Word around the comic book community of late is that the sequel to The Man of Steel will involve a bit of a crossover. Apparently, an aged Batman will be making an appearance in this movie, and the story may very well focus on a rivalry between the two. The news came earlier this month at Comic Con when director Zack Snyder announced that he had something of this nature in mind, taking many by surprise.
One such person was Frank Miller, the man who brought us The Dark Knight Returns, the classic graphic novel where Batman and Superman have a climactic showdown. with uber-freaking awesome results! For fans who were thinking this means that Snyder is looking to create a live-action version of TDKR, this is certainly good news indeed.
Sure, the animated version was certainly good, and the graphic novel itself is a wonderful standalone piece that really needs no adaptation. But I’m thinking few fans of either franchise would pass up an opportunity to see the big showdown between the two superheroes in Crime Alley on the big screen!
And as if wanting to throw some gasoline on those flames ahead of time, Snyder even had actor Harry Lennix, who played General Swanwick in The Man of Steel, read a passage from TDKR. The line comes from the very climax of the fight scene between the two, where a victorious Batman is standing over a weakened Superman and is ready to deliver the coup de grace:
I want you to remember, Clark, in all the years to come… In your most private moments, I want you to remember my hand at your throat. I want you to remember the one man who beat you.
After the reading, Superman’s big S appeared on the screen behind the interview panel while the Batman symbol quietly superimposed itself. Fans were naturally excited and expressed themselves accordingly!
Well, according to the latest industry gossip, a live-action version of TDKR is not quite had Snyder and the studio had in mind. David S Goyer, who co-wrote The Dark Knight trilogy with Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, recently revealed the Superman and Batman film may use a ‘versus’ in the title. But he was explicit about the fact that the film will not be adapted from Miller’s work.
At the same time, however, sources close to Miller confirmed that Snyder asked for a sit down to discuss what this crossover movie would involve. The source made a statement of this impending meeting, claiming that:
Frank had no idea the announcement in San Diego was going to happen so it did come as a surprise. He’s going to be meeting up with Zach in the next few days to go over the plans for the Superman film so things should be clearer after that.
Set to be released in 2015, the Superman vs. Batman movie is likely to be a loose adaptation, from the sounds of things. And the very latest in industry gossip says that Christian Bale may be coming back to reprise the role of Batman, to the tune of $60 million! No indication has been given if he has chomped at the bit yet, but Bale did indicate that he might not be finished with the role.
As Bale said in a recent interview, when referring to the price tag, “Let’s not get greedy”. But at the same time, he didn’t rule out the possibility, claiming that “it all comes down to Chris [Nolan].”
Personally, I think this “loose adaptation” talk should be ditched in favor of a full-on TDKR adaptation. There’s plenty of potential to update the story, which was written in the late 80’s and featured a very Reagan-era Cold War-esque story, but with a few tweeks, it could easily be adapted to fit in the current era.
And it might even tie the two franchises together nicely, with a supposedly dead Batman coming out of retirement, and a Superman who has been enlisted to serve the government finding themselves at odds. And since the storyline involves the Joker, it could be a fitting tribute to Heath to have him brought back for one final dance with the Batman.
It’s a tall order, I know, and like I said, it was already done. But if you’re gonna go big, Snyder, go REALLY BIG. Or just go the hell the home! You’re making some tall promises, and fans are expecting better from you after that bit of a letdown known as The Man of Steel. You got Batman and Superman in your hands now. Don’t screw it up!
Recently, I finished watching the animated movie of the classic comic, known as The Dark Knight Returns. Adapted from Frank Miller’s four-part graphic novel, this movie came in two parts that were released separately over the past year. And now that I have both parts under my belt, I feel that a review is necessary. Not only was this an overdue feature, in my opinion, it was also one of the biggest installments in the Batman franchise and the greatest accomplishments of Miller’s checkered career.
Originally published in 1986, TDKR tells the story of Batman many years after the official story arc where he and others like him have gone into retirement. Borrowing from such franchises as The Watchmen, it experiments with some limited alternate-history, showing how the 80’s would have been different had superheroes been around and worked for the government. In and around all that, Miller also takes the time to make some social and political commentary, examining Batman’s quest to save Gotham from multiple angles and presenting it as a controversial issue within the story.
With only some minor liberties and changes, the animated movie presents the story as it happened in the graphic novel and was true to the spirit of Miller’s creation. Intended as a sequel to the 2011 animated film Batman: Year One, the film was directed by Jay Oliva, who worked as a storyboard artist on Man of Steel, Batman: Year One and Batman: Under the Red Hood and stars Peter Weller (Robocop) as the voice of the Dark Knight, Michael Emerson (Lost, Saw) as the Joker, Ariel Winter (Modern Family, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Speed Racer) as Robin and David Selby (Dark Shadows, Unknown, The Social Network) as Commissioner Gordon.
Plot Synopsis: The story opens on Gotham City, with Bruce Wayne now 55 years old and in retirement. Nearly all superheroes, with the exception of Superman who works for the government, have gone underground since the government made their activities illegal and the population turned against them. Unlike most, Batman went willingly due to the death of Jason Todd, the second Robin, which left him scarred and dejected.
Naturally, Gotham City has descended into a state of chaos and near-anarchy and a new gang of thugs called the Mutants has taken control of the streets. At about this time, Harvey Dent is released from Arkham Asylum after undergoing reconstructive surgery which has restored his face. His therapist, Dr. Bartholomew Wolper, insists that Dent is a healed man and wants to return to normal life and repent for his past crimes. Like many Gothamites, Wolper is not a fan of the Batman, blaming his obsession with order for Dent’s psychosis.
Similarly, the mutant boss begins to release statements saying his gang is going to take control of the city and kill Gordon. After meeting with him for drinks and visiting Crime Alley where his parents were murdered, Bruce Wayne realizes he can no longer stand idly by and decides to don his cape and cowl again. His first stop is to a robbery in progress where he takes out several armed hooligans and is met with nostalgic praise by one police officer, and fear and trepidation from a rookie.
