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“Whose turn is it this time?”

The Dark Knight Rises
(Warner Bros.)

Nothing takes the joy out of a festival of vicarious violence like a spasm of actual violence, does it? It’s not as if anyone can say they don’t know where the guy got the idea. It’s my belief that the effect of our media environment is not to create violent impulses but to undermine the public sense of what is real, a phenomenon that varies according to the individual. A type of character invented to fill the audience with fear and loathing becomes to one of its members the path to a moment of power and mastery, the moment after which is no more real to him than the lives of the cast of his personal movie. I’m reminded of the drug addicts in the documentary Streetwise who read William S. Burroughs’ Junky and decided it was a good idea. The 70 human sacrifices to gun freedom can at least have the comfort of knowing their suffering will in no way inhibit a madman’s ability to amass an arsenal before he gets a chance to kill anybody with it. What the Aurora event and the Garbrielle Giffords shooting ought to make our society reconsider is its use of the ethic of self-reliance as an excuse to discard people. The society that leaves it to a James Eagan Holmes or a Jared Lee Loughner to solve their own mental illness problem is subjecting itself to the solutions people like that come up with.

Not that there was a whole lot of joy to be taken out of The Dark Knight Rises. In thinking over my dissatisfaction with this particular moviegoing experience I am of two minds. On the one hand the leaden seriousness these superhero movies (and this “franchise” in particular) coat themselves in detracts from their enjoyability. On the other hand I can’t say for sure that their makers’ belief that this factor is a key element in their success with people other than me is wrong. I feel my position is further eroded by the fact that they did get me into the theater. As I am one of those people who will go to some of the superhero movies but not all of them, a key demographic for the success of one of these movies, it is difficult for me to argue that the strategy didn’t “work.”

Perhaps I should get into some specifics to show where I stand.

Superhero movies I have gone to see in a theater:  The first two Burton Batmans, the last two Dark Knights, the first two Spider-Mans, the two Iron Mans, Thor, Captain America, Watchmen, and The Avengers.

Superhero movies I have not seen in any shape or form: None of the Batmans not mentioned, none of the Supermans, none of the X-Men, none of the green ones (no Hulks, no Green Lantern, no Green Hornet), none of the Fantastic Four, none of the ones instantly identified as irredeemably crappy (Daredevil, Elektra, The Spirit, Catwoman, Ghost Rider, etc.).

So, I’m a sucker, but a somewhat selective sucker. A good one will get me to go to one stinker, but no further. I would go so far as to say that if I had it to do over again knowing beforehand the entertainment quotient I would receive, I would probably do so. I was reasonably engaged throughout its excessive length. I didn’t have the feeling I had when I left Prometheus that I had sat through a pretentious piece of crap. But, put it this way, if The Avengers gets an A, Dark Knight Rises gets a C. It’s not as if Avengers was any less empty at its core, it simply exercised nearly all of its manipulations with such energy and elan that you could forgive its occasional flat notes. Like its predecessor, Rises is a badly made movie redeemed by a single element that works. In The Dark Knight it was of course Heath Ledger creating a Joker you could believe in. In Dark Knight Rises it’s the big CGI set pieces, the plane-napping, the collapsing football field, and so on. I am a sucker for a big IMAX spectacle, and the IMAX version of a Christopher Nolan movie does the big scenes full screen. The thing is, while in the unrisen Dark Knight Heath Ledger was all over the place, I’m not sure how much of the big scene stuff there was that I hadn’t seen in the trailers. That is, aside from the trademark tedious how-long-is-this-going-to-go-on chase scenes. I think we can make a ruling that Nolan is good on catastrophes but bad on chases. Superhero movies are like a fireworks show, in that the part people actually come to see is extremely expensive and thus can only go on for so long. Because people expect the entertainment to go for more than 15 minutes the evening must be filled out with other entertainment you probably wouldn’t normally make a special trip for. The scenes in the superhero movie where the superhero agonizes about whether he wants to be a superhero or not are the superhero movie equivalent of the Wilson Phillips concert at the fireworks show.

