Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dark Knight Trailer

I am not interested in the new Dark Knight film because I did not like Batman Begins. Having not seen Batman Begins in awhile I cannot give a detailed analysis, but basically I thought it was dreary, and I do not want my superhero comics all dreary. Caught between Tim Burton's fun hyperbolic stylishness (the definitive Joker?) and the audacious Spartan economy of Frank Miller's Year One (Batman fights cops), Batman Begins just looks weak -- it makes a gesture toward Year One, but still has to sell action figures -- so enter ninjas and the Scarecrow and all kinds of drearily designed "realistic" urban paramilitary cars and bikes and armor and things. Trying to get away from the Matrix and Kill Bill the fight scenes were also dreary muddy intentionally hard-to-see brawls -- again you can see the gesture toward a Miller-esque economy, but it really misses Miller's point. Miller is nuts but he knows a good Batman story should be fun, at least for him, and not so much a guilt-ridden ethical parable. Same thing with the music -- Burton has his pitch perfect theme tune, and you imagine Miller's Year One, properly brought to the screen, would use no music at all. But Batman Begins has to sell a soundtrack, and so we have dreary atmospherics for two plus hours.

The Dark Knight trailer opens up with the words "You've changed things -- forever," which should be a strong meta-line that is also about how amazing the first film was, but instead thuds to the ground since the first film very much did not change things forever.

I am very much with Neil Shyminsky in not liking HOBO-JOKER, as a design. Again, it is not down-to-earth enough to be striking, nor over-the-top enough to fly. As with Batman's gear fighting style, it is "realistic" in the most middling Hollywood blockbuster style.

I am not 100% sure this is what I want to say, but since this is a blog, let's test it: it is ironic that one of the tag lines for the film is the Joker's "Why so serious?" since that is just what I was thinking during the last one and am now thinking about this one.

On the plus side Maggie Gyllenhaal is one of the most beautiful women I can think of and she is introduced kicking some ass. Also there is a trace of Dark Knight Return's dark sexual connection between the Batman and the Joker when Batman takes the place of the woman and says "then you're going to love me." Works better with the Joker as a dandy though, surely, as he was in Dark Knight Returns and All Star. (All superheroes are dandies because they all care so much about outfits).

And just to be sure you cannot distinguish this movie from all the others, the trailer ends with nothing but dark streets, explosions, and gun-fire. These could be shots from just about any movie.


Jason Powell said...

In the first film, I could forgive everything except the action-sequences. I mean, my god, eschew the crystal-clarity The Matrix if you must (even though it's the best cinematic representation of comic book action yet accomplished), but give us *something*! The action is "muddy, intentionally hard to see"? Geoff, you are far too kind.

As for that trailer, I can forgive everything except what Neil calls "hobo-Joker." MAN, that is ugly.

Geoff, have you said somewhere already what your favorite superhero movies are?

neilshyminsky said...

Having watched the trailer, I'm also noticing a lot of similarities between Ledger's Joker and The Crow: the aesthetic, the posture, the stare. Which all, again, seems very un-Joker-like.

Geoff Klock said...

Jason: X2, Spider-Man 2, Batman.

Neil: un-Joker like is only half the problem. The real problem is why on on earth you would want the Crow haunting your movie?

Jason Powell said...

"Spider-Man 2"? Really? Geoff, you're crazy. :)

Geoff Klock said...

JP: part of the problem here is my memory. If I have only seen a movie once I am going to remember whatever impression I had when I walked out, which in the case of Spiderman 2 was wow that was a fun movie. Seeing it again I might change my mind. Spiderman 2 is the only one of the three films I have only seen once.

Sky High, Unbreakable and Mystery Men? [Jason's top three]. You are crazy. Major problems in each. Sky High's first act plot was pointlessly resolved through no act of the hero and displayed no imagination, Unbreakable was too serious, and Mystery Men was not that funny -- and also I do not know if I would want to count a parody like that in a top superhero list anyway. I will grant that those movies have things going for them (Sky High and the lovely Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Unbreakable was at least a NEW take on superheroes that was also not advertised as such which was brilliant, and Mystery Men has that conversation about Captain Amazing wearing glasses and a few other funny lines). I want to go in more detail but I would have to see them again and I do not want to. For the record I have seen Unbreakable and Mystery Men at least twice.

Kamandi said...

Longtime reader, first time poster. I'm having a hard time understanding how someone could consider "Batman" a superior film to "Batman Begins." "Batman" is all stylistic flourishes, neatly draped over a wisp of a plot that makes very little sense (but is nevertheless REPEATED in Burton's sequel). I'm not sure who is being portrayed in Burton's film, but I recognize neither Batman nor the Joker in this monstrocity. The supporting cast is filled with one-dimensional window dressing: Vicki Vale, Jim Gordon, Harvey Dent, Alfred Pennyworth. None are real characters, merely ciphers.

"Batman Begins" certainly is not without its flaws, but Christian Bale presents a compelling lead that is nevertheless true to the source material. Despite Nolan's considerable talents, the final third of the film collapses on itself. I would dare to say that I've never seen such a good movie end so poorly. Still, it rests as the definitive film portrayal of the Caped Crusader... at least as far as I'm concerned. Moreso, never have Alfred, Jim Gordon or Bruce Wanye been such compelling characters. I expect that "The Dark Knight" will simply add to that legacy by giving us fleshed out, compelling portrayals of Harvey Dent and the Joker, along with all of the returning principals.

