Tag Archives: batman

Never Mind the Batfleck – Why Ben Affleck as Batman Isn’t really the issue

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Contains spoilers go Man of Steel.

So, the Internet snapped again. It doesn’t take much nowadays, not now we’ve adopted it as the designated home of nerd rage. The Net was designed to survive nuclear Armageddon, but announce that Ben Affleck is going to play Batman and you’ll immediately feel the servers start to buckle under the strain.

I have a pretty easy-going take on the news. Man of Steel may have had a few scripting issues, but its casting was spot-on; I have no reason to believe that Zack Snyder and co. have dropped the ball this time. The Batman mythos is full of left-field casting decisions – Adam West? Michael Keaton? Heath Ledger? – and yet they worked for the type of stories their producers and directors were telling. I’m going to give Affleck a break.

Besides, everyone knows that the One True Batman is Kevin Conroy.

No, my worry about the forthcoming Superman/Batman movie is that we’ve yet to have a solo Superman film set in this continuity, because Man of Steel was really about the last generation of Kryptonians and their mess; in some respects it felt like a prequel to a more dedicated Superman story.

Okay, I might be off-base here, but think about it; Superman’s deal is that he’s an old fashioned, straight-forward hero figure, the guy who’ll save your cat from a tree and your kid from a rampaging alien death robot. You can play around with that, but that’s his thing. Problem is, that’s yet to be established in DC’s movieverse. On his first day on the job, he’s involved in a war his dad’s generation started, resulting in obscene property damage and, presumably, thousands of casualties. Compare this to Chris Reeve’s first action set piece, where he catches a helicopter and saves Lois. Yes, Man of Steel showed Clark saving a school bus full of kids and the crew of an oil rig, but they were presented as moments that threatened his future, not that defined Superman’s character and heroism.

So a sequel is coming in 2015, but a character that is yet to be fully defined is going to be sharing screen time with another character that exerts substantial gravitational pull. I’d also argue that, story wise, Batman might be the wrong character for the first DC movie team-up. Bats is a darker, more tortured character than Superman under normal circumstances, but here we have a Superman who has seen Metropolis levelled, thousands murdered and who was forced to execute General Zod on his first day on the job, not long after discovering that his home world was destroyed and the only other survivors were genocidal fanatics.

Beat that, Batman.

The commercial motivation for all this is to establish a cinematic DC Universe and to catch up with Marvel’s success story. From that point of view, putting DC’s two biggest characters on screen together makes perfect sense. Story-wise, however, I’m not so sure, not least because, based on the plot points left at the end of Man of Steel, and established characterisations across continuities, Batman would presumably have to the winner in any moral argument – are superhumans a public threat? Yeah, look at the ruins of Metropolis. Is killing supervillains wrong? Considering the need to keep popular bad guys like Lex and the Joker alive for sequels then yeah, have a no-kill rule. So would this lead to Superman abdicating moral responsibility in his own movie?

Now, if you want to establish the basis for a Justice League movie in the Man of Steel sequel then that’s possible but you don’t cast Ben Affleck. Why? Because the hero you need is Wonder Woman.

This is because Wonder Woman is a character from a warrior culture who nevertheless works as an ambassador for peace. If you want to ask whether Superman is a noble warrior who can live with killing his enemies, or a largely peaceful guy who helps people (necessitating the occasional smack down), then she’s a character who can illuminate both sides of that debate. She’s a known quantity and a Justice Leaguer and a character that genuinely expands the DC movieverse.

Now, I know it’s problematic introducing a major female character as a way of furthering a male character’s arc, but seeing that DC seem incapable of getting a Wonder Woman film or TV show made, then maybe problematic is better than non-existent. I may be wrong on that though.

So there we go – give Ben a chance but don’t screw over Superman in the process. The casting here isn’t as important as the writing, so let’s hope the script gives us the chance to get the Justice League movie we’ve been waiting to see.

Some Thoughts On The Dark Knight Rises (contains spoilers)

20120722-152803.jpg(This post contains spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises. They’re fairly vague, but enough to ruin the movie if you haven’t seen it.

As a fan of DC Comics, and of Batman, The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) has perhaps been my most anticipated film of 2012 – while I was looking forward to seeing whether or not Joss Whedon would pull off The Avengers (he did), TDKR was the big one, the one to which I had an emotional, fanboy connection.

Then came the massacre in Aurora, Colorado.

