to theaters in 1941 and included the Superman animated shorts, the Batman serials, the Superman serials, Superman and the Mole Men, Batman: The Movie, the Christopher Reeve Superman series, Burton’s Batman movies, and Schumacher’s Batman movies. On television, Superman and Batman reigned supreme, but was also joined by Lynda Carter in Wonder Woman, as well as all the various animated shows from the 1960s straight through to 2000. Marvel did all right with the cartoons, but their live-action franchises pretty much began and ended with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno in The Incredible Hulk. There’d been an attempt to bring Spider-Man to the small screen that was mostly a failure. The same with Captain America. The movies that ended up being made after 1989’s Batman was a huge success either were relegated to small screenings and went direct to video (Captain America and The Punisher) or were never released (Roger Corman’s legendary Fantastic Four).

In 2000, with the success of Bryan Singer’s X-Men, Marvel began to have some cinematic street cred. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) re-enforced it. And while the much under-appreciated Hulk was largely seen as a failure, the sequels to X-Men and Spider-Man most assuredly were not. Even the Fantastic Four movies did all right. But the thing that really shook things up, the thing that I think really made DC Comics–and Warner Bros.–begin to worry didn’t happen until 2008, a mere two months before The Dark Knight would change everything.

"I'll drink to that."

“I’ll drink to that.”

By all means, Iron Man, starring Robert Downey, Jr., shouldn’t have been a good movie, never mind a huge hit. But it was. And not only that, but the “secret” scene after the end credits where Samuel L. Jackson appears as Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. and talks to Tony Stark about joining the Avengers Initiative sets up what couldn’t possibly come to pass. While The Dark Knight clearly won the box office that summer, there was definitely room enough in geeks’ hearts for both billionaires with a predisposition to gadgets and cool suits who fought bad guys, Iron Man hinted at the possibility of a lively Marvel cinematic event, which only became more real with the following month’s The Incredible Hulk. Regardless of where one stands on this version of the Hulk’s story, Tony Stark’s cameo regarding the Avengers began to cement comic book fans’ hopes. By 2010’s Iron Man 2, it was a done deal. Marvel would be making The Avengers. While the first Iron Man set up the idea, and The Incredible Hulk kept it afloat, Iron Man 2 really started the story. Nick Fury and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and S.H.I.E.L.D. play a huge role, as well as cameos from the other future Avengers in some way or another.

DC needed to respond. Could Christopher Nolan’s Batman films be a part of a new DC Cinematic Universe, or were they too stand-alone? Did Nolan even want to return to make a third Batman? What about the other heroes?

DKR - Green Lantern

“Hey, guys! Remember me?!”

2011’s Green Lantern was met with a lot of excitement but became a let-down. The hopes that DC and Warner Bros. would replicate the success of the growing Marvel Cinematic Universe were destroyed faster than Green Lantern‘s running time. Rumors swirled about a Justice League movie in the works, which would ignore Nolan’s films. DC/Warner Bros. needed something.

Cinematic Universe or no, Christopher Nolan decided to return for a third film in his Dark Knight Trilogy. Again, he met with David S. Goyer for the initial story, which would then be written as a screenplay by him and his brother Jonathan. Nolan decided to stick to his guns and make this film the final act of his story. Warner Bros. and DC were smart to leave him alone.

On July 20th, 2012, The Dark Knight Rises premiered.

By then, things were pretty good for me. I’d been re-married three years and Pamela and I were expecting a baby, a girl. My older daughter was fourteen and just over a month away from starting high school. The year had had some bumpy moments but things were good. And in a summer that had already brought us Marvel’s The Avengers, we truly looked forward to The Dark Knight Rises. I was excited that something similar to the real version of Bane would appear in a movie, and also just to see where we’d be brought this time.

The Day

By now, we’d expect that I’d place Christian Bale here, and I will, though nearly by default and also by a hair. Where he lit the screen in Batman Begins and truly became Batman in The Dark Knight, he feels too familiar by now. Still, there are moments that truly show his craft. The scene between him and Michael Caine as Alfred resigns out of fear for Bruce in one. The raw emotion displayed by both actors gave the movie much-needed emotional depth and was a surprise, as well. Also, his fight scene with Bane (Tom Hardy) is also spectacularly acted. This is the Batman we’ve grown to love meeting his match and unable to change course, which leads to his undoing. Bale’s real performance isn’t under the mask, though, but rather as Bruce Wayne comes out of his self-exile and re-emerges to a different world and slowly figures out how to deal with Bane and the crisis in Gotham.

"Ouch time."

“Ouch time.”

Also, props are given to Gary Oldman, who once again brings Commissioner James Gordon to life with intensity, intelligence, and pathos. That said, like Bale’s entry, he’s here by a hair.

Tom Hardy as Bane is the backbone (not sure if the pun is intended) of this movie. Like Heath Ledger’s turn as The Joker, Hardy’s Bane steals the show. The guy is 5’9″, which while it isn’t short (ahem…thinking of my own height, only I always throw in “and three-quarters” because…well…you know) and he looms over everyone. And I don’t mean the obvious camera tricks, either, though they’re definitely put to good use here, but by his performance. Hardy gives Bane a confidence that borders on arrogance. He doesn’t just walk, he saunters. His soulful eyes also do a phenomenal job in letting the audience grasp his emotion, without ever once seeming to over-play it. And while there’ve been critics about his voice, I liked it. It was silly sometimes, but effective.

"Mrffle griff Gotham Shitty."

“Mrffle griff Mishter Wayne.”

And while we’re on Bane, kudos to Nolan, Goyer, and Nolan for bringing to the Silver Screen a Bane who is worthy of an adaptation. He would’ve been the last villain I’d’ve thought they’d go with (well…maybe not the last…) but they utilized the gist of the comic book character who was one of the break-out stars of 1990s comic books.

Also, Anne Hathaway is quite good as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, though she’s never called Catwoman, even once. Hathaway is an actress I enjoy immensely and whom, like Gwyneth Paltrow, I feel gets given a hard time too often. Hathaway is tough and broken, yet she has the ability to change as the world around her changes.

Where's my laser pointer when I need one?

Where’s my laser pointer when I need one?

I also rather enjoyed Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake. His role as a police officer-turned-detective-turned-Batman/Robin brings an infusion of new blood to the screen, and helps move the story along. He’s spunky and likable.

Marion Cotillard is, well, beautiful, haunting, and I can watch her all day.

Of course, the rest of the cast is good, too, which we expect by now for not only a Christopher Nolan film, but also for this series of Batman movies.

I loved The Bat. I know that some people thought it was lame, but I’m not one of them. I’d hoped for a return of a Batmobile, but The Bat does the job nicely for me. This machine flying through Gotham makes me happy.

I'm sure the store in the background is an accident.

I’m sure the store in the background is an accident.

The story is bold, and I like that a lot. After the mega-success and instant-classic status of The Dark Knight, to go back to Batman Begins, yet forward with a story that truly closes the series with little hope for a follow-up in this universe is bold. To tell a story that surpasses The Dark Knight‘s 2hr 30mins by 15 minutes, bringing it close to 3 hrs, is also bold. It would’ve been easy to play it safe at this point and give us a similarly-themed third installment, replacing The Joker with another character. But Nolan decided to go back to the League of Shadows and Ra’s al Ghul and bring the story full circle. Here is a Bruce Wayne who is finally able to hang up the cowl and walk away. Here is a Batman who will sacrifice himself for Gotham…in a sense. Very, very bold.

Also bold is having Gotham be completely hijacked by Bane. This was the tell-tale moment where this movie went from, “Wow!” to “What the fuck are they doing?!” in the best way possible. I admire it.

I also love Batman’s comeback after the Gotham Stock Exchange is held-up. It’s an appropriate re-introduction to the character and means a lot. The fact that the filmmakers decided to keep the same suit is also wonderful. No sudden outfit changes for this Batman!

And Nolan’s direction is, once again, really good. He makes Gotham feel huge and real, while definitely making it known that it doesn’t exist. The action is well done and the overall tone of the movie is right.

It's a shame he quit. We need more officers like him.

It’s a shame he quit. We need more officers like him.

The Dark

I mentioned above that both Christian Bale’s and Gary Oldman’s performances are there by a hair each (maybe even the same hair!). I feel that their performances in this movie are a little uneven compared to the previous movies. Bale underplays Bruce Wayne sometimes while Oldman overplays Gordon at times. Mostly, though, they’re keeping up the status quo, and it’s neither good nor bad.

The “realistic” villains in John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn) and his assistant (Burn Gorman) are a little too cartoony for Christopher Nolan’s world. Mendelsohn seems to sneer a little too much and comes off more like a Bond villain (says the guy who’s never seen a James Bond movie) than a Dark Knight Trilogy villain. Also, Matthew Modine’s role as…whoever he was, I’m not checking…is a little weak. Even his death is weak.

Marion Cotillard is under-utilized. Her role as Miranda Tate brings some new energy to the movie, but the big reveal that she’s Talia al Ghul, Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter, is a let-down. I was hoping she would be this character as I watched the movie, but by the time she reveals who she really is and takes charge, the movie is almost over and she’s given nothing to do but die, which is a waste of this actress and a waste of this character. I know that Cotillard was pregnant during this time and I’m sure that had something to do with the lack of a Talia al Ghul fighting Batman, but isn’t that what stuntwomen are for?

Stop taunting me with your beauty!

Stop taunting me with your beauty!

While each of these movies have some plot holes, The Dark Knight Rises seems to suffer the most from them, and while I’m not so concerned about the plot holes (if I’m entertained, I rarely am) I feel like the pacing of the movie is off. The first part of the movie, where Batman is no more, Bruce is slowly peeking his head out of his exile, and Gordon is having a crisis is great. We meet John Blake, Modine’s character, Selina Kyle, and Bane. We see where things are headed. When Gordon is nearly killed and Bruce decides to return as Batman, the movie hits a strangely bumpy road. Too much is going on in the amount of time it’s happening, making some of the scenes flow into each other so quickly that it’s almost dizzying. Batman returns, Catwoman is watching it as she robs Daggett, she beats him up and escapes, finds Bane’s men, Batman shows up, they fight and escape, and she disappears so he can have a joke. No breathing. Even how quickly he asks her for help and she gives it, only to betray him by giving him to Bane feels too easy, too convenient.

Oh, yeah. Spoiler alert.

Oh, yeah. Spoiler alert.

Why isn’t The Joker mentioned? Even once? Harvey Dent is mentioned, his photo is shown, and Gordon has flashbacks. The Joker? The dude who had Gotham on its knees and basically caused the whole Dent thing to go down isn’t mentioned. Where is he? Why isn’t he released when Bane lets the psychopaths out? It’s just strange to me. Was this out of respect to Heath Ledger? It’s damn weird, is all.

