For his column last week, Hatcher adapted a meme that’s been floating around lately where you list five unpopular opinions about popular culture. It struck me as a pretty good idea, and since I was looking for an easy-ish column to do right after Christmas, here’s mine. Feel free to let me know how wrong you think I am in the comments, just hear me out first.
1. Christopher Nolan’s Batman Movies Are Overrated.
For my money, they still haven’t made the definitive live-action Batman movie. Batman Begins was well-done, but I’m honestly hit and miss on The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises was a total mess.
Christopher Nolan brought the Batman movies back down to earth, which is what they needed at that point, but I think he took it too far in the other direction. Nolan presented a Batman who existed in a completely naturalistic world (I refuse to use the word “realistic” when it comes to superheroes), but the problem with that approach is that if you put Batman in a 100% naturalistic world, you’re getting rid of about half of what makes Batman cool. Under Nolan; Ra’s Al Ghul became a guy who only pretended he was immortal, the Joker became a guy in smeared clown makeup, and the Scarecrow became a guy with a bag over his head. The Batman I like to read about has a healthy dose of pulp sensibility in him, who fights a literally immortal Ra’s Al Ghul who soaks himself in the Lazarus Pit, a Joker whose skin was bleached when he made his getaway through chemical waste, and a Scarecrow who dresses head to toe in an honest-to-God costume. My Batman even occasionally fights a scientist with a freeze ray, another scientist transformed into a monstrous Man-Bat, and a guy with a face like running clay who dissolves people at the slightest touch. I honestly can’t see Nolan’s Batman ever doing any of those things, and it just seems needlessly limiting to me.
For me, the ideal approach to a cinematic Batman would be somewhere between the Burton and Nolan approaches. I’d like to see a world where fantastic things happen, but they still operate by an internal logic. Will Ben Affleck give us that sort of Batman? Time will tell, but the fact that he shares a world with several super-powered individuals is certainly a step in that direction. And heck, we already have a Killer Croc.
And as long as we’re talking about Batman villains in the movies…
2. Heath Ledger’s Joker Ain’t That Great.
I’ll certainly admit that Heath Ledger gave an amazing performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight. So much so that I believe he might have won that Oscar even without his untimely demise that year. The trouble is, the character Ledger played wasn’t very much like the Joker.
The key to Joker, in my opinion, is that he’s funny and disturbing, all at the same time. Steve Englehart’s Joker was creepy and funny. So was Paul Dini’s. The only time Ledger’s Joker really achieved that was during the scene where he made the pencil disappear. The scene with the malfunctioning detonator was funny, but it was just a simple bit a slapstick that could have been done with anybody. The rest of the time, Ledger was creepy, but not really funny, so he was missing half of the equation. For my money, Jack Nicholson’s Joker was a lot closer to the mark.
What really bugged me, though, was the matted hair and the smeared clown makeup. Not only did it give license to everyone and his brother to half-ass a Halloween costume from now until the next millennium, it was completely unlike the dapper image of the comics character. Ledger didn’t look like the Joker. He looked like the Crow mugged Willy Wonka.
That seemingly innocuous change completely altered the character. A Joker who can wipe off his makeup is not the Joker to me. Bill Finger did a lot of great things for Batman, but I think one of the best things he ever did was the Joker’s origin in 1951. Finger had the sense to realize two things: a clown who can’t remove his makeup is horrifying, and a character like the Joker needs a certain amount of mystery to really work. Finger’s origin for the Joker preserved his essential mystique by not telling us who he was before he was the Red Hood (and not showing us what he looked like before he became the Joker), and added a new element of horror by revealing that he wasn’t just a guy in makeup. Although Nolan had the sense to not give the Joker a definitive origin, Ledger’s Joker doesn’t have that vital element of horror, and he’s less imposing as a result. As Bruce Wayne says in Batman Begins, “As a man, I’m flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed; but as a symbol… as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.” Ledger’s Joker fails as a symbol because the smeared makeup makes it obvious that he’s nothing but a man of flesh and blood. He never transcends. And if there’s one thing the Joker should do, it’s transcend.
3. George Clooney Had The Makings Of A Great Batman.
Newsflash: Batman and Robin is not a good movie. And George Clooney will be the first to tell you that. He’s accepted the failure of it with good humor and makes regular jokes about how he killed the franchise. I suppose when you’re George Clooney, this is what you have to do to keep yourself humble.