Christopher Nolan’s Batverse has often been bruised by real world tragedy – the death of Heath Ledger, Aurora – and that can’t help but read backwards into the films themselves. There’s a grim irony in Ledger’s Joker telling Batman that “You and I will be doing this forever”, and when characters in TDKR start firing assault rifles I inwardly winced, even though there’s no resemblance between that and Aurora. Maybe these things shouldn’t have an impact on the film, but they do.

But if that’s the case then maybe there’s a positive in it. One of the themes of TDKR is that of protectors – those who’d protect Gotham City and those who’d protect Bruce Wayne himself. The most heart-breaking scene in TDKR is when Alfred destroys his relationship with Bruce in an attempt to save the man he raised from self-destruction. Even Bane, the film’s main villain, is ultimately revealed to be the protector of another character. It’s moments like this that form the film’s emotional heart and a lot of TDKR‘s humanity comes from when characters act as protectors – heck, it’s a superhero film, that’s how it should be.

So when we’re thinking about the tragedies that have befallen the Nolan films, it’s within the context of wider stories. We can remember how Jarell Brooks, who saved a woman and her two children during the Aurora shooting, or Eric Hunter, who prevented the shooter from getting into an adjacent screen. Any debate about how art influences life needs to take into account these stories, not just the screwed-up story of a man who doesn’t know what colour the Joker’s hair is.

(No, I’m not going to mention the shooter’s name. He’ll get enough publicity, and if you want a tenuous link to the movie, the revelation of the true names of two characters changes the narrative. Maybe celebrating the names of those who tried to help will do something to shift the way in which we watch the news.)

Life’s messy though, with no easy answers, no simplistic solution to debates that have been raging for decades, even centuries. In art we can at least craft a narrative that gives us closure. TDKR is largely about escape – escaping destiny, shackles, prisons of the mind as much as physical spaces like Bane’s former jail or the sociological nightmare of Gotham. Giving Bruce Wayne a happy ending could be seen as wishful thinking – a character like that is almost doomed to not find real peace – but it works, because we want the guy to be happy for once, and because, thanks to their serial, ongoing nature, it’s never going to happen in the comics, and so we get some closure in the movies instead.

It also works because it’s in a trilogy that’s loved to fracture communities, Bruce’s happy ending extends to those around him, particularly Alfred and Catwoman. It’s a moment of healing when we didn’t think healing was possible. That’s important and significant and true.

I loved The Dark Knight Rises. After all, liberation and hard-won hope are powerful things. There’ll be a new cinematic Batman eventually, that’s almost inevitable, but that movie will have a tough act to follow. Maybe the filmmakers would do well to look at the true story of the Nolan/Bale movies – they’re not about ticking off a list of elements that was found in a DC Comics office somewhere, and they’re not about the real world tragedies that accompanied them. They’re about Batman and his world and, despite all the fantasy, showing how they’re still relevant.

Thank you, Mr. Nolan.

Shooting at Screening of The Dark Knight Rises

I guess the news is everywhere now – 14 people have been killed at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Denver, with many more wounded.

It’s an intensely upsetting story: of course it is, no-one should be scared of visiting the cinema, especially not kids. And I guess it’s even more upsetting because the film has been so wildly anticipated since, well, the release of The Dark Knight, and because Batman is a pop culture icon, and…

And because this sort of thing just shouldn’t happen, but it does, and that’s a brutal truth that I’m not convinced we should ever accept.

There are going to be articles and outcries about gun control, about media censorship, about the depiction of violence. Yet in all these, the victims are often forgotten and become nothing more than political and social talking points. In the aftermath of a tragedy, let’s try not to let that happen.

Thoughts on the new Dark Knight Rises trailer…

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It’s been a dark, wet day, but my mood has been lifted by watching the new trailer for The Dark Knight Rises!

Well, not really. The film looks amazing, but it certainly doesn’t look fun. While The Avengers has marketed itself on a bunch of punch-the-air moments, TDKR has taken the opposite path – trading on the idea that this will be the last Nolan/Bale bat-movie, there’s a sense of impending doom and imminent devastation around the trailer – the end is coming, for Batman, for his allies, for Gotham itself.

This is a clever way of doing things, because while the Nolan films have been dark, they haven’t been hopeless – for my money, there’s actually more of a sense of Batman achieving something than there was in the Burton/Schumacher movies. In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne starts to bring hope back to a despairing Gotham; in The Dark Knight, the Joker’s plans are foiled by a prisoner making the moral decision to not play the bad guys games and refusing to kill innocents. The battle is long and hard fought, but while the question is raised as to whether the presence of Batman actually makes things worse, the films ultimately come down on the side of Bruce’s aching heroism. Before Batman you get the impression that very few people even bothered to ask why Gotham was such a hellhole.

