Batman & Robin
Akiva Goldsman, Bob Kane, and Joel Schumacher, 1997
I could never understand why people hailed Tim Burton's Batman movies
as a departure from the campiness of the 1960s TV series — Danny
DeVito in flippers? Michelle Pfeiffer magically licked back to life by alley
cats? — until I saw the first half hour or so of Joel Schumacher's
Batman Forever, which took a franchise that was already pretty weak and
then removed everything that wasn't stupid. For a while I called Batman
Forever the worst movie I'd ever seen, but no, it wasn't exactly
that — I've seen movies that offended me more, movies that were
more incompetently made, even movies that pandered more to the least common
denominator. No, what struck me about Batman Forever wasn't that it
lacked quality so much as it repudiated quality — that the
fundamental premise of the project was, "No, no, no! Don't you get it? You're
doing it all wrong! It's Batman! It's supposed to be crap!"
Anyway, Batman & Robin is more of the same, with one additional insight
on the filmmakers' part: for maximum stupidity, you really need to add Arnold
Schwarzenegger. That said, the lion's share of the brickbats need to go to
Uma Thurman, whose terrible acting is actually on purpose; Arnold is just
doing what he always does, as his gubernatorial career has shown. Seriously,
I don't know how this made it to #5 in the 2008 Skandies, because it's—
"The Dark Knight," you say? That's different, then?
Um. Never mind.
David S. Goyer, Bob Kane, and Christopher Nolan, 2005
#19, 2005 Skandies
Figured that before watching The Dark Knight I should watch this one.
The project here is to redeem the ludricrous, i.e., to take source material
that had devolved into camp both on television and on the big screen and
try to sell it as something to be taken seriously. Batman is a tempting
target for such a project because he has no actual superpowers, and thus in
Batman Begins the filmmakers go down the list of "what makes Batman
Batman" and try to justify each item as plausibly as possible. World's
greatest hand-to-hand combatant? Years of ninja training. Endless array
of weapons? He owns a munitions company. Outlandish costume? High-end
body armor. Distinctive automobile? Actually an experimental personal
tank. Bat-Mite? Silently omitted.
What you end up with at the end of all this is an order of magnitude more
realistic than most other superhero franchises and even many other renditions
of Batman. The question is whether that's actually desirable. I'm reminded
of John Byrne complaining when Marvel declared, for the sake of realism, that
dragons in the Marvel Universe communicated via telepathy rather than speech,
"Cuz, you know, a 200 foot long telepathic dragon is so much more
realistic than a 200 foot long talking dragon." There is a school of
thought that argues that you're better off embracing a wild, impossible setting
for stories like these, because the closer you get to the world outside your
window, the more inherently ridiculous a billionaire ninja wearing pointy ears
is going to seem. But, well, that's not the school of thought I belong to. I
say telepathic dragons are more realistic than dragons that speak
English. So there.
I think the fundamental divide here is that there are some people for whom
an uncanny valley
exists between fantasy and reality. They're perfectly happy to follow the
adventures of billionaire ninjas in a world where Amazons twirl magic lassoes
and aliens can turn back time by flying really fast around the world, and
perfectly happy to watch a gritty urban crime drama, but stick the billionaire
ninja into the gritty urban crime drama and the mismatch between the levels of
reality throws them out of the story. I, on the other hand, find that valley
the most fun place to set up shop. In fact, I thought I'd already added this
to my patterns list, but I'm not seeing it, so
away we go:
I'm quite fond of the uncanny valley between realism and fantasy. I
like fantastic milieux to be treated naturalistically, with careful attention
to mundane detail, and I like real-world stories to be full of people with
extraordinary qualities and abilities.
That said, the very title of Batman Begins suggests that it's less a
story in itself than a setup for its sequel, much as this article is a setup
for the Dark Knight writeup that I'm now too tired to do, so, uh, more
in a couple of days probably.
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