I used to be a superhero, I would swoop down and save me from myself

When I started typing this I’d just returned from watching The Dark Knight. There are two things I perpetually love about travelling around a big city by myself:

*Walking around in a pretty dress, high heels and sunglasses in the sunshine at whatever speed I want.
*Cruising around in a cab at night, watching the lights, both of the city and its reflection in the river. If the driver will put up with me murmuring along to The Long and Winding Road so much the better.

I would have preferred to watch the film a little earlier in the day, but it was worth waiting for (and I think it’s always nice to come out of watching something slightly creepy into darkness rather than jarring daytime). Obviously it’s a good film. Even I can’t really dispute that. It was (I’m sorry, I must say it) darker than I’ve grown to expect from Hollywood films. However I don’t think that it really lives up to its hype (although, really, what could?). At least for once I’m actually watching the world’s most popular movie close to its release date (it was released this week over here in fact). To give you a frame of reference I think I watched Titanic around five years after it was released, and only under extreme duress (i.e. our teacher threatened me with extreme punishment if I attempted to escape the room).

Watching this film made me feel that I really ought to have rewatched Batman Begins beforehand. I remember really liking it (although in part that may have had something to do with the fact that I was watching it stretched out in a deck chair under the stars on a beach on Ko Phi Phi Don with two of my favourite people), and have a vague recollection of finding Katie Holmes annoying. I thought that I had a relatively good memory of said film, but on reflection it appears that I have a crystal clear image of all of Cillian Murphy’s scenes- and very little else. So my first bone to pick with The Dark Knight is why the hell would you put Cillian Murphy in your film if you’re only going to tease me the audience with about 30 seconds worth of footage? Uncool.

I can’t actually work out what I find so appealing about Cillian Murphy, I don’t think that he’s actually conventionally attractive (aside from the bright eyes I guess). There’s something kind of ‘off’ about his appearance, and yet he’s somehow absofuckinglutely gorgeous. And I do honestly think he’s a good actor (…she protests, feebly). Is it possible I have an Irish kink? This would be somewhat surprising considering I seem to be the only person I know who doesn’t have a thing for the accent, but it could explain why I like certain people. (I’m already aware of my shyboy kink; Cillian Murphy and Jensen Ackles I’m staring looking at you, and your twitchery.)

This isn’t only an aesthetic gripe, I really don’t understand what the point of his cameo was. If he hadn’t appeared in the film at all I would have been a little peeved, but I would definitely have gotten over it because Heath Ledger as the film’s primary villain The Joker is, in a word, totallyfuckingawesome. I don’t quite understand when the (in my personal opinion, not particularly) pretty boy from 10 Things I Hate About You became an actual actor- a really good one no less. This is why I ought to watch more films, so I can actually pick up on transitions like this. I did think that he was pretty decent in Brokeback Mountain, but I suppose my experience of that was a bit tainted by the fact that whilst I don’t think that it’s a bad film, it is honestly one of the most over-rated films I’ve ever seen. I’m annoyed by the fact that I can’t find any of the stuff that Ted Casablanca wrote about it (damn stupid website), but I believe I can paraphrase: “Just because it’s a film with gay cowboys doesn’t make it good, and I’m not going to pretend to love it. Watch Transamerica instead.” I have an unabashed love for Ted Casablanca- he may write a gossip column and work for E!, but he’s an intelligent, witty man who manages to slip in some brilliant social and political commentary in the most unlikely places.

Heath Ledger gave an amazing performance, and the Joker was pretty much the only character that I really cared about during the film (the rest of them, including Batman, were fairly two-dimensional). I think I would have preferred a ‘Joker’ film, relegating Batman to a relatively minor role. I liked that we never got to actually understand his back story (although I think that there ought to be at least a third, unaborted, alternative), and I think that his character in this film was wonderfully well constructed. His appearance was great too, the pimpy purple suit was perfect, and the sloppily applied make-up added the impression of madness and eagerness (I also love that the make-up has already become an internet meme, even I’ve noticed it whilst avidly avoiding anything that looked like it could be a spoiler!). The fact that the Joker didn’t mind removing his trademark face paint when it suited him (to gain access to a target), not to mention donning a nurse’s outfit and wig, showcased his adaptability, and the fact that he’s completely unpredictable and chaotic. Ledger managed to pull off this character in this incredibly creepy and terrifying way, and maintained a real distance from any other portrayal of the character. I, of course, also adored the slight homoerotic tension between the Joker and (the) Batman that the film had going on.