Batman’s return is met with mixed reviews, with some condemning his actions and others hailing the return of the crime fighter who teaches common people to be brave and rise up. His sudden appearance is also noticed by the Mutant boss, who begins to add Batman to his list of people to kill. But more importantly, a masked man holds the city ransom and threatens to blow up the cities “Twin Towers” if he doesn’t get a ransom. Batman is convinced its Harvey and intervenes.
After taking down his thugs, Batman realizes that the bombs Harvey set were meant to go off no matter what. When he confronts Harvey himself and disarms him, he realizes the entire thing was an elaborate suicide attempt to demonstrate how he has not healed. Rather than being cosmetic or physical, his psychosis is deeply rooted in his psyche and can’t be expunged. He surrenders to Batman and is returned to Arkham.
The city breathes a sigh of relief and once again begins endlessly debating the Batman’s actions. One person who takes particular notice is a young woman named Carrie Kelley, whom Batman rescues earlier on in the story from a mutant attack. After witnessing him save the city, she buys a knock-off Robin costume and decides to pursue him, hoping to become his new sidekick.
Batman’s next confrontation takes him to the city dump where the Mutants are assembling and getting ready to assault the city. In his souped-up version of the Batmobile, which is now an armored tank, he disperses the thugs quickly using rubber bullets and rockets. But the Mutant leader comes before him and challenges him to a one-on-one fight. Batman cannot refuse, and the two get into it.
The fight goes poorly as Batman realizes the Mutant boss is in his prime, clinically insane and virtually immune to pain. Despite his best efforts at beating his down, Batman suffers some severe injuries as the mutant bites into his shoulder, breaks his arm, and slams him to the ground. He is narrowly saved when Robin intervenes and distracts the boss and Batman is able to pacify him. Together, they retreat back to the Batcave while Gotham PD arrives and places the Mutants into custody.
While recovering from his wounds, Batman has a talk with Kelley about being his sidekick. He agrees to take her on provisionally, provided she doesn’t disobey his orders or put herself in needless danger. The mayor meanwhile attempts to step in and come to an agreement with the Mutant boss, but is murdered when he steps into the room alone with him. Batman decides that the only way to crush the mutants is to defeat their boss publicly and permanently.
After arranging for his escape, the Mutant boss is lured to another dump where the Mutants have all assembled. Engaging him in knee-high mud which slow him down, the Batman has the advantage and manages to pacify the boss further with nerve pinches and strategic blows. He finishes him off by getting him down and breaking his arm and leg, then punching him until he’s unconscious. To all the Mutants watching, it is clear who is top dog in Gotham now!
Thus ends part I of the story.
In part II, things once again open with people debating the actions of the Batman, especially since his defeat of the Mutants has led to the creation of a new gang known as the “Sons of Batman” who assault and kill criminals. Commissioner Gordon retires and is replaced by a Ellen Yindel who issues a warrant for the arrest of Batman. And in Arkham Asylum, another person takes notice of Batman’s latest actions with interest… the Joker!
Meanwhile, Superman is called to the White House to discuss putting and end to Batman’s actions. Superman indicates that it won’t be easy and he doubts Wayne will listen to reason, but agrees. He arranges to meet with Wayne and tells him that his coming out of retirement is a violation of their agreement and that if he persists, Superman will have to bring him in. Wayne responds only by saying “may the best man win”.
Superman is then forced to head to Corto Maltese, a small island that is being contested by the Soviets and the US. After open fighting begins, Superman intervenes and begins destroying the Russian forces. The American forces are declared victorious, but a full-scale nuclear standoff results and a terrible sense of fear sets in.
After convincing Wolper that he has recovered, the Joker decides to come out of retirement himself by going on a late night talk show. Whereas Wolper is presenting him as a recovered man who regrets his actions, the Joker arranges to kill everyone in the studio using his Smile-ex gas, which his assistant disperses using a pair of robot children. Batman arrives on scene but is forced to fight it out with the police, and everyone in the studio dies.
The Joker finds Selina Kyle (aka. Catwoman), who now runs an escort service, and drugs her to make her do his bidding and orders her to send one of her girls to give the same mind-control drug to a local Senator. This man then jumps from his hotel window after saying a full scale first-strike is the only recourse they have with the Russians, which intensifies the panic and keeps the police busy. After learning of this, Batman and Robin head to Kyles place where they find her bound and beaten in a Wonder Woman costume. Barely conscious, she tells them, “he’s worse than ever”, and they realize he has headed to the county fair.
They arrive to find the Joker’s already killed many people and Batman begins pursuing him while Robin tries to stop his associate and his lethal robots. Batman finally corners Joker in the Tunnel of Love where he breaks his neck, but not before the Joker has critically wounded him with a knife. The Joker then taunts the Batman by saying he will be charged with a murder he couldn’t bring himself commit, then twists his own neck to complete the break and kill himself.
Batman narrowly escapes police but knows they will stop at nothing to end him now. Retreating once again to recover, things once again escalate as the Russians respond to Superman’s intervention in Corto Maltese with a tactical nuclear strike. Superman manages to divert the missile from landing in Corto Maltese, but diverts it to the upper atmosphere where its detonation causes a massive EMP to short out all electricity in Gotham.
Superman himself is nearly killed by the blast and the resulting cloud cover, and must drain energy from nearby plants and trees in order to recover. Batman also awakens from his bed to find the city rioting and looting in the midst of the blackout, and rides in with Robin on some horses to begin recruiting people to help. He finds willing assistants with the Sons of Batman, former Mutants, and common citizens alike. Commissioner Gordon also manages to enlist the help of people to stop a fire and manages to find his wife after thinking he lost her in the blaze.