“I haven’t given everything. Not yet,” Bruce says in the trailer, and that’s key to the character. He may be the biggest badass in town, but a part of him is still a kid, kneeling between the bodies of his parents. He dedicates his life to stopping the bad guys, but for him it’s never enough, he’ll never give enough. His dying thought will be regret over not saving just one more person, and it’s tragic but even if it makes you angry at the guy, it makes you love him too. He needs to give himself a break, but he never will, and if he does he stops being Batman and horrible things happen. Gotham needs Batman.

Now, whether or not that Batman will be Bruce Wayne at the end of all this is up for grabs, and I don’t know what to think at the moment. Part of me thinks he’ll win and continue with his mission (for me, Batman eventually dies as an older man, saving one little old lady from a mugger who gets off a lucky shot); another part of me wonders why Joseph Gordon-Levitt is getting so much exposure in the trailer – he’s not officially playing anyone we know, and yet he gets more screen time than Commissioner Gordon or Alfred. I’m convinced something’s going on there.

(Okay, I’ll admit it – I have a theory. I’m out of touch with online speculation, so this is probably completely unoriginal, but what if Gordon-Levitt is actually playing Richard Grayson? I know Nolan has sworn not to do Robin, but Grayson was only Robin as a kid – as an adult he’s a cop and heir apparent to the Batman legacy. And in TDKR, we have a mysterious cop and encroaching doom for Bruce Wayne. Maybe Bruce dies but Batman carries on? For what it’s worth, it certainly ties in with the last few years’ worth of comics…)

It’s just hit me that I haven’t mentioned the bad guys in all this (although I’m guessing Catwoman will walk an ambiguous path rather than being an outright villain); they look good, they’re played by good actors, but this feels like Batman’s story more than anything, with Gotham’s fate tied directly to what happens to Bruce. That’s how it should be – this is a Batman film, after all (something Burton and Schumacher often forgot), the last in a series. It should focus on Bruce. This is his story, and it’s what the Marvel films have got right – fun as the villains may be, the heroes are at the heart of the story and they’re interesting enough to carry things.

(Okay, you could argue that the Joker overshadowed things in The Dark Knight, but part of that was due to off-screen events and part of it was due to the Joker’s role in the mythos, an agent of chaos who screws around with how everything works in a Batman story – after all, it was the Joker who killed the second Robin and crippled Batgirl. The other character who pulled that off – once – is Bane, who of course is the Big Bad in TDKR.)

That said, building up the villains is a good thing, because it emphasises Batman’s badassery. Yes, the trailer is going for a doom-laden sense of hopelessness, but it can do that because we all know how cool Batman is. Maybe I’m informed more by the comics than anything else, but this is the guy who once figured out how to take down the biggest bad in the universe using a bow and arrow and a guy who can shrink. Sure the trailer seems downbeat – it’s so that the film itself can have its moment of triumph, one that’s possibly harder won than anything in The Avengers, but just as satisfying in its own way. If Bruce Wayne is going to fall, then we can be certain of one thing.

A Dark Knight will rise.

The Dark Knight Rises: New Trailer

Well, after a weekend of it being bootlegged, the new trailer for The Dark Knight Rises has been officially released and it’s looking awesome. Catwomen’s there, and she’s one of the iconic bat-characters, but it’s the presence of Bane that casts an ominous shadow over the whole thing (if you don’t know your comics, well, let’s just say the first time Bane met Bats, final score was one-nil to the bad guy).

But for me, the most affecting moment was Alfred’s confession – that although he cares for Bruce as if he were his own son, he failed to protect him. Batman’s crusade against crime has always felt like it’s going to end badly – one day, some second rate mugger is going to get off a lucky shot – and Alfred knows it. And he’s cursing himself for empowering Bruce’s noble self-destruction.

It’s interesting that Dark Knight Rises is being marketed as a definitive conclusion to the Christopher Nolan bat-trilogy. It’s possible that there’ll be a happy ending but the doom-laden atmosphere of that trailer makes that look unlikely. By their nature, American superheroes don’t tend to have a beginning, middle and end – they exist within a serial narrative that always sees another villain hiding in the shadows. Will this be true of Bale’s Batman? Or is Bruce about to lose his war on crime? Looks like we’ll find out next summer…