Saturday, July 19, 2008

When watching The Dark Knight, I came pretty quickly to the conclusion that it's a better movie than Batman Begins. The question is how it compares to the 1989 Tim Burton Batman movie, with its completely different tone. I compared Batman Begins to the 1989 film when it came out, too. There, you're talking about two films in terms of their success to start a franchise. Here, you're talking about two films about the same characters, and all the things those characters represent, responding to each other.

There's this thing, though, with the Christopher Nolan films- and I guess most of the superhero movies of the twenty-first century- of being really invested in the idea of gravitas, of importance. Real-world parallels. This, as well as the fact that the Burton movie really isn't that old, really seems to cast the action of The Dark Knight in these kind of mythic terms. And The Dark Knight works really hard to establish the conflict/relationship between these two figures.

There's something to the notion, I think, of these superhero comics as the closest America comes to a myth. The fact that these stories then become retold not out of any oral tradition but out of capitalism and exploitation of copyrights, and that they only find resonance after the fact, with the creators just sort of trying to make a buck on a trend- I find that completely American, in a really awesome way.

One of the things about the 1989 film and the 2008 film is how both are really of their time. Saying you prefer one to the other seems like it betrays biases just as surely as it misses the point. Still: The fact that the 1989 version had things like brightly colored vats of chemicals really appeals to me. It feels like comic books, kind of garish and retarded, with limited color palettes. The way that the 2008 version talks about terrorism- It's not problematic. It still allows for weird garish deathtraps and whatnot, convoluted moral decisions and whatnot, which is just as much a part of all the superhero comics. (Although- how weird is it that the poster image, depicting the side of a building on fire in the shape of a bat, does not happen at all?) It also allows for more property damage- that's the nature of a blockbuster film in 2008, as opposed to 1989.

But it's awesome. I love how huge The Dark Knight is, how chaotic it gets, the scope of the action scenes. The relentlessness to it, how somehow we're all so cynical or imagery-saturated that the tone feels like a horror movie, in how you wait for the other shoe to drop in every scene that lasts long enough for a normal interaction to play out. I love how it feels like a western, at the same time the Harvey Dent story feels like greek tragedy.

Although the ending's kind of bad, with its Two-Face stuff that just feels like a watered-down version of the Joker stuff, rather than the natural conclusion to a character arc, or even an understanding of the character as laid out in various other media.

What's weird, though, is how much it actually seems like a movie- especially when taking westerns into account. At the same time, the ending pretty explicitly seems to be setting up a sequel, with a new status quo, even as the rest of the movie- in working REALLY WELL as a movie, in terms of having themes and a point- works against a sequel even making sense of the world they've established- how do you top a conflict between chaos and social order?.I don't remember how the 1989 movie ends, although I feel pretty certain it wasn't in "stay tuned for THE PENGUIN" fashion.

In both movies, the Joker is the more interesting performance, and sort of what the tone of the movie revolves around, with the Batman figure being more stoic, and thus less interesting. There's no Prince songs in 2008, and no joy-buzzers that burn off flesh. Instead, there's knives, and a mannerism of flicking out the tongue when speaking. I prefer the 1989 version, but that's because of the type of person I am, my age, etc. Heath Ledger, like the movie he dominates, is fun and compelling to watch throughout. When his storyline's done, the movie takes a downturn.

It's weird that the slogan/recurring phrase for The Dark Knight is "Why so serious?" and it tries to play that as a threat, almost as a defense mechanism when that really is the question you want to ask the movie about its tone if you're someone who preferred the 1989 version. "Why so serious, Christopher Nolan?" And then Christopher Nolan thinks that if someone is going to make him smile, it will be by taking a knife to the sides of their face. This is the difference between the guy who made Insomnia and the guy who made Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. I guess I should just be thankful that the Darren Aronofksy version was never made.

Oh yeah: The Dark Knight had all these crazy bits of things exploding that I was really into, and laughed out loud in excited glee at. It also had bits that didn't really make sense and felt like plot holes.

3 comments:

benjamin said...

brian,
this paragraph ruled
"It's weird that the slogan/recurring phrase for The Dark Knight is "Why so serious?" and it tries to play that as a threat, almost as a defense mechanism when that really is the question you want to ask the movie about its tone if you're someone who preferred the 1989 version. "Why so serious, Christopher Nolan?" And then Christopher Nolan thinks that if someone is going to make him smile, it will be by taking a knife to the sides of their face. This is the difference between the guy who made Insomnia and the guy who made Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. I guess I should just be thankful that the Darren Aronofksy version was never made."

i love your blog. keep it up.

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

"There's something to the notion, I think, of these superhero comics as the closest America comes to a myth. The fact that these stories then become retold not out of any oral tradition but out of capitalism and exploitation of copyrights, and that they only find resonance after the fact, with the creators just sort of trying to make a buck on a trend- I find that completely American, in a really awesome way."

I really like this idea although I don't feel as good about it. But then again I do because it has a really Malick-y way of totally defeating romanticism in a really awesome way even when I want it to succeed, and then realize that romanticism is almost as bad, if not related to capitalism in the first place.

"kind of garish and retarded"
haha