From the day a parent first answers the question “Why don’t they just call the police?” with “Because then they wouldn’t have a movie” and you keep on watching, you have been recruited into the universe of It’s Only a Movie. The makers of movies should be careful about abusing this privilege. Science fiction writers refer to a major suspension of disbelief as a “gimme,” as in, “Gimme one completely outlandish thing and I swear everything else will be plausible.” Dark Knight Rises is gimme gimme gimme gimme from start to finish. We are to believe that Bane could recruit, organize, train and feed a guerilla army in the sewers undetected. We are to believe that this army would be perfectly disciplined, each soldier ready to die rather than talk. We are to believe that the entire police force could live in those same sewers for five months, fall into winter. We are not to wonder why Gotham’s automatic road blocks wouldn’t have been designed to open either way, or simply straight up and down, and thus not provide such convenient ramps. We are to believe Batman, who Bane mopped up the floor with the first time around, would be ready to return the favor in kind after five months in the worstest prison in the whole wide world. The Catwoman’s betrayals and reversals seem equally arbitrary and yet thoroughly predictable. The plot is pure Fletcher Hanks, except where a Fletcher Hanks story gives you the feeling you’re inside the mind of a madman, Dark Knight Rises gives you the feeling you’re inside the mind of someone who doesn’t think very clearly. While your overdraft at the bank of suspension of disbelief is theoretically endless, each withdrawal reduces your drawing account of conviction.

Nolan’s thought experiments in hypothetical urban chaos would be more compelling if we hadn’t seen objective correlative already. We’ve actually seen a large scale terrorist attack in a city like New York, and we know how likely it is that the terrorists could engage the sympathy of the public. We’ve actually seen a social system entirely undermined by organized crime twice, once in Mexico and before that in Colombia, and we know that one man in a costume and a fancy car wouldn’t have made a damned bit of difference. And we’ve already seen what Bane does to Gotham City in Rises, because we did it ourselves to Iraq. Bane takes power through a lightning campaign of mass destruction, makes the domestic police force disappear, disrupts the infrastructure with no means of repairing it, and sets up a puppet government which we may infer does not inspire the undivided loyalty of the public. What we are required to buy is that everybody, including the stupid and crazy, is going to believe that Bane is going to blow up himself and everyone else with his atomic bomb if anybody makes a wrong move. We must believe that Bane’s magical guerilla army is going to be sufficient to prevent anyone from sneaking weapons or counterinsurgents onto this island, something the armed forces of the United States, United Kingdom and company couldn’t do in Iraq. When they do infiltrate a measly handful of counterinsurgents, they graciously come in uniform so the insurgents know who to hang from the bridge. Of course if this analogy had been explicit enough to be understood, a lot of people they were counting on to buy tickets would have been really, really angry.

Now, if this story takes place in the real imaginary world, then what Bruce Wayne would have done is call up his pal Superman and say, “This is a job for you.” Then you figure 15 minutes flying time Metropolis to Gotham, find the bomb with the x-ray vision, lickety-split out of the atmosphere, KABOOM, a swan dive and then rippity-rip with the concrete and out come the coppers, little bit of the heat vision to fix the bridges, and God damn, we’re going to need an eight page Jimmy Olson to fill out the issue.

It is indeed only a movie, and a superhero movie at that. The thing is, when you’re supposedly selling deep grim truths about humanity and hard-won uplift, every liberty you take with plausibility degrades your product, and the failure to work out logical, satisfying storytelling is really a failure to do the work you were paid a king’s ransom for. And yet I can’t honestly see what sort of comeuppance there might be for its shortcomings. Warner’s marketing department evidently saw the airplane scene and figured, all we have to do is show this to people and everyone will want to see the movie. (Worked for me.) If we take The Avengers as the top line of the haul you can make on superhero movies, then possibly an inferior Batman movie leaves between a quarter and a half a billion dollars on the table. You could just as easily say that it was a Christopher Nolan Batman movie that made Christopher Nolan Batman money, and who knew there was Joss Whedon Avengers money to be had? If Nolan was wasting his talent, he’s done now, and could presumably spend the rest of his life remaking Alain Resnais movies if he likes. And the hell of it is, under present conditions a half-assed movie that makes money is simply a good excuse to do another reboot in five years. Dark Knight Rises is an example of the only deal the movie business offers its customers these days: Take it or leave it.