With the city once again saved and Superman recovered, the stage is now set for the final confrontation. Passing overhead of Wayne Manor, Superman etches the word WHERE? on the lawn, to which Batman responds “Crime Alley”. After doing an inventory of some specialized weapons, which includes a powered exoskeleton, he is met by Oliver Queen (aka. Green Arrow), who he agrees to let help him. Having lost his arm to Superman in their last confrontation, he is bitter and eager to help the Dark Knight bring him down.
The Gotham Police and National Guard cordon off the area as Superman and Batman both arrive. The Batman gets out of the Batmobile and tells Robin to keep it running and follow the orders he left her with. Robin asks if there is a plan here, but is left with the impression that Batman will not be returning from this fight. He confronts Clarke in the street and they begin to fight it out. Outmatched, Batman employs several special weapons to slow him down, including a sonic blaster, a massive electrical shock, acid, and finally, a kryptonite arrow fired by Oliver.
The arrowhead explodes after Clarke catches it, filling his lungs with the dust. Batman delivers several more punches and is all set to deliver the coup de grace, but takes the time to let him know that he just wanted to defeat him, not kill him. In the end, he wanted Clarke to know what it was like to feel mortal, and to know who defeated him.
Meanwhile, Alfred torches Wayne Manner and collapses outside, suffering a stroke and dying in front of the home of the family he spent his life in service to. The police and army arrive and find Superman wounded but alive and Batman on the ground. Superman refuses to let them touch him and carries his body away.
Shortly thereafter a funeral service is held which is attended by Kyle, Gordon, Superman and a young veiled woman. Kyle blames Superman for his death and Gordon is heartbroken. However, as Clarke turns to leave, he hears a quiet pulse coming through the ground. He turns and looks to the young woman and sees she’s carrying a shovel under her robe. He realizes the truth and winks at her.
Cut to the final scene, where Robin, Oliver and a group of people arrive at a cave and begin setting up equipment. Bruce arrives and tells them they are setting up here, that this will be their new “Batcave” and he will teach them everything he knows. Henceforth, they will work from the shadows, protecting Gotham and not drawing attention to themselves. The movie ends with Batman saying he spent the last few years searching for a good death, but feels he can now make a good life.
“Well… good enough!” he finishes by saying. Roll credits!
Summary: Personally, I thought this movie was done right. The casting, and character-acting were all spot on, and I especially enjoyed the animation. Not only was the quality quite good, but it managed to capture a great deal of the aesthetics and even iconic images from the original comic itself. Not easy to do when your adapting graphic novel material, especially when its Miller’s work!
What’s more, I thoroughly enjoyed how they captured the tone and feel of Miller’s original comic. Not only did it possess the dark, gritty and just-realistic-enough tone of things, they also managed to smooth down some of its more rough edges. For one, many people who enjoyed the original comic did have some complaints about all the social commentary and the way the talking heads and mass media asides kept coming up. While I agree that Frank leaned on these a little too heavily, I think they struck a fine balance in this movie. Basically, they managed to present the issue without getting too saturated by it.
The same is true of the whole controversy surrounding Batman’s actions and the big question it raised. In Miller’s comic, you kind of got the feeling you were being beaten over the head with the moral, but these guys did it right by not overdoing it. It’s like, we get it, vigilantes must consider the consequences of their actions, whether or not their fighting crime is a form of “social fascism” and leads to more kinds of “legitimized violence”. Put it in the background and let the show go on…
And yes, they did change a few things. For one, Batman’s confrontations with the Joker and Superman happened a little differently in the books. In all four cases – Dent, the Mutant leader, Joker, Superman – they kind of sexed up the actions scenes, adding more punches, kicks and acrobatics. No complaint there, they were awesome! Especially the fight with the mutant boss, which I felt really captured the essence of Batman schooling his younger, crazier enemy in the ways of pain!
But they when it came to the latter two, they changed things a bit in a way I didn’t like so much. For example, in the comic, the Joker’s taunted Batman for not being able to kill him, whereas here he simply laughs for having made him “lost control”. In truth, Batman still couldn’t kill the Joker, despite how many more people he’d killed and the fact that he now blamed himself for not doing it sooner. It was a brilliant theme, loaded with subtext and something they touch on numerous times throughout the series. Here though, it was kind of minimized.
Then there was how Batman told Superman he didn’t intend to kill him but just wanted to let him know he could beat him. In truth, Batman was not so merciful to him in the comic. After disabling him with kryptonite, he made sure Clarke understood why he was beating the tar out of him. First, he felt Superman had sold them out by agreeing to serve the government, that he resented him for being a boy scout who blindly did as he was told, and that he could never understand what life was really like. Only after all that did he tell him he wanted him to remember who had beaten him and how he could have killed him.
And that was the real point here. In the end, the fight was a contest of who’s way was better, Batman’s dark and realistic appraisal of things, or Superman’s naive and idealistic way. That’s part of what made it so brilliant. It was a commentary on two parallel stories that were years in the making, and the ironies and consequences that grew out of them.
Superman, for all his power and idealism, is basically an expression of the American Way, with all the naivete and denial that goes with it. Batman, on the other hand, is like a reality check, a cynical and dark admission of what really is. The significance of how they collided in the end and one could have killed the other, but stopped short of doing it, was magnificent!
Ultimately, The Dark Knight Returns was a great series and its little wonder then why Christopher Nolan drew inspiration from it to fashion his relaunch of the Batman franchise. In the first and second movie we get into the issue of “escalation” in the creation of the Joker and the responsibility of the hero, both of which bear a striking resemblance to what happened in this comic.
Then there was the issue of Batman coming out of retirement to face a younger, meaner, stronger opponent in Bain, which seems ripped from his confrontation with the Mutant boss in this one. Add to that Batman’s apparent death at the end of the last movie and all roads seem to lead back to this comic at some point. Hell, even the name of final movie in the franchise is practically the same as the comic: The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) – The Dark Knight Returns (TDKR).
And with the final release from the Nolan series, I’m guessing the time seemed ripe to show the adaptation of the classic comic and show people just where so many of the original ideas came from. You’re welcome Nolan, and I strongly recommend anyone who has not read the comic and/or seen this movie yet to get out there and do both. You might say it’s required reading and viewing for any fan of the Batman franchise!