I do think that the Joker was explicitly portrayed as a terrorist-style villain in this film, no more than he and other Batman-verse villains are in other incarnations to be sure- but I think that in today’s climate it resonates and I’m almost certain that Nolan was aware of what he was doing. His desire to create (if I can use the word in this sense) anarchic destruction I suppose could be interpreted almost as a form of jihad, but I personally saw it as more in line with something like Max Stirner’s anarchism. J pointed out that some of The Joker’s “terrorist” style activities really resonate with some of contemporary America’s worst fears, such as the ‘beheading’ style videos of hostages.

In general I really like the direction of the two newest Batmanfilms. Batman is one of my favourite “super”(anti?)heroes anyway (and that’s probably a large part of why I enjoy Angel). The fact that he doesn’t have any superpowers (thus calling into question his identity as a ’super’hero, the ‘hero’ part can be dealt with later) just makes him far more identifiable. He isn’t an alien; a mutant; the Chosen One- and whilst I think that those ideas and metaphors have been used brilliantly in some cases, Batman just offers an even simpler story-telling vehicle. (I’m almost certain that I’m misquoting someone with this (obvious) assertion, but I can’t figure out whom. I even checked out the transcripts from The O.C. but I’m happy to report that my favourite Zach quote is definitely about Superman instead. Perhaps I ought to be more ashamed of my love for the first couple of seasons of that show, but I’m not- Seth has a horse called Captain Oates for heaven’s sake! And I’m almost certain that at some point he made a play on the “I may be some time” line, although I can’t currently find any proof of it).

Of course he’s not exactly the Everyman either, perhaps his superpower is actually his wealth? I do sometimes get the urge to roll my eyes when Bruce/Batman is utilising all his expensive technology and tricks to fight crime. It isn’t exactly hard (or, therefore, impressive) to do what he does when you’ve got the money to do it (which reminds me of Spike’s response to being kidnapped by The Initiative, a government-run research outfit experimenting on demons, that he always wondered what would happen if that bitch Buffy got funding). Then again it would be pretty hard to rationalise the suit, vehicles, gadgets etc which are an inherent part of Batman’s identity without him being incredibly rich.

I like that these new Batman films have been considering the moral ambiguities embroiled in Batman’s vigilante status, he definitely isn’t a cut and dried hero (although I think that this point stood perfectly well without various characters ramming it down the audience’s collective throat). This is the kind of angle that I really enjoy. Bruce/Batman is heroic in his actions and his choices (and indeed his moral code), but he isn’t allowed to play the hero, least of all by himself. I’m not sure that he should be either, he displays a flagrant disrespect for the laws, both of Gotham City and of other countries which isn’t necessarily the best way to attempt to eradicate (or even control) crime. Allowing someone, anyone, to stand outside of the law is dangerous and questionable, even if he is acting “for good”. At what point are the lines drawn? Whose conception of good ought to be allowed precedence? Whose morals? I liked that these ideas were discussed within the film, and especially liked Dent’s reference to the Romans appointing someone to dictate in times of crises. Does the fact that people are willing to accept a dictator in times of trouble make this ‘right’? Despite the fact that Batman acts in the interest of Gotham City its residents turn on him, they are wary of his (extralegal) power, and I don’t think they’re necessarily wrong to feel like that. (Again I’m irritated by what an interesting film Hancock could, and should, have been.) By the end of the film his powers have been severely limited, he’s been designated the bad guy, and he’s purposely destroyed his sophisticated surveillance equipment. The status quo has, more or less, been restored- for better or for worse.