The pacing is perfect for a short period of time here, where Batman gets beaten and brought to the hole prison place. As Bane methodically traps Gotham PD and takes over the city, the movie feels right. Until Bruce suddenly starts training in the hole. Then it’s choppy again. And slow. Very slow. And then Batman returns again and things feel more on track.

Did I explain it well? I’m not sure. But I think that The Dark Knight Rises is, more than any other thing I’ve seen, a strong argument as to why television is actually better suited for these stories than film. Excuse me while I digress a little….

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s (okay, and 2010s) as superhero movie after superhero movie has come out, I have felt stronger and stronger that the best place for these characters would be television. While movie theaters can offer a big spectacle, the television offers breadth. These characters, by their very nature, are meant to evolve and change over a long period of time. They have secondary and side characters that are colorful and varied and best-suited for the way television works. The Dark Knight Rises would’ve made an excellent season of TV. The build-up of Bruce Wayne’s return as Batman. The way Bane breaks him (mid-season finale) and then takes over Gotham. Batman’s return. The intro of John Blake’s true first name being Robin, thereby setting up the next season! Even Batman Begins and The Dark Knight follow this. That said, I’m not currently watching any of the superhero TV shows (well, I just started watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on Netflix) but I really think this is the way they’d be best. I propose a new cable channel called HERO, where comic books and their other-media-offspring have a place to live. Sign both DC and Marvel and get adaptations of both places’ biggest names. Imagine the possibilities! After 10PM is reserved for The Sandman or whathaveyou. Egads!

Anyway, the movie is uneven at times, and even a little boring at times. A little.

"I just came from the frozen river and now I'm here to save your ass. Nothing choppy about this."

“I just came from the frozen river and now I’m here to save your ass. Nothing choppy about this.”

My final real beef with this movie is the ending. No, not Batman “sacrificing” himself, the Robin reveal, or even Alfred finding Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle at some café. My beef is pretty much from the point where Miranda Tate reveals that she’s Talia al Ghul until the moment Batman flies off with the bomb. In other words, the climax. I’ve already mentioned how the Big Reveal is a little lame above, so I’ll skip that and go to Bane and Batman left alone. Talia has given Bane orders to keep Batman alive so he can feel the burn of the nuclear explosion and know that he failed. She leaves and Bane waits a few moments with a gasping, spirit-crushed Batman.

(An aside: The world’s greatest detective has been fooled by Talia al Ghul. All right, I’ll buy that, League of Shadows and all that. But he is so heartbroken. Between the less than subtle stab in the back she gave him and the point after she leaves and–well, I’m about to go there–he is in shambles. Heavy mouth-breathing, eyes wide, unable to figure out what to do or get his footing back against Bane. Yes, he’s in pain. Yes, his feelings are hurt and he feels betrayed, and probably the fool, too. But he’s Batman, fer chrissakes! His last fuckin’ girlfriend was blown up by a clown! He hardly knew this girlfriend and only really had a one night stand with her! All right, diatribe done.)

Bane takes a shotgun, points it at Batman’s face, and basically says that Talia will just have to believe Batman blew up and didn’t have his face shot off, when suddenly–BLAM!–the Catwoman shoots him with the guns on the Batpod. In other words…Batman fails. He got his ass handed to him by Bane halfway through the movie. He gets his spirit back. He gets his body back. He escapes the prison hole that is able to symbolize the well he fell down in the first frames of Batman Begins and how Bruce Wayne has finally grown up and is able to move beyond his childhood trauma. He somehow gets back to Gotham through means we’ll never know (here’s where a TV series would’ve helped). He rounds up everyone he needs to. He beats up Bane, proving that he’s the motherfuckin’ Batman. Yes, Talia threw him off. Yes, he’s upset. But isn’t that how it’s supposed to go? Shouldn’t Batman be the one to take down Bane? Isn’t it the job as the hero of the movie to, I don’t know, take down the villain?

Instead, the Catwoman does it, and adds a one-liner that, while in character, throws away Batman’s beliefs. It’s not like he’s the title character or anything.

"GrrrowwwlllShe said to waitrrrrrrr!"  "Mrrfle flup never know."  BAM!  "What the hell're you two saying?"

“GrrrowwwlllShe said to waitrrrrrrr!”
“Mrrfle flup never know.”
BAM!
“What the hell’re you two saying?”

Oh, wait, there’s more.

So they leave to stop the bomb. Batman gets Talia to drive off a bridge. I’ll buy Gordon miraculously living through a drop off an overpass as he’s in the back of a truck with a bomb that ways a ton even though the driver of the truck dies. But…the driver dies. Talia, the “true” villain of the movie, is killed in an automobile accident. And her last words are given to Gordon.

Finally, the last thing that annoyed me about this ending is something I’m okay with in theory, but after these two letdowns, it bothered me. Batman lets Gordon know who he is, through his typical cryptic means. And Gordon, who one would think has helped many children in the crime-infested city that is Gotham, knows exactly which child he gave a coat to. It’s a little thing, but this proves that this Batman is hardly a secret to anyone. Not only does Alfred know, but Lucius Fox knows, Rachel Dawes knew, the guy who works at Wayne Enterprises and was going to blackmail him knows, Ra’s al Ghul knows, Selina Kyle knows, Bane knows, Talia al Ghul knows, John Blake–who never met the man–figured it out because he also lost his parents, and, finally, James Gordon knows.

(Another aside. Unless the point of these “faults” was that Batman’s true job wasn’t to take down Bane or Talia, but to only take care of the bomb. But that’s a little weak to me.)

I also think they had a lost opportunity. I kept expecting that Harvey Dent was alive. That he’d never died but was hurt, and that he was holed-up in the prison or in the new Arkham facility, and that he’d pop up at the end to wreak more havoc. It would’ve been great. Who better to be a judge instead of Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow? But, alas, he was dead.

"This is what I do to nitpickers!"

“This is what I do to nitpickers!”

The Dawn

Overall, I think The Dark Knight Rises, much like 2013’s Man of Steel, which was shooting at the same time as Nolan’s movie even though it was released a year later, is a very flawed masterpiece. The size of the movie and the fact that it boldly goes where most of these kinds of movies are afraid to go, to ask questions and not answer them, and to actually give an ending to the story, is an achievement that is rare in this type of movie. If the filmmakers use coincidence a little too much, or allow for the fantasy to seep a little too much into their ultra-realistic storytelling, or sort of botched up the ending, so be it. I’m fascinated by this movie in much the same way I’m fascinated with Man of Steel. Both films have things that strongly bother me (Gordon calling for every police officer to go into the sewers looking for Bane, for instance) but both tell fully-realized stories that I feel I have to watch again and again, like reading a good novel.

I left The Dark Knight Rises the Sunday after it opened unsure of how I felt about it. I loved it and didn’t like it at the same time. I needed to see it again, to experience it again. I’ve seen it, I think, four times now. I really like the movie and am drawn to watch it again. I feel like I’m still missing something. Maybe it’s because there’s not as much there as I’d hoped, or maybe it’s because the movie works on a higher level than most superhero movies. Again, I feel the same way about Man of Steel.

Conclusion to The Dark Knight Trilogy

It looks as though Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is a look at the modern superhero in modern terms, with terrorism, mass murders, and cynical outlooks all over. This Batman wants to be a symbol, and he is. He gets others to do good just by being. The biggest problem with these movies is that they’re too serious. Sure, they have some humor, here and there, but everything is serious and a little too well-thought-out. Nolan is trying to elevate the superhero movie with these movies, but in so doing, lost one of the things that make Batman and his villains so interesting: they’re pulp fiction history. This Gotham City couldn’t host Man-Bat, or Killer Croc, or many of Batman’s other Rogues Gallery unless they were so adapted that they’d eventually lose their character. And it certainly doesn’t open up the hope that there could be other superheroes.

One of its other major flaws is in allowing Bruce Wayne so much help. The fact that Lucius Fox is either the designer, or part of a team, that has made most of the gadgets and vehicles Batman has, the fact that there are so many people who know who he is and help him in some way may make for a more realistic portrayal of Batman, but it also takes away some of the magic that the character has. One of the fantastic things about the character of Batman is that he’s a genius. He could easily have helped stop crime by following the rules and using his research and technology to help the police do their jobs, but instead uses it himself as a vigilante. By taking away his ability to come up with the tools he uses, Batman and Bruce Wayne become nothing more than a rich dude who wants to kick people’s asses. Sure, he has detective skills, but some of what makes Batman Batman is lost.

While in many ways, The Dark Knight Trilogy is a masterpiece in storytelling, it does fall shy of what Marvel’s movies have been able to achieve: Big screen adaptations of not only the characters, but the universe that was created in the comic books. Nolan isn’t interested in being at the helm of a shared world, he’s interested in being a serious filmmaker. As such, for everything Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises gets right–which is considerable–they miss one major thing that the Marvel movies–whether from 20th Century Fox, Sony, or Paramount/Disney–has: fun.

An Afterword

I went to bed on July 19th bummed that I couldn’t get out to see the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. My wife had to work the next day and was pregnant, so sleep was very necessary, and my best friends either lived too far away, were busy with their own lives, or also had to work the next day. Being a teacher, I had the 20th, the film’s opening date, off. But Pamela really wanted to see the movie, too, since she loved the predecessor as much as I did (well…maybe not as much), and would’ve been bummed if I’d gone without her, so I went to bed vowing to stay away from the internet for any possible spoilers between Friday and Sunday.

I awoke the next morning hearing the news from the living room. In my sleepy consciousness, I heard something about a mass shooting. In a movie theater. The Dark Knight Rises was named. Horrified, I slid out of bed and went into the living room.

Colorado. Okay, I thought, no one I know lives out there. That’s the first concern, right? Do I know anyone in one of these places?

The news that a man armed to the teeth began shooting in a crowded movie theater during a midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, killing 12 people and injuring 70 others struck hard. I remembered the joy and buzz seeing Star Wars: Episode II–Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Episode III–Revenge of the Sith at midnight screenings, being some of the first people to see a movie you’ve been waiting for. Those are great memories for me. Then, using my keen writer’s imagination, I thought about the impossible happening, the kind of thing that my writer’s imagination sometimes frightened me about. Twelve people–12–dead. A six-year-old was killed.

I wept. As I did for Columbine High School back in 1999. As I would for Sandy Hook Elementary School the following December, holding my one-month-old daughter in my hands as I watched that particular nightmare unfold.

