Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Unpopular Opinions

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.

Commissioner Gordon and Batman - Batman Begins - Atomic Junk Shop

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.

Heath Ledger - Batman The Dark Knight - Atomic Junk ShopI’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.

Joker's origin in comics - Bill Finger - Atomic Junk Shop

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.

George Clooney as Batman - Atomic Junk Shop

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.

George Clooney as Batman in 'Batman and Robin' - Atomic Junk ShopTake 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.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens poster - Atomic Junk Shop

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.

'Guardians of the Galaxy' cast lineup - Atomic Junk Shop

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.


  1. Jeff Nettleton

    No arguments with anything you said. To me, the best Batman movie is still Mask of the Phantasm; and, though I mostly like Batman Begins, the other two Nolan films are so devoid of fun and filled with plot holes that I just can’t care. The need to give a grounded connection or explanation for everything just robs Batman of the charm and kills the villains. Plus, the motivations are hard to swallow. Women in the films are poorly conceived characters and I include Catwoman and Talia in that. Nolan wasted Two-Face, as he is so overshadowed in Dark Knight, yet is far more intriguing than the Joker. Dark Knight Rises was so insulting to my intelligence that I wanted to smack the film.

    Clooney could have been a good Batman. He could have been a great Nick fury, if he hadn’t seen Ennis’ mini-series and someone gave him a script based on Steranko.

    I whole-heartedly agree on Force Awakens. I wouldn’t even say greatest hits; just rehash. I do disagree on the prequels. I didn’t feel they really gave us anything new; just the same plot with cast off names and plot points from the old scripts that were redrafted. Phantom Menace was Star Wars, with the Starkiller and the children attacking the Death Star in devil fighters, except it was the command ship. Clones was Empire, with a more active Boba Fett and some Harryhausen thrown in. Revenge was Jedi, without the second Death Star, but with Darth Vader failing, where Luke succeeded. Of the three, it’s the only tolerable one and even that is generous. The Order 66 stuff is impossible to swallow. Shooting every Jedi in the back pretty much negates the entire idea that the Force made them more in tune with their surroundings. Force Awakens retread everything, without offering much that was new, though it did present possibilities, by the end of it. I’m not holding my breath about them building on those possibilities, as I have less faith in Abrams than you do. I didn’t even care for the first Trek and haven’t thought much of anything else he has done. Everything has been cobbled together from better sources. Alias is La Femme Nikita, without the style; Lost, the Prisoner without the intellect, Cloverfield is Godzilla without the charismatic monster, etc, etc. Abrams Star Trek is all bang and no brain.

    I never did understand the love for Guardians. It was lightweight and I have seen the same crew again and again, whether it is Firefly, Star Wars, Alien Resurrection, or whatever other space opera you want to name. I’d really rather have seen the classic Guardians and had superheroes mixed with Star Trek. It wasn’t bad, just forgettable. The soundtrack did more to help it than the script did. Really, outside of the Captain America films (really, just the first two) the Marvel films have been entertaining; but, hardly classics. To me, most were like a lot of their comics; fun while you read them; but, they have the same plots and they don’t stand out when you see the covers again, some time later. That still puts them ahead of Warner’s recent attempts, apart from tv and even that has had hit and miss moments. The animation guys still have the best batting average.

      1. Jeff Nettleton

        Yeah, like I said, the first two Cap films were great; Civil War is okay, but didn’t wow me. Batman Begins is decent. Christopher Reeve is still the definitive Superman, Rocketeer one of the best comic adaptations, American Splendor captures Harvey Pekar, Ant-Man is a fun caper film dressed in superhero clothes, Going in Style, despite being yet another remake looks fun, thanks to the cast, Legend of Tarzan was excellent, Alone in Berlin looks like a great film, the first Burton film has enough going for it that I forgive Keaton not being able to turn his head, Hellboy captures the comic, Wonder Woman suggests promise, Supergirl has been fun, Arrow had a fantastic 2nd season, Flash has been good to great, and I loved Agent Carter far more than the bulk of the Marvel movies.

  2. Le Messor

    So much agree on #1 and 2… but I’ve given my thoughts on those things many times. But I agree not only with your results, but your reasons.
    (Except Ben Affleck – I’ve given up on the DCCU.)

    “The scene with the malfunctioning detonator was funny, but it was just a simple bit a slapstick that could have been done with anybody. ”

    Apparently, that was the result of the special effect explosion going off late.