Well, I’m back. Some three weeks after it made its big debut, my wife and I finally got around to seeing The Dark Knight Returns. And how to describe the experience? I feel I must come at this chronologically because otherwise, I might blow this review. So please bear with me and be warned that some spoilers follow…
The First Few Scenes: As the movie began, we got some low-key expository scenes where they recapped all that happened with the last movie. Harvey Dent is dead, his memory is being honored years later, and the big lie that saved Gothamites from the Joker’s madness has been carefully maintained. And despite Commissioner Gordon’s success at nearly eradicating organized crime in Gotham – under the Dent Act – the mayor is quietly entertaining plans to get rid of him.
Meanwhile, we learn that Bruce Wayne has effectively drooped out of the public eye and become a bit of a recluse, a la Howard Hughes. However, this changes when a cat burglar is nearly caught stealing his mother’s pearl necklace while trying to obtain his prints. In addition, her kidnapping of a Senator leads to a manhunt which takes police into the sewers and face to face with a mercenary terrorist by the name of Bane.
This man recently kidnapped a nuclear physicist overseas and made his way to Gotham, apparently at the behest of someone who’s paid for his services. After a brief but nearly fatal encounter between him and Jim Gordon, Wayne is approached by one of his detectives, a young man named John Blake, tells him Batman needs to come back. He resists these demands, but finds he cannot when the nefarious Bane unleashes his plan and the true scope and nature of it become clear.
Suffice it to say, all these things occur within the first 30 minutes and I felt that every scene suffered from the same basic problem. They felt rushed, expository, and kind of like they were just getting the obligatory stuff out of the way. However, as soon as those passed and the plot began to truly unfold, things improved immeasurably. In a way, the action of the movie told its own story and had a degree of depth that these earlier scenes lacked, and they carried on through to the end of movie.
As I mentioned last time, this movie was connected to the first in terms of plot. I shan’t go into too much detail since many people still need to see it. But suffice it to say, Bane’s motivations go well beyond being a mere mercenary. While his skills in that regard are legendary, his purpose in returning to Gotham go to the very heart of the first movie’s plot, resurrecting the League of Shadows and the aims of Ra’s al Ghul.
But of course there are twists and subplots along the way. For instance, the man who brought Bane to Gotham turns out to be one of Wayne Enterprises own, a man who thinks a little controlled chaos will destabilize the company and ensure his nefarious rise to power. Against that, there is a project to fund the development of clean energy which Wayne invested half his fortune in but then abandoned, mainly because some scientist found a way to weaponize it. Recall the bit about how Bane kidnapped a nuclear scientist? Uh-oh!
On top of all that, the movie makes some pretty strong points about revolutionary justice and the fact that people can so easily be misguided by self-styled “liberators” into becoming their own worst enemies. At many points throughout the movie, allegorical similarities are made to revolutions in France, Russia, and elsewhere where the mob is incited by the bad guys and themselves become a force of malevolence and revolutionary justice that transforms their world into a place of terror and oppression.
And here, quite brilliantly, connections are made to the second movie and the many lies that were told in order to protect the people of Gotham from the terrible truth. Here too we see another fitting theme, which was the flip-side to what was argued in movie two, about how sometimes the truth isn’t enough. Even if a lie may be more convenient, sooner or later, it comes back to haunt you, and those who lied to protect you end up having to answer for a lot. And the worst thing of that is, those who may have been trying to protect you lose your trust at a crucial moment.
The Third Act:
Unlike the The Dark Knight, this movie didn’t suffer from third act problems. This was something I was on the lookout for after last time and I really wanted to see them succeed, which they did in spades! Yes, things were a little slow to get started, but by the time the climax was happening, things blended together quite seamlessly. Like TDK, there were three strands happening at once, but this time around, they worked with each other, not against. It pains me that I can’t give any details to say why they worked so well together. But trust me, this time around, the climax was done right!
And yes, this is definitely the biggest of the three movies in terms of plot and consequences. In movie one, the League of Shadows hoped to tear Gotham apart by driving it mad. In movie two, the Joker hopes to turn it against itself by inducing mass anarchy. But in this one, Bane and his followers want to do annihilate it, body and soul. For them, there are no compromises, no quarter asked and none given.
It pains me even more that I can’t mention the twists that come at the very end. There are two, to be sure, and I really would like to know what others thought of them. once again, can’t mention them by name. But for those who haven’t seen the movie yet, I will say there are some treats which you have to wait til the end to see. For those who have seen it, then you already know what I’m talking about! What did you think of them and do you think they were alluding to another possible sequel?
Overall, this movie boasts a plot that was clearly inspired (at least in part) by The Dark Knight Returns. A number of fans anticipated this and it was good to see that they went with it after all. Not only were the same themes there – Batman coming out of retirement, forced to deal with age and deteriorating health, and going up against a foe in his prime – there was even some subtle shout outs to the comic itself.
The one which really stands out is the scene where two police officers are chasing after some perps, and Batman zooms in on his bike. The older cop says to the rookie, “You’re in for a show!” and spends the next few minutes trying to tell him just stay out of his way. Right out of the comic! And of course, the fact that Batman actually loses in his first confrontation with Bane and has to recoup and recover, forcing himself to overcome his own demons and complacency to defeat him, that too was something from the The Dark Knight Returns.
But as I said last time, the character of Bane originally comes from the animated series. Though he was little more than a massive, steroid-juiced freak in that version, here they gave him a much more nuanced and believable persona. While he is a gigantic, muscle bound villain, Bane’s real power comes from the sort of imposing, badass, evil nature that Tom Hardy is famous for.
As Alfred was sure to point out, Bane is a man who was forged in the worst conditions imaginable. Being born into misery and darkness, he has no fear of it, and is prepared to deal it in spades to anyone who gets in his way or incurs his displeasure. Whenever that occurs, everything you need to see comes through in the eyes and the baleful glares he gives, which is what makes the fact that they kept his face hidden all the more poignant.
