Tag Archives: Batman

Frog in Hot Water

boiled frogDo you know the story about the frog in hot water? A frog in a pot of cold water sits happy and content while the water is slowly brought to a boil. This happens so slowly that the frog doesn’t notice… until it’s too late and frog legs are on the appetizer menu.

As with most such tales it may not bear close scrutiny, but as a metaphor for the human condition it fits a certain behavior rather well. We can sometimes remain blissfully unaware of small — but dangerous — changes around us… until it’s too late.

I’m reminded of that frog as I watch this election cycle.

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Grimm Secrets

Grimm 0Bear with me; I have another get it off my chest rant about how something on the TV machine made me angry. In this case it concerns a show that’s risen quite high on the list of shows I watch: NBC’s Grimm.

I enjoy the show a lot, but I’m really annoyed about one particular aspect. It’s a glaring flaw in an otherwise very appealing show. I understand why the flaw exists, but it concerns something that’s generally bugged me in storytelling for a long time. In the case of Grimm it especially grates; I wish the writers had taken another tack.

The issue concerns keeping secrets from loved ones.

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BB #43: Anti-Batman

Batman-0Some of those who take their comics seriously and think deep thoughts about them have remarked on the symbiotic relationship between super-heroes and super-villains. They do seem to form yet another Yin-Yang pair (and, as I’ve mentioned many times, we find such pairs many places in life). In fact, many see comics as nothing less than variations on the basic Yin-Yang of good and evil.

There are even those who suggest super-heroes create super-nemeses as necessary mirrors and justification for their existence. There is just enough truth to that to make it seem debatable, but the more common view is that both arise as natural symbols of basic good and evil.

So today’s question: Is the Batman responsible for the Joker (and others)?

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Movies: Man of Steel

Supes-0I thought Zack Snyder blew the doors off Watchmen. The movie does total justice to a classic graphic novel that I would have thought impossible to put on film. It turned out to be a work that doesn’t just honor the source material, it elevates it. I liked his version of 300 okay, and I thought Sucker Punch interesting (although it’s a rather strange movie).

Plus, I have a high regard for Christopher Nolan. I very much enjoyed Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, Inception and the first two Batman movies (as I’ve written before, I thought much less of the third one).

Snyder at the helm, Nolan as a producer and writer,… I was really looking forward to Man of Steel.

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BB #25: Orange You Glad

blue skiesAfter a seemingly endless succession of gloomy, cloudy, drizzly days, we’ve managed to pull off a couple of blue-sky, bright sunny days! Not in a row, mind you, but Friday was beautiful, and today is downright glorious! Sunday is truly earning its name today!

The Minnesota Twins, bless their hearts, even pulled off a win against the Detroit Tigers yesterday (hoping for another today). That gives them a win-loss record of 30-35, only five games below the desired .500 mark. (It’s a no-go mojo for a team to play below .500 or a batter to hit below .200 (in infamous “Mendoza Line“).)

On a day like today one can’t help but to think about oranges.

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Movies: The Dark Knight Rises

I meant to write an article discussing Christopher Nolan‘s latest (and final?) Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises (henceforth, TDKR). I started off writing that article but ended up writing a screed about going to the movies. Words not wasted, perhaps, but now I return to the original intent: trying to say a few words about the movie itself.

The bottom line is that I give it an Eh! on my scale of Wow!, Ah!, Eh!, Meh!, Nah! & Ugh! It’s above the no-go line, so I say it’s worth seeing if it’s in your interest zone. If you’ve seen the other two, you certainly want to see this one. That said, it’s my least favorite in Nolan’s Batman trilogy as well as my least favorite Nolan film. And to be honest, were it not for superhero movie fatigue setting in, I might well have given this a higher rating. I’ve just gotten tired of the genre.

Warning: In this article I’m not going to make any attempt to avoid spoilers, so if you (a) haven’t seen the movie and (2) don’t like spoilers, then you shouldn’t continue reading.

[Unfunny true story: During the summer reruns of the long-dead television show, NYPD Blue, I made the mistake of casually mentioning to my (ex-)wife, who had wandered into the room during a repeat and asked about a hospital scene, “Oh, you know, Bobby died.” I never heard the end of it. It became a black mark on my “permanent record.”]