Of course when you think about it things don’t work out too badly for the guy. Alright it sucks that people can’t properly appreciate the good that he’s done, but I’m sure he’s soothed by the fact that he gets to enjoy himself in style as the playboy Bruce Wayne. I would have liked to see the slightly schizophrenic bent to Bruce’s construction of Batman’s identity explored more. He’s right that “the Batman” is an important symbol (and the use of that article is definitely relevant), but hearing someone almost talking about themselves in the third person, referring to a persona they’ve created (for whatever reason), is a little disturbing. In contrast the Joker seems almost sane (that may in fact be hyperbolic nonsense, but you know what I mean).

I don’t want any of this analysis to suggest that I don’t absolutely adore the campy 1960s Batman television show by the by. I’m sure that this point must have been made before, but I can’t recall ever reading or hearing it (please point me in the direction of anything that has, I’d be really intrigued), I feel that the DC and Marvel comic characters are pretty much the twentieth century equivalent of fairy tales. Of course there are actual twentieth century versions of fairy stories, but they play with already established conventions. Comics (and later their screen adaptations) fulfill the same kinds of functions as fairy tales, not just to entertain but to deal with important contemporary ideas in metaphorical and sometimes fantastical ways. The breadth of meaning in those comics is such that they can inspire something incredibly campy, yet also something dark and creepy. This is just like fairy tales, and I wouldn’t have such a problem with sanitised Disneyfied version of classic stories if it was equally easy to get a fix of ‘proper’ fairy tales full of brutality and horror.

I do feel as if a slight reference to the fact that Rachel was portrayed by a different actress in this film could have been made (even just a snide “wow you look so good these days!”) although I suppose it might have been a little too light-hearted for this film. I know that it couldn’t really be helped, but having a different actress to the one portraying her in Batman Begins was a little jarring (even if Katie Holmes did annoy me in the role). To be honest I don’t think that Maggie Gyllenhaal was excellent casting, she wasn’t bad or anything but I would have preferred someone with more presence and, crucially, someone who I think is beautiful. Then again I am an awfully shallow person.

Dent’s storyline was also an interesting one (although I can’t really accept a Dent character whose first name isn’t Arthur, unless it’s something amusing like “Axi” or “Resi”), and his eventual transformation into Two-Face echoed the split-personality theme which was definitely an important one in this film. His obsessive coin tossing reminded me of The Dice Man, and although I know that the original Two-Face character was conceived long before ‘Luke Rhinehart’ was published I think that The Dice Man allows a much more in-depth and interesting perspective on allowing fate to control one’s life than this film possibly could. This is why I’m just not a film person! The idea of attempting to retain the ‘purity’ of Dent’s memory was interesting, although I didn’t like the undertone that a person can only be a ‘proper’ hero if they’re a blond with a Stan Smith-esque chiselled jaw. I might be shallow, but I don’t like films telling me that ugly people are baddies.

That’s part of the problem with allowing someone outside of the law all that power, he gets to decide what the official ‘truth’ will be. That’s not a responsibility that anyone ought to have, although of course in real life its shouldered by specific individuals all the time. It reminds me of an excellent play called Embedded which was about, amongst other things, the impact of Leo Strauss’ philosophy of multiple truths (and/or noble lies) on the decision-makers of Bush Jr’s administration. The noble lie is a consistently used device in the film, Rachel is certainly lying to at least one of the men she claims to love at any one time, and later Albert takes it upon himself to destroy Rachel’s letter to Bruce so that he may never learn the truth (if indeed it did contain her ‘true’ feelings, and not a noble lie…) about her emotions.

It’s still a little weird for me to watch Gary Oldman playing a good cop, even though every time I watch Leon I never seem to understand (or recall) the fact that he’s a crooked DEA agent and am befuddled for a while. He was a fairly likable character, and so I kept expecting him to turn (or be revealed to be) bad. Therefore I wasn’t expecting for him to be revealed to be secretly alive after his shooting. I loved his wife’s reaction to this, faking your own death to catch a criminal and not even informing your spouse is something that’s just likely to get you slapped. His son’s reaction I wasn’t expecting however, I thought he’d be more likely to freak out about the ‘ghost’ next to him. I think that the film would probably have been better (although obviously sadder) if the kid had actually died at the end, and at least it would have saved him the inevitable self-esteem issues. I doubt that his father can properly explain “Batman saved your life, and now we have to hunt him and treat him like a criminal. Nothing personal son” in a way that doesn’t sound insane. Personality issues of the future, here we come! Is another sequel being made yet?