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54 Responses to You Needn’t Get Up on My Account

  1. Frank Santoro says:

    “we’re going to need an eight page Jimmy Olson to fill out the issue.” That line made me spit out my coffee cuz I was laughing so hard.

  2. Darryl Ayo says:

    Bane was funny. Sounded like he was a helium voice through a megaphone. That was cooler than all the CGI setpieces

  3. Kim Thompson says:

    Bob’s breakdown of the super-hero movies he saw vs. the ones he didn’t almost exactly parallels mine, except I skipped CAPTAIN AMERICA and went to all four X-MEN movies, which I thought were genuinely pretty good (especially FIRST CLASS). I’ve certainly seen enough chunks of the FANTASTIC FOURs and ELEKTRA and DAREDEVIL flipping around cable to know we made the right choice on those. And I’m pleased to see another person who feels THE DARK KNIGHT was two hours of boring shit wrapped around a genuinely extraordinary 20-minute Joker movie. (The last SUPERMAN was mind-numbingly tedious, too.)

    I was actually sort of surprised about how completely uninterested I was in seeing the new SPIDER-MAN. (And I rank SPIDER-MAN 2 as the best contemporary super-hero movie, with AVENGERS.)

    The magnificent awfulness of Frank Miller’s THE SPIRIT cannot be overstated, however. It is well worth a rental. Trust me. On a certain level it is the most entertaining of the lot. Rent it!

  4. David O says:

    The list of superhero movies that I’ve seen and not seen is almost identical as well, except that I saw Thor, which was a blast. Like Avengers, it had a lot of humor, which worked really well.

    It’s true that Nolan’s recent films, including Inception, make very little sense. (The idea of “dreams” in Inception bears no resemblance to what dreams really are. In a dream, your best friend turns into a clown, who is also the president. See, for reference, any Lynch movie.) But his strength, for me, lies in his ability to create and sustain tension and suspense for long periods of time. Both Inception and the new Batman had me on the edge of my seat, even when what I was seeing went way beyond the limits of believability. The use of music in the new Batman was pretty effective too. He knew when NOT to use music, which is actually pretty rare in Hollywood.

  5. Pat Palermo says:

    Ugh, this movie was the pits. I enjoyed the first two Nolan Bat-movies for what they were, but ‘Dark Knight Rises’ was the epitome of everything wrong with ‘grim n’ gritty’ superheroes. It was all humorlessness and faux-social commentary with none of the critical/intellectual rigor of good writing, nor any of the pure joy and wonder of fantasy. ‘Avengers’ was stupid, funny and fun. I’ll take stupid, funny and fun over stupid, joyless, stupid, dark and stupid. Not even close.

  6. Pat Palermo says:

    Hey, this movie was the pits! Get it?

    What were they chanting as Batman was trying to scale the big vagina dentata? ‘Boom-shaka-laka’?

  7. R. Fiore says:

    Actually, I saw Thor too, and meant to include it. I’ve updated the list. Thor was on the borderline of movies with the reputation of irredeemable crappiness, and I think what pushed me over the line was that Thor was my favorite character when I was a kid. It was not as bad as I feared, okay in that hate-yourself-in-the-morning kind of way.

  8. R. Fiore says:

    The thing with the Ledger Joker is here you have a character who rather than being a villain-because-he’s-a-villain is believably fucked-up and scary, and then you’re asked to believe the ludicrous proposition that a person like this could run an organization of any kind, even criminal. Which dovetails with the problem that in order to develop their epic spectacles they give Batman problems that are not Batman-scale problems.

    I never saw the X-Men movies because I never liked the comic book X-Men in any iteration, which says nothing about the quality of the movies. My reaction to the trailers for the latest Spider-Man was, “Haven’t we already seen this?” Partly an artifact of the middle-aged time sense, I suppose.

  9. nfpendleton says:

    I’ve always thought Dark Knight would have worked much better as a Joker/Jim Gordon film. I’m enjoying the picture immensely until those times Batman shows up – in the context of a crime film, his suit looks ridiculous.

