Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dark Knight of Depression

Karen: After seeing Avengers, and coming out of the theater practically walking on air, I had a discussion with my husband and our friends about the film, but also about other super-hero films. I said something that, surprisingly, we all agreed with: The Marvel films leave me feeling exhilarated and upbeat; but the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, particularly The Dark Knight, leave me emotionally exhausted and morose. Because of this, I'm not really looking forward to seeing The Dark Knight Rises.

Karen: Don't get me wrong, I'll go see it, but probably not right away. I want to finish out this trilogy. I've gotten this far, I might as well see how it ends. But I don't feel excited. There's no joyous anticipation in my heart like there was for Avengers. It's more of a task, one that I'm not looking forward to doing.

Karen: I did enjoy Batman Begins fairly well, although I've never cared for Bale's growling Batman. But Dark Knight gave us a view so overwhelmingly bleak and without hope that I left the theater feeling like I'd been punched in the gut. It was just too much. When I saw it again on DVD, I could see what a well-made crime drama it was, but still... it was not Batman to me, and it was far too negative for my tastes.

Karen: But I know I am in the minority when it comes to these movies. I mean, Dark Knight was a huge hit. I've heard people go on and on about what a great film it is. Many tout the realism of Nolan's Bat-iverse as a reason they like it so much. For me, it seemed like someone calling themselves Batman had been dropped into a crime drama. It just wasn't Batman, and regardless of that, the film itself, while well-made, was just depressing.
Karen: I'm sort of hoping that Dark Knight, with its ending that seemed without hope, will prove to be like The Empire Strikes Back in the sense that 'it's always darkest before the dawn'. But still, even Empire had Luke and Leia reunite at the end. And what I've seen of The Dark Knight Rises looks like more of the same.

Karen: I'm curious how the BABsters out there feel about the Nolan films. Do you love the gritty realism? Do you find them too dark?


Rip Jagger said...

Your conversation mirrors my own thinking on this.

Batman Begins was a good movie with a grim but heroic Bruce Wayne finding his way through some tough issues and becoming a hero after it was all said and done. I liked it, one of the best origin movies I've seen right alongside The Hulk.

But Dark Knight was aside from the bravura performance of Heath Ledger was too long and as you say downright dreary. That might well have been the intention, but I'm not especially looking forward to the third one since there seems not to be as strong a character as the Joker was in it.

Rip Off

J.A. Morris said...

Karen, I'm with you on these movies. Although I'd say I slightly preferred the 2nd over the first. But I'm not a big fan of either, both were too long and had too many villains. I didn't hate them, but I haven't felt the need to re-watch them.

And there's no way in Hell I can buy Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. I just find her very bland. I know that all the "action" scenes featuring Catwoman will be stuntwomen and CGI, but the damage was done as soon as I heard her speak in the trailers.

Maybe someday we'll get a Bat-movie that can find a balance between "grim n gritty" Batman and the "Adam West" fun, but I'm not holding my breath over that happening.

Roygbiv666 said...

I think that the "crime drama" approach to the Batman films was a valid artistic choice (like "Batman: Year One"), and so to was the Avengers being an up-beat action movie. I can list lots of nit-picks about the Batman films, but overall they worked for me.

Isn't that the very strength of the superhero "genre" - that it can support so many different approaches? Of course, my preference for Batman would be the World's Greatest Detective of the Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams/Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers eras, but that's when I was reading them as a kid.

The Avengers made me yearn for a great JLA movie. Sigh. DC, get your act together...

david_b said...

I'll be clear, I am not a fan of the current franchise with Bale, nor did I think Ledger's performance really earn most of the praise he received. I agree whole-heartedly with the folks here thus far.

The first Bales one was interesting to see where they'd go with the character, agreeing with Roygbiv666 as to the enjoyment of different approaches.. Could you see Spiderman getting all dark and gritty..? No.

The current Batman franchise just isn't appealing, and it's pandering to a darkening use of superheroes (and action movies) we used to stand tall and admire.

West and Keaton, I could handle. This stuff..? I can certainly see it's appeal to the younger crowd, but it doesn't interest me.

pete doree said...

Couldn't agree more. I bought the first two movies, but watching them really is a chore ( especially the 2nd one as it goes on forever )

I think Nolan fell so in love with the idea of making Batman as real as possible, he forgot that superheroes are meant to be fun. He also needs an editor to tell him when a film is finished.
And I know I bark on about this, but the ending of Batman Begins ( " I'm not going to kill you...but I don't have to save you " ) proves to me that Nolan doesn't get Bats anyway.