Can I just point out that it sucks that Heath Ledger’s dead? I mean obviously for him, but now also for me too. So now I’m grouchy. I’ve discovered that he apparently (officially at least) didn’t commit suicide, my belief that he did is either due to the British press or only reading the very early reporting of the news which was later revised by claims that his death was accidental. Perhaps both. If he didn’t commit suicide and just died from a random, stupid unintended overdose it’s even more bloody annoying. The Joker would absolutely have had to have been in the next film, assuming that there was to be one- is it just me or is Christian Bale starting to look kind of prematurely old? I’m pretty sure that Two-Face isn’t dead (his story arc has only just begun) so he could be the major villain in the next film, and there’s also a whole host of other rouges to pick from of course.

I had a terrible feeling by the time The Dark Knight was ending. I was worried that I was going to have to face a worse truth about myself than the fact that I’m not a fourteen year old boy. Am I possibly actually a film person? Say it ain’t so! The reason I had to consider this for a moment was that whilst I enjoyed the tone and characters of this film, the plot wasn’t all that amazing. Pretty much every twist and turn just seemed painfully obvious (except Gordon not really being dead, and that was only because it was kind of stupid), as if the word ‘psych!’ was written on the screen in big glowing letters. I didn’t need to be told about Dent’s double-headed coin, that the Joker had purposely got himself caught, that the ’sick’ guy was going to blow up, that the Joker had switched the addresses at which Rachel and Dent were hidden, that the hostages were dressed as the Joker’s henchmen… and so forth. The only decent bit of misdirection was the Joker’s reveal at the beginning of the film where he impersonated one of his own men.

However, I’m not worried. J assures me that all of those things would have been glaringly blatant to anyone. My reputation remains intact. Therefore I put it to you that The Dark Knight had a relatively stupid plot. Strangely enough I still managed to enjoy it, which speaks to its other strengths. All in all I think that I’d feel happy to recommend this film to people, with the addendum that the plot is flawed (although somehow not all that important) and that, despite the rave reviews, this isn’t exactly the greatest film ever made.

As a responsible and mature person I have a new career in consideration: namely being a script doctor for the new Batmanmovie. I’ve clearly come up with the best plot ever.

Firstly, lots and lots of Scarecrow screen time is definitely required.

My plot idea though revolved around Gordon’s little blond son who didn’t get killed at the end of the movie. As I said before I reckon that he’d end up with innumerable issues due to the fact that a hero saved his life, quickly followed by said hero lying about what happened and consequently being set upon and hated by society as a whole. Not to mention his father colluding in perpetuating this deception, as well as leading the hunt for Batman. That little kid would clearly grow up fucked up. After some extensive research on the topic (i.e. idly chatting with Ringo about the film) I recalled that Barbara Gordon (i.e. Gordon’s little blonde daughter) becomes Batgirl, and yet in The Dark Knight there didn’t seem to be any Babs, Gordon just had two sons. Therefore I think that it would make perfect sense that Gordon’s son is going to develop some absolutely brilliant Daddy-issues, as well as become completely disillusioned with his world’s horrible macho-worship and chauvinism. Surely a series which created such a wonderful dark, creepy Joker could also produce a desperate, troubled transvestite Batgirl, right? Lee Pace could be a great Batgirl, although he is overly tall. Or maybe they could cast Cillian Murphy in the role, having him play two characters in homage to the awful, campy TV series.
I’ve somehow managed to convince other people that this is an excellent idea too. They may have had ulterior motives I suppose, for example I think J would have agreed to pretty much anything once I bought her a cocktail and let her use me as a pillow. But I’ll take what I can get!

One thought on “I used to be a superhero, I would swoop down and save me from myself

  1. Pingback: The end of days « Pop Culture Playpen

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