The horrifying incident haunted me then. Pamela and I had planned on rewatching The Dark Knight that Saturday night to prepare for the following day’s trip to the movies. The spectre of the news colored that viewing.

The following day, sitting in a movie theater in Southeastern Massachusetts nearly 2,000 miles away from the tragedy, it was difficult not to keep an eye on the entrance and exits of the theater. My mind is set up to imagine the worst, which is probably why most of my fiction tends to lean toward dark subjects–horror, crime, dark fantasy–so this was a difficult viewing.

Twelve people died due to negligence in taking care of mental health issues as well as availability and access to guns. There are morons who said that if anyone in that theater had had a gun, they could’ve stopped it. Yeah, that would’ve worked out. Either way, this isn’t about a political statement, because I have no answers, but it is about the incident that I truly believed marred this movie’s reception and raises lots of questions.

Was the shooter fantasizing about being a Batman-type villain? Could Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight have acted as an accelerant to someone who was already keyed up to do something horrifying? Could the Dark Knight movies, themselves, have acted as accelerant?

All those people wanted to do was see the new Batman movie. That was it. Twelve of them never went home. Seventy others will never forget that nightmare of that evening.

For me, the incident and the film will always be connected.

Batman.

Batman.

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From Gotham to Gautham: The Dark Knight (2008)

Dark Knight Poster

When Batman Begins ended, with Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Batman (Christian Bale) on the roof of Gordon’s police station after using the Bat-signal for the first time, I was filled with excitement more than should’ve been rational for a nearly-28-year-old. Not only did the scene perfectly show the Gordon-Batman dynamic that I’d loved in the comic books, but it also ended on a teaser for a possible follow-up that probably sent all the nerds in the audience into a frenzy. Gordon talks to Batman about escalation: the cops get something to fight crime, the criminals get something even deadlier. Then he refers to a case he’s working on, with a criminal who “has a taste for the theatrical, like you.” The criminal, who has robbed and murdered someone, has left a calling card.

Holy nerdgasm, Batman!

Holy nerdgasm, Batman!

That Joker card was a shock. Everyone in the theater I was in cheered. Would it work, though?

Between the critical and financial success Warner Bros. had with Batman Begins, it was obvious they wanted a sequel. Not only that, they wanted Christopher Nolan to return along with the rest of the cast. Nolan wasn’t entirely sure he should–or even could–do another Batman. He was happy with the first movie and wasn’t sure if going back would be a worthwhile exercise for him. But David S. Goyer had given Warner Bros. a proposed trilogy that included The Joker and Harvey Dent in the second film, and Nolan became interested in reinventing The Joker…

In 2005, when Batman Begins came out, I was lost. In 2008, when The Dark Knight was released, I’d been found. I’d been with my fiancée for over a year-and-a-half, I had just completed my first (and I daresay, worst) year as a teacher, and I was living in Boston. A major city. A dream come true. My excitement over the imminent release of The Dark Knight was helped along by its massive viral campaign. Hell, I’d even taken part in it when an I Believe In Harvey Dent campaign van drove by me on the streets of Boston after having just seen No Country For Old Men. I chased the van down and got three campaign buttons. The summer of 2008 was like the summer of 1989 in some ways, a Batman movie and an Indiana Jones movie. Who could ask for anything more?!

Well...

Well…

The Day

Christian Bale continues to be a solid Bruce Wayne and Batman. He’s doing the best he can and pushing himself hard and one feels that Bale is doing the same for this role. He doesn’t just want to portray the character, but make the character live. This is a Bruce Wayne who has suffered from his inner demons but has mostly beaten them. The obsession that has fueled him in his crusade against crime seems to have lifted. Wayne talks about being able to hang up the cowl and attempt to live a fully-realized life. And…

Batman’s voice is great! I know that people have been especially hard on his voice in this movie, but I loved it. It’s just how I’d expect Batman to sound. For starters, Bruce Wayne wants to hide his identity, so he’s changing his voice. He also wants to be intimidating, and the growl helps with that. People suggest that it’s a little over the top, which I’d agree with if it weren’t in a movie where a guy in a rubber bat costume is chasing a clown around a city. Bale’s Batman voice is perfect, so fuck off.

"GrrroowwGotham proved you wrongwwwlll!"

“GrrroowwGotham proved you wrongwwwlll!”

Heath Ledger. I know it goes without saying, but his performance is amazing. When it was announced that Ledger would play The Joker in this film, I remember there was a lot of unhappy nerds. Perhaps because I lived through the Michael Keaton-as-Batman fiasco, or perhaps because I understand that actors are supposed to act, I wasn’t worried. Brokeback Mountain had made him and Jake Gyllenhaal critically acclaimed and I suspected that he wouldn’t take a role that wasn’t in some way challenging to him. That and because Batman Begins hit so many of the right notes, I figured Christopher Nolan could be trusted when it came to bringing new citizens to Gotham. What we got was beyond anything I could’ve hoped for. When the first trailer to reveal The Joker–and Ledger’s performance–debuted in December 2007, the hook was in. I was beyond excited to see the new movie. Ledger gave a performance that not only amazed but terrified. As Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson (and Mark Hamill, for that matter) all tapped into The Joker’s zany, terrifying ways, and there was definitely a sinister edge to their characterizations, especially Nicholson’s and Hamill’s, but Ledger pushed the character into the modern world. His Joker is terrifying and insane in a way that makes him fascinating but not fun. You’re not really laughing with (or at) Ledger’s Joker, so much as releasing nervous chuckles. It’s easy to suggest that Ledger not so much embodied The Joker but rather The Joker embodied Ledger in light of his tragic end in January 2008. There’s a sort of romanticism that goes with saying that Ledger may have gotten too into the role, that he’d allowed the character that Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, and David Goyer envisioned as this incarnation of a beloved evil character to get too deep into his own psyche, but I’m not sure that it’s true. I think what we see in Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker is the perfect mix of a young actor with demons finding a role that appealed to those demons and truly going for it. His performance helped elevate the entire movie, which hardly needed it to begin with.

"So, a clown walks into a mob meeting..."

“So, a clown walks into a mob meeting…”

Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes is great. People have given her a hard time, saying incredibly rude things about this beautiful woman’s looks. The funny thing I noticed while rewatching Batman Begins for these essays, is that Katie Holmes and Maggie Gyllenhaal could almost be sisters. Either way, looks aside, she brings a depth and grown-up feel to the character that Holmes lacked. Gyllenhaal looks like she’s seen some bad shit go down in Gotham City but still remains hopeful. Her death is shocking a brutal.

I'll take Rachel 2.

I’ll take Rachel 2.

Gary Oldman’s Gordon remains spectacular. He is mostly understated, saying more with his eyes and mannerisms than with what he says. He shows a warmth and sense of trust to Batman that remains throughout. Even by the end of the movie, when he’s frustrated and nearly crazed by what The Joker has been able to pull off, and he’s ready to shoot Batman for getting in the way, he’s more believable than most actors would be in this situation. Instead of a crazy turnaround of a character, it feels like a natural sense of frenzy, frustration, and fear.

Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, Michael Caine as Alfred, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, and everybody else in the film, are all perfectly cast. Nolan even gets Eric Roberts to turn in a great performance.

"They call me Gotham's White Knight because symbolism and tying in to the movie's title, so go get a new suit and calm down."

“They call me Gotham’s White Knight because symbolism and tying in to the movie’s title, so go get a new suit and calm down.”

The new Bat-costume is great. It’s pretty bold to change it so much yet it works perfectly in the world Nolan, et al, has created. The small pieces of armor, the mask as its own thing, all of it, make this the coolest Bat-suit on film. And even better than the look of it? The fact the filmmakers actually show us a transition between costumes. Batman starts the movie in the suit he wore in Batman Begins. We then see Bruce Wayne talk to Lucius Fox about enhancing the suit. There are a few more times Batman in the Begins suit shows up, and then he’s in Tokyo in the new one. No unexplained enhancements or changes between movies. No strangely embellished suit at the end.

The Batpod is an amazing vehicle. The fact that they tied it into the Tumbler is even better. I want it. I want it. So. Bad.

Give it to me. Please.

Give it to me. Please.

The writing of the movie is great. The pace is perfect. I have heard of people, even people whom I admire like Harlan Ellison and Joe Hill, say this movie is boring. It breaks my heart but I must respectfully disagree. You get two great action pieces, some story, more action, more story, more action…you get it. And the fact that the entire movie hints at what will happen to Harvey Dent in its structure is even better. There are two introductory scenes, two major happenings in the middle, and two endings. Using Gordon’s statement about escalation at the end of Batman Begins as a jumping off point, the cornered mob turns to The Joker but can’t rein him in. He is the genie out of the bottle. One of the best lines in the movie is given to The Joker, “I think you and I are destined to do this forever!” That line always gives me chills. It acknowledges the 70 years of source material in the movie as well as the idea that this movie will live on.

But it’s not just the final showdown between Batman and The Joker that’s great, but every single showdown between the two is like it’s straight out of the comic books I read as a young teenager. The first time they meet face-to-face at Bruce Wayne’s fundraiser for Harvey Dent is chilling and has all the elements one would expect from both characters. And while some nitpickers have gone online to protest that Batman leaping out the window for Rachel Dawes was silly, let me break down a few things. I may be a nerd who’s apologetic for a movie he loves, but this is how I see it as a storyteller and an observational person: 1) Batman’s going on his guts and adrenaline at that moment. While he’s usually calm and collective, we know Bruce Wayne–and therefore Batman–can be impulsive when it comes to his personal feelings. Look at what happened when he lost his parents! So if he’s against the idea of any criminal ever taking someone he loves away from him, and The Joker has possibly done just that, and Batman thinks he can save that person, he will. It may not be the most heroic choice, but it’s in line with the character in these movies. 2) Logic dictates that The Joker will not kill anyone (else) at the fundraiser. The Joker has just thrown a woman–not just any woman, but Harvey Dent’s “main squeeze” out a window, and the one person who he thinks may stop him just leapt out the window to try to save her. The Joker must realize that someone has called the police, or will when the woman and the guy in the bat suit crashes to the ground, so he’s gonna hightail it outta there! As a matter of fact, the safest place in Gotham, at that moment, is probably Wayne’s apartment. 3) Even if The Joker stays, even if he begins slaughtering party guests, the police are on the way and no amount of bribes would keep him safe. Nope, Batman jumping out the window to save Rachel Dawes makes sense to this guy. Now the two of them landing on the cab without injury…well….

And of course, the showdown between Batman and The Joker in the interrogation room at the police station is iconic. Straight out of the comic books, it’s classic Batman and Joker. The Joker is doing his best to get under Batman’s skin, and finally pushes the right button. The rage that Christian Bale exhibits, the beating Heath Ledger takes, is right out of all those classic Batman/Joker showdowns. It is the one scene that constantly makes my heart race and gives me goosebumps. It is perfect.

