Tuesday, June 21, 2005

So it was pretty good. As advertised, Gary Oldman did a remarkable job of playing an ordinary guy with extraordinary integrity in the role of future-Commissioner Gordon. He really does disappear into his roles: a great character actor. Christian Bale was as good as I'd expected given how hard it is to play an icon, and the supporting roles were fun—Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are especially good at bringing humanity to these sorts of blockbuster proceedings. I have no idea who Cillian Murphy is but he's a very scary dude. The soon-to-be Mrs. Cruise was the sour note, or would have been sour if she had any flavor at all: it's hard to imagine a more colorless, charisma-free actress. Granted it's not much of a role, it still would have been fun to see someone with a little personality, maybe even a little kink, that could have hooked more deeply into Bale's gloomy Bruce Wayne (Reese Witherspoon, maybe—Maggie Gyllenhaal, definitely). Of course the plot is incoherent: Liam Neeson and his League of Shadows want to destory Gotham in order to save it, but their methods seem more than a little ham-handed. Well, at least we get to choose the crypto-fascist in tights over the one with a French name and a little goatee.

Saw a War of the Worlds preview before the movie started, and I gotta say: is a fantasy of invasion by an implacable and inhuman force our sublimated guilt-expiation for Iraq? Or is it just another turn of the 9/11-screw? Discussing the movie after with the friends I saw it with, one wondered if the wholesale urban destruction in the film was a 9/11 thing. I don't know—certainly the Spider-Man movies, set in New York, have 9/11 in mind (and the touching scene in the second film when a crowd of commuters tenderly carries a wounded Spider-Man to safety is clearly anchored in that experience). On the other hand, superheroes have been demolishing city blocks, especially those in New York or a facsimile thereof, for decade upon decade. This has been cleverly spoofed a couple of times: Marvel once did a short series about the guys who clean up after superhero battles, and there was a marvelous one-off called DESTROY! in which two super-types flatten Manhattan in the course of a seemingly endless fistfight. (My favorite panel shows the Mayor, chomping on a cigar, saying into a walkie-talkie, "We'll just have to EVACUATE NEW YORK!" "Okay," says the voice on the other end.)

I still have considerable affection and admiration for the two Tim Burton Batman movies—now there's a guy that knows kink (as opposed to kitsch, which overwhelmed the unspeakable Kilmer/Clooney sequels). His luscious soundstage Gotham was a magical dystopian otherworld. The new movie is closer to the gospel according to Frank Miller, and by filming it in Chicago with a relative minimum of digital alteration, it's considerably closer to plausibility, if not reality. It's particularly fun to see so much attention given to the making of the myth—in the Burton films the myth was more or less taken for granted and mythmaking was left to the villains, who consequently seemed much more interesting than Batman in spite of Michael Keaton's fine, understated performance. One thing I'm particularly excited about is the suggestion that the inevitable sequel will bring back the Joker, Batman's archnemesis. I could never take Jack Nicholson's Joker seriously (the fact that I'd even try might suggest I'm seriously irony- or at least camp-deficient where comic books are concerned)—it was just Jack showboating, with none of the terror or pathos the Joker should induce. I trust Nolan and Bale and Oldman and company (can we please dump Holmes, though?) to get it right; with any luck we'll have a sequel in the tradition of Spidey and X-Men, a film better than the "original."

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