In this respect, he and Batman are highly similar. Having both grown up with their fair share of pain and anguish, they both enlisted with the League of Shadows hoping to find their way. But whereas Bruce eventually betrayed the League for reasons of conscience, Bane was excommunicated for having none whatsoever. Much like Batman and the Joker, we see a sort of “two sides of the same coin” thing happening.
And while I would never want to get into direct comparisons, Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane was fantastic and truly badass! Granted, he didn’t have the same low voice that he did in the commercials, more of a Connery-esque accent minus the slurred S’s. But this only added to his imposing nature. He speaks like a oddly upbeat British person, but his imposing size, scary eyes, and sheer badassery round that out quite nicely. When he speaks, you know to be afraid, even if he’s not using an evil voice.
Overall, I’d say he was no better than Heath, but certainly comparable. Whereas the Joker was a sheer force of crazy malevolence, Bane is an unstoppable juggernaut, forged from suffering to become an instrument of terror. How do you compare two titanic forces like that? It’s like comparing apples to oranges. So no real conclusions there, just equally awesome portrayals!
And of course Catwoman was very well played by Anne Hathaway. True to form, she begins as a villain who is working with the forces of evil, but with her own agenda in mind. In time, she comes to see the bad guys for what they are and realizes that she is better served fighting alongside Batman rather than against him. And she did it all believably, faithfully, and managed to pull off some fight choreography that was pretty impressive. In fact, hers was even more impressive than Bales, though he did have to convey an aging Batman and couldn’t exactly steal the show!
Alas, the big question… was this movie better than The Dark Knight? Hard to say. On the one hand, it managed to avoid the same problems the last movie had, which was the feeling that things had climaxed before the ending, leading to pacing problems towards the end where there seemed to be a mad rush to wrap things up and the audience was left breathless and kind of confused.
At the same time, they had an awkward opening which the second movie didn’t have. There, Nolan and the writers did a good job weaving action and exposition together to let us know what had happened since the last movie. This time around, they seemed to be rushing through all the introductions in order to get to the action. It’s hard to say which is more important, introduction or conclusion, since both are crucial to how the overall plot is going to be perceived. And ultimately, both movies manage to succeed in spite of these problems.
Second, the villains were well paired. Bane and the Joker were both masterfully portrayed and captured my imagination and literally got me on the edge of my seat. They were the kind of bad guys you didn’t exactly root for, but which made you think being bad could be cool! As for the lesser villains, Dark Knight and Rises differed considerably. Harvey Dent, being a third act introductee, was pretty rushed and never really got to be more than a crazed shadow of his hero self. Catwoman, on the other hand, got a pretty good development through it all, going from being a cynical, “look out for number one” kind of girl to actually caring what happens to Gotham.
So really… I can’t say at this point. Given time, I might be able to say one was better than the other conclusively, but right now, it feels like a neck in neck race. So I think I’ll just call it as dead even. Movies two and three were equally good, and whatever your individual preference, you’re cant go wrong!
Soon enough, the third and final installment in Chris Nolan’s Batman franchise will be premiering. I can’t tell you how much I want to see it. Ever since The Dark Knight ended and it was clear the Joker would not be appearing in movie 3, I’ve been itching to see what they would do with it.
And from what I’ve seen, they are taking the proper route. Combining elements from the comic book The Dark Knight Returns with a real life or death, all or nothing feel, this movie might even top the last one in some respects. Don’t want to jinx it, just saying it’s sure to be good.
But I think I speak for more than just myself when I say that it’s a shame the Joker won’t be making it back for one last dance. We all know why he won’t, of course. For one, it would have been in bad taste to try and replace Ledger after his untimely death. What’s more, after the masterful performance he gave, no actor could be expected to fill the role. I mean, c’mon, you don’t ask to go on after the Beatles, it’s just plain silly!
So in honor of Ledger, and every other actor that has ever tried to bring life to this character, I’d like to do a post detailing this villain that has remained so popular over the years.
To put it simply, this character, this villain, is a work of genius. Designed to be one of the many villains the “caped crusader” did battle with, it wasn’t long before this smiling psychopath became Batman’s arch-nemesis and the chief pain in his ass. The reasons for this seems pretty clear, but just for fun I’ll get into them anyway. Basically, he was the perfect villain because people loved to hate him and found him so dark and yet so fun.
For starters, his whole work up was immensely inspired. By adopting the whole insane clown thing, he combined the macabre with the innocent, which pretty much made him the stuff of nightmares. He killed, he maimed, and he tortured people sadistically, but he always did it with a smile on his face and a quick joke. He could be insane, yes, but he could also be brilliant and cunning. His method was madness, but it was concealed behind a sort of playful, laughable exterior.
This was in stark contrast to Batman’s tough and cold character and the permanent scowl he had etched on his face. As such, he was the perfect foil for Batman’s particular brand of heroism and social control. Whereas the dark knight was obsessed with order and stability, the Joker was malevolence and disorder personified. In a way, he played Lucifer to Batman’s God, messing with his designs and subverting his sense of right and wrong. And, like Lucifer, he knew how to turn the tables and get people to do his bidding. And whereas Batman never smiled, much like God, the Joker could be counted on to see the fun side of things, even in pain, suffering and death.
Due to the many adaptations and interpretations of this character over the years – be they in print, television or cinema – there are more than a few different origin stories. And they don’t always agree. However, certain common elements can be seen across all the different iterations. The earliest mention of his past indicated that he was a criminal named the Red Hood before he donned the clown makeup. This changed when he fell into a vat of chemicals while trying to escape from the Batman, an experience which left his skin permanently discolored.