Judging by the mirrors, it's destined to go on forever.

Judging by the mirrors, it’s destined to go on forever.

Nolan’s direction of The Dark Knight is stronger than Batman Begins. His choice of using Chicago for the exteriors as opposed to sets built on soundstages made this Gotham City feel like Metropolis did in Superman: The Movie, huge and real. The use of IMAX cameras also makes for an interesting home experience while watching it on Blu-ray. The IMAX fill up the 16:9 ratio while the regular scenes will have the black bars at the top and bottom.

The music and sound effects are astonishing. That’s not hyperbole, either. I got to see The Dark Knight in the theater twice, once in its standard format, once in IMAX, not to mention the countless times I watched it on DVD, television, and Blu-ray, and I’m constantly amazed at the two audio elements of this movie. In a day and age when one expects the sound effects to be superb, something about the sound in this movie seems to tower over the rest. I’m thinking of two scenes specifically, although they’re all great.

The first scene is the chase through Gotham, where The Joker is trying to get Harvey Dent. Even before Batman shows up, the sound is incredible, but after he shows and gets the Tumbler blown away, the sound kicks into overdrive. As Batman races on the Batpod, shooting through windows, you can hear every little sound of glass tinkling on the ground. The sound the big tires make on the street, the various sounds of the Tumbler releasing the Pod, and The Joker’s post-crash walk, firing a machine gun at cars and at Batman, are all a feast for the ears.

The second scene is when The Joker blows of Gotham General Hospital. Again, it’s not just the explosions, but the sounds of debris falling all around, glass tinkling, that really helps sell the scene.

The sound effects’ biggest frenemy is the music, and Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard is phenomenal. From the very first criminal sliding on a line from a building to the roof across the Gotham skyline to the point when the sad clown reveals himself to be The Joker, the music goes from what we experienced in Batman Begins to a fever pitch that puts you on edge. Throughout the movie, Zimmer and Howard go from the heroic marches one expects for a superhero to a deranged cacophony for the Joker. It contributes to Ledger’s performance because the music is intense and nerve-fraying.

Oh, we never tire of 9/11-inspired imagery.

Oh, we never tire of 9/11-inspired imagery.

The Night

There are a few too many coincidences. I think. Or The Joker is a little too good. There’s a lot that happens in this movie and The Joker seems to be one step ahead of everyone a little too much. For a guy who claims he loves chaos, he’s always at the right place at the right time, and no one ever seems to be able to outsmart him. He knows exactly how every single police officer, how Batman, and how every major and minor character is going to think, behave, and act. Except for the ferries of Gotham citizens and criminals, those people he can’t read worth a damn.

That or it's quite normal for school buses to come out of banks in Gotham.

That or it’s quite normal for school buses to come out of banks in Gotham.

The Nolans come through their characters a little too much. Certain phrases keep popping up, and while I do believe that the characters are reusing key phrases they heard from another character, they sound a little too much like phrases that are popular with the writers at that moment. They’re a little too neat. Nothing wrong with some of that, but when you can easily quote:

“That night is always darkest before the dawn.”

“…played that hand close to the chest…”

“You either die the hero or see yourself live long enough to become the villain.”

You get what I mean. And there are more, I’m sure, but I’m stopping there. If Bruce Wayne tells Lucius Fox that he’s playing something close to the vest, I expect Fox to say it later in the movie, not Harvey Dent commenting on Gordon’s sudden resurrection.

Harvey Dent is under-utilized. This is probably the one point in this essay that I’m going to really sound like a nerdboy, but when you have such a great character, being portrayed so well by Aaron Eckhart, killing him off so quickly is a sin. Apparently, the original treatment that Goyer submitted to Warner Bros. had The Joker helping turn Dent to Two-Face, and then Two-Face would be the main villain of the third movie, but Nolan thought Dent as Two-Face was too good to save so he included him in this story, helping with the notion that this Batman wasn’t interested in being Batman forever but hoped Harvey Dent would be the city’s White Knight and save the day. Dent’s death does help bring Batman back to fugitive status, which is kind of where the hero works best, but still feels a little too soon.

"I had such potential. And so did I."

“I had such potential. And so did I.”

The Dawn

Damn, wasn’t that night really dark for the last few sentences of the last paragraph? Anyway, The Dark Knight, by setting aside Batman from its title, distinguishes itself from all the other movies made thus far, including its direct predecessor, Batman Begins. It brings the superhero movie into the present, with real-world issues, carrying on the question, “What constitutes a superhero in a post-9/11 world?” How can the people, like me, who oppose the wire-tapping dissolution of rights under the Patriot Act be cool with Batman using his cell phone sonar device to catch The Joker? If we say the end justifies the means, then wouldn’t that be an argument against our own beliefs? I think Christopher Nolan likes that. He likes to raise the questions but let you worry about the answers, without ever answering them himself, or having his characters answer for him. One could argue that the destruction of that ability would mean that as long as we go back to how it was before those rights were removed, then it’s all right. But the conflicting argument that comes out of this movie is that once the change starts, it won’t stop. The Joker tells Batman that he’s changed things, and that there’s no going back, and even The Joker doesn’t understand how deep that message has sunk until his ferries don’t blow up.

Either way, The Dark Knight made me break one of my own rules: I never talk about a movie I’ve seen in the theater until I’m in the car and on the way home. I was leaving the theater and turned to Pamela and said, “We need to see this again.”

The film was critically loved and became one of the highest grossing films of all time. It was nominated for Academy Awards and Heath Ledger’s performance won every acting award it was nominated for, including the Academy Award. Surely, with all the hoopla and love for The Dark Knight, it was inevitable that there would be a sequel.

Or was it…?

"GrrrooI'm Batmanwwwll."

“GrrrooI’m Batmanwwwll.”

From Gotham to Gautham: Batman Begins (2005)

Batman Begins Poster

With the horrible reviews and fan reaction to Batman & Robin, Warner Bros. considered going ahead with a fifth film in the franchise, already titled Batman Triumphant, which would star the cast of the failed movie and would be directed by Joel Schumacher. Word at the time was a different director might be hired, and names of actors to play Scarecrow and whatever other villain who was being named in the rumor mill, came up every week. But Warner Bros. thought a fresh start would be best. Comic book movies just didn’t seem to be popular at that moment, and they weren’t sure how to continue. Remember, by now, the infamous Superman Lives fiasco that had caught Tim Burton, Nicolas Cage, and Kevin Smith in its web had happened and everything seemed up in the air. Funny enough, it was really Marvel that laid down a blueprint for how to proceed.

In 2000, 20th Century Fox and Marvel Entertainment released X-Men. Directed by Bryan Singer, whose previous credits included the independent films The Usual Suspects and Apt Pupil, Singer seemed like the last choice to direct a huge superhero, special effects movie. With his screenwriters, Tom DeSanto and David Hayter, Singer made a movie that was an instant fan favorite, and which also garnered positive reviews. Honestly, it hadn’t been since Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie in 1978 that a comic book-inspired movie generated so much favorable comment. In 2002, Sony and Marvel Entertainment released Spider-Man, written by David Koepp and directed by Sam Raimi, best known for the Evil Dead movies. Again, Raimi seemed like the last person who should direct a superhero movie, yet Spider-Man worked on every level.

The idea of taking an independent film director, having him/her work with screenwriters they were familiar with (or whom they chose), and then letting them loose on a major superhero movie seemed like a good idea. They were used to making smaller, more character-driven movies, and the superheroes who populated these movies were popular more for their character than because of any particular story they were in. Warner Bros. approached Darren Aronofsky, director of Requiem for a Dream and Pi, to work on a new Batman film. Inspired by Batman: Year One, Aronofsky approached Frank Miller and the two began collaborating on a new Batman movie.

Their ideas weren’t what Warner Bros. was looking for. After a few more false starts, the idea to put Batman and Superman into one movie came to them. Tentatively titled Batman vs. Superman, the movie was announced and writers and directors were spoken to. Warner Bros. was so sure they would make the movie, casting began, a logo was released, and a billboard can be seen in Times Square in the 2004 Warner Bros. release of I Am Legend. The film hit a snag when Warner Bros. approached up-n-coming indie writer/director Christopher Nolan to direct.

After receiving a load of critical acclaim with his film Memento (2000), Nolan directed Oscar winners Al Pacino, Hilary Swank, and Robin Williams in the thriller Insomnia (2002). The movie was critically acclaimed and did well. Warner Bros. approached him with the idea of directing Batman vs. Superman, which Nolan thought about. Finally, he declined to direct the major team-up for the chance to do a movie more in line with Miller’s Year One. After meeting with Blade screenwriter David S. Goyer, Nolan signed on for the new Batman movie.

Unlike previous Batman movies, I wasn’t following much of the story behind Batman Begins. By its release in 2005, I knew that Nolan would direct, that Christian Bale had been cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman, and that it was going back to the beginning. I was busy. I was going through a divorce, finishing college (five years after when I should’ve), following Star Wars: Episode III–Revenge of the Sith, dating (or trying to), being a father, and just basically trying to survive. Word-of-mouth brought me to a nighttime screening with a friend more than anything else. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The last time I’d seen Batman on the big screen, things hadn’t gone so well. I was anxious to see where Batman Begins would bring me.

And…wow.

The Day

Christian Bale is amazing as Bruce Wayne and Batman. Bale comes off, to me, as completely bugfuck. He’ll totally change his look and weight for whatever role he’s cast in, he’ll change his accent, and he’ll be so much in character that he’ll scream at lighting people who accidentally cross his line of vision. He is handsome and suave enough (and strangely pampered-looking) to pull off Bruce Wayne, and intense and scary enough, as well as hard-working enough, to play Batman. When I read the Batman comic books between 1990 and 1996-ish (Batman, Detective Comics, Legends of the Dark Knight, Shadow of the Bat, and the many, many one-shots and graphic novels), this is what I envisioned. Someone who would play an arrogant ass, like in the scene when Bruce Wayne shows up to a very upscale restaurant with two dates in his Lamborghini, but who is focused and driven when he’s alone. He could easily trade barbs with Alfred, but he could be relentless, and perpetually pissed-off as Batman. There’s a scene when Batman is interrogating Lt. Gordon’s crooked partner, Flass (played by Mark Boone Junior), that completely encapsulates the Batman I read and loved so much. He makes the character more believable than any of the other actors who played Bruce Wayne/Batman ever has.

Like a panel out of a 1990s issue of a Batman comic book. Only he's yelling at a grip off camera.