    DKR is just bad in its storytelling, premise, execution, characterization, politics, etc…..

  10. Dustin says:

    Yeah, Bane was my favorite part of the film. He never failed to crack me up with his sweeping hand gestures and his clutching the collar of his giant fur coat. He was flamboyantly evil, like a villian from a Broadway musical (they can have villians, right?)

  11. teporocho says:

    I just love how much everybody talks the shit out of superheroes movies, and specially of Nolan´s films. If you can smell “stupid” in a film when you saw the trailer, then, why bother getting a ticket? The only power you have on any of this is not to consume it and not to promote it and that´s the only thing nay sayers do, even more than Trekkers…

  12. R. Fiore says:

    Speaking for myself, the trailer for The Dark Knight Rises made me want to see the movie.

  13. Pat Palermo says:

    Uh, I enjoyed the first two. I even liked ‘Dark Knight’ far more than the other people commenting here. So I wouldn’t say I smelled ‘stupid’ in the film. And I’m completely willing to suspend disbelief and forgive some plot holes if the other cylinders of a movie are firing successfully. I just thought the quality of storytelling took a huge dive in the third movie. I was nearly insulted at how much control Nolan had and yet how stupid the script was. It was so bad, I think it has recast my view of Nolan as a filmmaker. At this point I think of him as a grandiose hack who is lucky to work with a GREAT cinematographer (Wally Pfister).

    Like David O, I didn’t like ‘Inception’, either. It was far too literal-minded to tackle the dreaming world with any kind of poetry or panache. I agree that David Lynch may be the one filmmaker who totally, persuasively translates dream-logic to screen. Nolan was flirting with auteur status for a while, but at this point I think he’s basically a very good visual stylist with pretensions towards intellectual subjects that are just ever-so-slightly beyond his abilities, and absolutely NO grasp on how to write or convey emotion.

  14. BVS says:

    there were some kids in the row front of me me when I saw this, they kept asking their dad how much longer the movie would be and could they please get up and go get a pop corn refill. I felt really bad for them. if I could barley sit through most of this movie, it must be intolerable for a 10 year old. there just wasn’t very much of Bat-man doing batman stuff in this movie.

  15. Paul Slade says:

    I haven’t seen Inception or DKR, and I’m not remotely tempted to do so. I thought Nolan’s first Batman movie (which I saw on a plane) was boring, and Dark Knight enjoyable only for Ledger’s phenomenal performance as The Joker. That thing with Al Pacino in the land of the midnight sun was disappointing too. I liked Memento a lot, but even that depended more on the gimmick of the backward structure than I was prepared to acknowledge at the time. So there.

  16. R. Fiore says:

    I liked The Prestige. No doubt having a novel to provide the framework helped.

  17. Teporocho says:

    No matter how bad TDKR is, that doesn´t change that Nolan did both Following and Memento and those are the works of an auteur. I do admire his Bat-films because they are way to good for a mere superhero (wicht may be their biggest flaw) but are far below the bar from his other films, including Inception (with or without “dream logic” its consistent on its rules, near perfect on its subject matter (no, its not about the act of dream) and has a flawless execution). Still, it´s kind of fun that Nolan detractors invest a lot of time on why he is a hack, or no an auteur, or whatever, when that´s precisely what auteurs do: raise lot´s of discussion about their opus.

    Inception and Nolan aside: “dream logic”?

  18. Arvin B says:

    I actually enjoyed Dark Knight Rises quite a bit even with its various flaws. And the more I think of it, the more I realize I enjoyed it much more than the Avengers. I enjoyed the Avengers, but I felt it was really over hyped. Joss Whedon did a great job with its execution, but at the end of the day it was your summer blockbuster superhero movie. And there’s nothing wrong with that. After watching the Dark Knight Rises, I was really jazzed up even after leaving the theater. This was a feeling that I didn’t get after the Avengers. I think the performances, the characterizations, the story concepts and the emotional pull I feel with the Nowlan Batman movies put it above the usual superheroes movies for me. I felt the actors in batman did a fantastic job, but I cant honestly say the same for the actors in the Avengers. So while Avengers may be one of the top movies in the superhero-genre, The Nowlan Batman movies, in my opinion try to take it somewhere else and offer something different. Sorry you really hated it.

