Sunday, May 20, 2012

Two birds with the one joker

serie_uggh

To begin with a statement that will more than likely paint me as a black sheep in millions of white ones: I hated The Dark Knight, but just bear with me while I first fill you in on the many years leading up to the 2008 film.

In the 50s, a new superhero hit the printed page, a brainchild of Bob Kane that he called Batman. Adam West would then go on to depict Batman on screen in over a hundred episodes of the live-action nanananana Batman! television series in the ‘60s, with one theatrical release in the mix. And let’s not forget the litany of animated series’, still being voiced by Kevin Conroy. Then, in the late ‘80s and the early ‘90s, Michael Keaton, Bat-suit clad, took Batman to blockbuster status with two films lead by Tim Burton at the directorial-helm. Aided by just the right amount of psychosis that comes with any Batman narrative and that dark undertone found in any Burton film, these instalments were two fantastically crafted Batman films, and then came Joel Schumacher. With the third Batman film in the series, dubbed Batman Forever, Burton stepped down to a producer seat to let Schumacher replace him as director, as well as Keaton handing the black rubber outfit to Val Kilmer. Just from watching Burton’s Batman Returns and then watching Schumacher’s Batman Forever, in a single glance you’d come to realise that each auteur had their own ideas in terms of direction. Burton’s focus in any film is dark and subtle horror, however, Schumacher’s focus seemed to be in favour of all the infants that would be going to see it, juxtaposing Burton’s style with something more light and cartoony, perhaps in a failed attempt to bring us back to the Adam West days. But, despite Batman Forever being watered-down in comparison to what had preceded it, I still consider it a worthy chapter and I still continue to pop the occasional corn in front it. Ultimately, I have always felt that the movie still had some Burton-handy work in it. That’s not all though, the fact that Val Kilmer’s depiction of the titular character is far from condemnation, the performances by Jim Carey and Tommy Lee Jones are highly-entertaining, Nicole Kidman is smokin’ and the addition of Robin, despite being contrived in the narrative, was a fine touch indeed, these things all make it quite enjoyable. The way I see it is that the pre-Bale, post-West Batman film series consists of Batman, Batman Returns and Batman Forever, with Burton on two and Schumacher on one, respectively. That brings us to the aborted placenta that some like to call a Batman film, Batman & Robin

Slow Exhale. Batman & Robin was, to say the least, a bit of a disaster. There are quite a few things I feel are at fault for the failure of Schumacher’s second Batman outing, the first being the total absence of Tim Burton and the second being Hollywood’s favourite doctor. When it came to Batman Forever, it’s my thinking that Burton’s involvement helped dilute Schumacher’s goal to make a family-film, so with him not having any input in Batman & Robin at all, the healthy balance between dark and silly was lost, leaving us with a litany of bad low-temperature related one-liners delivered by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dr. Doug Ross from E.R. as Batman. Yuk! And that brings me to the real thing that doomed this film, George fucking Clooney. Now, they could’ve picked anybody, but they picked none-other than Clooney, an actor who hadn’t starred in any action film prior to that (and has only been in one or two since), and they decided to cast him in a movie with a plethora of action scenes? Nonsense! For those that have been awarded the privilege of never seeing Batman & Robin, in many people’s opinion as well as my own, if Batman were a franchise that primarily focused on Bruce Wayne (Batman when he’s not Batman) then I would applaud Clooney’s performance, because essentially, when hasn’t Clooney played a rich bachelor in a film? Hell, the man is a rich bachelor; he doesn’t need to act! So, then of course, when it came to being Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego - you know, who the franchise is really about - Clooney just couldn’t shake the fact that he isn’t any good in anything that doesn’t deal in million dollar glances and dramatic-dialogue. For your information, this film did so badly, both critically and financially, that Warner Bros. subsequently cancelled the contracts they had written up to make another Schumacher-directed Batman with Clooney reprising the role, ending this film-series right then and there. It also got 11 Razzie nominations and was the first film in the series not to be considered by the Academy (not that I’m saying that I care what the Academy thinks). Needless to say, the whole film side of the comic-book character seemed beyond repair.

That brings me to the Nolan-era, the Batman renaissance, if you will. If I have anything to thank Batman & Robin for, it’s ending one series to make way for something better, Christopher Nolan’s reboot, Batman Begins. Batman Begins is your typical how the superhero became a superhero type narrative, but that really doesn't sell it, because it was brilliantly executed. Why? Because it doesn’t do it’s dealings in the cheap bullshit theatrics that so many other superhero movies do. It’s patient, it’s full-bodied, it’s emotional and it’s carefully crafted. I won’t lie, I think that Nolan is quite a director, not only that but the film itself has a king’s ransom cast behind it who collectively portray these solid characters that I so adore; of course, Christian Bale being, in my opinion, a commendable choice for Batman. But really, the actual reason I think so highly of it is Liam Neeson’s performance, and more importantly, his on-screen chemistry with Bale. The dialogue between them and the character’s overall influence on Bruce Wayne’s transformation into Batman sends shivers down my fucking spine. Also, despite the fact that Michael Caine was sadly replacing Michael Gough from the Burton/Schumacher days, I was happy to see him play Alfred. I just felt that the story really hit new highs in almost every aspect a cinematic experience can; it was just so visceral…to me, anyway. Unfortunately - something that puts me in quite an aforementioned minority - it was downhill from there, thanks to…throat clear…Heath Ledgar. (Cue the guy who says that I can’t say that because he’s dead.)

