Monday, July 28, 2008

Phickle Thoughts

I finally saw The Dark Knight. [Possible spoilers ahead.] I was duly impressed with the film, particularly with Heath Ledger's performance. He managed to turn the Joker into a believable character, and that's just impressive. I also like that it was, for the most part, a self-contained story, and any subsequent sequel will have to stand or fall on its own plot.

Overall though, I liked Batman Begins better. That story was superior to this one, and the execution felt cleaner and more concise. There were parts of The Dark Knight that didn't add anything, like the whole "spying on the city" bit. And there were parts that made Batman bigger than he's supposed to be, like the "flying to Hong Kong" bit. But most off-putting of all was that climax with the Joker was anti-climatic.

The previous showdown - that led to him being imprisoned with Dent and Rachel hostage - was so beautifully orchestrated that I felt he had to have more up his sleeve than just standing around in a building with some dogs. But he didn't. There was almost no fight in that last sequence, just the dogs and then the Joker pinning Batman to the ground, before Batman flipped it around. And then the Joker was just left hanging there, with his monologue about bringing the white knight down, and that was the last we saw of him. There was no carefully orchestrated plot. The plan to get the boats to blow each other up wasn't constructed with the kind of no-fail certainty of the Joker's previous machinations. As the Joker's plans fell flat, so did the movie. And ultimately, it just didn't have the climax a movie like this deserved.

But Ledger was brilliant. And deserves the Oscar. I hope he gets it.
So the question is now, if they do another Batman movie, especially in this more realistic style, who would be the appropriate villain? We've got to assume the next film would be about Batman's redemption in the eyes of the city, right? So who could hold the entire city victim? Or would they have to go away from that type of plot? Who could be a believable villain?
We went to the see The Dark Knight with a couple of friends from law school. These were the ones who had the amazingly opulent wedding in New York. As we found out when we met up with them, it was even more opulent than we had realized. You see, since we had to duck out early, we missed out on receiving one of the wedding favors. So they brought one of the extras along to the movie for us. It was a pretty sizable package, wrapped, and decorated with the bag of candy that you get as a favor at most weddings. Inside the box, and mind you, everyone there got one of these, was a freaking footed serving plate.

That's right, this wedding was so ridiculously awesome that two months after it happened guests are still receiving gifts from the couple and their families.

The other day I was put on hold, and I could swear the elevator music playing was "El Shaddai".
A few years back, before I ever knew her, one of my co-workers was in a terrible car crash. She had severe injuries, including an almost-complete shattering of her leg. We were discussing the long-term effects of her accident the other day.

"My feet aren't the same size any more. One of them is at least half a shoe-size smaller than the other, maybe even more than that."
"That's kind of strange."
"I think when the doctors replaced my heel they shaved too much off of the cadaver bone," she explained.
"Hold on a second!" I said excitedly, "You mean to tell me you've got a cadaver bone in in your body right now?"
"Yeah, in my heel."
"So then, pretty much, your foot is a zombie? That is so cool."
"Isn't it though?"

She seemed to like the idea that her foot was a zombie. What can I say? I've got some pretty cool colleagues.


Mike said...

(Another spoiler warning, for any of the poor souls who have not seen "Dark Knight")

I agree with you on the Joker's last scene. The way the script was structured, particularly thematically, it needed to play out the way it did, but Ledger was so awesome that I wanted so much more of him.

I have been struggling with who the next Bat villain should be. Nolan has said he won't do Penguin. The Riddler would seem like a pale shadow of the Joker. Theoretically, they could get away with bringing Two Face back (there would be ways to script that he wasn't actually dead at the end of "Knight") but I'm not sure I even want that. Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze were ruined by "Batman and Robin" but I'm not sure I care anyway. Bane, perhaps? Maybe Clayface. Halle Berry may have ruined Catwoman, but they could try it. Who knows? As always, it all pales in comparison to the Joker. They probably had plans to keep the Joker around, but those are probably moot now. I just can't think of any other villains who would work as well.

Ben said...

Spoilers may exist.

I disagree on the last Joker scene precisely because it fit so well thematically. It also fit the motivation of the Joker. For him, it never was about the perfect crime. It was about exposing humanity and goodness as a fraud...taking everything good and everything ordered and tearing it to pieces. Whether he himself lived or died wasn't the point. He wanted to make Batman, Harvey Dent, and the citizens of Gotham into killers, just like him. As he put it, "you didn't think I'd gamble it all on a fist fight with YOU, did you?" The Joker never was a physical match for Batman, and that was never the point. In a sense, the Joker both lost and won. He was wrong about Batman and the citizens of Gotham, but he succeeded in driving Harvey Dent mad.

As for the next, a lot rides on that. The 3rd Nolan Batman film has a lot of danger of doing what the third X-men and Spider Man films did....the first two built the expectations and the emotional tensions so high that it was very hard to match it. Of course, it didn't help that X-Men 3 and Spider Man 3 were both so mediocre. Nonetheless, 2 things are key for Batman 3: (1) there needs to be a character arc for Bruce Wayne. In the first, it was his learning to look beyond himself and be a hero. In the second, it was his desire to let go of the awesome responsibility of being Batman and realizing, at the end, that he could not. In the third....I dunno. Something about dealing with the bitterness of being the city's public enemy while protecting them? (2) The other is the choice of villain. It can't be cartoonish like in the Joel Schumacher movies. And that's the problem. Most Batman villains are cartoonish. I just can't see Poison Ivy or Mr. Freeze or Penguin done in the dark, "realistic" tone of the Nolan Batman films. Riddler, maybe...but yeah, he sounds like a pale imitations of the Joker. Catwoman, maybe....the love interest/villain thing has potential....Bruce could find some hope of happiness as Bruce Wayne with Selena Kyle only to have it dashed away. The unfortunate, but inevitable, demise of Rachel helps that possibility along. Two-Face has more emotional damage he could inflict, but eh......