But here’s the thing, folks… Batman and Robin was not George Clooney’s fault. That movie sucked because of the horrible script by Akiva Goldsman and the campy direction of Joel Schumacher. Yeah, Clooney was not very good in it, but neither was anyone else. Chris O’Donnell, Alicia Silverstone, Uma Thurman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Glover… All of them turned in horrible performances. A resurrected Laurence Olivier would have sucked in that movie. As it was, Michael Gough was the only one who escaped with his dignity intact. So I say it’s high time that we let George off the hook.
Take another look at Clooney in the batsuit. Of all the live-action Batmen we’ve had, he’s the guy who looks the closest to the comics character. He’s classically handsome, athletic, with dark hair. He looks great in a tux. Unlike both Michael Keaton and Val Kilmer, he’s got a strong chin and he looks good in the mask. Unlike Christian Bale, he doesn’t use a nigh-incomprehensible voice when he’s in the batsuit. He’s good in action scenes, and he’s got both dramatic and comedic chops. Hell, before he got married, Clooney was basically the carefree playboy that Bruce Wayne pretends to be. On paper, George Clooney is everything you want a Batman to be. He just had the misfortune of getting the role right when the movies were turning to shit.
Joel Schumacher made a lot of bad decisions with his Batman movies, but casting George Clooney was not one of them. With the right screenplay and the right director, he could have been great, and I think it’s a shame that he never got to play Batman in a good movie.
4. The Force Awakens is basically just Star Wars’ Greatest Hits
I’d consider myself a moderate Star Wars fan at best these days. The Special Editions bugged me, as they turned movies that I loved into a Where’s Waldo-type experience, constantly spotting gratuitous changes that took me out of the movies (That shock wave around the Death Star explosion still annoys the hell out of me). The Phantom Menace was so bad that it killed off most interest I had in the franchise in the space of about two hours. So it’s safe to say that I greeted the thought of new Star Wars movies with mild indifference. Still, I ended up seeing The Force Awakens opening night when a friend of mine had an extra ticket. I figured it was better to see it early than get spoiled on it completely in a few days. I wasn’t expecting a cinematic masterpiece. I’ve been fair to middling on most of J.J. Abrams’ output (Never got into Lost, liked his first Star Trek movie, hated his second), so my expectations weren’t high.
But I still didn’t like TFA very much. It seemed very “been there, done that” and pretty lazy in the way it regurgitated so many of the Original Trilogy’s plot points. Droid with secret plans, person from a desert planet who becomes adept in the Force, long-lost Jedi Master, a bad guy all in black, Han Solo & the Millennium Falcon, new Empire & Rebel Alliance under new names, a new Death Star but bigger & badder… It was all just way too familiar. Say what you will about George Lucas and the prequels, but the man never stopped giving us things we hadn’t seen before. J.J. Abrams is basically content to just serve us up what we liked before, with a slight twist, like Star Wars is a game of Mad Libs. And there’s nothing really wrong with that, exactly (Hell, I think it’s what most of the fanbase wanted at that point), but it’s not really what I want to see in a Star Wars movie. Star Wars blew us all away in 1977 because it was utterly different from anything we’d seen in decades. I wanted more of that feeling. And it really didn’t sit right that in order for TFA to happen, all the heroes of the Original Trilogy had to become retroactive failures.
I liked Rogue One, though. I hope the new movies keep mixing things up like that one did.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy is Overrated
I tried with this movie. I really did. I even gave it a second chance to see what I was missing. But at the end of the day, it was just too goofy for me to really get into. I don’t mind a little tongue-in-cheek humor in my adventure stories, but at a certain point the humor just undercuts the danger too much, and I think that that’s what happened with GotG. I can certainly understand why it became such a hit, as Chris Pratt has undeniable charm, but at the end of the day… just not for me. It’s probably my least favorite Marvel movie so far.
I think I was also handicapped by my general disinterest in most of Marvel’s cosmic characters. Thanos just bores me to tears, and he’s such a blatant Darkseid ripoff that I have trouble enjoying any story he’s in (and man, do I hope the Infinity War movies turn me around on this). It was an interesting experience playing catch-up on the characters and their relationships as we went, though (“Wait… the green chick is the sister of the blue chick? But why don’t they look anything alike?”). I imagine it was something like how The Avengers must have played to people not versed in comic books.
Great soundtrack, though.
See you next week, as I talk about some of my more popular opinions.