This was expanded further in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, where he was shown to be a chemical engineer who quits his job at a chemical plant to become a standup comedian. After failing in this endeavor, he agrees to help two criminals break into the plant. Shortly before the robbery can take place though, he learns that his wife and son have died in a freak accident. He tries to back out of the crime but is strong armed by the other two thugs. And of course, the crime goes south and he is left disfigured. Between this and the loss of his family, he is driven insane and becomes the Joker.
Later versions once again resurrected the concept of the Joker being a career criminal before he became a sociopathic villain. In these versions, the name Jack was used, and it was said that he had some contact with the Batman before taking on his new persona. In fact, in Batman Confidential it was suggested that it was his obsessions with the Batman that eventually led to the accident which forever changed him.
All of these elements informed Tim Burton’s adaptation of the story in the 1989 movie. Here, the Joker was portrayed as a petty thug named Jack Napier who worked for Rupert Thorn, the Gotham city crime lord. Then, after tangling with the Batman at a chemical plant, he suffered a disfiguring injury before falling into a chemical vat, which left his skin dyed and his face permanently scarred. The Joker therefore blamed Batman for his transformation, but would later come to learn that he had been the one who shot his parents when he was just a child.
Personally, I found this version to be genius in that it managed to capture the true insanity of the Joker. Faced with an image of himself that was twisted into a hideous smile, Napier could do nothing but laugh at the sick joke that had befallen him. From thence forth, he was determined to make others see the humor in it as well, right before he killed them! And by making him responsible for killing Bruce Wayne’s parents, the two were ultimately responsible for the others’ creation. Clearly, Burton interpreted the whole “flip sides of the same coin” thing quite literally!
However, Christopher Nolan took a different approach with his adaptation of the criminal mastermind. In the 2008 film The Dark Knight, we are given a version of things where we know nothing about the Jokers origins. On several occasions, he offers up explanations as to how he got his scars; but of course, the story keeps changing. No one can be sure which version is the truth and which is false. In one, he’s the victim of an abusive father who slashed his face. In another, he had a wife who gambled and had her face cut up by the Mob. His own scars were self inflicted out of grief so that he could resemble hers.
This is apparently in keeping with the fact that no definitive explanation has ever been given as to how the Joker really became what he was. Over the years, many different explanations have been given and it’s unclear which are true. In the end, this was resolved by saying that the Joker frequently lies, or can’t keep all the facts straight in his head. As he says in The Killing Joke: “Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another… if I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!”
Weapons of Choice: Though the Joker appears to be adept at firearms and somewhat versed in hand to hand combat, his preferred method of killing has to do with various “comedic” weapons. These include razor sharp playing cards, acid-spewing flowers, cyanide pies and lethal electric joy buzzers. Clearly, the man understands irony and is willing to go the extra mile for consistency.
In addition, he has a signature poison known as “Joker Venom”, a deadly poison that leaves his victims with a ghoulish rictus grin as they die while laughing uncontrollably. This venom comes in many forms, from gas to darts to liquid, and has been his primary calling card since his character’s inception.
All of this was featured in Tim Burton’s Batman, where it was revealed that the Joker was well versed in chemistry and was using this knowledge to create his Smile-X poison. By smuggling various chemical precursors into common consumer products, he was able to disseminate his poisons into Gotham city without anyone knowing. Once these different products were used in combination, people began to die, all of them with a massive grin on their faces!
In Nolan’s version, the Joker retained his preference for simple weapons, but dropped the whimsy, poison and chemistry. As Ledger’s Joker said to a detective while in custody: “Do you want to know why I use a knife? Guns are too quick. You can’t savor all the… little emotions. In… you see, in their last moments, people show you who they really are.” Later, while free and in the company of the Russian mob, he added: “I’m a man of simple tastes. I enjoy dynamite, and gunpowder, and… gasoline!”
Between these two takes, the Joker retains one basic characteristic… Fear! Whereas a criminal with a gun is scary, a mad man with sharp objects, burning acid and explosive devices is downright terrifying!
The Joker’s resume reads like that of a man who desperately wants to be the biggest maniac in town. Over the many years of his character’s existence, he has committed countless crimes, some whimsical and some downright brutal. All of these have been done for reasons which, in the words of the Batman: “make sense to him alone.”
In the Killing Joke, the Joker paralyzes Batgirl (aka. Barbara Gordon) by shooting her in the back. He also kidnaps Gordon and taunts him with photographs of his crime, hoping to drive him mad and thus prove his point that any man can go insane under the right circumstances. In “A Death in the Family”, the Joker also killed Jason Todd, the second Robin. This, he did with a bomb, but only after beating him senseless with a crowbar.
During one of his many stays in Arkham Asylum, the Joker also managed to convert Harleen Quinzel, a psychiatrist who was sent in to examine him, into his willing helper. Convinced that the Joker might be faking insanity to avoid the death penalty, she sets out to unlock his past. In time, he earns her sympathy and convinces her to help him escape. Eventually, she is caught and her obsession with him leads her to seek him out and become Harley Quinn, his criminal sidekick.
He also went as far as to murder Sarah Essen Gordon, Commissioner Gordon’s second wife, after kidnapping her. Once Gordon took him into custody, he once again taunted him in the hopes of driving him mad and getting him to forsake his moral code. However, Gordon sticks to his code and only kneecaps him. True to form, the Joker quickly laments that he might not walk again, but then finishes with a maniacal laugh!
Of course, the list goes on. Given his many years of sadistic stunts, it would impossible to include them all in one post. Suffice it to say, he has been a constant source of (ahem) “entertainment” to Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and the Gotham Police Department.
Death: Though the Joker experienced near shaves with death on many occasions, he finally met his end in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. It was here that, after a prolonged absence, the Batman came out of retirement to fight crime one last time. This soon inspired the Joker to awaken from his drug-induced slumber inside Arkham and begin creating havoc again.
It began with Joker once again pretending he was rehabilitated in order to gain parole from Arkham, and was followed by him releasing his toxic venom into a crowded talk show studio before making his escape. After many deaths and a chase that took them across the city and into an amusement park, the Batman finally cornered the Joker inside a tunnel and engaged him in mortal combat.