    #3: I’ve always blamed Akiva Goldsman. Always. (Joel Schumacher also directed one of my favourite movies: The Lost Boys. I’ve seen nary a thing by Goldsman that wasn’t full of stupid.)
    That said, I never bought Clooney as Bruce Wayne. I don’t know why; I don’t have a clear picture of what Wayne looks like, but Clooney isn’t it.

    #4: I just got home from my second viewing of Rogue One, so I shouldn’t comment. Not gonna disagree about it being Star Wars‘ Greatest Hits, but that doesn’t make it bad,
    (I said shouldn’t, not wouldn’t.)

    #5 is the only one I really disagree with you on… but to each his own.
    “(“Wait… the green chick is the sister of the blue chick? But why don’t they look anything alike?”)”
    As Thor said of Loki, “She’s adopted.”
    Though I do agree with Jeff on this: “I’d really rather have seen the classic Guardians,” especially after what that movie did to Yondu.
    If you liked the music in the first one, the music in the trailer for the second is sweet!

  3. frasersherman

    I preferred Kilmer to Clooney. Butmaybe Clooney could have done it.
    Thoroughly enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy.
    Good analysis of what’s wrong with Ledger’s Joker.
    Thanos was great in the original Cosmic Cube plotline in Captain Marvel. Since then, yeah, less than interesting. It doesn’t help that Starlin stopped writing anything readable sometime in the 1980s.

  4. Edo Bosnar

    Echoing a point I made in the comments to Greg’s post last wekk, I totally agree with your first point, and also the second one as well – the Joker is definitely supposed to be more than just a homicidal psychopath wearing smeared make-up.
    I agree that Clooney could have been a good Batman; in fact, it’s too bad he wasn’t better known when Burton’s first film was being made: yep, Clooney as Bats and Liotta as Joker probably would have made that a much better movie (that said, I still don’t think Keaton was all that bad, and still think that first Burton installment is the best modern live-action Batman movie).
    Not the world’s biggest Star Wars fan any more, so I had very little in the way of expectations for the Force Awakens – it just had to be better than those prequels. It was, so I was satisfied.
    As for Guardians, I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I’ve enjoyed all of the Marvel movies so far. However, I agree with you that it’s one of the weaker ones – and I’m often puzzled when I see rankings of the Marvel movies in which Guardians is ranked so highly, and often called the very best of the lot. Not even close, in my book…

  5. M-Wolverine

    Are all these really THAT unpopular? I think you can be more daring. 😉

    1. I think they’re all good, but DK is a bit overrated, and Rises a bit underrated. The later isn’t completely awful, and the former breaks the act structure badly with the Two Face stuff that should have been in another movie. But it was SERIOUS so critics like it over quality lighter fare. Though it does bring the question – what is one’s best superhero movie ever?

    What you’re really saying is you want Animated Series Batman. I think we all do. Mask of the Phantasm as pointed out above. I think Affleck’s is a little more comic book-y, but having Deathstroke as the bad guy doesn’t instill me with comic book confidence.

    2. I think he is that great. But no, it’s not the definitive Joker. Again, Hamill might come closest. The look might not work, but I don’t see him as a serial killer as much as an agent of chaos, to Batman’s draconian order, which very much fits the comic character. I also find him more funny, but then I think you overrate how often the Joker’s “jokes” are actually funny in the comics. Spider-Man can feel forced, but you probably get more yucks out of him. Joker is usually pretty corny.

    3. Totally agree. He is Bruce Wayne. And his From Dusk Till Dawn acting could do the dark Batman. You’d have to have gotten him back then though. Because he hasn’t played anyone but himself in ages. It might be him going through something really emotional, but he was never THAT great an actor, and he’s totally Nicolsoning it now.

    4. Is this the most popular unpopular opinion ever? It’s actually the default “cool” opinion nowadays, even if I suspect it’s one of those Internet minority things. I’m not going to rehash all that. Only that I’ll say as pointed out above that the argument coming out now that at least the prequels “at least gave us something different ” is ridiculous, as the structure mirrors the original movies down to the titles. Lucas was a lot of good things; original wasn’t one of them. The fact that people complain about another desert planet, after Lucas basically used all the environments in his first 6, and hey, has Tatooine in 5 of his 6 films.

    5. You’re not…wrong. I think it suffers from what a lot of comedies do. It’s better in a theater with a crowd full of people, and it takes a really great joke to be funny more than once. For a comedy to become a classic it needs to be supremely quotable. So it suffers on future viewings. It’s still good, just not “best….Marvel…movie…evar!” I also think it (somewhat deservedly) got credit for catching people off guard and using Marvel’s D listers to make a very entertaining movie. I mean, even the Suicide Squad are probably C listers. This was the one that went from Marvel, what? to Mravrl can do no wrong.