Geoff Klock said...

Kamandi: We disagree on criteria. For me, what you dismiss as "stylistic flourishes" is the most important thing in such a rigid genre. For the same reason, plot gets ranked lower down. Also, I do not think fidelity to source material is necessarily a virtue (see the Harry Potter films). I do not necessarily disagree that the secondary cast are cyphers -- it is just that I do not mind, since they are there to support what I consider to be the main virtue of the film, the style.

You are right that Batman Begins collapses at the end. Bale I barely remember (and I blame that on him and Nolan), but in any case, I would emphasize that "the definitive film portrayal of the Caped Crusader" is not that much of a compliment considering how bad earlier portrayals have been. I do not agree that Alfred, Gordon and Bruce Wayne are compelling. I barely remember Wayne in the movie at all -- there is nothing like the scene in Burton's Batman where he is having dinner in a cavernous room with Vale and she says "Do you like eating in here?" and he says "Yeah... Yeah... You know? I don't think I've ever been in this room before." I think Oldman was miscast as Gordon because ever time I see him on screen as a cop I cannot help but think "Oh, shit! It's that guy from The Professional! Run Away!" which is surely not the effect Nolan is going for.

Your blog post seems really carefully written.

Don't let that be your last post. I like people who post around here.

Josh Hechinger said...

I'd say the definitive Joker is Mark Hamill from the cartoon.

As for this Joker...

I hate the voices in these movies, I'll tell you that. Bale's Bats needs a lozenge, and Ledger's trying to do...something, I'm not sure what, but it's not working.

It's like he's perpetually stuck between a creepy giggle and surly menace, and Joker works best when the actor is jumping back and forth between them. Without any warning.

Because he's craaaaaazy.

(He's got a good laugh though, Ledger.)

The trailer itself doesn't wow me either way...except for the line about Joker having nothing in his pockets but knives and lint. That's pretty great, right there.

Jason Powell said...

Well, humor is subjective, I realize. But I have to say -- if I had never met or heard of you, Geoff, and then one day someone said to me, "Hey, do you know Geoff Klock" and I said, "No, who is he?" and they said, "He is this guy that thinks Mystery Men is not that funny but that 'Go Fug Yourself' is HILARIOUS," I would say, "Yes, you must introduce me to this guy, so that I can punch him." Then they would say, "He also once posted a blog entry on how moving the finale of Will & Grace is," and I would say, "Oh HELL no," and then they'd say, "But he does acknowledge in that same post that it was a weak sitcom that cravenly attempted to be both Friends and Seinfeld at the same time" and I would say, "Oh, well, he's okay then. I will not punch him."

Of course, I jest. I am a pacifist. But man, I can't comprehend how people -- especially superhero fans -- don't find "Mystery Men" funny. The bit about Captain Amazing's glasses isn't even the funniest line! Although, if you don't think it's funny, then doesn't that make it a failure as a parody, and thereby more eligible for inclusion in a list of good superhero movies? No, never mind, that's stupid.

You're right, Unbreakable is too serious. But, so is Miracleman and Miracleman rules.

I don't think the first-act resolution (which I agree was weak) sinks "Sky High." The rest of the plot holds together just fine. And hey, didn't you say in your reply to Kamandi that plot is not that important anyway? (Certainly Sky High's plot -- and its dialogue, and its pacing -- is far more coherent than that of Spider-Man 2.)

Kamandi said...

Geoff, I will give you the dinner scene from Burton's Batman. Just reading the exchange between Bruce and Vicki brings a smile to my face. For me, it has always been Michael Keaton(the same man who portrayed Beetlejuice, let us not forget) and his subdued performance, and not Jack Nicholson's, that has made Burton's first Bat-movie compelling. You would have a hard time convincing me that Nicholson is portraying the Joker, though. Nicholson is simply playing himself (or his Hollywood persona), caked with make-up and hairdye. It's hardly an interesting take on the character.

Let us also not forget that Batman's soundtrack, despite the excellent theme, was largely comprised of throw-away Prince tunes.

If Ledger is "un-Joker-like," I would be interested in learning what or who Neil thinks is Joker like.

Thanks for welcoming me. I'm sure you'll be seeing me around, so to speak.

scott91777 said...

Ok, I'm going to have to go for the Batman Begins column over Batman. Granted, as Geoff says, Batman is the greater stylistic achievement and Keaton's performance as Wayne was top notch. However, as much as I liked it at the time, as an adult I'm not that fond of that version of the Joker and I HATE the idea of the Joker being the murderer of Wayen's parents (which I recently learned was the result of Stu Hamm being on the picket lines in the 1988 writer's strike)

Overall, I think Begins is a better take on the character (if less interesting as a 'film' so to speak). I actually think it pulled off a pretty good balancing act of being a film about the shaping of the character and being what it had to be for the studio: a big budget action flick complete with car chase. Burton pulled it off with more style, Nolan did it with a bit more depth.

Josh, The definitive version of all things Batman for me is the animated series. I feel it managed to encapsulate the best of ALL the interpretations of the character.... actually, that's pretty much true for the DCAU as a whole.

Geoff, I'm with you on Spidey 2 being the best superhero movie ever (actually, on my list, I count Spidey 1 & 2 both as number 1) but Unbreakable is pretty high up on mine as well. Yes, I can see where it's too serious (as are all of Shamylan's films) but, still, great take on the concept (part of the reason why I can't get into Heroes). After all, Watchmen could be considered way too serious as well... which is sad since, after reading a lot of other more, I know he can be flat out hysterical when he wants to be (The Eulogy for H.A.R.M. from his WildCATs run made me fall in the floor).