Honestly, of the remaining villains, only Bane seems to have some real menace to him.

I guess we'll see.....

Matthew B. Novak said...

Ben -

I completely agree about the Joker's motivation, and describing the outcome as win/lose for the Joker is certainly apt. But that's the why it's so anti-climatic. The first plot, in making Batman chose between Dent and Rachel was so carefully orchestrated - right down giving the wrong addresses for the hostages - that there was no possible way the Joker could lose. The second plot, with the boats, was completely incomplete by comparison. The Joker just set the trap, and then stepped back. That's not his style. He's participatory. Right down to letting himself get caught/beaten by Batman, or letting Dent flip the coin to see if he'd live or die. But in the last piece... he was just an observer to the trap(which is actually much more Riddler-esque). The ideas were there - let the people expose their goodness as fraud - but the execution was not.

And, since the execution wasn't there, Batman didn't really save the day. I wanted to see Batman figure out the Joker's actual scheme, and manage to break that up, not by force (the Joker wouldn't put it to a fist fight), but by his brains and ingenuity. That was the climax this movie needed, but didn't have.

Matthew B. Novak said...

Regarding the next villian:

I think another Two-Face story would be redundant and take too many gymnastics to make realistic.

I think if they made the Riddler less cartoony and focused more on his obsessive compulsive disfunction that it could, perhaps, work.

I think you're right that a Catwoman storyline could work, but it's been done, and I can't imagine it'll give Batman a shot at city-wide redemption. I don't think Clay Face works because then you've got the whole "too much CGI/unrealistic charater" issue.

Here's a thought: a Harley Quinn storyline. I know, without the Joker, that might seem wrong. But you could easily create a storyline of Quinn being someone from the Joker's past; the only person who knew who he was, something like that, who now wants revenge. It's a bit of a different take on Quinn, who was always the right hand to the Joker. This would set her up as an heir, instead of an assistant.


Mike said...

I considered Harley Quinn, but I was loath to consider a villain created expressly for the cartoon series, even if she has since made appearances in the comics. However, you make a good point about how they could slightly adapt her storyline to sort of "keep the Joker around" even if not physically. Then again, a friend of mine made a good point that the Joker wouldn't really just languish around in prison. They may be forced to recast the part.

In terms of story arc, here's a villain for you: Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra's. That could be used to bring it full circle with Begins. In fact, her combined with Catwoman could make for quite the interesting villainess love triangle. Who knows?

Matthew B. Novak said...

I was not aware of the existence of Talia. That might work. I'm really wary of Catwoman though, given that it's been done before, multiple times.

Could the Penguin possibly work? Couldn't the rise of a new mob boss be an effective option? I can imagine the Penguin as non-cartoony, so that could work, right? What about if the Penguin had Bane as his muscle?

Plus, I'd imagine Danny DeVito is available...

Ben said...

The rumors, expressly denied by Christopher Nolan, was that people were considering Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Penguin material. In Hoffman's able hands, I think I could see the Penguin done right.

After all, apart from the portrayal in the 1960s TV show and DeVito's truly twisted take on him in Batman Returns, the Penguin was generally a "gentleman criminal" with less of a gimmick to him. Except that whole umbrella thing.

I'm just trying to imagine how the Penguin or any of these villains could actually play a part in Bruce Wayne's character arc. The League of Shadows in the first film served as the foil against which Bruce could develop a sense of justice that was not simple vengeance/destruction. The Joker in the second film challenged Bruce/Batman's sense of his own goodness and invulnerability. These villains weren't just interesting in their own right...they were interesting as something for Bruce Wayne to react against. The triumph of the recent Batman movies is that they actually made Bruce Wayne an interesting character. The previous Batman movies and the TV show failed miserably at that.

What villain would serve that purpose?

Matthew B. Novak said...

It's a great point Ben, the need for the Bruce storyline. I think there's a few possible storylines. Obviously the romance angle, and Catwoman/Talia could serve that purpose. Then there's the "keeping his secret identity" plotline, and The Riddler could work very well for that (his detailed, ordered schemes/traps being used as a big reveal. But we've kind of seen this before in Jim Carrey's Riddler).

Another idea could be a "Batman getting older" kind of storyline. We might not be there yet, but that could be compelling; the idea the Bruce needs to hang up the cape because his capabilities are fading with age. Bane could work really well for this type of plot, though you'd probably want to fold in a successor, which implies Robin (or at least Nightwing), and that idea has been routinely rejected by everyone involved.

Finally, what about a plot in which Bruce is sure of something but the rest of the city disagrees. So if the Penguin were to take over (exerting political influence, etc.), and Bruce knew he was a bad guy, but the public loved him. Eventually you could do a reversal of what you had in The Dark Knight, where Bruce is an upstanding citizen but Batman becomes a "bad" guy. What if Batmas saves the city, but in the process Bruce Wayne loses face? I could see a Penguin storyline accomplishing that perhaps.

Ben said...

By the way, "El Shaddai" on the elevator....awesome!

And, because I'm a fan of classic rock and classical Greek (actually, I know one word in Greek, but let's not ruin the joke), the following song title came to mind: "Agape in the Elevator" It takes a special kind of nerd to understand what I'm talking about. Are you that kind?

Matthew B. Novak said...

I am, though really "Eros in the Elevator" might be more appropriate.