Whenever I think of the 2008 film The Dark Knight, I feel like I have stepped into a twilight-zone of sorts. In a way, I feel kind of like everybody is just watching Batman & Robin again, but in this topsy-turvy alternate reality, they love it. The problem here was that Batman Begins had its fair-share of chit-chat and people found that booorrrrrinnnng! I'm not one to factualise taste, but people need to understand that there's a fine line between taste and a short attention span. My best guess is that a lot of people had been conditioned by anything that preceded this film to see the Batman character from the very start to the very finish, but to walk into a cinema to see Batman Begins with a similar predisposition would be akin to going to see Cameron’s Titanic just to see a ship sink; Batman, in his truest form, only first appears at about an hour into the film. So, the masses wanted something more and, by comparison, The Dark Knight seemed to be the answer.

And, finally, that brings me to the 2008 two hour tirade on my senses people like to call The Dark Knight. But my issues with the film itself aside, my biggest gripe is not having a real firm grasp on what people are actually referring to when they say that The Dark Knight is a ‘good movie’. When I say it, I’m talking about a Batman film, but my fear is that whenever anybody else is saying it, they're just talking about the last movie Heath Ledgar was in before he had a fatal overdose, a film in which he played a deranged lunatic.

I mean, from his death forward, it was nothing but ‘Heath Ledgar’s death’ this and ‘the Joker role killed him’ that and ‘how well he immersed himself in the role’, and they were right about that one, he played the shit out of it, but so did Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart and, arguably, Christian Bale with all of their respective roles, but it’s success had little-nothing to do with them, or even Chistopher Nolan for that matter. The way people go on about it, they should change the title to just ‘Heath Ledgar’. “How good was ‘Heath Ledgar’?” “Oh yeah, how insane was Heath Ledgar’s fight scene with that guy in the black costume in ‘Heath Ledagr’!?” That's not a highly-regarded film to me, that's some thing that was lucky enough to be ensconced in hype because someone who was in it died.

Even the film's marketing after his death felt at the very, very least partially influenced, not that I can prove it. For the sake of shutting naive The Dark Knight-lovers the fuck up, for years now, I’ve actually been telling a little white-lie that the film’s marketing was changed to focus more on Ledgar’s character, Joker, but luckily for Nolan and unlucky for me if people start fact-checking the things I've said, it would appear that everything was always intended to be focused on that character anyway. As I said though, it felt influenced and most likely was, but, to my dismay, you can't prove feelings and hunches. From what I could dig up from just looking at the film’s posters, it’s hard to judge what the marketing team initially had planned for us, especially since advertising for the film was still only in its early stages prior to Ledgar’s death, with only two posters being released that only hinted, but didn’t show, the Joker. However, the reason why I still stand behind my groundless theory is because I do have one huge piece of evidence: the real world. Scenes in films get deleted, any person who’s watched a DVD will know this, and we can't act like editors could actually bring themselves to delete a Joker-dominated scene over a Batman-dominated one, a character whom was played by an actor whom is still alive; not that we’ll ever know what was deleted since Nolan won’t show us any of it. We can't pretend that the bean counters behind the film weren’t salivating all over themselves at the very thought of the movie-goers eating The Dark Knight up like it was our last meals, more so than when Ledgar was alive. You can’t act like those same bean counters hadn’t learned from similar past experiences, like Carole Lombard and James Dean, both of whom were acclaimed for their posthumous-performances. You can't act like the marketing team didn't try to squeeze every drop of juice out of what was about to become a bull-rush of idiots who want need to see this movie. Don’t have any misconceptions about any of this. The film industry is not unlike the funeral industry; death is money to these people.

My hate for The Dark Knight depends heavily on my impatience for people who base their taste on how many explosions their attention span requires every minute. It's all bullshit. And these are the exact same people who, in their minds, somehow extract The Dark Knight from the Batman franchise entirely into a standalone film and say that they love it, meanwhile refusing to watch or even acknowledge the rest of the franchise, most importantly Batman Begins, because they are all, apparently, ‘boring’ films. And again, I'm not here to force taste, I'm just saying to not base it on how long you can sit still for. I could give you a long-list of films which I could never sit through again but still think were excellent. The fucking movie-going public just make me sick with their goldfish-standards, being too distracted by smoke and mirrors to see anything actually worthwhile. Just once would I like to hear somebody praise something from Batman Begins; anything! Liam Neeson, Tom Wilkinson, Katie Holmes, the batmobile, christ, the fucking homeless man will do just fine, thank you! Anything that will spare me another tunnel-driven, half-witted conversation about how great The Dark Knight is out of every film made in the last century, solely due to Heath Ledgar. Right now, The Dark Knight currently sits at number eight on IMDb's Top 250 list, which, to me, is a downright travesty to film-makers everywhere, especially when you look down the list and see some of the titles The Dark Knight has left behind. Number eight! Let's just say that if I were Martin Scorsesee right now and somebody even uttered the name Christopher Nolan around me, I would bury their gutted corpse out in the desert like Joe Pesci did. The thing is that The Dark Knight was alright, albeit exhausting, but alright, in part due to Heath Ledgar, but it’s not as good as everybody has been made to believe it is. Frankly, I’ve been disappointed since my very first viewing because I basically feel like, after everything this particular film franchise has been through already, Christopher Nolan has just made a similar mistake that Joel Schumacher made with Batman & Robin, definitely not as bad, but it’s still there. I know that if I ever somehow made nice with Nolan, my first request would be to go to his private viewing room and watch from start to finish whatever cut of the film they were up to right before Heath Ledgar’s overdose, because I’m willing to bet my own dick that had he not died and they released what Nolan would show me per that request, it would not be considered the eighth best film. The Dark Knight Rises will be the third and final chapter in this series, which, despite my anger with the last, I’m pretty excited about, but I swear to whatever god you swear to, if any one person ruins that excitement by even mentioning Tom Hardy’s name and Heath Ledgar’s name in the same sentence, I’ll eat my fucking sock! Keep your half-baked The Dark Knight-praise far away from this film. Uggh!

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