Geoff, Where do the Superman movies rank for you?

Chad Nevett said...

I usually avoid superhero movies, but I checked out Batman Begins because of Christian Bale and the American Psycho connection. I enjoyed it despite the fact that it featured a lot of the problems that keep me from seeing superhero movies usually (the rehashing of an origin I know by heart; the introduction of a love interest because god forbid there isn't a love interest; action sequences that can't match the comics). I'm not sure about the sequel as I have a similar problem with the Joker's design and still am not convinced that Ledger is the man for the part. It will probably come down to whether or not a friend wants to see it.

scott91777 said...

I'm posting this as a separate comment because the last one got a bit wordy:

DC just reissued Batman Black & White (great stuff so far, Bruce Timm does the best Two-Face story ever but the Joe Kubert bit was disapointing)and as I'm working my way through it I'm wondering. What is it about Batman that results in so many "artistic" works being done about him... It would seem that more "Masterpieces" of Comics have featured him than any other major superhero.

Think about it: The Dark Knight Returns, Year One, The Killing Joke, Arkham Asylum. Seriously, the closest thing Superman has to a DKR or Year One is Kingdom Come and, as great as All Star Superman is, it doesn't stand up to the best Batman stories. Is there something about the character that pushes people to do their best work? Are more talented artist drawn to the character because they like his complexity? Any suggestions or thoughts on this?

scott s said...

You think the Joker looks hobo? I think he looks Vivienne Westwood punk, which is perfectly dandy to me. The shot of his face in the trailer reminded me a lot of the cracked disfigured Dave McKean Joker-- take a look at Arkham Asylum again.

I agree, as always, about the rigidity of superhero comics and the importance of stylistic flourishes. But i think there are still some yet-unexplored frontiers of character development, especially in the finite continuities of these film adaptations.

For me Nolan's Batman has new depth-- Michael Keaton's ironist Batman and Miller's Spartan batman are one-note characters placed in a new environment. In both cases Burton and Miller handle the problem of genre rigidity as most creators do: by changing the character slightly, and changing the atmosphere drastically. "Batman encounters Reagonism" or "Batman encounters Tim Burton's gothic fantastyland"

Nolan's Batman is interesting to me because he's presented as an existentialist problem (the same reason that Memento and Insomnia are great movies). I see your "guilt-ridden ethical parable" point, but I think it means he's put the character first. And this is innovative.

I also think Nolan's use of camera filters is pretty cool-- the orange in Batman Begins, and what appears in the Dark Knight trailer to be blue. I like how it creates a distinctive mood, a lot like the way Batman: TAS was drawn onto black backgrounds.

The fight scenes are confusing, but I think the shaky cam works really well in Bourne Ultimatum, and is a pretty cool aesthetic of violence.

Jason Powell said...

I agree with Josh (and Scott): The animated Joker voiced by Mark Hamill trumps all.

Man, why do so many people like Spider-Man 2? I just don't get that at all.

Scott, have you read "Badrock/Violator"? People point to it as some of Moore's absolute worst (certainly any self-respecting person should be embarrassed to speak that title out loud), but it's got one of my favorite Moore-deconstructing-stuff-for-laffs lines, when two creatures with tentacles for arms and fishbowls for heads attack a scientist. (And the scientist is, in the best tradition of Image crap, a blond woman with huge breasts.)

Creature 1: "Have you ever noticed that every human we attack is a stereotypically attractive female of the species?"
Creature 2: "I have. I wonder why that is? Are we, as tentacled monstrosities, responding to some sort of archetypal urge, I wonder?"

I know it's typical Moore, but something about the diction of the line, "Are we, as tentacled monstrosities ...?" just gets me every damn time.

Timothy Callahan said...

I was unimpressed with Batman Begins as well, largely because Bale lacked presence as Wayne or Batman (and the way he moves his mouth when he speaks with an American accent totally drives me crazy--he makes theses puckering faces. Am I the only one bothered by his weird lip movement???)

Also, I could never figure out why (even in the context of the movie) Ra's al Ghul is on the train that's going to go blow up the gas or whatever. He's that much of a micromanager that he doesn't get a lackey on that particular train?

I do like Gary Oldman's brief appearance in the film, though. Any time he doesn't rant like a crazy person, I enjoy his acting.

Also, I like the hobo-Joker design, but the trailer still looked weak--too much emphasis on the silly, EXTREME Bat-Cycle.

scott91777 said...

For the record, the eulogy was:

"Though known to all the world as HARM, his close friends called him Chuck, born charles sweeney in 1946 he had one childish dream: He wanted to weigh fifteen hundred pounds with ground-to-air bazookas in his shoulders"

For more of Moore's lighter side I reccomend Top 10 (my favorite of the America's Best Line) the Jack B. Quick stories in Tommorow Stories and the Smax mini-series (all available in trade)

For better or worse, the one thing that we have to come to terms with about superheroe movies is that they are almost always made to be Summer Blockbusters. We should be grateful for any substance or style that is permitted in them. It'd be great if Rodriguez or Tarantino would be allowed to do one but I don't see that happenning(not with a major property anyway). Unbreakable got around this problem by NOT presenting itself as a superhero movie and, when you think about it, It's a miracle Burton got Batman in the first place.

