A Batman’s Review of the Dark Knight

Of all the super heroes, Batman has always been my favourite. Possibly something to do with my name and the obvious nick-name generated from it, but who says there needs to be justification for being a fan (after all I also support Arsenal and for years there was no justification for that). I went to see the first Tim Burton/ Michael Keaton Batman as part of my 21st birthday celebrations and was very impressed with the reboot of the franchise by Christopher Nolan/ Christian Bale. So the Dark Knight was high on the list of ‘must see’ films for the summer.

The short summary is that the film more than lives up to its predecessor- other critics have said it was over-long, but I didn’t notice that. What I really liked, but what also prompted this post, is the way that the villains are far more grounded in realism than any of the previous incarnations of Batman: By this I mean that Two-Face is verging on the horrific, especially when you first see his face. And this is the problem- my kids have been watching the trailer for the Dark Knight for months now and their excitement has been palpable, but there is no way that I can take either of them to see the film. In the UK it is rated as a ’12’ which means that children under 12 can see the film, but only if accompanied by a responsible adult. Now each child that an adult is responsible for is different, and we are all too aware of the loss of innocence in our children, but I am going to take a stand and not allow my kids to see the Dark Knight. Not yet anyway.

As a grown up I can see the Dark Knight and think it is a fantastic film, but just as ‘comic books’ grew up and became ‘graphic novels’, so are the super hero films growing up. There is a complete logic to this- the people now making these films may have read your father’s comics as children, but as they grew up so did the comics: Writers such as Frank Miller rebooted Batman and then went onto write novels such as Sin City, Alan Moore and David Lloyd wrote V for Vendetta and then Alan Moore teamed up with Dave Gibbons for Watchmen; and then Neil Gaiman created the Sandman. None of these are in any way your father’s comics; some have overtly political overtones, all involve copious and gratuitous amounts of violence and a few are clearly verging on what would typically be called horror.

What these graphic novels have in common is that there are often costumed or ‘cartoon’ characters, but unlike the camp Batman of the 1960’s there is no ‘Thwock, Kapow, Crash’ involved. There is real violence, death (sometimes real, sometimes off-screen) and all the other trappings of a grown up world. This would be fine were the films marketed at adults (as Sin City was), but when Burger King is including Dark Knight toys in its Happy Meal kids meal then the marketing department is creating a disconnection between the product (the film) and the audience they are targeting (I don’t know many 12 year olds who still eat Happy Meals).

So here is my take, for what it’s worth: the Dark Knight is a damned good summer film, but if you have children, go see it for yourself first before taking them along. And if you don’t have children, go see it anyway- it is what films based on graphic novels have evolved into- you may not like it and you may wish to head back to the ‘Golden Age’ of comics but that is what your DVD collection is for.

A downbeat ending to a film

I am Legend is not a happy film. OK, the vampire/ zombie/ end-of-the-world apocalypse genre is kind of hard to make amusing, but I left the cinema with an empty feeling in my stomach (and it had nothing to do with the burger and fries that I ate before I saw the film). The final scene showed a possible happy future, but with the gloom in the preceding scenes it felt like the artificial scene at the end of the original version of Blade Runner.

A film with a similarly downbeat ending is Man on Fire. Maybe because the hero in Man on Fire is only trying to save 1 small girl, whilst the hero in I am Legend is trying to save the entire human race, our emotions react differently. Denzel Washington is extremely violent in his quest to save the girl whilst Will Smith is more measured as he tries to survive long enough to save humanity. Surely if humanity is saved we will leave the theatre happy and entertained? So why do I prefer the ultra violence and ruthlessness in the quest to save 1 girl?

I have a theory, but I don’t know if it holds up: The style of Man on Fire is vastly different from I am Legend: where I am Legend uses natural light to empahsise the isolation in New York, Man on Fire uses strange colours, fast edits and a pumping sound track. Tony Scott, the director of Man on Fire, uses similar techniques in Domino to pretty good effect. But you have to want to take a post-rock’n’roll trip to enjoy the film. If you can keep up, it is fantastic; though watching the film at a theatre may be overpowering, seeing it on your own big screen TV is mind blowing. This seems to be reflected in the ratings for these films on Rotten Tomatoes but as I saw both Man on Fire and Domino on DVD maybe I got a better experience.

Which brings me to my final downbeat ending to a film: Sin City. If you thought that Man on Fire was violent, boy you ain’t seen nothing yet. I saw the trailer for Sin City and knew that I had to see the film. I knew nothing of the story or the comic books by Frank Miller that it was based on, but watching the film at a theatre was a truly incredible experience. However, and this is a big however, as I came out of the cinema I honestly don’t know if I enjoyed it. The film was amazing, the style, the acting and the way the stories interwove was a feat to behold. But enjoy it? I don’t know- and I wasn’t the only one. I overheard 2 women talking about the film as we left the theatre: “Did you enjoy it?” “I don’t know. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but I am not sure if I enjoyed it”

All three films (I am Legend, Man on Fire and Sin City) had downbeat endings. For me, the experience I had watching the films was vastly improved by the style of the film: Sin City and Man on Fire had something that took you out of the story and into the director’s vision of what he was trying to say. I am Legend just left me as flat and bored as the empty streets of New York in the film.