This latest version of Batman draws inspiration from three sources, the primary one being the story of the villain Bane defeating the Batman, as told in the Knightfall arc from 1993.

It also draws some elements from the Frank Miller 1986 classic, The Dark Night Returns (primarily tone and the idea of Batman returning from retirement, I would guess).

Finally, the idea of Gotham under siege, and the idea of aid from Catwoman, comes from the very long-running 1999 arc, No Man’s Land.

Several posts ago I wrote about how we’re upping the ante on the level of violence. That trend seemed especially obvious to me watching TDKR, and is a key reason for the dissatisfaction I had with the movie. The amount of casual murder of bystanders is very high (consider the stock market scene, for example).

Perhaps we’re supposed to cheer the casual murder of those rich, money-grubbing bastards, but the whole firing a gun into a crowd idea seems a bit prescient under the circumstances.

(While it seems clear that the Aurora gunman hadn’t seen this movie, it’s equally clear he had seen the equally violent second entry in Nolan’s Batman canon. We can’t blame one movie for putting ideas in a crazy person’s head, but we can ask if, perhaps, “entertainment” is going a bit too far in general.)

Let me say that I am not, in principle, opposed to violence in films. I’m a guy, and I like explosions, crashes, gun fire and personal combat as much as any (I love Asian martial arts films, for example).

It’s when things cross some vague line I have that it takes me out of the story.

I can first recall this happening in Verhoeven‘s Total Recall, which to me is the most violent of Schwarzenegger’s films. The line has to do with innocent bystanders being killed rather than the active participants in the story.

In TDKR, the tide turned for me during the big street fight scene.

Let’s leave aside the idea of boldly marching into a well-armed force. (The British learned not to do things like that over 200 years ago when we booted them out of America.)

A bit of stealth and cleverness seems called for here. The only thing that prevents complete slaughter is Batman showing up in that tricky Batcopter (and as it is, we see several cops shot down; fortunately the bad guys have the usual Hollywood Bad Guy inability to hit a close target).

Let’s talk for just a moment about how they were trapped. In train tunnels and sewers. Capable of exchanging messages on strings, but apparently not one single human-sized exit remained usable? Bane blew them all up? Color me unconvinced. Keep in mind all it took was a single explosion to free them. (Are there no backhoes in Gotham?)

Consider the two key fights between B-man and Bane.

Here we have two of Ra’s al Ghul‘s best (that is, most skilled) students (Bane was apparently capable of holding off an entire prison of men until his rescue).

The best they can do is slug each other like a couple of big dummies. Oh, sure, there were a few leg kicks, but the worst martial arts movie I ever saw had vastly superior fight scenes.

Batman is a man. No radioactive spiders or gamma-ray bursts for him; no son of Krypton is he. Part of his enduring charm is that he is just one of us — with an awesome amount of training and some very cool toys. In some ways, it’s those cool toys that define him.

In days of yore (yore what?), Batman and Jim West always had exactly the right tool at the right time (and, yeah, some of that was pretty silly). But in any era, and this is key, Batman was smart. He is smart enough to defeat Superman (in Dark Knight Returns as well as in a Justice League arc), and he did it by understanding their weaknesses!

So you’re the Batman, and you’re about to go up against a truly fearsome opponent; what do you do?

This Batman wades in for a good old mano a mano duke’m nuke’m punch out. (Why, oh why, would you punch a guy in his iron mask?)

Maybe it’s a steady diet of martial arts films (those guys know how to stage a fight), but the fight scenes, to me, were boring and disappointing.

I will give Nolan some credit for keeping the camera back and not going for the quick-cut close-ups often used to transform inexperienced actors into apparent fighting machines.

I have no complaint with the acting. Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon) and the always wonderful Michael Caine (Alfred) are masters at their craft, and Christian Bale‘s Bruce Wayne is as good as any previous version and better than most.

In fact, I’d rank them: Bale, Keaton, Kilmer, all future actors in the role, any cartoon actors in the role, and then finally Clooney. (I generally love Clooney’s work, in fact, he’s one of my favorite actors, but Batman & Robin was an abomination.) And, of course, like Caine, Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) dresses up any scene merely by being in it.

