Monday, March 12, 2012

The Fanboy's lament: What if "The Dark Knight Rises" turns out to not be the greatest film of all time?

"The Dark Knight Rises" is my all-time favorite movie. I know it hasn't come out yet, and I haven't seen it, but no movie has ever made me happier, and there's no movie that I've ever wanted to see more than this one. Christopher Nolan's first two Batman films were masterpieces of the genre, perhaps the two greatest comic book movies ever made. And since comic book movies are dominating our culture right now, that makes them perhaps the two greatest and most important films ever made.

The featured character in the film, Batman, is the greatest superhero character of all time. That makes him the greatest character ever created. That character will be taking on two of the greatest of his villains, Catwoman, the cunning and beautiful adventuress who works both sides of the law, and Bane, the only character who ever broke Batman's back and almost killed him.

When the first seven minutes of the film screened before IMAX presentations of "Mission: Impossible 4," it boosted that film's fortunes, helping it to become the most lucrative film in that series. There were cheers when those first seven minutes screened. In some cities, midnight screenings of "The Dark Knight Rises" started selling out back in January. And the teaser trailer alone was better than 90% of the films released last year.

So "The Dark Knight Rises" is highly anticipated, not just by me, but by everyone who loves both great comic books and great films. It will be a great film.

But I can't help but wonder -- What if it isn't?

I know that's a stupid question to ask, since there's no way that this movie won't be the greatest film of all time, and won't live up to the hype. Christopher Nolan has masterfully taken characters and situations from 70 years worth of comics, television shows, and movies, and assembled them into powerful works of art that stand as unique and visionary works of originality. He's used these works of art to make bold statements about not only what it means to be a superhero, but also what it means to be a regular hero, even a common person, which is what most people are. These are allegorical works that comment on the times in which we live. Rationally, consciously, I know that "The Dark Knight Rises" will be the greatest film of all time. But -- and I hate myself for this -- I fear that, however subconsciously, I have my doubts.

A couple of nights ago, I had a dream. More of a nightmare, really, because it seems to suggest that I'm actually worried that "The Dark Knight Rises" won't kick my balls off. It started out with that famous scene from Implausible Batman #43, where Batman and Bane are having nachos in Bane's secret underground underworld lair.

Then, it cuts to me talking to a friend about the eyeholes in Batman's mask. Not only are we talking about the minutiae of how one would be able to see through those eyeholes, but there's also a discussion about why comics illustrators have traditionally neglected to draw pupils in Batman's eyes when he's wearing his mask. I know that it's because artists have thought that drawing the pupils makes the characters look silly, so they just don't do it, but for some reason (in the dream) I can't bring myself to say this. All I can say is, "When he wears the mask, he also wears protective contact lenses that disguise his eyes, so that no one can see what color his eyes are, nor could they employ a secret retinal scanner to discover his true identity!" But I wonder why I can't bring myself to say what I really know to be true.

Suddenly, we're at the theater. The clerk wants to park our car for us, and charge us for valet parking. We start arguing with the clerk, because we don't want valet parking services. We just want standard parking, where we park our car in the lot (in my dream, it's the Century City Mall parking lot). But the clerk asks, "Why do you just want 'standard' parking, when you're going to see the greatest film of all time?" Something about this argument makes me feel uneasy, but the person I'm with says that makes sense to him, so we argue some more. Then, when I look down at my ticket, I see that there has been added to it something called a "HIGH ENTERTAINMENT SURCHARGE."

I ask the clerk about it. The clerk says that because I already know that the film is going to have high entertainment value, they have gone ahead and added an extra surcharge to cover that. We start to argue. I don't want to pay that surcharge, and they didn't tell me about it before I bought the ticket. "Would you have not gotten a ticket, if you'd know about the surcharge?" the clerk asks. "Well," I sputter, "that's not the point--" The clerk smiles, smugly. "You should be willing to pay a little extra for a highly entertaining filmgoing experience," he says.

We continue arguing. My reasons for not wanting to pay the full ticket price seem lame to me, but for some reason I can't bring myself to articulate anything properly. I feel confused and anxious. Off in the distance, I can hear that the film has started, and I can hear Batman and Bane talking to each other, having that same conversation about salsa from that issue of Implausible Batman. "You've made me miss the start of the film!" I shout at the clerk. "Now I want a full refund!"