  19. David Groenewegen says:

    The new Batman was made more tolerable for me because my immediate previous movie going experience was Prometheus. DKR was a paragon of believable characters, cohesive story-telling and tight plotting compared to that stupid, stupid, pretentious film.

    I wonder how much different DKR would have been if Heath Ledger had been able to play the Joker again. He’s the only really good thing about all three movies.

  20. Stevie B says:

    “after five months in the worstest prison in the whole wide world”

    The perfect line.

    I get dragged to most of these superhero movies as a dad of two, and I too was along for the ride. What I found interesting was the reaction of my youngest to the ending. He is of the opinion that, getting in to spoilage, it was a fantasy of Alfred’s. I think that speaks to something; Nolan’s films are perhaps too dense for kids and yet too far-fetched for adults. It seems therefore to be the perfect distillation of current superhero comics.

  21. Roshan Abraham says:

    I’m a grown ass man and came out of the movie thinking that the last scene was a fantasy of Alfred’s. I saw it with two friends who persistently had to tell me otherwise. If it isn’t a fantasy of alfred’s, it’s an incredibly goofy/baffling scene–Bruce crawled into Alfred’s flashback image and found precisely the right cafe and right place to sit? They *really* don’t say hi to one another, just to be cool? Maybe it’s just me.

  22. R. Fiore says:

    Well, you and a million other people. Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic thought it was the best superhero movie he’d ever seen. To any logic-checking in a superhero movie there is always the “Rules? In a knife fight?” answer. Though it is a very small tree in that forest, I did say that having it to do over again knowing what I know now I’d probably still go to see it. I confess that to the end of its Lawrence of Arabia length it had me saying “What happens next?” rather than “When is it over?” As the fellow below says, compared to Prometheus it’s The Godfather Part II.

    There’s an interesting clip floating around on the Internet of an alternate opening of The Avengers where it starts with the mass destruction that was going to take place and acknowledges that it was a disaster brought about by the hubris of SHIELD. Evidently it was decided (wisely I think) that this was a little too much logic for summertime, but one appreciates the thought. Coincidentally I was watching the Blu Ray of True Romance, and one of the extras was the ending as Tarantino wrote it, which they also filmed, where Christian Slater is killed and Patricia Arquette acknowledges that he was a complete idiot who caused the needless deaths of himself, his father and a dozen other people. (Another deleted scene had a very young and skinny Jack Black as an usher clearing out a grindhouse.)

  23. Tim Hodler says:

    I guess I’m the only one who feels this way, but I had a much better time watching PROMETHEUS than I did TDKR. Sure, it was as dumb as movies get, but the imagery was amazing, the action was fun to watch, and it just generally didn’t feel so dour and self-serious. (It probably helped that I don’t think ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER are particularly strong in the plot-logic department themselves, and so I wasn’t crushed when PROMETHEUS failed to deliver there.) TDKR, on the other hand, was basically an interminable slog, and except for the opening airplane high-jacking, the setpieces weren’t even that imaginative or memorable. I did like Michael Caine, though.

  24. Stevie B says:

    It’s not just you. I think it is a clunky scene, that seems to want to be ambiguous. The trouble is, the scene with Fox analysing the Bat-Plane moments early can’t support the two readings this scene suggests.

  25. Don Druid says:

    You may be right about “what is real”, but empirical data also show that violent media cause people to react aggressively after their consumption. Doesn’t mean they should be banned or censored.

  26. Don Druid says:

    It also does its best to erase every last bit of Selina Kyle’s character, by turning her into a mute prop.

  27. Don Druid says:

    One reviewer or another said about Colin Farrell in Daredevil that he was the only actor who seemed aware that he was in a superhero movie – or, perhaps, the only one who was allowed to seem aware of it.

    In this case, I’d say Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway both filled that role, while the rest of the cast seemed pressed into service for a Very Nolan Movie.