I can’t help but ponder the choice of casting what is clearly New York City in the role of Gotham City.

In the comics, to the extent it resembles any city, to me Gotham resembles Chicago. It does have a port, but not obviously a sea port. The historical dark tone of Chicago (gangs, political corruption) makes it a good parallel in my mind. And to the extent Superman’s city, Metropolis, resembles any real city, that city for me is New York City.

(Note that this is exclusively my take. If you research the origins of Batman back in the 30s, you’ll find that NYC was indeed the seed of Gotham City. A nickname for New York back then was, ta-da, Gotham.)

But it’s not just the vague miscasting, it’s the “terrorist attack on the city” that seems in questionable taste to me. Spielberg’s War of the Worlds indulged in similar imagery, specifically with regard to floating ash and “missing” posters. Some scenes in TDKR with falling snow evoked similar comparison. (Keep in mind the snow wasn’t accidental, but put there deliberately by the director.)

Perhaps it’s a case of enough time having passed (just over 10 years is apparently enough in these fast-paced days), or perhaps it’s a case of a director deliberately leveraging the national consciousness for effect. How you feel about that will vary.

I still recall vividly that day in September, and I recall how it affected me for a good year afterwards.  Thinking about it to any deep degree still affects me profoundly.

I would have preferred another city.

And then there’s the overall plot.

Bane and (spoiler) Miranda Tate want to blow up Gotham City.

Because reasons. Insane reasons.

Tate spends most of the movie being Bruce Wayne’s friend and savior of his company from what turns out to be another foray by Bane. Except, fooled ya, she and Bane are in it together, and once she’s revealed (surprise!), she turns out to be bat-shit crazy (which is, perhaps, apropos in a Batman movie).

It seems we have a new sort of villain these days: the insane terrorist who just wants to blow it all up.

Intelligent movies require something from their audience, and this movie required very little. It was just a fun(-ish) ride. It raises no interesting points for discussion, nor does it challenge in any way. It lacks the charm of, say Ironman, and Batman fans are well acquainted with the Batman ethos.

There’s really nothing new or particularly interesting here. In some ways it’s almost hard to believe that the man who made this movie also made Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige and Inception.

Just a few words about Nolan and the film as a film: I know many find Nolan’s film-making pedestrian or unoriginal (if I follow their complaints), but it’s occurred to me that he tries to be as transparent as possible in style. His camera setups don’t call attention to themselves; he tries to let the content come through untouched by fancy camera work or editing. Something else I want to watch for if I see TDKR again is the prominent use of vertical lines and other ascending visual motifs (note the staircase behind Bruce Wayne in a conversation with Alfred). Dark Knight rises… get it?

One last thing: did anyone actually think Batman got blown up at the end?

Was anyone surprised when it turned out he wasn’t?

Amping the Ante

The other evening, I finally went to see the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises. The punch line (and never was the term “punch” more appropriate) is that I have to give it a definite thumbs down.  It is, without question, my least favorite Christopher Nolan movie, and that’s saying something, because (unlike many cinephiles I know), I quite like Nolan’s work.

I’m a life-long comics fan and a life-long fan of the Batman. I’ve known the worlds of DC and Marvel for over 40 years. For me, Superman has a slight edge, but the Batman has always been a close second.  Those two comprise a full quarter to one-third of my comics and gnovels (graphic novels) collection.  Frank Miller‘s The Dark Knight Returns is one of two seminal works I hold in the highest esteem.  (The other, of course, is Alan Moore‘s Watchmen.)

And, as I mentioned, I’m a fan of Nolan’s work, and I liked both his first two Batman movies.  I fully expected to like his latest.

But I didn’t.

I was fine until about halfway through when I realized two things:

1) There sure are an awful lot of people being killed for my “entertainment.”
2) Is it just me, or is the plot mind-numbingly stupid?

Those two realizations rather put a dampener on things.

Oh, sure, Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle (Catwoman) was a creditable entry in the list of Catwomen, although at my age I’m afraid she’s only third following Michelle Pfeiffer and Halle Berry. The movies those two appeared in weren’t much to speak of, but I mean, come on, we’re talking Michelle and Halle here (if you asked me to name the 25 most beautiful women in the world, both would be on my list)!