"Why do you want a refund?" the clerk asks. "This is your all-time favorite movie!" I turn to my friend, to ask for help, but he has jumped into an aquarium, and I realize suddenly that the friend with whom I drove to the theater is Aquaman.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this dream, and the only conclusion that makes any sense to me -- as stupid as it seems -- is that I'm actually worried that "The Dark Knight Rises" won't be the great work of art that I know it will be. I think that the discussion about eyeholes and pupils is my subconscious mind's warning that I might try to rationalize reasons for liking the film, even if I don't. The argument over valet parking is just me coming up with excuses not to get to the movie on time. And of course the "HIGH ENTERTAINMENT SURCHARGE" is my subconscious mind's questioning of my conscious mind's belief that "The Dark Knight Rises" is the greatest film ever made, even though it hasn't been released yet and I haven't seen it. The part about Aquaman is a reminder that DC Comics treats its properties like crap.

I know that consciously I would never let anything stand in the way of my seeing this film. Yet, in the dream, a few petty disagreements have made me miss the opening scene, and therefore I want a refund. A refund for the greatest film ever made! It makes no sense.

Up to now, my biggest worry about "The Dark Knight Rises" was that it wouldn't have a 100% Tomatometer. I mean, not counting that troll Armond White, who pretends to hate things that he knows are great simply to generate hits because he had a crummy childhood and is now incapable of recognizing real artistry and emotion. But, what if other, good film critics don't like it? What if Owen Gleiberman gives it a bad review? Or Peter Travers? Or A.O. Scott? I don't know what I'd do in that case.

But now, my own dream has sowed a seed of doubt in my mind. What if my favorite film of all time, "The Dark Knight Rises," turns out to not be the greatest film ever made?


A.Jaye said...

I watched the Dark Knight for the second time last year. So there was a gap from release to revisit.

I was appalleded.

The term 'comic book' denotes something childish - like a comic book politician or a comic book tyrant. Or like The Dark Knight.

The dialogue was preach speech between the characters, the action was Matrix 3 style over indulgent, the characters were cyphers and the plot was ridiculous.

Well it was PG-13.

I was never a Batman fan. I was Spidey and Marvel - until Frank Miller wrote The Dark Knight Returns. I read Frank Miller's Batman and only Frank Miller's Batman (though I must confess to watching animated Batman - and Harleyquinn). Nolan's Dark Knight is as dark as PG-13 gets but it was childish beyond belief. No wonder the fanboys love it.

Let the baby have his bottle. The Rotten Tomatobots will flood this site with ill spelled hate if you review the new movie.

I dare ya.

'Cos it'll no doubt be the better than the fawning mass media and the shrieking of the mass hysteria fanboy blogs. Do I hope I'm wrong? At this point I'd rather watch Spider-Man.

Ricky Sprague said...

I think that for people our age, Frank Miller's Batman, in Dark Knight Returns and Year One, is the definitive version. Most fanboys will say that it was Denny O'Neal and Neal Adams who "rescued" Batman from his kitsch/camp 1960s TV and comics incarnation, but reading those stories over again as an adult you're struck by how safe, dated, absurd, and downright dull and creaky they all feel now. Were it not for Adams's artwork -- he is probably the best artist ever to work in mainstream superhero comics -- those stories would be about as well remembered as O'Neal's version of Wonder Woman from around the same era. The version in which Wonder Woman lost her powers and gained a Chinese teacher called "I Ching."

Miller did what O'Neal was trying to do, but couldn't for whatever reasons. Reinvent the character with a dark edge.

I enjoyed both of Nolan's Batman films, especially Batman Begins. But I don't know how many times I thought about checking my watch during The Dark Knight. And I've had no desire to ever see them again, which is generally not a good sign. I mean, I re-read old comics from the 1970s.

What Nolan did with those films was to pick over events and characters from 70 years of continuity and then re-assemble what he found. He's a skilled filmmaker, extremely efficient and effective. But I would not call him a "visionary" the way many fanboys would, and he's certainly no Frank Miller.

I accept your dare. When I see the movie, I will write about it.