Say, has anyone else heard Kevin Smith's story about working with Jon Peter's on his Superman script? Hysterical.

neilshyminsky said...

Kamandi: As has already been suggested, Mark Hamill's animated Joker is just spot-on.

Voice Of The Eagle said...

For the record, I like the Joker makeup (even though the "smile" scars are overkill). It makes him look like the skin is literally rotting off his face and I think that's beautifully grotesque.

Arlo J. Wiley said...

As far as I'm concerned, Batman Begins is the only live-action Batflick that's above average. I thought it was great; Burton's movies were campy messes, and Schumacher's even worse, and to me, this was the first 100% true characterization of the Dark Knight onscreen.

The Dark Knight trailer is pretty much blowing my mind right now.

Darius Kazemi said...

I very much enjoyed Batman Begins, but the trailer for the new movie does not make me hopeful.

Patrick said...

Nice to see another person who didn't love Batman Begins. The major problem with the film for me was that the whole point of it seemed to be to justify becoming Batman, and make it a sensical decision when the whole point of the character should be that he's slightly unhinged. Plus, Bale's Bat-voice was awful, and the mid 90s dark cinematography and utra serious tone just didn't work for me.

My favorite superhero film, and one of my all time favorite movies in general, is Batman Returns. This is the movie that comes closest to Watchmen in terms of exploring the psychosis that drives people to become superheroes, and the rush that comes from it. Batman himself recedes to the background, but we get a glimpse of just how deranged he could become through his relationship with Catwoman. It's a film that's much more sophisticated than Begins, but also a lot more fun.

The only way I'm going to see this new film is if it was a proper Frank Miller homage titled The Goddamn Batman, and featured a lengthy rant about how unless you're retarded, you should know that he can call his goddamn bat-cycle whatever he goddamn well pleases because he's the goddamn Batman.

Dougie said...

My ex-students love Heath as the Joker because they want their comics to be all manly and portentous.
I'm old and disappointed and I love Cesar Romero because I want my comics to be fun and colourful.

James said...

tim c: I always thought Bale's mouth-stuff was an affectation too, or maybe a result of the dental surgery he got for American Psycho - but having since seen interviews and pre-Psycho roles, it turns out it's just his face. So leave the poor guy alone! [winking smiley]

The Satrap said...

Count me among those who didn't like "Batman Begins". I found it incredibly bloated and boring. There's something worse than a bad summer blockbuster: a bad, pretentious summer blockbuster.

It relies on the oldest of tropes, the conflation of the protagonist's inner and external struggles, applied in the most straightforward of fashions. And yet somehow it seems to think that it's clever and important by doing so. Bruce Wayne overcomes the Fear and the Anger and rehabilitates the Memory of his Father and OMG Ra's uses Fear and is an Angry Terrorist and dismisses Bruce's Dad as Weak and the City...the City is full of the Fearsome and the Angry and the Legacy of the Father and, and... and my brain just shut down at some point and I dozed off. What a waste of a (mostly) very talented cast.

It does have a great moment, though, when Commissioner Gordon meets the Batman while taking out the garbage.

The Satrap said...

More in general, I have yet to see a truly thought-provoking superhero flick. Therefore, "serious” films like “Batman Begins” fail to deliver the goods and are utter bollocks. I much prefer gloriously garish junk that keeps its tongue firmly planted in its cheek and doesn't try to give me a snog of true love. Give me trash like “Blade II” any day of the week.

I mean:

a) Wesley's grin;
b) Eurotrash vampires;
c) Graf-Orlok-like skinhead monsters with vagina dentata mouths;
d) Santiago Segura, the guy from Torrente, the Dumb Arm of the Law as a bald vampire;
e) one of the Bros twins as sire of the whole lot of Orlok-like skinhead monsters;
f) Fucking! Wrestling! Moves!

I’m so sold on that shit.

So sold.

There’s that scene where they pin a vagina dentata mouth thing to a wall with a katana, like a butterfly…and then he pries himself loose, leaving half his bowels and the entirety of his crotch sticking to the wall ! ! !

Puts me in a romantic mood every time I watch it.

The Satrap said...

Oh, I also found "Spider-man 2" somewhat shite, to be honest. A film about relationships? Relationships in a world of implausible feeling, stilted dialogue and hambone acting, maybe. Not a world I'd really like to be in.

And Doc Ock was just *wrong*. He's not a cool, genial professor with an interesting wife who suffers great loss and becomes a tragic villain. He's an obnoxious egghead who becomes even more repulsive as a result of an experiment gone awry. He's a dark reflection of Peter's nerdiness and the creepiness inherent in the spider motif.

I'll shut up now.

The Satrap said...

Oh, Christ, I cannot shut up quite yet. The whole "artificial sun" thing about Doc Ock's origin is also rubbish. Fusion energy is both "clean" and, for the time being at least, beyond reach. Ditko's Doc Ock is a Cold War creature, born of the fear of the atom. In that regard, he's also Peter's dark counterpart.

James said...

My feeling on the Spider-Man films is that the first one has the best Peter Parker stuff and the second has the best Spider-Man stuff (i.e. the train & no Goblin Ranger).

But your take on why movie-Ock is less interesting than comic-Ock is spot-on, satrap.

Ping33 said...

I'm going to do this in List Format.