None of my non-comic loving friends want to see the new film, yet they all loved The Avengers, because you could believe in the characters AND it was fun.

I'll probably rent it later on, but I'm not going to see it at the flicks-why should I have to gird myself to see a BATMAN film like it's a chore?

dbutler16 said...

I loved the Dark Knight movies, I think they were great, and I loved the gritty realism. I more typically prefer movies (and comics, and music, and books) that are more upbeat and fun, but I don't expect every movie, or every superhero movie to be the same. That would be boring, and frankly, I think the dark, gritty realism matches Batman very well. Daredevil is another such character that would do well with such a treatment (and the Director's Cut of Daredevil did a pretty good job of this) but I wouldn't want such a thing for the Avengers, Spider-Man, or Superman. I'm not looking forward to this as much as the Avengers, though that's more so because I love the Avengers and like most of us have waited a long time for such a movie to be released, but I definitely plan on seeing this some time shortly after its release.

Doug said...

Let me say this in regard to Chris Nolan and Heath Ledger (and also say that I'm not a huge movie watcher in general, so I'll preface my comment by admitting to have missed what I'm sure were several great performances along the way): As I sat through The Dark Knight, I have not had such a feeling of trepidation at the mere presence of a character on the screen (Ledger's Joker) since Ralph Fiennes' performance as SS Commandant Amon Goeth in Spielberg's Schindler's List. Ledger was scary, suspenseful, and simply riveting to me as his audience.

But, I will agree with others that perhaps a balance should be struck between the dark and macabre and some lighter fare. Oh wait -- isn't that part of the reason Robin was introduced? I don't think I want that for the films...


ParticularlyEvil said...

Avengers was fun, exciting, even inspirational. It was amazing - but I think Nolan's Batman films carry their own form of exhilaration.

In the Dark Knight series, there is a sense of catharsis, of a deep emotional journey and of inspiration brought through pain. The very fact that such serious and in depth emotions could have come from a "comic book movie" is a triumph in and of itself.

- Incidentally, great blog!

William Preston said...

The dark tone fits the Batman movies because that was often, in our era, the tone of the comic. Batman didn't joke around. His role in Justice League, especially in later years, was to be the humorless guy who doesn't do all of his thinking out loud. Having said that, my problem with the Nolan films is more with their reach exceeding their grasp: especially in the last movie, with its sort of extra third act (Two Face), you get the sense of a writer-director team thinking in novelistic rather than filmic terms, and, for me, the enterprise bogged down.

Avengers was enormous fun while somehow channeling that thing that comics (especially in the Bronze Age) did well: dealing succinctly with serious things; recognizing that the world was a place of suffering but that there was also human companionship and moments of triumph. I think Spider-man was probably the darkest of the comics in its early years, as the character was rarely allowed much relief from the many difficulties in his life. But how did he handle that? With humor and through human connection. Avengers (the film) exemplified that ethos. I'm not sure what kind of moral system the Batman movies advocate, but they seem to come more from a world in which the humans are living in an "occupied territory," making choice difficult and joy an impossible dream.

Edo Bosnar said...

Haven't seen Avengers yet, but I have seen the movies leading up to it, and I definitely agree that they capture the fun of the source material wonderfully.
On the other hand, I did not find Nolan's Batman films fun. Although I did think were pretty good in many ways, I kind of agree with Karen's overall impression - they are a bit too dark and kind of chore to watch (and Doug, great comparison between Ledger's Joker and Fiennes' Goeth!). Unlike the Marvel movies, I kind of doubt I'll go back and rewatch the Batmans.
As to J.A.'s question about a Bat movie that balances grim with goofy - didn't we already have that with the Burton films? I'm probably in the minority here, but those two, and especially the first one, are still my favorite Bat films. I think Burton really did a good job of melding some of the fun and, yes, goofy aspects of the comics with elements that made them more palatable to general audiences.

Karen said...

As the years have passed I've tended to shy away from dark films in general. I think it's just a case of seeing so much suffering and violence in the real world, that I don't want to see it in my entertainment. Boy do I feel old saying that.

I do think there should be a way to balance the necessary hard-edge of Batman with a sense of good triumphing over evil, or some such compensating force. On a completely different note, I'd really like to see the detective side of Batman in these films. He should be distinguished by his ability to out-think everyone else, not his gadgets.


Doug said...