Like a panel out of a 1990s issue of a Batman comic book. Only he’s yelling at a grip off camera.

Gary Oldman as Lt. James Gordon is superb. In the previous adaptations, Gordon was always an old man who looked more akin to desk work than anything else, which is pretty much what Gordon always was, until Frank Miller had his way with him in Batman: Year One. The Gordon I read in the comics was older, sure, with white hair and a mustache, a trenchcoat, and–usually–a smoking habit, but he was also Batman’s friend. The two trusted each other without ever really knowing the other, yet they completely knew each other. Somehow, in just two scenes, Goyer and Nolan, as well as Bale and Oldman, make us believe their relationship is of mutual respect, if not exactly trust…yet…with what only amounts to a few minutes of screen time. A big part of this is through Oldman’s portrayal. His eyes do more speaking than his mouth, and it sells the character completely. He’s uneasy with the corruption all around him but understands that it goes down, even though he won’t take part. With Batman’s arrival, he sees a chance to fix things and feels hope for the first time. And it’s all in Oldman’s performance.

The rest of the cast is excellent as well. Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, Liam Neeson as Henri Ducard/ Ra’s al Ghul, Michael Caine as Alfred, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, and Cillian Murphy as Dr. Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow really bring it. Liam Neeson just about owns the first half of the movie, and his return at the finale, including the big reveal that he is Ra’s al Ghul, is perfect. But everyone in this movie plays it understated and realistic. The theatrics are left to Batman, and even then, there’s a certain amount of realism that makes one believe in the fiction.

The Tumbler, or Bat Tumbler, or the new Batmobile was something that I didn’t like when I saw the first pictures to come out in 2005. By the time Batman is driving across Gotham’s rooftops, I was in love. It’s a fascinating vehicle that you wish were real (yet, would be terrified if it was). It fits the tone of this Batman and this Gotham and is just fun to watch.

I'd drive it...straight into a wall! I'm not man enough to handle this! I'm barely man enough to pee standing up!

I’d drive it…straight into a wall! I’m not man enough to handle this! I’m barely man enough to pee standing up!

The screenplay by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, based on Goyer’s story, is fascinating. People often credit (or blame) Batman Begins with bringing dark, gritty realism to superhero movies. This may be true, but I think it’s more likely Goyer and Nolan looked back at the genre and realized that the best of them followed the mold set up by Richard Donner in 1978’s Superman: The Movie. Donner had a cut-out of Superman with a word bubble that read, “Verisimilitude,” and would hold the sign up whenever he felt everyone needed reminding that in order for people to believe in Superman, they needed to make his world as realistic as possible. The charm of Tim Burton’s Batman films (and even of Joel Schumacher’s films) was in their unreality. They were theatrical and bold, with little use for the real world. Nolan’s and Goyer’s decision to set this Gotham City, this Batman, in the real world would help revitalize him. Telling his origin story on screen for the first time on film would make it something to come to that would be unlike its predecessors. The best part about the story is that it’s actually about storytelling. Bruce Wayne creates the character of Batman step-by-step, using his past, his needs, his fears, and the technology at hand to make a symbol that would leave a mark on the city and, hopefully, its criminals and citizens. The criminals would be afraid of this symbol as the citizens, hopefully, embraced it. This is what every writer of fiction hopes to do, whether it’s prose of screenplays. By using Donner’s formula for Superman and having the audience slowly learn who the man who wears the cape is, they ensure that this Bruce Wayne and this Batman will distinguish themselves from those who came before. While the use of Donner’s basic formula means the title character doesn’t appear until an hour into the movie, the incidents and happenings in Batman Begins are much different, making the movie feel fresh. And while the ending, with Ra’s al Ghul’s scheme, is a little silly, I’m so sold by this Batman and this Gotham that I’d follow him anywhere.

Besides, Batman's basically a Jedi.

Besides, Batman’s basically a Jedi.

Christopher Nolan’s direction is superb. Again, breaking from the more theatrical styles of Burton and Schumacher, he creates a world that is vast. From the mountains that Bruce Wayne navigates on his trek to meet up with Henri Ducard and the League of Shadows, to the shots of Gotham City. He also gets performances from the actors that are realistic in this otherwise insane world. His shots of Batman on buildings, watching the city, are the splash pages and panels that I grew up reading, captured in their true splendor for the first time.

The ending. Gordon’s first use of the Bat-signal, and the surprise of The Joker’s calling card, nearly made me squeal when I first saw it, and it still does.

Superfluous spooky Scarecrow shot.

Superfluous spooky Scarecrow shot.

The Night

Batman’s costume isn’t my favorite. Look, it’s better than those SuperBatman costumes worn by Val Kilmer and George Clooney at the end of their respective movies, and really isn’t all that different from any of the other costumes, but it looks best when shot in the dark. Too close a look and it falls apart. Unlike previous suits, which were made of foam latex rubber, this costume is made of neoprene and just has an odd look about it in the light. Luckily, this Batman isn’t in the light much.

"Give me shadows or give me nipples."

“Give me shadows or give me nipples.”

Alfred stops a scene by explaining to Bruce Wayne what the Underground Railroad was. They’re below Wayne Manor, checking out the caves for the possible Batcave, and Alfred shows some hidden underground passages and hideaways. He explains that Bruce’s great-grandfather was part of the Underground Railroad, and then explains what that is. Now granted, Batman Begins doesn’t explain much about Bruce’s schooling except that he’s gotten kicked out of many schools, but surely the man who is, arguably, going to become one of the world’s greatest detectives knows what the Underground Railroad is. My real fear is that Bruce does know. That’s not a typo. I fear Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, knows what the Underground Railroad is because if he doesn’t know, then the dialogue makes sense. If he does know, then the writer, director, and/or studio thinks the audience is stupid. And that‘s a goddamn shame.

Either way, Morgan Freeman is not amused.

Either way, Morgan Freeman is not amused.

Some of the story fits a little too neatly together. But these are parts of the overall silliness that invades the latter half of this story. They’re small stuff that could ruin a lesser movie but is forgivable because of the overall quality of the film.

The title. I’ve never liked the movie’s title, and I wonder what Christopher Nolan, et al, would call it now, considering the success of the successors.

Superfluous Katie Holmes and King Joffrey shot.

Superfluous Katie Holmes and King Joffrey shot.

The Dawn

Batman Begins has a lot going for it. When I first saw it, I watched it with a huge grin from beginning to end. It’s the Batman movie I’d always wanted as a fan of the comic books. It took the character and his co-stars seriously, added to the mythos, and brought Batman back to the top of the superhero heap. And with its promise of a probable sequel, I was super excited.

And so was Warner Bros. Garnering good reviews and great box office, Batman Begins restarted the Batman film franchise. It really wasn’t a matter of if but of when there’d be a follow-up.

"I'm Batman."

“I’m Batman.”

Friday in Gautham: Final Thoughts

F13 Mama

We survived this time. We went through twelve movies that had fairly bad reviews when they came out but captured the interest of many in the 1980s, 1990s, and into the 2000s. The character of Jason Voorhees is a part of American culture in the same way Karloff’s Frankenstein’s monster was in his day (and even now). Sure, he lacked the attitude and flash of Freddy Krueger, or the bizarreness of Pinhead, and he certainly wasn’t a cute as Chucky, but Jason held his own.

Looking back, I question whether it was a good idea to go down this road at all. Over twelve essays, I’ve hardly had anything nice to say about these movies. Fans of the series probably checked out a long time ago. What I want you to know is that when I decided, over a year ago now, to go watch these movies and write these essays, I did so in the hopes that they would surprise me. I wanted to see in Jason what his fans saw. I wanted to be able to say that, yeah, I got it.

He gets it.

He gets it.

But I don’t. I get why these movies made money, that’s not in doubt. But I don’t get how these movies are still revered. With the exception of the sixth movie, they’re not all that much fun, or clever. Jason is hardly ever scary. And you never really care about any of the victims.

Yet, their fame persists. I feel like I’ve been too critical–too grumpy, maybe–over these movies that were never designed to be good movies. Where I can make a rather funny argument that the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies are arguably the most important movies of the 1980s because of the socio-political commentaries (someday I may even tell you about that. It’s tongue-in-cheek but I think I have some actual good arguments), I have trouble finding any socio-political worth to the Friday the 13th movies. Except, maybe….

Jason represents Reagan era politics. Jason Voorhees is the conservative machine bent on killing the liberal 1960s and 1970s. The young people who die are lovemaking, pot-smoking kids (hippies) in the earliest movies and MTV kids in the later movies. Jason is a throwback to the conservative ideal that the good ol’ days were better. Once these kids started to experiment with free love and mind-altering substances, their morals and convictions went out the window. And even though Jason always dies at the end, it’s always by the girl (or the girl and guy) who is the cleanest cut of the group, the ones who will probably grow up to vote for the Conservative.

I totally pulled that out of my ass, but it reads well so I’m going to keep it.

The trickle-down effect at work.

The trickle-down effect at work.

Anyway, my favorite of these movies is Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. I think I’d actually own this and watch it again. That and Freddy vs. Jason, which I do own. But you know why. My favorite Jason is a toss-up between the Jasons in those two movies (C.J. Graham and Ken Kirzinger). Though I liked the Jason in the remake (Derek Mears), as well.

With the recent sale of the series back to Paramount, and their plans on doing another reboot, it’ll be interesting to see if they try to make an actual scary movie (if they even can) or just do more of the same. I guess we’ll see.

For now, though, we made it away from Crystal Lake (and New York, and Space) with most of our limbs intact. Thanks for making this journey with me.

Buh-bye!

Buh-bye!

Friday in Gautham Part XII: Friday the 13th (2009)

F13 2009 Poster

I’ve said it here before. I’m not opposed to remakes. There have been some really good ones. Cronenberg’s The Fly, for instance. Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead is another. I even like the Peter Jackson King Kong. I think that if there’s good material at the base, or at least interesting material, and you get a good writer and director, you can make a damn good movie.

Platinum Dunes went for a while producing remakes of horror classics. The production company, led by Michael Bay, Brad Fuller, and Andrew Form, has been responsible for the remakes of classic movies that I grew up watching: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Amityville Horror (2005), The Hitcher (2007), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), and, of course Friday the 13th (2009).

Of that list, the only movie whose original I still haven’t seen is The Amityville Horror (1979). Of that list, the only other remakes I’ve sat through were The Amityville Horror (aka Ryan Reynolds Takes His Shirt Off Too Goddamn Much) and, well, you know. And now, of course, Friday the 13th.

So, what’s to say about the remake? Well….