1) Scott S is dead on with the Vivian Westwood thing. I don't think it's hobo at all. LOVE the makeup... LOVE it. I think it looks great and the meta(and metaphorical)aspect of the smile being a scar is fucking brilliant.

2) I really really liked Batman Begins. I quite disliked Spider-man 2. I thought Spider-man 2 was far too emotional. I don't want to have my heart broken by the plight of Doc Ock, I want him to raise hell... hitting the reset button on PP/MJ's relationship to add drama was weak sauce and the slow-burn Harry shit was just a paper-thin excuse to draw a straight line through the "trilogy"

3) I loved the trailer because I love The Joker (check my hardly updated now outdated blog for my (then) favourite Joker stories (the addition to the list would be Detective Comics 826 from last Dec)) The BEST line in the trailer was that the only thing in his pockets were "Knives and lint"- PERFECT!

4)Best Comic Book Movies:
Ghost World
Sin City
Batman Begins
Superman II (Donner Cut)

Marc Caputo said...

I must admit that while watching the trailer, I kept saying, "If the wind dies down or he makes a turn, that cape's getting caught in the wheel. Won't that be messy."

However, I like the take on the Joker and I really enjoyed "Batman Begins". I hadn't enjoyed any of the previous 4 films (although things like DeVito's Penguin and Carrey's Riddler stayed with me) for many different reasons. The biggest problem I had with all four was Nicholson's Joker. All we had heard early that year was how he wasn't going to be hammy or campy and what happens? he ends up channeling Romero like Whoopi in "Ghost". HATED IT. I'll actually watch the 1966 movie ("Somedays you just can't get rid of a bomb!" - good eulogy for the first 4 movies, I say.) because it's the only one honest to the tone it sets up.

The Satrap said...

At any rate, I guess we can all agree on the greatness of the Gordon-is-approached-by-Bats-while-taking-out-the-garbage moment and have a group hug.

I must admit there was another bit of "Batman Begins" I did like very much. At the end, when Gordon (who, in case you haven't noticed, totally stole the show IMO) and Batman talk about a new criminal in town with a penchant for theatrics, and Gordon shows the trademark playing card, a girl sitting next to me gave a slight gasp and whispered: "Der Joker!" That was pretty awesome.

To put things in context, I'm a Romanian living in Berlin, the girl in question was cute as a button and didn't look like she'd ever come within smelling distance of a comic shop. For a second, it was almost as if the tosh about superheroes being "modern myths" weren't a trite, facile rationalisation of geekiness.

For a second, I believed.

The Satrap said...

As for the best superhero flicks, my personal list is reduced to "Blade" I & II and Dolph Lundgren's "Punisher". There's no contest. I mean, let's be honest here:

"Some motherfuckers are always trying to ice skate uphill"


"Come on god, answer me. for years I'm asking why, why are the innocent dead and the guilty alive? Where is justice? Where is punishment? Or have you already answered, have you already said to the world here is justice, here is punishment, here, in me."

I'll really shut up now.

No, seriously.

Matthew J. Brady said...

I'll add my voice to the Batman Begins naysayers; I didn't hate the movie, but I'm having trouble remembering much from it other than incoherent action scenes (I hate shakycam, in pretty much any movie), and that's not a good sign. I guess Cillian Murphy was kind of creepy, and Liam Neeson wasn't bad, and Michael Caine makes a pretty good Alfred. But I didn't really like Bale in the role, even though he's one of my favorite actors. And all I remember about Gary Oldman is his annoying "I gotta get me one of these!" line. I still haven't watched the new trailer (I'm at work), but I'll check it out later.

As for other Batman movies, I'm not big on the first Burton Batman, since I really don't like Nicholson as the Joker. He's very very miscast, in my opinion. And the action is pretty boring, so it gets a big yawn from me.

Really, I'm surprised more people haven't mentioned the Adam West Batman, which is still pretty awesome. I guess it's so different from the post-Miller Batman we're more familiar with that it doesn't even seem like the same character, but I happen to love it. Sure, it's stupid, but it knows it, and has a hell of a time being as stupid as it can manage.

As for other superhero films, I agree with Geoff on Mystery Men (not funny! Annoying! Ugly visuals!), but I did enjoy Sky High. And I do think Spider-Man 2 is one of the best superhero movies. But my pick for the best would be The Incredibles (not that I'm trying to start another debate about its philosophy). So there.

Matthew J. Brady said...

Also: I didn't realize Maggie Gyllenhaal was in the new Batman. Cool! She's one of my favorite actresses, and I agree with Geoff that she's very beautiful. So that's a reason to see the movie right there.

scott s said...

Spiderman 2 is so bad, but i really love China Mieville's comment about how the elevated train sequences in Spiderman 2 and Batman Begins are in dialogue with one another:

"[Batman Begins] argues quite explicitly (in what's obviously, in its raised-train setting, structured as a debate with Spiderman 2, a stupid but good-hearted film that thinks people are basically decent) that masses are dangerous unless terrorised into submission (Spidey falls among the masses - they nurture him and make sure he's ok. Bats falls among them - they are a murderous and bestial mob because they are not being *effectively scared enough*)."

JH said...

Mystery Men: I like the flick, it's cute, and there's some great actors in it.

But the more I think about it, the more it almost seems like someone doing a Morrison-esque comic as a movie...without ever having read a Morrison comic.