The Joker managed to stab him several times, but Batman eventually got the upper hand and snapped the Joker’s neck. However, this didn’t prove fatal, and a laughing Joker once again mocked Batman for not being able to go through with it. The Joker then took a deep breath and snapped his own neck the rest of the way. Thus, the Joker died as he lived… laughing, mocking and batshit crazy!
What more is there to say? The Joker is just one of those characters who’s stuck with us over the years, and for good reason. Not only did he have all the right characteristics to make a fitting villain, he was also the perfect arch-nemesis for the Batman. Overall, I have to assume that he wasn’t the kind of character who was tailor made for the role, but an inspired invention that grew into the role over time and became a permanent feature before long.
To paraphrase cartoonist Berkeley Breathed, good characters aren’t just created, they wander in off the street looking for a meal and a bath and end up staying. In the Jokers case, I’m glad he stuck around. Much like the Batman, he’s probably the most realistic, dark and gritty personality to ever come out of the comic book world!
The rest, as they say, is insane cackling laughter… HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
While I’m riding this comic book turned movie high, I must mention one of the best comic books around and definitely one of the best installments in the Batman franchise ever. And while this comic has not yet been made into a movie per se, I do believe large tracts of it have been used to create The Dark Knight Rises. I am, of course, referring to The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller.
To be fair, I’m not exactly a comic expert, but even I’m not that big a fan of Miller’s work. He has obvious woman issues and is not the best illustrator, and large parts of this comic were lifted from The Watchmen. But hell, it worked! If you’re going to steal, steal big. And the concepts of outlawing superheroes, forcing others to work for the government, a dictator president and an escalated Cold War all worked quite well within a Batman context. And trust me when I say, Dark Knight Rises will use this stuff! Read the review and you’ll see what I mean…
Initially, the comic was the result of a collaboration between Miller and DC’s editor-director Dick Giordano (formerly the Batman group director). However, disagreements over deadlines forced Giordano to pull out, leaving Miller to complete the project alone. DC then published the full and final product in one volume with four parts which, despite its price, sold quite well.
The story opens on a near-future Gotham city where things have gone to hell due to the absence of the Batman. The reason for his retirement is simple: superheroes have been outlawed, except for Superman who now works for the government. We learn that this was part of the deal, where he became a military asset in order to spare his former comrades the indignity of going to prison. As with Watchmen, this has led to an escalation of the Cold War and the creation of a dictator president (in this case, its Reagan or a clear look-alike).
In any case, Bruce Wayne (aka. Batman) is struggling with being retired. By turning his back on his former profession, he feels like he’s betrayed the promise he made to his parents decades back. In addition, the situation is getting so bad that he feels he has nothing to lose by returning. This worsening situation is portrayed with an allegorical heat wave that has gripped the city and is only getting worse.
Enter into this Harvey Dent, the former DA turned Two-Face who has had corrective surgery (courtesy of Bruce Wayne) and who’s doctors now claim is recovered. However, these doctors soon have egg on their face when a masked terrorist seizes Gotham’s two main business towers, clearly meant to resemble the WTO’s twin towers (it should be noted that this comic was written several years before Sept.11th 2001), and threatens to detonate a bomb.
Batman is successful in stopping the terrorist, who is clearly Dent, and finds that the surgery has not had the desired effect. Rather than correcting his split personality, it has only deepened it, making his look one way but feel another. Dent is placed back into psychiatric care, and the public is divided over Batman’s return. The media, in the form of talking heads and news reports, play a large role in this comic. And for the most part, they have bad things to say about Batman, claiming that in spite of his actions, he ultimately attracts a more deranged breed of psychotics and criminals.
His return also puts Superman in an awkward position since he will now be forced to come to Gotham and arrest him. However, as he is still occupied with a US-Soviet standoff taking place on the fictitious island of Corto Maltese, Batman has some time. Which he spends moving onto his next targets, the Mutants gang. Seems these thugs have taken over the streets, are thieving and murdering, and are led by a massive, psychotic freak. Oh yeah, and they operate out of the city’s dump. When Batman confronts them, he gets into it with the boss, but things go awry. After all, the boss is a mutant, is hugely strong and powerful, nearly impervious to pain, and a lot younger than Batman.
After several rounds, Batman begins to lose ground against the titanic thug and has his arm broken and shoulder torn by his claws. He is on the verge of blacking out when a young girl (dressed as Robin) jumps in and takes down the boss with a crowbar. She helps Batman escapes and the police show up shortly thereafter to arrest the boss. Seems Batman has a new sidekick, and makes it back to the Batcave to recuperate. However, the mutant boss lets everyone know from custody that he defeated the Batman and that he will wreak further vengeance on Commissioner Gordon and anyone else who gets in his way.
Across town, the spineless mayor comes out of hiding and blames the escalation on Batman. He further claims that he will step in and put an end to things by speaking with the mutant’s leader. However, this meeting turns bad when the mutant leader decides to kills the Mayor. He is placed back in prison, but Batman soon arranges it so he can escape. He then confronts him again, this time in a mud pit in the middle of the dump where he plans to beat him by outsmarting him. He also makes sure that every member of the mutant gang is there to watch, because he knows their reign of terror will only end if they see their leader defeated firsthand.