The Day

The cast and acting aren’t terrible. Honestly, my only problem with it is that the cast is too damn pretty. The girls, the guys, everything is a little too slick, a little too polished looking. And in terms of characterization, it’s not terrible…for a Friday the 13th movie. It’s not my favorite cast, but it’s not a terrible one either.

Boring people doing boring things.

Boring people doing boring things.

The writing is also not terrible. With a story by Damian Shannon, Mark Swift, and Mark Wheaton, and a screenplay by Shannon and Swift (the duo who wrote Freddy vs. Jason), the script is fairly solid. Are there plotholes? Yeah. Are they major? Meh.

Jason Voorhees (Derek Mears) is returned to his roots as a really mean hulk of a man. He’s not just shambling around and appearing places. His body language is quick and vicious. He’s imposing and unsettling.

Back to the sack...for now.

Back to the sack…for now.

The Night

By now, call it a remake or a reboot or a re-imagining, it’s still Friday the 13th. The very premise of these movies is young people getting slaughtered in the woods. So whether you call it a remake/-boot/-imagining or call it Part XI, it’s pretty much the same. There’s nothing really new here. It’s a rehash and condensed version of the first four Friday the 13th movies retold for a modern audience. The characters are little more than stereotypes and the suspense is non-existent. Jason is as Jason does, and what he does is kill. The writers and director Marcus Nispel try to bring more pathos to the victims but it never really works.

Don't look behind you. Ah, shit. Go ahead, end your suffering.

Don’t look behind you. Ah, shit. Go ahead, end your suffering.

A Quick Aside

I’m going to take a moment here to digress. I want to talk about the two Platinum Dune remakes that I’ve seen recently and know well: Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. I saw Amityville on a date and remember very little about it. One of my problems with the company that’s at least one-third Michael Bay is that, like most of Bay’s movies, they’re all flash and little substance. The idea that Bay, Fuller, and Form think they are rebooting and re-imagining these movies is troubling or silly, I can’t decide which one.

Their idea of re-imagining is giving us the same story, the same characters, and the same situations, and changing little things for the sake of changing them. In the case of Friday the 13th, it doesn’t matter much, but in the case of A Nightmare on Elm Street, their hubris and their unwillingness to acknowledge the good of the original hurt the material. I suspect their other remakes have the same problem. By taking these original tales and putting their own spin on them, they trivialize the classics the producers claim they love so much and turning them into modern messes.

That's basically how the original movies they remake feel.

That’s basically how the original movies they remake feel.

Saturday the 14th

The thing with the remake of Friday the 13th–and I refuse to call the Platinum Doom (I meant, uh, Dune) movies reboots, they aren’t original enough to hold such a pretentious title–is that, unlike A Nightmare on Elm Street (and presumably their other remakes), it’s not actually much worse than the movies that inspired it. If anything, it’s more of the same. Taking a movie (or series of movies) that have a thin foundation to begin with and just doing the same damn thing isn’t going to be unfaithful to the original, it’s just going to be another one.

There was supposed to be a sequel but as recently as this past summer, news is that the sequel has been scrapped due to New Line Cinema selling Friday the 13th and Jason and the rest to…drumroll…Paramount. And guess what Paramount plans on doing?

Yeah. A reboot.

A fan anxiously awaits the next reboot.

A fan anxiously awaits the next reboot.

Friday in Gautham Part XI: Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

Freddy_vs._Jason_movie

Look, I already wrote this essay, but this one is going to be a little different. When I originally wrote about Freddy vs. Jason, it was from the viewpoint of a Freddy Krueger fan who’d hardly seen any of the Friday the 13th movies. At this point, I’ve seen them all and feel a little more comfortable going into my thoughts on this movie in regards to Jason. If you haven’t already read my original (and I’ll say, for now, definitive) take on Freddy vs. Jason, click on the link and read it. It all still applies.

The Day

I like this version of Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger) probably more than any other. I know that Friday the 13th fans (those poor souls who will admit to it) were outraged that Kane Hodder was not cast as Jason in this movie, even after it had looked like he would be. I know there are still people upset by this. Get over it. Ken Kirzinger’s Jason actually performs in this movie. One gets a sense of vulnerability even though Jason is still the cold-blooded, mindless killer who has been through ten (should I even count Jason X?) movies. And his size is quite imposing.

Not Kane Hodder, yet effective.

Not Kane Hodder, yet effective.

The movie has a silly basis and is fun. There are a few creepy parts (belonging to Freddy) but it’s really not scary. It’s gory, silly fun. Anyone going into a movie called Freddy vs. Jason wouldn’t want it any other way. In this movie, Jason is his normal force to be reckoned with. He stabs, crushes, beheads, impales, and slashes his way through the victims in this movie in the way he always had. If anything, this movie’s silliness allows it to be the goriest of all the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

There’s an attempt by the screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, and director Ronny Yu, to give both characters a little more background, and make them more human. In this case, it’s mostly Jason who gets the real winning treatment. Because Freddy is portrayed as a manipulative monster who is more than willing to torture any- and everyone, it falls on cold-blooded, murdering, mindless Jason to be the more “sympathetic” one. In some ways, it actually works.

Katharine Isabelle. All right, I mentioned her in the first Freddy vs. Jason essay I wrote for A Nightmare in Gautham. I think she’s beautiful.

Katharine... Yeah, I'm pretending that's me.

Katharine… Yeah, I’m pretending that’s me.

The Night

The silliness is a cliché and wouldn’t it have been interesting if the filmmakers actually tried to make a genuinely scary movie? With the brute freight-train of Jason, and the psychological menace that is Freddy, the filmmakers could’ve really gone for the jugular with a movie in which no one is safe anywhere and in the end, the monsters fight for more than just survival (or the audience’s amusement). Just a thought.

That's one way to lose...half the weight!

That’s one way to lose…half the weight!

Jason’s wardrobe doesn’t match anything he’s worn before. That said, I like this outfit better than all the rest. Freddy’s wardrobe has also changed in its details, and that bothers me.

Jason is afraid of water. I understand that the filmmakers wanted to do something that would mess him up, to give Freddy an advantage over him, but a fear of water? This same character who has, time and again, walked willingly into Crystal Lake? Who boarded a ship going to New York City? Really? But…yeah…he’s afraid of water in this.

They might go a little too far...

They might go a little too far…

Saturday the 14th

As I said in the other essay, Freddy vs. Jason is really Freddy’s movie. Jason has about as much screen time (and way more kills) but it’s really Jason in Freddy’s world. The last act of the movie takes place at Crystal Lake, but by then, Jason has terrorized Springwood and all the locales Nightmare on Elm Street fans know. While Jason is placed in a fairly sympathetic light, Freddy owns the movie. Maybe it’s because this was done by New Line Cinema but I think it boils down to the Nightmare on Elm Street movies show far more imagination than the Friday the 13th movies. In 10 movies, nearly every story involves Jason coming back and butchering people in various ways and in various locales. In seven movies, Freddy Krueger doesn’t kill as many people, but the deaths are far more memorable, as are the victims. By using the dreams and secrets of the teenagers Freddy haunts, he gives them a life that their waking interactions don’t in the weakest of the movies. With Jason, it’s just killing. This movie highlights those differences.

A sequel was proposed as New Line Cinema was looking into acquiring the Evil Dead franchise. Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash would’ve had the stars of this movie square off against Ash, presumably played by Bruce Campbell. The deal with the Evil Dead people fell through and New Line decided that remakes would be the best thing to utilize these characters.

I’m not opposed to remakes in general, especially if really good filmmakers are behind it….

Ooofah!

Ooofah!

Jason Gif Again

Ouch!

Jason Gif

Oh! Pwned!

Friday in Gautham Part X: Jason X (2002)

JasonX Poster

In 1991, New Line Cinema decided to kill Freddy Krueger with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Around this time, they acquired the rights to Jason Voorhees and Friday the 13th and wanted to bring the two monsters together. However, when they asked Wes Craven if he wanted to be involved, he said no, but said he had an idea for a possible seventh installment. New Line jumped at the chance to have Craven back to helm a Nightmare film. Friday the 13th co-creator Sean S. Cunningham thought it would be a good idea to do with Jason what had been done with Freddy and officially kill him off, while also hinting at the long-desired team-up movie. New Line agreed and 1993 saw the release of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. You know this because I wrote about it in the last essay.

Jason Goes to Hell did all right at the box office but not as well as they’d hoped. New Line was eager to see what Wes Craven’s return to the dreamscape would do to revitalize interest in Freddy Krueger. Unfortunately, when Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was released in October 1994, it failed to live up to expectations. Interest in making the long-awaited team-up were put on the back-burner. At least until a different Wes Craven film, Scream, was a huge hit. Suddenly, New Line wanted a Freddy vs. Jason movie and even promised one for 1998. There was a major problem with that promise: They didn’t have a script.

A flyer that was released to theater owners in 1997 promising a Freddy vs. Jason movie in 1998.

A flyer that was released to theater owners in 1997 promising a Freddy vs. Jason movie in 1998.

Time passed and script after script was written, director after director was attached, and it kept falling apart. It seems that every year between 1994 and 2003, Robert Englund would tell an interviewer that they had a new script and there should be a movie within the following year. And each year would pass and nothing would happen.

Sean S. Cunningham didn’t like this. He was afraid that people would forget about Jason Voorhees. So he went to New Line head Michael De Luca and asked about a tenth Jason movie. Writer Todd Farmer pitched the idea that Jason goes to space and De Luca, he who co-penned the cinematic masterpiece Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, greenlit it.

Jason. In. Space.

Oy.

Though the film was supposed to be released in 2000 or 2001, it was eventually released in April 2002. I didn’t see it then. Seeing now for this essay was one too many times.

The Day

David Cronenberg appears in cameo role. Until Jason (once again, Kane Hodder) kills him. It’s always a surprise to see a director that is considered very good make a cameo in a less-than-stellar movie, and here it’s downright shocking. To think that the man who directed one of the best horror films of the 1980s, The Fly, would appear in this horror (I use the term loosely) movie is shocking. But it’s fun for the What the FUCK?! factor.

Hey! Isn't that--what the fuck?!

Hey! Isn’t that–what the fuck?!

The escape ship explosion was another nice touch. The set-up is typical horror movie stuff. A girl who is freaking out locks her friends out of their safehaven, in this case, the spaceship that will allow them to escape. Despite them banging on the door (or whathaveyou), she decides to leave the main spaceship without them. Typically, this is where Jason would suddenly appear to kill her. In this case, her own stupidity does her in and it actually surprised me. So did the spaceship’s crash into another safehaven, a space station, earlier in the movie.

The special effects are surprisingly good. I’ll give them credit. For a movie with a fairly small budget, the effects mostly came off.