There's a lot of weird/fun ideas in the movie (haunted homing bowling balls and disco gangs), some great character names (Casanova Frankenstein), and everybody looks terribly interesting (or really, looks like they're trying to look like they're interesting) but it's just...not all that good.

It's second-hand Doom Patrol with some suspicious stains. It's what happens when you reheat Flex Mentallo after a week in the fridge because there's nothing else to eat.

Geoff Klock said...

There are a lot of comments here and I do not have time to respond to all of them but real quick:

Scott S: that is a great quote.

Scott S and Ping: Vivian Westwood fine. But the film is going to be Vivian Westwood getting the hell kicked out of her by a dreary paramilitary guy. Burton's whole world had style. You can argue that the lone Westwood figure is interesting, but I am not going to.

Stephen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen said...

Like Geoff, I don't like commenting on films unless I've seen them multiple times. But I do remember like Batman Begins quite a bit; and at the time I wrote this defense of its fight scenes:

One thing I loved: the fight scenes. In this, the NY Times film critic Manohla Dargis (who was generally very positive about the film) was dead wrong. Oh, the later scenes (especially the one on the subway) were a bit messy. But what was great about the early scenes was that they were from the point of view of the villains -- Batman was a shadow, a hint, a flash which you didn't quite see: it was powerful and effective and got the idea of Batman (that is, Bruce Wayne's idea) just right.

So I'll put myself in the pro-BB camp. (Not so sure about the sequel... but then, I wasn't wild about the BB trailer either, and then liked the film.)

Just my 2¢.


(Sorry, that deleted comment was me... bad typo...)

Anonymous said...

If nothing else Geoff, I think the 40+ comments here have proven that you should do two things, even if you don't want to:

1. In the sake of fairness, you should re-watch Batman Begins. Maybe you'll dislike it less.

2. And I know this will be a big thing for you- you SHOULD go see The Dark Knight when it comes out next year. I think you owe it to yourself as a comic pundit with a particular interest in Batman. Also I think it will make for lively discourse here.

What do you say?


Jason Powell said...

"it almost seems like someone doing a Morrison-esque comic as a movie...without ever having read a Morrison comic."

See, and I thought Mystery Men was reminiscent of an Alan Moore comic. But in a good way.

But if Mystery Men is second-hand Doom Patrol, I suppose I could live with that. I'd rather watch dynamic actors like Macy, Stiller, Reubens, Studi, Azaria, etc. playing out the story than look at Richard Case's stiff, awkward drawings again.

Oh yeah. I went there.

troy wilson said...

1) JH said, "But the more I think about it, the more it almost seems like someone doing a Morrison-esque comic as a movie...without ever having read a Morrison comic."

Actually, they're doing a Bob Burden comic.

2) Geoff said, "Caught between Tim Burton's fun hyperbolic stylishness (the definitive Joker?) and the audacious Spartan economy of Frank Miller's Year One (Batman fights cops), Batman Begins just looks weak -- it makes a gesture toward Year One, but still has to sell action figures -- so enter ninjas and the Scarecrow and all kinds of drearily designed "realistic" urban paramilitary cars and bikes and armor and things."

Couldn't agree more. The audacious Spartan economy of Miller and Mazzucchelli's Year One provided a great template, and most of the film's additions - soundtrack, super villains, love interest, extended car chase - only helped move it into a mushy middle ground. Me, I prefer boldness and purity of vision.

3) Jason Powell said, "You're right, Unbreakable is too serious. But, so is Miracleman and Miracleman rules."

Egg-fucking-zactly! Unbreakable is the best pretentious 80's superhero comic never made, and I love it for that.

Besides, the weight-lifting sequence was kind of amusing, as was the over-the-topness of Samuel L. Jackson's character.

4)Yup, Ledger's Joker does look like the Crow (a movie which I liked, by the way). He also looks like an evil Raggedy Andy doll. I leave it to you as to whether or not that's a good thing.

5) Didn't care much for Spider-Man 2. Great fight scenes and a nice humor bit with Peter vs. the broom closet, but Ock's journey from nice guy to bad guy to nice guy was tiresome (not that it didn't work on a technical level - it just didn't engage me at all).

6) Favorite superhero films: X2, Unbreakable, The Incredibles. No contest.

Geoff Klock said...

Mitch: GAH! FINE! You are right. I will get to it when I can.

Streebo said...

Wow. 44 comments. Is this a record on Geoff's blog?

I am doing my best to not watch the trailer to the new Batman movie. I like to go in with an open mind. As a storyteller, i have a tendency to start building a story in my head before I ever get to see the final product, therefor, I like to go in as a blank slate.

My quick 2 cents:

The best superhero movies are Superman, Batman, Spiderman, The Crow, X-Men/X2 and Blade II.

I enjoyed Superman and Batman because of the interaction between the heroes and their respective nemeses.

Superman flies around the world and reverses time - because he is the goddamn superman. Let Batman try pulling that out of his goddam bat belt.

One aspect I enjoyed of the first three Batman films was the fight scenes. One of the choreographers was trained in Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do and this shows through in the economy of some of the fights. I tried to find his name on the IMDb but was unsuccessful, so I have to apologize for a lack of a source. I love the idea of Batman using Jeet kune Do - because that's exactly the kind of style that Bruce Wayne would seek out to forge his Batman persona. I always thought it was bullstuff when Miller would mention Batman mastering twenty different martial disciplines. The only people that get to master those arts spend a lifetime training in them. Bruce Wayne would want something economical and direct with no added movements. I always imagined him training in some different disciplines - but after one year of sweeping the floors and learning how to take a fall getting sick of it all and going elsewhere. Or perhaps Bruce would see a practitioner performing some elaborate kata or form and then wondering how all of that extra movement would prevent someone from just punching them in the face? I feel a little Batman Year One story of my own coming on as I type this out - so I'll just reel it in by saying Batman uses Jeet Kune Do in Batman, Batman Returns and Batman Forever. And that is one of the reasons I enjoy those films.