  28. R. Fiore says:

    Now, that’s another thing I didn’t get around to. The plot pivots on this computer program that’s supposed to erase Selina Kyle’s criminal records from every database in the world. Then later on Officer John Blake (his real name is Robin, woooo . . .) comes in with a paper file on her an inch thick. How does a computer program make that disappear?

  29. Inception really isn’t consistent on its rules though. You have a character point out that you never know that what happens in your dreams is strange until after you wake up, yet the entire conceit relies on the dreamer not knowing they’re dreaming within the dream itself. If people don’t realize the dream is abnormal then you should be able to do whatever you like within that space. Instead this crew spends months creating realistic dreamscapes. They even go so far as to show that even the wrong carpet fibers will be enough to snap a dreamer out of it, and yet you have massive gun battles and snow mobile conflicts and those aren’t odd enough to wake someone up? There was no “dream logic” in that film because none of the dream sequences felt like dreams with the reason being that these people had to manufacture scenarios that felt like waking life in order to extract the information they were after.

    Just hypnotize the fuckers and ask them outright. Shit.

  30. I get the feeling that Nolan is embarrassed to be making a Batman film and does whatever he can to shift focus away from the man in the suit, at least in the first two (haven’t seen TDKR). He doesn’t even really seem to give a shit about Batman’s code – guy won’t use guns, except the ones attached to his motorcycle that is. Those guns he’ll fire into random parked vehicles just to get them out of his way, almost blowing up two little kids in the process. When that doesn’t work he’ll shoot out the doors to some sort of office/shopping center and drive full speed into groups of innocent people. Dude’ll run his tank over cop cars, crushing their roofs and then shrug it off the next day. “Eh, no one got hurt.”

  31. Kim Thompson says:

    I think on any messageboard thread discussing the good and bad super-hero movies we need to be reminded that the gold standard remains THE INCREDIBLES.

    I’m with Tim on PROMETHEUS. It’s one of those movies that you really can’t call “good” with a straight face, but it has enough enjoyable (and eye-popping) stuff in it that I at no point felt I’d wasted my money or my time.

  32. Kim Thompson says:

    Also: The #1 possible upcoming super-hero movie I’d kill to see someday: Nicholas Winding Refn’s WONDER WOMAN.

  33. R. Fiore says:

    Obviously The Incredibles is far and away the best movie about superheroes. I was construing “superhero movie” in this case to mean movies taken from established comic book superheroes.

  34. Thrills says:

    Yeah, I completely agree. I enjoy the Nolan Batman films so much more when Batman’s not in them.

    The Nolan Batman character is ridiculous and unsympathetic, in all the wrong ways for that to be entertaining.

  35. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    If we’re including non comics-based superhero movies, I’d put the first Robocop much higher on my list than The Incredibles. The first Darkman was pretty good too (though of course Darkman has a bit of the Unknown Soldier in its DNA). Both of these movies manage to balance action/thrills with just the right amount of humor/satire rather nicely IMO.

  36. wilo says:

    You peopl here just have to live with the fact that tdkr is a refelction of our times but without no batman to fly a bomb away~ they close to a Billion dollars, I sense envy n this forum! { the envy of the Lambs).

  37. R. Fiore says:

    That’s just the point — I wasn’t. I like RoboCop just fine, but I’d call it science fiction. As a story, as an adventure, as having a point I would say The Incredibles is far and away the best.

  38. Knut Robert Knutsen says:

    Ropocop is a Cyborg in a Sci-fi story, Darkman is a revenge story with a sci-fi gimmick. Mission Impossible and any number of spy and sci-fi movies use the same gimmick.

    The Comic Book Superhero genre is very inclusive, and has a lot of characters that aren’t really superheroes, but masked crimefighters, pulp heroes, mystery men, science-fiction tropes and fantasy characters.

    When they orginate in a Comic Book Superhero Universe and interact with proper superheroes, we call them superheroes, sure. But if they originate outside that context and the context they operate in doesn’t have “proper” superheroes, they’re not superheroes.

    If Doctor Strange hadn’t been a part of a superhero universe, a movie starring him would be a fantasy movie about a magician.