The Night

Jason looks funny in this movie. His head isn’t malformed enough and he had a strange buzz-cut thing going on. His hockey mask is different. His clothes are different. And that’s before the Uber-Jason at the end. Uber-Jason is one of the worst monsters I’ve ever seen. The costume looks like something from a bad SyFy Channel movie. I understand that Jason has looked different in each movie, and there’s certainly a Who Gives a Shit? attitude about that, but this Jason just didn’t do it for me. I think there was too much of Kane Hodder present.

I have nothing. Put your own goddamn caption.

I have nothing. Put your own goddamn caption.

The acting is some of the worst in the series. But I can only blame them so much, because–

The story is ridiculous and full of clichés. I’ve read or heard somewhere that the movie was better before the studio watered down the script. Who knows? The very idea of putting Jason in space is stupid. At best it can only be a low-rent version of Alien. Add to that the most obvious one-liners and scripted dialogue, and we’re talking a disaster of a movie.

This isn't a 1980s action figure, it's Uber-Jason. Yes, that's what they name him in the credits.

This isn’t a 1980s action figure, it’s Uber-Jason. Yes, that’s what they name him in the credits.

The Saturday After

Look, these have been some of the most negative essays I’ve written, and I know fans of the series are used to that sort of thing from non-fans. I almost feel bad about these essays, but I have to call it like I see it. Whether they made money or not, these movies just keep getting worse. The box office for Jason X was also lackluster.

But that was okay, because in 2002, news broke that horror nerds had been hearing for a looonnng time. And this time, it looked like it might actually happen….

Burbleburbl--CRASH!

Burbleburbl–CRASH!

From Krypton to Gautham: Superman Returns (2006)

01 Superman Returns Poster

Nineteen years. The world changed substantially between 1987 and 2006. One thing did not change: The desire to bring Superman back to the Silver Screen. After the disastrous Superman IV, it looked as though the Man of Steel would be on sabbatical. That was fine because 1989 brought a different superhero to the Silver Screen. Batman, starring Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton, written by Sam Hamm, and directed by Tim Burton, was one of the most anticipated movies of 1989. Don’t think that Superman still wasn’t on people’s minds, though. 1988 saw the worldwide celebration of Superman’s 50th birthday, he appeared on the cover of Time, and the Salkinds returned to him…kinda-sorta. They produced a syndicated television series of Superboy that lasted between 1988 and 1992. But the word on Batman was good. People were looking forward to it and the Warner Bros. marketing machine went into overtime. And when the movie finally opened on June 23rd, 1989, it was a blockbuster. A new era in the comic book movie had dawned and Superman seemed like a relic.

The success of Batman and its 1992 sequel, Batman Returns, as well as the general popularity in comic books that resulted, made the comic book movie seem like a legitimate film genre. Despite Superman appearing on television in a new series in 1993, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, which promised at the outset a more grown-up Moonlighting feel but quickly descended into a juvenile adventure show, the idea of bringing Superman back to the Big Screen was very much on the minds of Warner Bros. Jon Peters, the famed former-hair-dresser-turned-Big-Time-Hollywood-Producer and one of the producers of Batman and Batman Returns, wanted to bring Superman to the Silver Screen in a big, big way. And that is how the Superman Lives fiasco came about. The film, written by Kevin Smith, directed by Tim Burton, and starring Nicolas Cage as Clark Kent/Superman seems to be a near-miss for Superman fans. Peters kept at it, though, and so did Warner Bros. I won’t go much more into it but a simple Internet search for Superman movies will bring you a lot of information.

Superman fans of the world, we missed a bullet.

Superman fans of the world, we missed a bullet.

Besides, by the late-1990s, the comic book movie genre had pretty much died. Aside from the Batman movies, no other movie hit its mark. There was a lot of development but little actual production. What movies were made looked horrible, weren’t taken seriously, and died a quick death. Television was a little kinder with the Warner Bros. Animated series of Batman, Superman, and Justice League.

And then in 2000 came X-Men. With a story by Tom DeSanto and Bryan Singer, a screenplay by David Hayter, and direction by Singer, the film adaptation of one of Marvel Comics’s most popular teams hit all the right chords and was a mega-hit. The idea that Bryan Singer would have gotten involved was shocking. He was an up-and-coming indie film director and his film The Usual Suspects was an Oscar darling. What he brought with him was the knowledge that the characters were important, that without strong characters, these films could have as much spectacle as anyone could put in them but it wouldn’t mean a thing.

X-Men rejuvenated the comic book movie genre, but it took Sam Raimi’s adaptation of Spider-Man to really get it going.

I loved these movies, but not being a Marvel kid, I kept waiting for DC’s triumphant return while skipping the 2001-2012 TV series Smallville. With Batman Begins (2005), DC returned to the Silver Screen in a triumphant way. Using the model set up by the Marvel Entertainment movies, Warner Bros. went with Christopher Nolan, who’d gained tons of attention for his indie thriller Memento. So it wasn’t a shock that Warner Bros. would have a new Superman movie for the following year. What was the shock was the director: Bryan Singer. After two successful X-Men films, who would’ve called him jumping ship for Superman?

So in June 2006, I found myself with a friend whom I liked a lot sitting in a local movie theater eagerly awaiting Superman Returns. With a story by Singer, Michael Dougherty, and Dan Harris, and screenplay by Dougherty and Harris (who’d written the screenplay for the great X-Men sequel X2), there was no doubt the movie would be great. Although I’d seen the trailers and wondered about a few things–Marlon Brando’s posthumous return as well as the use of John Williams’s original theme–I was pretty excited.

It was a movie that I was truly looking forward to. Things hadn’t been so great for me starting in 2003 but were beginning to take an upswing. I would be starting a new job at the end of the summer as a teaching assistant. Though I was pretty depressed, I knew that I was on the road to recovery. Things were looking up. And there was a new Superman.

So the lights dimmed, and I was transported away for my first Superman movie viewing on the Big Screen….

The Super

The opening title sequence. Though I’d seen all the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, I’d seen none of them in theaters. So to see the opening title sequences for the first two films recreated on the Big Screen gave me chills. John Williams’s music has been a part of my life seemingly forever, so sitting there and seeing a “new” version of the old credits with his music just blew me away and brought tears to my eyes.

The special effects were astounding. Superman’s flying effects were as real as anything done to that point. It wasn’t just the flying effects that were good, either, but all of the effects. A little too good, perhaps. In the sequence when Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) is covering a space shuttle test on an airplane and the plane ends up plummeting from the sky until Superman (Brandon Routh) saves it, I actually had a panic attack brought on by the uber-realistic effects, both visual and sound. It is a scene that started me wondering if maybe special effects are too good these days.

Fly. Just...fly. At least no one said that.

Fly. Just…fly. At least no one said that.

The story wasn’t bad. It took the material seriously and did its best to give the characters pathos. It honored what came before but went off in a different direction. And it took some bold risks in the adaptation. It’s not perfect, which we’ll get to, but it’s a valiant attempt with some good moments.

Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor is perfect. He comes across as arrogant enough, and cold enough, to be Lex Luthor. Besides being one of the best actors working today, he embodied what a modern Lex Luthor would be like. And, unlike Gene Hackman, Spacey was willing to shave his head for the role.

Perhaps he's a little too good in this role.

Perhaps he’s a little too good in this role.

The Phantom Zone

This is a tough one. I’d like to talk about the rest of the cast, but I don’t feel like they should be placed under The Kryptonite, so I’m placing them in The Phantom Zone. Brandon Routh as Clark Kent/Superman, Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane, Parker Posey, and James Marsden were all actors I had some issues with, especially upon rewatching this movie. Marsden plays Richard White, Perry White’s (Frank Langella) nephew. Look, I’m not a fan of Marsden. I’m not sure what it is exactly, though I’ve liked him in some stuff I’ve seen him in. He was great as Cyclops in the X-Men movies, but here I didn’t particularly care for him. He plays Lois’s boyfriend–partner? fiancé?–her not-husband and seemingly the father of her child. He has some good moments in this movie, but there’s something about him that just doesn’t sit well with me. Parker Posey is another actor who I think is great but who got on my nerves here as Miss Tesch–er…um…Kitty Kowalski. She’s obviously supposed to be the modern Miss Teschmacher except she’s not…how to put in a Politically Correct way? Aw, to hell with it. She’s not sexy enough. Valerie Perrine, I’m sure, got many a young men started on the road to puberty in 1978. Parker Posey? Not so much. She’s attractive in different ways and I think her talents are under-utilized in this role. She’s not bad, she actually brings a lot of emotion to the part, but she just doesn’t feel right to me.

Which brings me to Kate Bosworth and Brandon Routh. As the two most important characters in the movie, their roles are essential. Both look too young to be in their roles. Considering both look (and, according to Wikipedia, were) in their early-to-mid 20s, it’s hard to believe they were together five years before this story for any substantial amount of time in Metropolis. They’d be better cast as young Superman and young Lois Lane first meeting, but even that wouldn’t be ideal since Lois was already established as an up-and-coming major reporter. Bosworth lacks some of the toughness that Margot Kidder had that made Lois Lane believable. Whether it’s 1948, 1978, or 2006, being a woman reporter is difficult because the news agencies are boys’ clubs. Lois Lane needs to be tough-as-nails while still being soft and, sometimes, vulnerable. Bosworth doesn’t sell me on the tough part. She’s cute, she’s a capable actress, I guess, but I had trouble buying her as Lois Lane. Not only that, but I never sensed any onscreen chemistry with Brandon Routh. The chemistry is essential to the part.

Now, kids, Mommy and Daddy need their grown-up clothes back.

Now, kids, Mommy and Daddy need their grown-up clothes back.

And now I go to Brandon Routh. I want to love him as Superman, and after that first screening at the Flagship Cinemas in New Bedford, Massachusetts, on July 15th, 2006 (I keep my ticket stubs), I did. I thought he was the perfect Superman. But now I’ve seen the movie three, four, maybe five times (I think it’s four) and I’m not so sure. He plays the role fine in the sense that I’m sure he did what he was directed to do or as the script called for him to. He mostly looks the part of Superman and Clark Kent, and even resembles Christopher Reeve when he smiles. But he’s too muted. He’s too serious. He’s too goddamn subdued. And because he looks so young, I had trouble believing him as Superman. His Clark Kent has nearly no personality, and his Superman only a modicum more. As a matter of fact, he hardly speaks as Superman. Again, I think it’s the performance that was asked for, and he delivered. But….