How could any Batman fan not love the moment in Batman Forver when Dick Grayson has just been beaten down by a good thirty or fifty gang members (lead by kickboxing great Don "The Dragon" Wilson no less) when you hear one of them in the back yell out "BATMAN!" A wave of recognition spreads through the gang as the rest of them look up and yell, "BATMAN!" Then the camera pans up to Batman on the ledge, he spreads his cape, and the gang members run like scalded dogs. Batman drops into the middle of the dispersing crowd without having to land so much as one punch. This was the only Batman movie to feature a moment like this.

The first Spiderman movie seemed like a near perfect adaptation of the origin story - with the added onus of the Green Goblin rivalry. The credit for the success in this must go to the source material by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. Goblin ranger didn't bother me as much. It probably would have looked even worse as some kind of make up appliance.

Blade II was the closest any live action film has come to capturing the energy of the Japanese anime. It is totally balls to the wall martial arts mayhem. Full on gun fetishism. Insane wrestling moves. Vampires with giant fanged vaginas for mouths! WTF! I'm glad to see satrap giving Blade II some respect as it is criminally underappreciated.

Midnight Men was an interesting superhero movie - but it has a tonal confusion that does not help it's cause. Is it a comedy? Or is it a superhero movie? It seems funny in the beginning - but then it tries to become a superhero movie by the end - but it can't pull off the action with success. It was one of those movies that I really wanted to like - but it just didn't gel in the end.

Sky High is very similar. It starts out reasonably funny - yet when the action takes over - it is somewhat flaccid and weak. The sidekicks are just not interesting enough to build an entire movie around. Like Geoff said, the first act problem is resolved in a deus ex machina fashion. Suddenly, the kid has super powers. He doesn't have to do anything to gain them, they just happen. That's just poor writing, plain and simple.

The Crow movie successfully carried all of the pain and pathos of the comic book to the screen. Brandon Lee's portrayal and eventual fate trumps the comic at being the Crow. Brandon Lee literally becomes the Crow - by dying during the making of the film and then being reborn every time it plays. Brandon Lee so trumped James O'Barr's version of the Crow that O'Barr said it brought his entire life full circle and the pain he felt from the loss of his fiancee was finally lifted. Sad, but true.

And lastly, I liked Batman Begins, but I didn't love it. I thought the whole plot to gas the city by using a microwave thingymabob was too convoluted and goofy for a Batman story. It just reeked of David Goyer's piss-poor comic book writing. It felt shoehorned onto the entire film - because they basically needed the threat of a bomb to build the tension of the third act - yet it's such a ludicrous set up that it really goes against the super serious tone of the rest of the film.

What I do love about Batman Begins are the ninja training sequences. I've said it on here before and I'll say it again, ninjas + superheroes = gold. I think every superhero should train with ninjas.

I hated, hated, HATED the fight scenes in Batman Begins. I want to see movements and recognizable actions. The entire kung fu movie industry was built around portraying technique in a clear and easily understood fashion. The way the action is portrayed in Batman Begins just felt like a cop out. Shaky cam works much better in horror films - or war movies - but it has no place when used to obscure fight scenes in action movies. Action movies are not about building tension or creating subjective moments in combat - they are about portraying ACTION! So show it! Make it clear and definable. If you hide your fight scenes - your movie does not pass go and goes directly to superhero movie jail.

I liked Spiderman 2 - but the whole mini-sun, nuclear whatevermabob built by Doc Oc was just goofy. Like the master plan to gas the city using a microwave emitter in Batman Begins, this plot felted tacked on in order to raise the stakes for a third act finale. FOr this reason and for having Spiderman randomly lose his powers through self-doubt, Spiderman 2 does not make my list of great superhero movies.

I include X-Men and X-Men 2 as one movie on my list because without the set up of X-Men, X2 would not have had the time to build up to it's level of superhero coolness. X-Men serves as act one and the first half of act two to the second half of act two and act three provided by X2.

And with that, I declare these comments locked.

Streebo said...

Stephen wrote, "One thing I loved: the fight scenes. In this, the NY Times film critic Manohla Dargis (who was generally very positive about the film) was dead wrong. Oh, the later scenes (especially the one on the subway) were a bit messy. But what was great about the early scenes was that they were from the point of view of the villains -- Batman was a shadow, a hint, a flash which you didn't quite see: it was powerful and effective and got the idea of Batman (that is, Bruce Wayne's idea) just right."

I did want to say that I really liked Stephen's approach to the fight scenes in Batman Begins. I'll have to re-watch the movie with that context in mind.

Sorry for the mispelling and grammar in my messy post, I was in a hurry.

The Satrap said...

Another day, another attempt to hijack the thread. Come on, we're trying to establish a record.

