This weekend’s big opening of the Batman sequel “The Dark Knight” delivers a lot of hoopla and the requisite anticipation of a summer blockbuster, no doubt fueled all the more by people’s morbid desire to watch Heath Ledger’s final performance, but I can honestly say that I can’t recall when I have been less excited about a comic book themed movie.
Perhaps it’s because even though I thought Batman Begins was a serviceable film, I didn’t think it was the be all-end-all in the Batman film pantheon most fans found it to be.
Though I thought that Christian Bale’s performance was good, In hindsight, I have to admit that I thought his take on the titular character was mostly derivative of the template set forth buy previous film Batmen, most notably Michael Keaton’s performance on the 1989 Tim Burton flick and his reprisal of the role in the 1992 sequel Batman Returns, and even of Kevin Conroy in some respects.
There’s also something positively unsettling about director Christopher Nolan’s Gotham city, though it’s not the usual unsettling elements associated with it in the comics. Nolan’s Gotham almost has a futuristic, dystoptic feel to it, which makes me feel it’s not quite the place where the Batman of Crime alley grew up in.
The setting aside, it’s almost easy to see why fans embraced the first film with such fervor. The franchise had reached a dead end with the horrific Batman and Robin in 1997, considered by many comic film historians as the worst comic book movie of all time. I can’t say I would disagree, although Elektra was also pretty bad, but when you feed people bread and butter for so long and then give them a hamburger meal, it’s only natural that some would see it as Filet Mignon.
Batman Begins got a lot of things right, The Scarecrow was a lot of fun, but I don’t think it was the best Batman movie that could have been made. Elements like the tank like Batmobile were cribbed from superior material like the excellent 1986 The Dark Knight Returns graphic novel by Frank Miller, cosidered by many to be the best graphic novel of all time and the pacing and dialogue, at times left me wishing for some of the whimsy and fun which Burton infused in some of his best films. These things are supposed to be enjoyable aren’t they? I realize Batman is a dark hero, but he can also be quite human if those qualities are played to with proper care.
So I will see this new Batman movie with a critical eye (though maybe not this weekend) hoping to enjoy it, but I can’t help but feel that I have already invested in the best Batman narratives ever devised and if you haven’t read “The Long Halloween,” “The Dark Knight Returns” or the 1988 masterpiece “The Killing Joke” then you haven’t really experienced the best Joker-Batman dynamics in the rich mythos of the character. Recently Hollywood has messed with at least two great comic based stories: Wanted and I am Legend. Will they also ruin Batman for good or is this series the panacea all the fans proclaim it to be??