Just another note on The Dark Knight --

Sunday our family went to Chicago to see Jersey Boys (if you ever get the chance in your town, go!). We had to walk down LaSalle Street on our way to the theater, and there at the end of the street was the Chicago Board of Trade building. It was very easy to imagine the scene in the film where the Joker blows up the semi and it flips over. Pretty cool...


nude0007 said...

I have many problems with the Dark Knight as portrayed by Nolan. The Transformer vehicles just look stupid and detract from taking the movie seriously, as does a bat-tank that climbs walls and jumps across rooftops. But the worst, was making Bat-man willingly choose to operate outside the law, or even appear to. That's not Bat-man. That doesn't work. He NEEDS the police to look the other way and work with him to a large extent. Do you really think they can't track and locate the batmobile/bat-cave? They must "look the other way" a lot, or Bat-man quickly gets trapped between the bad guys and the police.
As usual, re-imagining tried and true concepts like Two-Face (a ridiculous distraction in the movie compared to the Bruce Timm version which builds on the character already laid out in the comics), once again proves disastrous. They keep saying comics don't work on the big screen, but it is their failure to portray them correctly that is making them less than palatable. Just check the Avengers which brought out several aspects of each character. Even though they did change up their costumes (Arrgh!)No one will argue that Cap wasn't Cap, or Hawkeye wasn't true to his character. They even handled the Hulk brilliantly. All in a tightly woven plot that holds together till the end. Bat-man is now some knock-off out doing things the real Bat-man never would. He would never let his reputation be destroyed. It is too useful.
BTW, I also hate the way Bats is now treat ed in the comics "I'm the goddamn Bat-man!" Bruce was never an egotistically blind, arrogant sob. He was cold and calculating with a mean streak in him that hated criminals for what "they" did to his parents. The fact that he ignored emotion and was always calculating everything is what gives him the advantage, not arrogance and lack of respect.

Anonymous said...

I agree. There is enough suffering in real life without having to seek it out in entertainment media. And trying to make a super-hero movie (or comic) "realistic" makes no sense. The basic premise (costumed super-heroes and villains) is silly, and the genre is inherently unrealistic. Personally, I can only enjoy super-heroes when they are played tongue-in-cheek. Not necessarily so-bad-it's-funny camp comedy (like the 1966 Batman TV show), but at least as light as the original James Bond movies, or some comic books and strips like Eisner's Spirit, Cole's Plastic Man, and Cuti & Staton's E-Man.

Dougie said...

Nothing much to add to the general conversation: I've never gone back to re-watch either of the Nolan films. Saw DK with younger friends who loved the cynical tone and the "realism" but I was enervated.

We have the option of teaching DK as a media text in our department in school but tbh , the thought of sitting through it again for three and a half periods is off-putting.

Edo Bosnar said...

Karen, re: Batman being a detective. This! The only time I recall Batman doing some sort of actual detective work in the movies was, again, in Burton's first, when he tried to figure out the Joker's next moves. Having Batman be something like a super CSI would have been a pretty cool direction for the movies to take...

And Anonymous above, you've now got me wishing that Cuti, Staton and Pixar would get together to work out an E-man film, and make something super-fun like the Incredibles. In fact, just a sequel to the Incredibles would be nice.

Doug said...

RE: the Burton films.

Liked the first, felt too many liberties were taken with the second. But I agree -- I may like them a bit more than the Nolan films. It's worth pondering some more. The trouble is, I tend to look at the 1989-98(?) films as a set of four, and they declined rapidly once Shumacher got hold of them.

As many of you have said repeatedly, Batman: The Animated Series is the character done right.


Anonymous said...

Great discussion all. Not much to add except this thought - I think DC has an impossiblle task trying to make a JLA movie to rival the Avengers, thanks in large part to the decidedly different directions they have taken the Superman and Batman franchises on film.

We have had much discussion here about Marvel's "universe building". The lead up films to the Avengers captured that concept pretty well, I think. I don't see that happening in the DC world.


Doug said...

Admit it -- you were all just grinning stupidly when you saw Cap's shield in the background during Iron Man, weren't you?

Good call, Tom; DC's movie-making hearkens back to the Silver Age when editors controlled "families" of comics.


Inkstained Wretch said...

Sorry that I've come in late to this discussion - Most of the points I would make have already been made and made well (The Nolan films are too downbeat; The Avengers was good because it brought a sense of fun back, etc). Glad to see, too, that I'm not alone in thinking the Nolan films are overrated.

I would just make one point: I think comic book characters are much better served by animation than live action. It is not that live action cannot work but it is hard to do and even the films where they do seem to do it don't always hold up well. I cannot even watch the Tim Burton Batman films anymore and comics fans loved them at the time ...