    1. frasersherman

      It’s not a matter of funny for me as much as Ledger being so damn glum. The Joker, even when he’s corny, should be having a ball, and I didn’t get that from Ledger.
      Of course the Joker As Chaos doesn’t work for me either.

      1. M-Wolverine

        Hmmm…I don’t think he’s glum, because I think he is enjoying himself. But, not trying to play word games, but he is pretty dour, so I get your meaning. And it’s certainly not traditional Joker.

        But I’m not sure how agent of chaos doesn’t work for you. Maybe you can expand on that. Batman is all law and order, even fascist enforcement of it. It’s only his moral center that keeps him from being the bad guy. Joker is the opposite of him by bring all Id to Bats Super Ego. Because motif wise they’re not opposite sides of the coin as much as ideologically. It’s also the only way to reconcile all the different interpretations of the Joker, from Killing Joke to Laughing Fish to practical joker. (Face cutting Joker best left unmentioned).

        1. Le Messor

          M-Wolverine, that’s Bat Ego to you. We leave Super Ego to the other guy! 🙂

          Ledger was missing the joie-de-vivre I associate with The Joker; also, the sophistication. I read him as what the Joker *might* be like after living on the streets for a year.

          As I keep saying, he reminds me of the bad guy in that old Tim Burton movie… You know, it starred Michael Keaton as the title character… Started with a ‘b’… two words mashed to gether.
          That’s it! Beetlejuice!

          Well, in looks anyway. Beetlejuice was a fun character.

          Also, I had to listen to special features to figure out Ledger’s hair was supposed to be green.

          1. frasersherman

            “Ledger was missing the joie-de-vivre I associate with The Joker; also, the sophistication. I read him as what the Joker *might* be like after living on the streets for a year.”

            Well put.

        2. frasersherman

          God, Scott Snyder’s Joker.

          I don’t think the Joker’s so much an agent of chaos as a narcissistic performer. He’d hate to have the world burn; it wouldn’t be as good a stage for him. His logic is askew, but he follows it: bizarre theme crime waves, demanding a copyright on the laughing fish, announcing his crimes before he commits them.

          That’s pretty much it. I freely concede that since that story where he tried murdering all the babies in Gotham City, he’s arguably a chaos-bringer or a nihilist or a something. But I refuse to admit them to my head canon.

          1. Yes, I think that the REALLY great Joker schemes need that twisted logic that you can just barely understand. The Laughing Fish is the classic example, but I think “Vote For Me, or I’ll Kill You” is a pretty great idea, too. Unfortunately, Englehart didn’t really follow up on that provocative premise in DARK DETECTIVE.

  6. mike loughlin

    Nolan Bat-movies: Batman Begins is ok but a bit dry. Dark Knight Rises is dumb and poorly made, although I liked Anne Hathaway’s performance.

    Dark Knight is poorly-plotted and its political points are pretty muddy… but I found it very entertaining. Heath Ledger’s Joker is mesmerizing, even if he bears no resemblance to his comic book counterpart. The action and most of the performances are good. If one doesn’t think about it at all, one can have a good time. No, really, don’t try to make it make sense cuz it just doesn’t…

    I agree with you about The Force Awakens, but I was entertained by it. I’m not too picky when it comes to movies, falling in the “liked it” or “didn’t like it” camp for most of them.

    Speaking of… I liked Guardians of the Galaxy because it was funny and had likable characters doing Space Action. That was all I needed. I can see why some people don’t. All I want from super-hero movies is a general good time but GotG didn’t have much more to go with it.

    1. Le Messor

      I liked Guardians of the Galaxy because it was funny and had likable characters doing Space Action. That was all I needed. I can see why some people don’t. All I want from super-hero movies is a general good time

      What he said.

    2. Nolan Bat-movies: Batman Begins is ok but a bit dry. Dark Knight Rises is dumb and poorly made, although I liked Anne Hathaway’s performance.

      Same here. She was the best thing about that movie and the live-action Catwoman who’s the closest to the comics.

      Dark Knight is poorly-plotted and its political points are pretty muddy… but I found it very entertaining. Heath Ledger’s Joker is mesmerizing, even if he bears no resemblance to his comic book counterpart.

      I’d also agree with this.

  7. jccalhoun

    I pretty much agree with most of these to one degree or another.

    I would go so far as to say that Nolan’s work as a whole is overrated. Westworld makes me wonder how much of the things I dislike about Nolan are his and how much is his brother.

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