    A Movie like Hancock appears to feature a “proper” superhero. Then it turns out they’re really Olympian Gods. Now maybe it’s a fantasy movie.

    The definitions can be tricky sometimes, but Robocop certainly isn’t a Superhero movie. Not until he crosses over with Superman.

  39. Stuart says:

    I saw it and I was disappointed in many ways. Michael Caine spent his first three scenes crying (brilliant acting but repetitive, blame the script). Bale was fine, Bane was great until they subjugated him to the thrall of a much weaker villain and he didn’t go out like a champ, I had to ask someone to remind me what happened to him in the end. Catwoman was good in context. The orphan cop twist at the end was nice. The league pit was not the most exciting story, and overly long. The number of times people were standing around on street corners yakking reminded me of midichlorians and the Phantom Menace. When the action did come it was surprisingly underwhelming and clearly not Nolan’s strong point. The nuclear bomb storyline/ undergound police force was one of the weakest MacGuffins ever. There was enough to enjoy, but lots to pick on.

  40. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    Man, you guys are really chopping semantics.

    To me, Robocop completely fits the bill. It’s got all the elements: a very clear “origin story”, a guy with “super powers” and a costume (for all intents and purposes), dastardly villains, fight scenes and even a bit of Stan Lee-ish angst. How is that not a superhero?

    Okay, some of the trappings are SF, but so what? You could the say the same about Superman with its spaceships, alien worlds, etc.

  41. Briany Najar says:

    It’s silly to label all heroic/action fantasy as “superhero.”
    Just silly.

    Are we to suppose the New Testament is also a superhero story?
    “It’s got all the elements.”

    Superheroes are superheroes, they stand out like a sore thumb.

    It’s not informative to describe wizards, fighter-pilots, or Achilles as superheroes, unless of course the person you’re talking to has had no exposure to any other genre – in that situation one would have to speak down to them, for the sake of communication.

    Lord of the Rings is not about superheroes. The Kalevala is not about superheroes. Beowulf (the Old English one) is not about superheroes. Buck Rogers is not about superheroes. Columbo is not about superheroes. Judge Dredd is not about superheroes. Rocky is not about superheroes…

    Lots and lots of other stories about visually identifiable champions who fight fights and have fictional life-stories are not superheroes. Or rather, there are far better ways of conveying what they are to someone who wants to know.

    Hearing people describe everything as superheroes is disconcerting, like finding yourself in a room full of fundamentalist religious nuts. You want to state the obvious, but, you know that they can not bear to acknowledge it and that they will go on to evangelise their calcified, one-track reductionism to other impressionable minds and, really, it doesn’t matter.
    It doesn’t matter.

    The army could use the superhero fallacy to generate recruitment.
    You can join the superheroes – you can have a backstory, wear a costume, fight people who are indubitably bad-in-essence using special things which make you more powerful than a regular shmoe, and then all will be well, all will be right, until the next time, gang! And don’t worry, there’s always a next time!
    (Superman theme-tune played by a merry marching band, to fade…)

  42. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    Who said “everything”? I just made the claim about Robocop and Darkman! Your mileage may vary.

    Interesting point re: The New Testament though.

  43. Jason Winter says:

    Hmmm…. SUPERMAN RETURNS was considered by some to be a slog, apart from that way cool airplane scene. Is there a pattern here?

  44. Jason Winter says:

    Makes you wonder why they don’t just make a Computer animated SUPEMAN or BATMAN? I would love to see the Alex Ross Superman bought to digital life, given the wonders the recent TINTIN movie bought us, I think it would be the perfect medium for the genre.

  45. R. Fiore says:

    (A) Full-scale computer animated features are just as expensive to produce as effects-heavy live action features, and (B) the conventional wisdom is that an animated feature makes a ton of money in the children’s/family market but is a non-starter when you’re looking for the 18-25 year old demographic, which is what superhero movies are aimed at. By the way, Tintin was motion-capture, not computer animated.

  46. Pat Palermo says:

    Rob Liefeld? Is that you?