Re: Adam West. West's Batman is, basically, fucking genius. Say no to rubber nipples, all hail the shark repellent Batspray. Adam West is arguably the single biggest influence on the Bat-mythos since its inception, even bigger than Miller. He stands like a campy colossus at the entrance to Gotham's harbour, legs apart, illuming all with his Bat-Zippo. Talk about the anxiety of influence. His ghost must haunt Dan DiDio's dreams. Holy nightmare!

Streebo makes an interesting remark about the microwave bomb thing in "Batman begins". It's incredibly daft (a bomb that evaporates water and is supposed to leave people, i.e. sacks of H2O, unharmed? Really?), as silly as the Penguin calling his henchmen "fine-feathered finks". This hints at the possibility that e.g. Nolan could reply to Geoff's remarks about the film's feckless lack of vision with the argument that the makers of BB were as aware of Batman's rich history as the next geek, and were deliberately aiming for a synthesis of their own. This still would not account for the cod psychology or Bale's insipid repartees with Neeson or Caine, but would open an interesting avenue of debate.

If BB is to be regarded as a very specific summation of Batman's tradition, then it's just about as successful as (and could be regarded as a film version of) your standard uninspired late-90s Bat-comic. It could be worse, I guess.

Batman is also better than "Batman Begins" in another crucial regard. The Burton/Elfman collaboration is one of the most fruitful in the domain of film scoring in the last twenty years, whereas Hans Zimmer's soundtrack for BB OTOH is pure generic just-add-water "Media Ventures" --or however his outfit is called these days-- bollocks. The film does have one or two nice tracks (the "romantic" ones, when the Holmes wench is around), but those I'd chalk up to Zimmer's collaboration with the generally dependable James Newton Howard.

As for liking BB, but not loving it? We're having a vigorous debate, i.e., enforcing the fallacy of the excluded middle. It's either/or. Love/hate. False dichotomies all the way. Get with the program already.

The Satrap said...

Oh, I forgot.

THIS is a brilliant synthesis of Batman's anxiety-inducin' history.

Matthew J. Brady said...

As for liking BB, but not loving it? We're having a vigorous debate, i.e., enforcing the fallacy of the excluded middle. It's either/or. Love/hate. False dichotomies all the way. Get with the program already.

Crap, I forgot, this is the internet; there are no gray areas here! Um, then I hate it, I guess? I sure didn't love it, so I guess that's the only other option...

The Satrap said...

Good soldier.

Jason Powell said...

"Like Geoff said, the first act problem is resolved in a deus ex machina fashion. Suddenly, the kid has super powers. He doesn't have to do anything to gain them, they just happen. That's just poor writing, plain and simple."

I think you could make a case that that sudden occurrence of superpowers in the lead character in "Sky High" is actually not a sudden solve of a problem, but the introduction of new problems. At that point in the story, everyone pretty much knew he didn't have powers, even his parents, and were more or less okay with it, and he had made friends with his fellow losers in sidekick class. When he suddenly got powers, this created a wall between him and his friends, as suddenly all the popular folk wanted to hang with him.

Van Daniels said...

Hey everyone, I stumbled across this blog through a Google search and couldn't resist throwing my two cents in.

I love Burton's Batman mostly for the atmosphere. Burton's signature macabre direction melds perfectly with Danny Elfman's darkly triumphant score and Anton Furst's nightmarish urban hell of concrete and steel to create the definitive live-action Gotham City. But does Burton give us a definitive Batman character? Hardly.

While Keaton's brooding and obsessive Bruce Wayne I felt was right on target, I find his Batman to be very one-dimensional. With this Batman there was no real detective work (excluding maybe the one scene where he figures out Joker's toxic cosmetic scheme, off camera, and gives Vicki Vale the information), no development of the Batman as a character, and no real scenes where Batman asserts himself as the star of the film (which he should be!)

Burton gave us the best on-screen Gotham and Jack Nicholson's Joker (which was easily the most fun part of the film) but didn't do much for Batman except give him rubber muscles (booooooooo!)

The atmosphere in Batman Begins is supposed to be more realistic (i.e. boring). Gotham City as featured in Batman Begins is, well, Chicago. When Batman finally suits up and launches his war on crime Gotham is still Chicago, just at night. Gone is the ass-kicking Batman theme, replaced with what could have just been Muzak as interpreted by an orchestra. Still firmly in place is the superfluous love story, where Batman AGAIN reveals his identity to the girl he has a crush on (for no reason at all.) The rubber muscle suit is finally out (hooray!) in favor for virtually indestructible body armor (hoora...wait...awwwwwwww!)

Batman Begins does do a very admirable job of giving a live action Batman some semblance of ethos, as opposed to just telling the audience that lil' Brucie is pissed his parents were shot and so now he dresses up like a bat (like Burton's Batman) and I think Christian Bale pulls off billionaire playboy more convincingly than Keaton.

Nolan's villains are way less maniacally fun than Burton's as well. Nolan seems to prefer more straight-forward movie bad-guys for his Batman flick than Burton did, which is fitting considering Nolan went with a realistic (i.e. BORING) tone for his film.

Overall, Begins was an enjoyable popcorn action movie just like Burton's Batman was an enjoyable goth/art-deco pseudo art film but neither film should be considered the "definitive" Bat-movie due to Batman treated as a secondary character in both movies (hell, Burton treated Batman more like a trival detail than a character!)

If I had to cast my vote for a "definitive" Batman in a medium other than comics, my vote would go to Batman: TAS, in particular, Mask of the Phantasm, but I won't bore anyone with that justification, I'll just jump off the soapbox instead.

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