Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Dark Knight (Rhoades)

‘Dark Knight’ Is Darker Take On DC’s Caped Crusader
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Having been a consultant to DC Comics, I’m particularly fond of that superhero who has no superpowers, Batman. Traumatized as a kid by witnessing his parents’ murder, he grew up to become what some describe as a psychotic vigilante.
Sure, he fights bad guys. But as the Harvey Dent character says in the new “The Dark Knight” movie, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
“The Dark Knight” – the summer’s hottest comic book movie – is currently playing at Key West’s Tropic Cinema.
My friend Ski who is director of publishing operations at DC Comics reported that “the buzz is over the top. ‘Best superhero movie ever’ stuff. Word in the hallways is that “The Dark Knight” will redefine what a superhero movie should be!”
He said that the DC staff got an advance look at the movie, a giant-screen IMAX showing in New York.
“Wow!” was Ski’s one-word review.
We all know that Batman is really billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. Forbes Magazine lists Wayne as the seventh richest fictional character, attributing most of his wealth to real estate investments in Gotham City. I only wish my Key West real estate was doing as well!
The Batman character made his first appearance in Detective Comics #27 (May1939). Note: Detective Comics is the basis for the publisher’s shortened name, DC.
Bob Kane is recognized as Batman’s creator. Although Kane got all the credit, he actually was assisted in this task by writer Bill Finger and inker Jerry Robinson.
As Robinson recalls, “Bob was given the assignment to come up with a character to compete with Superman … Bob immediately went back and called Bill to help him create the character and flesh out the concept and write the story.”
Bill Finger made several tweaks to the character (who was originally called “the Bat-Man”) such as changing the demi-mask to a bat-eared cowl and substituting a cape for the initial wings.
“Bob took it down to DC and signed up and presented himself as the sole creator. Nobody knew anything about Bill or myself until later on ….” says Robinson.
Batman got campy in the ’60s. The influence of that Bam! Pow! television show based on the Caped Crusader and his sidekick Robin.
Then Batman got rehabbed in the ’80s when Frank Miller (“Sin City,” “300”) did a new take on him, a darker more nihilistic view titled “The Dark Knight Returns.”
It was a turning point in comic book history. As I argue in my recent textbook, “A Complete History of American Comic Books,” the so-called Modern Age of Comics began in 1986 with the publication of Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” and Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns.”
We’re all familiar with those earlier Batman movies, Tim Burton’s “Batman” and “Batman Returns,” Joel Schumacher’s “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin.” (I’m deliberately ignoring that campy spinoff of the TV show, “Batman: The Movie,” as well as those two b/w cliffhanger serials back in the ’40s.)
Burton’s versions launched a film franchise, but “Batman & Robin” (considered the worst superhero movie) killed it.
After waiting a decent time, DC’s parent company Warner Bros. (both are part of Time Warner) rebooted the franchise in 2005 with “Batman Begins,” selecting actor Christian Bale for the title role. Perhaps they felt that the star of 2000’s “American Psycho” was the perfect choice to play a character Frank Miller described as having a “psychotic sublimative/psycho-erotic behavior pattern.”
Harvey Dent: You’re Alfred, right?
Alfred the Butler: Yeah.
Harvey Dent: (about Rachel) Any psychotic ex-boyfriends I should know about?
Alfred: You have no idea.
“The Dark Knight” is the second in Bale’s reign as the Caped Crusader. Its darker, grittier sensibility is in keeping with Frank Miller’s defining take on DC’s second most popular superhero. Superman still being numero uno.
However, director Christopher Nolan (“Batman Begins,” “Memento”) credits a story arc known as “Batman: The Long Halloween” – written by my old pal Jeph Loeb – as the movie’s inspiration.
Nolan also says he was influenced by “Heat,” the Al Pacino/Robert De Niro cops-and-robbers movie in telling “a very large city story.”
This new tale features Batman’s nemesis, an equally crazed malefactor known as the Joker. Yes, this is Heath Ledger’s last role – and his is a subtler, more sinister take on the supervillain than Jack Nicholson’s cackling hyena in Burton’s “Batman.”
As Ledger’s Joker says, “This city deserves a better class of criminal and I’m gonna give it to them.”
In the previous film we had Katie Holmes as Batman’s love interest, Rachel Dawes. Here we have Maggie Gyllenhaal as Katie’s replacement, proving the actresses to be as interchangeable as two Barbie Dolls.
(On an ironic note, Maggie’s brother Jake Gyllenhaal was Marvel Studio’s threatened replacement for Tobey Maguire when salary negations for “Spider-Man II” broke down. Maguire quickly came around.)
Back to “The Dark Knight,” you’ll enjoy the characters. Perfectly cast is Michael Caine as Alfred, the English butler who sees to Bruce Wayne’s needs, whether it’s answering the door or polishing the Batmobile.
And this time around Aaron Eckhart takes on the role of district attorney Harvey Dent, a/k/a Two Face. Before transforming into his sinister alter ego, Dent competes with Bruce Wayne for Rachel. This rivalry between them serves as the “backbone” of this film.
Gary Oldman coasts along as Batman’s ally, Lt. Gordon. Eric Roberts plays the over-the-top mobster Salvadore Maroni. Michael Jai White is a gang leader at war with Maroni. Cillian Murphy returns as the former director of Arkham Asylum, now becoming the villain known as Scarecrow. Anthony Michael Hall is newsman Mike Engel. And omnipresent Morgan Freeman turns up again as Lucius Fox, newly promoted CEO of Wayne Enterprises.
Sorry, but no Boy Wonder in this movie.
“The Dark Knight” will likely set some summer box office records. All you fanboys and –girls out there will definitely want to see it.
As the Joker says when he and his thugs break into a Gotham City ballroom: “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. We’re tonight's entertainment.”
True enough. [originally published in Solares Hill]

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