Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Trip down the Bat Cave

As we have seen recently, when the director has something to say, rather than just milk a franchise, the sequels (Terminator2, Spiderman2, Clerks2, Munnabhai2, et al) turn out to be spectacular. This is Nolan's drama about choice, valour and loss. That it wears a superhero costume is incidental.

I so do wanna talk about Batman right now. But I am still too stunned to review The Dark Knight (2008)

For nostalgia sake, decided to revive another review, written when Batman Begins overwhelmed me on June 18 2005. You will find that most of the emotions still apply, even though The Dark Knight has raised the bar many times over:

*** Rewind to 2005 ***

Having not grown up with the Superman movies, being too young to appreciate Tim Burton’s dark yet campy introduction to Batman in 1989, yet being an avid comic-book reader since I’ve been 10 (thanks, grampa, for your infinite collection!), this is something I’ve waited for. After the dazzling Spiderman 2 which outshone its predecessor, here’s IMHO the best super hero adaption ever on screen!!

Batman Begins (2005) is a blend of the dark, gothic atmosphere of the first movie and the tormented, realistic portrayal of an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances we saw in Spiderman 1. In fact, all these stories have a common formula:

Phase 1: Traumatic or lost childhood
Phase 2: Loss of one or more loved ones
Phase 3: Unrequited love during teens and after
Phase 4: A motive to fight crime, usually personal tragedy
Phase 5: Tons of money to fund fancy gadgets and costumes
Phase 6: Years of adventures and duplicity ahead!

Then on, it’s 50 years of comic-book glory, while they go through daily lives as pathetic wimps--- morphing into masked crusaders to save the world!

But then, these are comic books. Not Pulitzer tomes. They reflect the dreams and fantasies of a tired society. They start by putting a smile on the lips, go on to scare the hell out of you and before “The End” make sure you sigh with relief. In that, they really save the world! Enjoy them as such and you will not be disappointed.

Anyone who has read the original Batman comics would notice the dull grey suit and blue cape that was replaced by a black body suit in the recent books and movies. To me, Batman had always been a poor cousin to Superman. Supey could really fly (not glide), he had true X-ray vision, he was Super-man because he had super powers . Batman was just an ordinary kid who developed some muscles, made friends with Superman and, with some effort, managed to glide from the third floor into an alleyway. He couldn’t dodge bullets, he couldn’t melt steel-doors. Hell, he couldn’t even be a rail-track while the train ran over him. So he goes to a tailor and gets himself a fancy “superhero” costume and some bright chaddi to wear over the pants. It still meant that he needed to piggyback on a true superhero, someone with asli talent. That was one reason why I loved the comics where Superman and Batman fought together. Like Sholay ? :=)

As I grew up and learnt the origins of Batman, that view changed completely. Ironically, in the decades later, Batman’s brooding proved to have a more lasting appeal than the glamour of Superman.

Both the heroes were created at the end of 1930s when America was reeling under the Great Depression. Crime and despair are just two manifestations of economic hardship. When two school-kids came up with the idea of an extraterrestrial superhero saving all our problems in one magic stroke, the audiences lapped it up. Comic book publishers commissioned a host of other such superheroes to ride the demand. Green Lantern, Daredevil, Green Arrow, Tarzan, Tomahawk, Turok, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, Thor… the list is endless. “Birdman” was created by Detective Comics (DC) to rival the hot-selling Superman from Action Comics (AC). Bill Finger, the often-unacknowledged co-creator, suggested alterations to the original red costume and bat-wings to remove similarities with Superman. He added the “bat” touches, much like Fox and Alfred help Bruce in the movie, and gave the name-- Batman .

Batman works because he is a mere human. He is triumph of mind over body, of will over evil. He symbolizes the power of human effort over destiny. That is the foundation on which the later comics were built. Over time, the stories faded till Batman became just another swish-bang-boom superhero. Batman Begins takes us back to the 1930's roots. In a contemporary way, it chisels the personality of Bruce Wayne till we understand him as a human—not as a legend. Wayne had the suave charm of Cary Grant, the methodology of Sherlock Holmes and the seething anger of the post-Depression readers. In contrast, Superman was more action-oriented, more fantastic and larger than life.

Nolan's Batman, set in the present era, is as much a period film as a fantasy-thriller.


The performance by Christian Bale is rock solid. He showed his mettle as a teen actor in the Disney movies Newsies and Swing Kids that were popular on Doordarshan Friday nights, long ago. The direction by Chris Nolan, who made ingenious films like Memento and Insomnia, is guaranteed to breathe fresh life into the franchisee. Perfectly cast supporting actors helmed by legendary Morgan Freeman and Michal Caine got whistling applause from the audience.

For those who may not have seen a Batman movie yet, Batman Begins (2005) is just the place to start....

My wish-list for the sequel? An Asian Superman and an African Batman pair up to battle pureblood American villain. Hyuk!



Mama - Mia said...

when i read these things you write, i wonder how you survive with me, someone who has such a limited world view, her own universe?!

this was a beautiful piece of writing then and is true even today! :)

now i wish i had read some comics too and understood the raison d'etre and angst of Batman!

but even if i actually understand half of what you have written, i am some way there!

write more often, will ya?!

i have a feeling Cubby is gonna enjoy reading your reflections more than my sentimental dedications! :)

its a man thing, aint it?!



Vidooshak said...

I'd love for Cubby to the uncomplicated, pleasant thing that you are rather than the brooding, conflicted germ that breeds in me.

Am sure even Bob Kane had no clue he was creating such a deep character. That is for us lukkha people to define restrospectively.

The movie was jhakaas solid, but. I am grateful to you for sliding away with the Cub while i sunk into the Bat pool

Anonymous said...

Wow! Didn't know you were so deep into comics. Then I can only imagine what the movie meant to you. Maybe the next time you are in Mumbai - I shall organize another screening of DK on my home theater system... ;) Then we can dissect every scene together... wah...what fun that'll be. :)

Good post.

Toonfactory said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Toonfactory said...

Wowwwwwwwwww.....Claps..Claps and Claps...whatta post...this is what I was dieing to read (but nobody really bothered to write)..loved the way U narrated the whole Superhero thingie...Simbly Superb!!!

"But then, these are comic books. Not Pulitzer tomes" - Art Spiegelman's Maus : A survivor's Tale (A Graphic Novel)went on to win Pulitzer in '92 :)

Vidooshak said...

sometimes comments overshadow the post. Toon's pulitzer trivia did just that. Hyuk!

thanks for dropping by and creating a fuss. that's why you are my best friend :-)