This time around, the fight is still a tough slog, but Batman utilizes his experience and his environment to his advantage. The mud slows the boss down, he manages to partially blind him with his own blood and the mud, then paralyze his limps with a nerve pinch and a broken elbow. He then gets him down into the mud where he latches onto one his legs and breaks it, immobilizing him completely. He then pounds him senselessly into the mud while the mutants look on in horror and awe. The mutants are beat and the city is safe, except that people are now forming a new gang that wants to emulate the Batman (echoes of The Dark Knight here!). Just like in DK, Batman is not too enthused about their existence and begins cracking down on them. Meanwhile, at Arkham, a dispirited and anesthetized Joker sees Batman on the TV, and comes back to life! Seems Batman’s resurgence is attracting his old enemies…
Meanwhile, on Corto Maltese, Superman’s actions have prompted the Soviets to up the ante. They fire an ICBM at the island, but rather than being a nuke, its a massive EM missile. Superman diverts it to a desert where it explodes and harms no civilians, but he is almost killed in the blast. A interesting point, since we know that Superman draws his power from the sun, it seems reasonable that an uncontrolled blast of EM radiation would harm him. And of course, it does! Also, Gotham and every other city in the area is hit by a massive black out. Chaos ensues, and Batman must travel to the prisons and take control of all the gang members who are escaping. Since many are Batman wannabees, he manages to recruit them to restore some order to the streets. The power comes on shortly thereafter, and once again, the media and experts debate the events. Most condemn Batman’s latest actions, even though he has helped to save many lives.
But Batman has his own theories. Mainly, he blames Superman for selling out to the government, and sees the escalation with the Soviets as a direct result. During a conversation before Superman sets off, he tells Wayne (they use each others’ real names!) that he will have to go up against him if he persists. Wayne replies by saying that he no intention of going back into retirement, and that if it comes to a confrontation “may the best man win”. Superman is incredulous, but he has his answer!
Back in Gotham, the Joker is finding new ways to create mayhem. Having convinced the same crop of doctors that he’s cured, he goes on a talk show where he is confronted by a Dr. Ruth look-a-like. After some innane psychobabble, he kills Ruth with a poisoned kiss and unleashes his smilex gas into the theatre, killing everyone. He then runs to an amusement park where he is intercepted by Batman, and more mayhem ensues. Batman finally corners him in a sewer where they have their final fight! The Joker stabs him a few times in the stomach, and Batman manages to cripple him by breaking his neck. The Joker then finishes it, snapping what’s left of his neck and killing himself. He dies laughing…
Again, Batman narrowly escapes, and Superman recovers enough to return to Gotham. After some preparations, Batman is prepared for his final fight! Getting himself into some powered armor, assembling his usual arsenal of tools, and enlisting the help of Green Arrow, someone else who resents Superman. He’s also sure to pop a pill, who’s purpose is as yet unclear. Then, he picks the location for their fight, the very street corner where Bruce Wayne’s parents were gunned down. The fight goes to plan, with Batman managing to hurt Superman in a number of ways (he’s still recovering from the EM missile attack) and stalling him long enough for Green Arrow to fire off his special package! A kryptonite tipped arrow!
Naturally, Superman catches the arrow, but the tip then explodes into a million tiny particles which he then becomes poisoned with. Severely weakened, Batman puts his hands around Superman’s throat and delivers his last words to him. Essentially, he tells them he sold them out, that he could never understand that the world doesn’t make sense, that his ideological purity makes him a pawn, and that he beat him! But then, Batman suffers from what appears to be a heart attack and collapses. The police arrive to see Superman kneeling over his old friends body, guarding it even though they were locked in mortal combat not a moment before.
The comic then moves to Batman’s funeral. Things are just wrapping up when Superman notices something. A faint sound coming from the ground, and someone suspicious looking standing nearby, waiting. In short, what he hears is heartbeats, the suspicious figure is the new Robin girl, and she’s waiting with a shovel. Remember the pill Batman took? Turns out it was a designer drug that imitates the appearance of death (little Romeo and Juliet there, but okay). His case contained a hidden oxygen supply, and everything was timed so Robin could dig him up before it ran out. Superman looks at her and winks. He’s onto them, but has decided to let his friend go.
Once he’s emerged, we see Batman moving to a new location with the new Robin and a set of accolades. From there, they will rebuild, create a new Batcave and start fighting crime anew. The public thinks he’s dead, but his spirit will live on through a new generation of masked crime fighters. Yeah! Batman forever!
A possible downside to this comic was Miller’s frequent use of media types and talking heads to advance the story. While it is interesting – and effective when it comes to providing transitions and pacing – the way it constantly helps advance the plot and provide background can get a little tiring at times. By volume four its like, we get it, Batman is a controversial media topic, and the so-called experts are morons! That, plus the fact that Miller really seemed to want to stack public opinion against Batman in the story got a little heavy-handed at times.
Still, it did manage to give some depth and a certain social context to the story. Not to mention realism, seeing as how any vigilante, no matter how effective, would not fail to stir up resentment and fear amongst those in power. All throughout the novel, it is made painfully clear that authorities condemn Batman because they don’t want to appear condoning, regardless of how needed he really is. At the same time, those same people seem to want to think that former villains have been successfully rehabilitated, if for no other reason than because they want to believe their methods are effective.
And I said, this book did seem to be borrowing pretty heavily from The Watchmen. However, these elements were well suited to the Batman universe, and given the fact that Dr. Manhattan was openly compared to Superman, it wasn’t like the borrowing was all one way. What was also well executed was the reason for Superman’s employment by the government. Not only was he doing it to protect his friends; according to Batman, it had much to do with his naivete and idealistic outlook. The boy from Smallville just couldn’t help but take orders, it was what he was born to do. And when society and the government turned on them, he effectively sold them out by agreeing to do their bidding.
This last element was something I especially liked about this graphic novel, the it explored the differences between Batman, Superman, and pitted them against each other. Fans of DC comics couldn’t help but have a big fangasm, but it was also highly appropriate. Whereas Superman had always been the clean-cut, cardboard cut-out superhero, Batman was always the darker, grittier, more realistic one. And in both cases, this was presented in very real terms, showing the upside and downside of these traits. Whereas Superman is seen by Batman as a fool and sell-out, the complete flip-side of how others see him, Batman is portrayed as a sort of social fascist in addition to be being a brave vigilante. This dichotomy serves to elevate the content and makes everything feel more realistic.
The Dark Knight Returns, ladies and gentlemen. Read it, love it, then look for traces of it in The Dark Knight Rises. I’m telling ya, it’s in there. Look for it!