Something about live action requires more adaptation, even reinvention, of the characters. You cannot take for granted things there that you would in the comics(like the look of the costume).

Animation on the other hand can retain so much more of the feel of the original comics.

Seriously, offer me a Christian Bale flick or the Kevin Conroy version and I know which one I'm going for every time.

Garett said...

I like ParticularlyEvil's comment: "In the Dark Knight series, there is a sense of catharsis, of a deep emotional journey and of inspiration brought through pain."
I very much liked the second movie, and have watched it 3 times. While it has a heavy tone, it moves along and has powerful themes and acting. Iron Man's my favorite Marvel movie so far, but it looks like Avengers may take over with all the glowing reviews. None of the other Batman movies have done it for me, including the first Nolan movie. Keaton and Clooney were miscast. I liked Val Kilmer as Batman, and Nicole Kidman with him, but Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones were annoying.

I watched Superman 2 again recently--it's a delight to see Reeve and Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman and the others doing their thing. This is getting off Bat-topic, but I also saw the director's cut as well by Richard Donner. Very different, many new scenes--no Eiffel tower at the beginning! I didn't think it was a better film than the one released, but a joy to see the 2 versions.

Back to bat, I just watched the new trailers. I think Catwoman looks good here, but Bane looks dull. I haven't read comics with him, as he looked dull there too. I'd like to see Talia al Ghul in a Batman film, and perhaps the Riddler again, if they could get the right actor.
Or Kamandi! ; )

Lemnoc said...

It's been said, but Batman is a rather dark character, and stories with him tend to be dark.

I can't agree with the comment that Batman's willingness to act outside the law is somehow out of character for him. What's he supposed to do? Ask for permission? Ask to be deputized to do what deputies by law cannot do?

It's interesting to go back and read the original "mystery men" stories of the Golden Era books of the 1940s. These guys never asked for permission to be vigilantes, and they were seen as dark, unpredictable, even scary sorts of justice bringers. Yes, even Superman would dangle thugs in the jaws of a shark while laughing about it.

All that said, I think Bain is a poor choice, a poor nemesis to end the series arc on, mostly because he does represent that move away from heroes as light and airy swashbuckler types to psychopaths only slightly less deranged than the villains they pummel. Bain's arrival came in the midst of a very, VERY dark time for the Dark Knight, with the Boy Wonder killed off in a #900 fanboy poll, etc. Bain is very much a symptom of the malaise that gripped comics and made them far less fun to read.

A good series arc for Nolan would be for Bruce Wayne to see a Gotham restored, to see his honor restored, so he can arguably retire the cowl. This was hinted at in the second film. It would be good to see it realized in the third.

Lemnoc said...

And, I gotta say, while I loved the Avengers I was also spellbound by the last Dark Knight film. For different reasons in each case.

It is easy to forget on subsequent viewings just how much pent-up dread and uncertainty Joker drug around with him in that film. Mesmerizing. And the scene on the ferries completely defied expectations.

I mean, the Dark Knight films made it possible to take the superhero genre seriously from the standpoint of film criticism. All subsequent films have benefitted from that (including the excellent Avengers, which extends the legacy)....

What DID not work, from my standpoint, was trying to graft the Dark Knight's darkness on to Superman. And Green Lantern just blew in every dimension.

William said...

I couldn't agree more with what Karen wrote about this subject. Pretty much my thoughts exactly. Like her, I do not care for these.

I really don't even consider them to be technically "Batman" movies at all. The character doesn't really seem like Batman to me. Putting someone in a suit with pointy ears and a cape doesn't make him Batman. Christian Bale comes off more like an angry, revenge seeking sociopath with violent tendencies than he does a noble hero fighting for justice.

I'm not saying I want an Adam West style Batman by any means, (or Joel Schumacher either). But I also don't want a Draconian style Batman movie that is so dark and hopeless, and bereft of any sense of fun that it leaves you feeling like you just watched a news report of a terrorist attack instead of a superhero movie.

The best Batman movie I ever saw at the theater was "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm". Say what you will, but Bruce Timm and Co. really "get" Batman and what makes him cool and appealing. Animated Batman is a no-nonsense, James Bond style bada$$ who always fights for justice by any means necessary, but doesn't lose his sense of hope and optimism. He's not some angry, whiny playboy with revenge fantasies and a leather fetish.