  47. So this is where the Message Board went.

    One question I keep asking (myself, up to now) is how good a superhero movie does Hollywood owe me? As good as anything else I spend 15 bucks on, I guess. But I often wonder how much a 48 year-old man has a right to expect from a modern epic CGI-fest superhero movie. I went to see DKR on a night when I was dead-dog tired and wanted to be almost anywhere else (but I had made a promise) and was surprised at how much I enjoyed the film. But it was on this level: oh, that scene was kinda cool. Anne Hathaway is no Julie, but man is she cute. Wow, Shinzon really filled out, didn’t he? Oh, badass airplane thing. Ha, I bet that kid is actually a girl and is Talia. Yay, I was right! And so on. I think at some point I just gave up on expecting much more.

    I realized watching 2009′s STAR TREK that the type and quality of storytelling I had once assumed was in the toolkit of every competent fantasy writer was gone from the movie theater, perhaps forever. STAR TREK was good, but it had not a damn thing to do with boldly going or messages about man’s potential or any of the other humanist dippy-do of “my” Trek, and everything to do with the ascendance of ADHD writers like Damon Lindelof (who co-wrote TREK and PROMETHEUS, as well as LOST) going off every rail they can think to lay down in the first place.

    I think Fiore is right when he mentions his own middle-aged reaction to the new Spider-Man movie. One reason I didn’t bother to see it was my unwillingness to sit through yet another fucking retelling of fucking Spider-Man’s fucking origin. I really don’t get the obligatory origin story eating up most of a film — old superhero movies never bothered with the origin, they just plunged right into the story. But I guess it’s considered necessary because audiences can’t accept a superhero without some plausible reason for his existence. Or something.

    My list of superhero movies I liked is a combination of Kim’s and Fiore’s, so I obviously haven’t given up completely, and a part of me really does hunger for a genuinely fun ride of a superhero movie. But maybe I’m just too old to know what passes for one when I see it.

  48. Jack says:

    R., I think you’d like the first two Supermans (Supermen?), or at least the second one. Christopher Reeve was perfect as both Clark Kent and Superman, Gene Hackman was really funny, Margot Kidder was great, the soundtrack was great… I think they struck just the right tone in being slightly more serious than the old Batman t.v. show but much less serious than all the superhero movies that have come since.

  49. Paul Slade says:

    Yes, that first Christopher Reeve Superman movie is terrific. Very good-natured and great fun.

    When I saw it at the cinema back in 1978, I remember particularly enjoying a little grace note at the end when Superman whips off Luthor’s wig to reveal that Lex has been bald all along. Hackman had been kitted out with a shock of red hair till then, and this scene was a lovely little nod of acknowledgement to everyone in the audience who knew this just wasn’t right.

  50. Jack says:

    Luthor’s evil scheme was pretty great, too–buy a bunch of worthless land in Nevada, bring about an earthquake that causes California to float out to sea, and then bask in the profits of your newly valuable beachfront property. And in the second one, he asks General Zod to make him king of Australia, explaining, “I have this affinity for beachfront property.”

  51. Stephen White says:

    Superman didn’t whip off Luthor’s wig. Luthor defiantly removed it himself while launching into a long-winded speech about how awesome he was.

  52. R. Fiore says:

    Actually, I agonized over Supermans/Supermen etc. for quite a while before finally making the wrong decision. I tried watching the first Superman on TV once but couldn’t get past Marlon Brando at his most bovine.

  53. Paul Slade says:

    In my head, I’ve preserved the moment as Superman dumping Luthor in an open prison yard and then grabbing his wig as he flies off again. But I may well be mis-remembering it.

  54. Aaron White says:

    I enjoyed TDNR, but I was dragged to it and expected a tedious slog. Bane’s weird voice, Catwoman’s sexy legs and Christian Bale’s Mary Sue version of me as a pouty teen were just zippy enough to rise above my low, low expectations. Plus I’m the worst at noticing plot holes and such.

    But what I really want to talk about is origin stories. The handling of Heath Ledger-Joker’s origin in TDN is the way I’d like to see all superhero origin stories handled pretty much ever. Drop hints, clarify nothing, make broader character points and nevahmind about “continuity.”

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