The Kryptonite

The story. Here’s one of those contradictions I enjoy employing. I mentioned what I liked about it so here’s where it rubs me the wrong way. Is it a new movie that’s paying homage to the original Donner movie(s)? Is it a follow-up to it/those? What is this beast, exactly? It has the John Williams theme, the opening title sequence, pictures of Glenn Ford as Jonathan Kent, Lex Luthor’s obsession with real estate, Lois’s article “I Spent the Night with Superman,” a consummated romance between Superman and Lois, the Kryptonian crystals forming the Fortress of Solitude, and Marlon Brando as Jor-El. It looks as though it’s a follow-up to the Donner film(s). But the fact that it takes place in modern America, with cell phones, flat screen televisions, etc., disputes that. So it seems to be a new movie with a helluva lot of homages. This is cute when you see it in the theater for the first time, but it gets old upon further viewings and once you bring your brain to the party.

It's the same, but different.

It’s the same, but different.

The lack of wonder and fun is a problem for me. It tries for wonder, I’ll give it that. The image of New Krypton rising from the Atlantic towards space is something to behold, however, the rest of the movie falls short. In some parts, the movie is just plain boring. Maybe it’s the lack of chemistry between actors. Maybe it’s boring lines. Maybe it’s because the fact that this entire movie feels like the song “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” by Five for Fighting. Don’t get me wrong, I love the song and the ideas behind it, but I don’t want a 2hr 34 minute movie based on it. Yet, that’s exactly what it feels like. Superman spends a lot of time alone and serious. It’s not that I don’t want Superman serious, or alone, but I don’t want him emo, either. Christopher Reeve’s Superman was serious, but not slit-my-wrists-serious. Lex Luthor and his gang have some dark humor, and there’s some humor at the Daily Planet with Jimmy Olsen (Sam Huntington) and Clark, but overall the movie just went on and on and the performances and story in between action set pieces aren’t engaging enough.

Superman’s beating has always bothered me. New Krypton is made with Kryptonian crystals stolen from the Fortress of Solitude combined with Kryptonite. This means that when Superman is standing on it, he becomes powerless (and, in theory, should eventually die). Lex Luthor and his gang use this opportunity to beat the living shit out of Superman, ending with Luthor stabbing him with a shard of Kryptonite, breaking it in Superman. The beating is brutal and probably is what led to the PG-13 rating, because none of the rest of the movie really warrants it. It’s a bit overkill, really, based on everything that’s been set up so far. I know Lex Luthor is a ruthless criminal, and there’s no Otis this time bumbling around, but the beating feels out of place in this particular movie. That’s probably because the movie is so closely related, by its own cleverness, to the 1978-1980 films. Maybe I’m being too judgmental here, but I just don’t think it fits.

Is there symbolism here?

Is there symbolism here?

I’m not a fan of the new Superman suit. It’s a little too much. I don’t mind the switch away from tights/spandex, but there’s something about the costume that just doesn’t feel like Superman to me. It’s unfair, perhaps, due to the perfection of the Christopher Reeve costume when compared to the comic book version, to be so critical over the suit, but there are things that just bother me. The boots look like something from Nike, which makes me wonder how it fits into Clark Kent’s shoes. For that matter, how does the S on the chest go unnoticed under Clark’s shirt? Also, the dark red and gold aren’t right. I made an allusion to this in my essay on Superman III; Bad Superman’s red and yellow is the same color as Brandon Routh’s Superman’s, only he’s not evil (he’s barely even alive!). The shirt goes up too far, too, or something. I don’t know. I’ve just never been a fan of this costume.

Finally, by biggest issue with Superman Returns is Jason White, played by Tristan Lake Leabu. Jason White is Lois Lane’s son, whom we think belongs to her fiancé Richard, but is actually Superman’s son. This shocker wasn’t all that shocking, which is part of the problem. The moment the audience is introduced to the asthmatic little boy it knows the kid belongs to Superman, even though they look nothing alike. The kid doesn’t look like Lois, either. The thing that made me think that maybe the kid wasn’t Superman’s was the thought that I’m sure every fan had: Oh, wow. The creators of this movie are really adapting this by giving Lois a kid. It must be Superman’s, except, who’d be that stupid? Surely fans will revolt against this. But it is Superman’s son. Which, again, throws the plot into a weird light in regards to the Donner movies. There’s no hint in this movie (other than the boy) that Lois and Superman were ever together, just that they obviously cared for each other. So the question goes back to: Are the filmmakers going back to Superman II with this, and if so, which one? The Lester Cut has Superman giving up his powers before sleeping with Lois, which would mean his sperm wouldn’t have the super powers anymore, right? The Donner Cut has Superman sleep with Lois and then lose his powers. But since most people probably wouldn’t have seen this version, isn’t that a little out there? And if it doesn’t have anything to do with those cuts, or the first Donner Superman, then how come more isn’t made of Lois and Superman’s relationship? Does she realize who Clark is? There are so many damn questions, never mind the science of two different species conceiving a child. If it’s impossible for two species of creatures on Earth to conceive, how can a humanoid creature from another planet conceive with a human woman?

And that’s not even my biggest problem! Because if it were Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder on the Big Screen, directed by Donner, with a screenplay by Mankiewicz that exhibited the same dedication to the characters that their movies did, I’d be with Superman, Jr. Or if Singer and his writers done a better job with their characters and hired actors I could get behind more, I’d be with Superman, Jr. But that’s not what happened. Their story is good, but never really finds the right balance. Their actors are all right, but I have trouble really buying them as people who’ve gone through these kinds of adventures before. And the worst of the actors is, I hate to say it, Tristan Lake Leabu. Look, I don’t want to beat up on a little kid so I won’t say it’s his talent that’s lacking, I’m sure the kid is a fine actor as he’s worked in movies and television after Superman Returns, but it’s the story and the directing. He becomes a Creepy Kid. As I wrote about Miko Hughes in the otherwise phenomenal Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Creepy Kids seem to infiltrate many movies. Why does Jason White have to walk around like a zombie? Why must he have no personality? There’s nothing charming about what this kid does in the movie. Again, I don’t think it’s the young actor so much as the way Jason White is written and Bryan Singer’s direction for the boy. When a kid is used to advance the story like this, and really doesn’t do much else to contribute to it, he’s a prop, and the filmmakers should be ashamed. It would’ve been far more interesting having the child behave like a five-year-old child, running around, getting into true mischief, than having this Golden Boy who walks catatonically through the movie to finally throw a piano at someone.

He's scared. Or happy. Or...alive?

He’s scared. Or happy. Or…alive?

After the Battle

I left the movie theater that summer night happy, and I guess that’s what really matters. Superman had returned (for the time being) and things would be getting back on track for me, too.

If it seems as though I dislike Superman Returns it’s because I get hung up on the details that bother me. I don’t dislike it, nor do I particularly like it. It’s better than Superman IV and, overall, Superman III (though there are parts of Superman III I like better than anything in Superman Returns). I think it was a lost opportunity. On its own, I think there’s some great stuff in this movie, but I think some of the ideas going into it were flawed, as were many storytelling aspects of it. I think Brandon Routh could’ve done better in the role had the script (and direction) had him do so. I think Bosworth does as well as she can but is miscast as Lois Lane. I guess I just expected something better from the people who brought us X-Men and X2.

I still would have seen a sequel to this, though. It does intrigue me on where Singer and company would’ve gone. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

Super(yawn)man.

Superman.

A Nightmare in Gautham: An Epilogue

I have written about 23,000 words on A Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels. My novella Alice on the Shelf weighs in at around the same amount of words. As I have mentioned quite often in these essays, I am thirty-five years old, essentially too old to have written 23,000 words on what is essentially a bad horror movie series. It’s not me, though, it’s the nine-year-old inside. That nine-year-old has been enthralled with Elm Street and the goings-on there since the fall of 1986. The nine-year-old insists I have the NECA collection of Freddy Krueger action figures, and other assorted goods.
Some of my Freddy collection.

Some of my Freddy collection.

I look at A Nightmare on Elm Street and its follow-ups as a huge piece of my childhood. You know my feelings on the movies, I spent enough time and energy on them, but I felt compelled to say a few more words on the Nightmare series before moving on.

New Line Cinema had a chance to create a horror film franchise that could actually maintain its scariness, in much the same way Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson would later do with Scream. They had a great villain and a great premise, all they needed was to understand what the nine-year-old in me, and those who have followed me this far along (and all the children in all the adults who are fans of series like this): You can’t do it for the money. Yes, you should be paid for it but the pay should be the frosting when it comes to art. Wes Craven made A Nightmare on Elm Street (and, I suspect, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare) out of the compulsion/obsession to tell the story, and the love of storytelling and filmmaking, not out of the desire to get rich and famous. By focusing on telling a really good story, by hiring people who understood the possibilities of the horror story (someone like Frank Darabont, for example), the Nightmare movies could have been scary as hell and still would have made New Line Cinema money.

Still, Freddy Krueger haunts me. At least once a year since I saw the first movie I have a bad Freddy Krueger nightmare. Love it or hate it, these movies turned me onto horror, which led me to Stephen King, which led me to reading and writing, which led me to…you. The imagination was there and Star Wars and superheroes and action figures helped cultivate it, but Wes Craven’s child is what led me to the realization that I could do something with all these fears and anxieties I have. Sure, it was Stephen King’s prose and storytelling that turned me to the typewriter (and, eventually, the computer), but….

And I’m not the only one. A group of fans made a great documentary in 2010 called Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy. It’s a huge documentary on the entire series, weighing in at about 4 hours, with lots of bonus stuff on disc 2. I highly recommend it. Anothe documentary I recommend is Heather Langenkamp’s own documentary I Am Nancy, in which she looks at fandom, the power of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, as well as the importance of the character she originated, Nancy Thompson. There’s a lot of heart in this documentary and it brought tears to my eyes, especially when a young woman in a wheelchair explains to Langenkamp how the character of Nancy has inspired her to keep going. Another highlight is an excellent interview with Wes Craven about the symbolism of Freddy and Nancy.

I feel like the guest who stays at the party too long, the person at the hair place who will not drop the topic even though it was over before it began. I hope that’s not the case. I also hope that if you’ve read this far, you’ve been entertained and perhaps have felt the desire to re-watch those movies. For those who give a damn about such things, here’s my Nightmare ranking list:

9. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991, dir. Rachel Talalay)
8. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985, dir. Jack Sholder)
7. Freddy Vs. Jason (2003, dir. Ronny Yu)
6. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010, dir. Samuel Bayer)
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989, dir. Stephen Hopkins)
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988, dir. Renny Harlin)
3. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987, dir. Chuck Russell)
2. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994, dir. Wes Craven)
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, dir. Wes Craven)

Goodnight.

And, as my Dad used to say, happy dreams.

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