[While we’re on the subject of Batman Returns, portraying the dapper and elegant Oswald Cobblepot (The Penguin) as a disgusting, filthy, stinking, almost actual penguin (have you ever actually smelled penguins? yikes!) was almost as stupid as casting Arnold as Mr. Freeze (worst Batman movie ever).]

And I also liked Joseph Gordon-Levitt as (Robin)  John Blake.  It’s been fun to watch his career since the days of Tommy on 3rd Rock From the Sun (one of the better comedies television has brought us).  One wonders if, contrary to Batman canon, sparks will fly between Selina and the new Robin.  Women: if you had to choose between Bane’s Batman and Gordon-Levitt…?

But those were scant high points in an otherwise very disappointing end (?) to Nolan’s Batman cycle.  Computer-generated special effects have come of age and no longer have any ability to carry a movie. They no longer impress me or even interest me very much.  I need a good story and good characters.

And The Dark Knight Rises just doesn’t have a very good story, nor are its villains very interesting.  The story basically is that insane people want to blow up Gotham City.  Batman stops them. (Sorry for the spoiler.)

Heath Ledger’s Joker was at least very interesting as a performance, even if the character was too over the top for any real character development.  Tom Hardy‘s Bane was, at best, mildly interesting to me (more for seeing acting through a mask than anything else).  But insane villains ultimately aren’t that interesting.  It’s like having an earthquake or tornado for a villain (which, of course, has been done). A force of nature is a threat to be fought or endured, but it’s just there… a thing with no real character.  Not very engaging, is what I’m saying; not very interesting.

And if that was the extent of things, I’d probably have enjoyed the movie. It wouldn’t have ranked very high in my esteem, but very few comic book movies do, especially the superhero comic book movies.  They come, they go; they’re a bit like junk food. Tasty, non-nutritious, quickly forgotten. And a lot of what would be stupid or silly in a normal movie gets something of a pass in a comic book movie, because comics are lurid and melodramatic and silly and sometimes stupid if you really think about them. So are the movies based on them.

The Bane character goes back to a Batman comic novel, Knightfall, from 1993.

It’s the idea of casually killing lots of people, innocent bystander people, non-combatants, that’s begun to get to me.  It’s the constant upping of the ante of shock and violence that’s begun to get to me.  Our world has become over-amped and casually violent.  Just spend some time reading what people say on the interweb; we rarely seem to treat each other with respect or gentleness, particularly when we hide behind the anonymity of our pseudonyms.

I recently wrote (ranted, actually) about Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, and it was during the big battle for Gondor that I began to feel vaguely uncomfortable at all the death in the name of entertainment.

Odd, perhaps, to care about CGI characters dying; they’re nothing more than pixels, really, but the point of a story is that you suspend your belief and accept the reality.

And, yes, the battle is in the book, we can’t blame the movie for that, but here’s the thing: books are at one end of a storytelling continuum that describes the amount of reality versus imagination required by the audience.  Movies are on the opposite end.  Books describe, and you imagine.  Movies show you specific and increasingly realistic images.  Humans are hugely visually based, and images have a very strong impact.

In part one of Knightfall, Broken Bat, Bane defeats and nearly kills the Batman.

What’s happened in movies and television is that we’ve constantly upped the ante. Directors attempt to shock us with violence, often in the service of making a legitimate point.  We come to accept and become used to that visual language, so the next time it takes even more to reach the shock level.  When you look back, it’s astonishing how far we’ve come.  Or perhaps I mean how far we’ve sunk.

I used to believe that violence in film and television (and now in many video games) was not a problem.  They certainly weren’t a problem for me or for anyone I knew.  But it’s hard to ignore the amped up nature of society now. It’s hard to ignore the sheer casually violent attitudes we often have towards each other.

As always, I suspect the solution involves a form of education or broadening of input.  The reason violent media is not a problem for me and people I know is that it is a small portion of our diet.  We eat the nutritious food enough that occasional forays into junk food are harmless—even enjoyable.  But we all know what can happen if junk food comprises your entire diet.

This has gotten long. As a concession to the tl;dr crowd (oh, ye of the short attention spans), I’ll end this here,… but I shall return to it anon!