I'm so sick of these Hollywood types who have no real knowledge or love for comics hijacking our beloved characters and altering them for their own dark purposes. Half the time, they really want to make something other than a superhero movie, such as an ultra-violent crime drama, or horror movie, or slapstick comedy and then they just wedge in whatever comic book character they happen to have the rights to. I'm sick of all the costume changes and the altering of personalities, etc. to suit whatever it is they would rather be doing than making a Batman, Superman or Spider-Man movie, etc.

Fred W. Hill said...

I'm with Karen in preferring The Avengers (and associated films) to the latest BatMan franchise, much as I did like the latter too. That last act with Two-Face should really have been left out of The Dark Knight, for use in the third film. Another factor for me is that I've grown weary of the "girlfriend in the refrigerator" syndrome that has taken over comics over the last 30 years. Marvel got it going in the early Bronze Age with the deaths of Dorma in Sub-Mariner and, more famously, Gwen Stacy. Since then, it many other prominent female characters introduced in the Silver Age have been killed off -- Jean Grey, Betty Ross, Karen Page, and Janet Pym and maybe others I'm not aware of. Naturally, maybe some or all of them will eventually be brought back, if not already. In any case, while tragedy certainly has a hallowed place in comics and their cinematic adaptations, but even over the course of decades this is too much of a repeated and tedious trend. Sheesh, enough already! Of course, it's silly of me to complain considering I hadn't actually read any of the comics depicting those deaths, just read about them afterwards. But recalling the death of the main female character in The Dark Knight (and whose name escapes me just now) brought that to mind.

starfoxxx said...

I'm a big-time comic book geek, but i felt like the only person in the world that thought Dark Knight sucked.

I also thought the last Superman movie sucked.

IMO, the only DC movie I can think of that I consider very good is SUPERMAN 2.

I did, however, enjoy the occasional episode of SMALLVILLE, esp. the last few seasons.

Anonymous said...

Individually, the death of a major character can be dramatic and effective, but it can quickly become a cliche' from over-use. TV fans still joke about how whenever Captain Kirk or one of the Cartwrights became romantically involved, you knew the woman would be dead by the end of the episode. (The same whenever Xena or her sidekick had a romance with a man.) Comics fans are even more jaded, because so many characters (e.g. Jean Grey) have been killed off and brought back over and over.

Anonymous said...

Batman is admittedly a dark character, and stories with him are naturally going to be violent. But the consensus, or a least the majority opinion, seems to be that (1) "the G-D-Batman" is overdoing it, and (2) that the right balance was achieved in the Bronze Age comics (O'Neil & Adams, and Englehart & Rogers) and in Batman: The Animated Series. So the movie makers do have an example that they could follow. I do agree that the idea of Batman as a deputized officer of the law is kind of a catch-22 (deputized to do what deputies can't legally do), but he does need the cops to look the other way. It would make more sense for the local law enforcement authorities to cooperate with him secretly, not openly (like Commissioner Dolan and the Spirit, or DA Scanlon and the Green Hornet). And I like the idea of Batman as a detective, but comics and action movies are usually aimed at adolescent fans who want to see the hero clobber somebody, not dust for fingerprints or examine fibers through a microscope.

Anonymous said...

I thought Batman Begins was good. After where Schumacher left the series, it was necessary to restore some grit. I was blown away by DKR in the cinema. But, strangely, I never bought the DVD of BB and my copy of DKR sits unwatched & unopened on the shelf. Just as you say Karen, even though I think they’re excellently made films, I’m never really in the mood to watch either because they’re so bloody dour.

I enjoyed Ledger’s Joker....he seemed more of a real life psychopath...but I remember being spellbound by Jack Nicholson every moment he was on screen, so there is a clearly a way to make villains compelling without making them realistic.

Edo – I agree about the Burton films, although I preferred the second one. The first one seemed like too many people had a hand in it ( Nicholson and whoever decided to randomly insert Prince songs into it). The second one was Burton left to get on with it. I watched it in French once and it lost nothing.

I think all of the recent Marvel films have been better than the DC films, but it’s about time we got a fair shake !!


Anonymous said...

All the Batman movies are dreary except for the Adam West and Michael Keaton versions. You couldn't pay me to see Dark Knight Rises (terrible title, by the by) after I saw the other two. There was nothing "Batman" about them. No detective work, no heroics, you could have inserted Rambo or the Punisher and had just about the same movies. That's my opinion, anyway. I don't like coming out of a theater feeling bored and depressed. Loved the Avengers and the recent Marvel movies. Last good D.C. movie was Batman Returns with Michelle Pfeiffer, who gave Julie Newmar a run for her money as Catwoman.


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