This Is Nothing To Joke About

Note: Originally Published 8-1-06

First and foremost, if you are not a fan of Batman Begins or, more specifically, Batman, than this little article will not interest you in the least.  However, if you are a Bat-Fan, then you must read on.

It has been confirmed by Warner Brothers that Heath Ledger will play the role of the Joker in the sequel to Batman Begins, called The Dark Knight.  Now, a lot of the fanboys have already started with the “Brokeback Joker” tirades and are dismissing Ledger as a respectable Joker.  I couldn’t disagree more.

First of all, highly respected filmmaker and director Ang Lee hired Ledger to star in Brokeback Mountain, a very serious drama that required real courage to take part in.  Second of all, Ledger has had some nice moments in his acting career thus far.  For instance, I thought he was very good in The Patriot, and though it was a comedy, I also thought he did a nice job in Ten Things I Hate About You.  And yet, I will admit it, he’s had some flops as well.  But, you have to think, if Christopher Nolan, the director of Batman Begins and its follow-up, has faith in Heath Ledger, than shouldn’t we as well?  After all, he brought in Christian Bale, someone I never would have dreamed of, and Bale brought an intensity to Batman never realized on film.  He brought in Cillian Murphy, a truly creepy villain as the Scarecrow, and need I mention all the big names he brought in to play minor roles.  Nolan is respected and Nolan is intelligent.  He knows what he’s doing.

I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking, “But Scott William Foley, Ledger will never be able to out-do Jack Nicholson’s hilarity as the Joker!”  You’re right.  You’re exactly right.  You’re right because Jack Nicholson, as awesome as he was, was playing Jack Nicholson.  You looked at the screen and you didn’t see the Joker, you saw Jack Nicholson in white make-up.  And what was fine!  He rocked!  I loved his Joker.

However, you want to realize that what makes the Joker work is not his flamboyancy, it’s his utter and psychotic maliciousness.  The Joker is a mass murderer.  The Joker is sick and twisted, he is terrifying, remorseless.  Imagine a Joker who wasn’t funny at all.  Imagine simply a psycho who looks like a joker from your deck of cards.  Imagine the intensity required for that sort of Joker.  I think Ledger can pull it off.

I will now undo all of my previous arguments by saying that I still wanted Crispin Glover to get the role.

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Good Call On Gyllenhaal

Note: This Post Originally Published 3-10-07

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Maggie Gyllenhaal has all but signed on to the Batman Begins sequel (called The Dark Knight) to replace Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes.  Let me say, I couldn’t be happier about this decision.  First of all, the sequel will tout the talents of Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Heath Ledger, and Aaron Eckhart.  Does Katie Holmes really stand a chance of standing up to talent like that?  No way.  But does Gyllenhaal?  Most definitely.

Listen, I liked Katie Holmes just as much as you did up until the literal day Batman Begins opened.  I didn’t care she was linked with Tom Cruise, didn’t bother me at all.  However, what did bother me was when she brought him along to the premiere and everything and everyone got overshadowed by all-powerful Tomcat.  I’m sure Christopher Nolan was seething that his hard work had turned into just another media circus for the Hollywood power couple. 

Listen, Holmes, by doing that, proved that she cared more about herself than her art and the film she was promoting at that moment, and, in my eyes, that contradicted everything the rest of the cast and crew were doing. 

To top it all off, in my opinion, Gyllenhaal is twice the actor Holmes is, and I think her every-woman appeal will prove a good match with Bale.

The Dark Knight – A Movie Review

(No Spoilers Ahead)

Simply “wow.”

This movie surpassed even my lofty expectations as a Batman fan.  Epic in nature with nonstop action and a tight, logical storyline that organically meshed with the characterization of its players, The Dark Knight deserves every bit of the accolades it’s amassing.

Christian Bale’s Batman is truly a force of nature-savage yet noble, fierce yet heroic.  He teems with intimidation and generally looks like he could explode at any given moment, which is all part of Batman’s psychological warfare against the criminal world.  Other actors have played Batman either too coy or too cool, but Bale depicts Batman as a warrior, someone ready to take back his streets by force.  Bale brings an emotional intensity to Batman that is totally necessary to the character and translates brilliantly to the screen.

With the untimely death of Heath Ledger, there was a palpable fear that folks would go overboard in applauding his efforts as the Joker.  Christopher Nolan earned my respect with Batman Begins, so when he broke convention and cast Ledger, I trusted his decision.  However, when people started talking about an Oscar for Ledger’s Joker, I snickered a bit.  Let me tell you, after seeing his performance, it would not surprise me in the least if Ledger was nominated.  Ledger was absolutely unrecognizable as the Joker.  It didn’t look like Ledger, it didn’t sound like him-it really felt as though what we saw on screen was THE Joker, not just an actor playing a role.  Ledger utterly disappeared.  I knew Ledger would be good, but he was so incredible brilliant, I was blown away.  And his Joker wasn’t the flamboyant “mobster” of 1989’s version or the harmless clown from the 1960s-his was a calculating, homicidal, disturbed, “agent of chaos.”  I rarely have nightmares, and just last night Ledger’s Joker entered my dreams and scared the pudding out of me.  No joke.

Aaron Eckhart’s role as Harvey Dent was much bigger than I expected, and he also brought a real complexity to the movie that added a thematic layer about “heroism” versus “duty” that really enriched the overall story.  His character when compared and contrasted to Commissioner Gordon’s and Batman’s showed you all the various shades of goodness and just how fragile such a notion can be. If you know the comic books, you know Dent’s fate.  I won’t spoil anything for you, though.

Finally, all the actors were sublime.  Oldman as Gordon, Freeman as Fox, Caine as Alfred, Gyllenhaal as Dawes-all of them worked hard to make their characters well-rounded, emotional people that we could connect with.  I think the actors’ dedication to their characters-no mater how small the role-along with Ledger’s performance and the raw emotion of the movie pleased me the most.

Director Christopher Nolan really seems to understand what makes Batman tick.  His The Dark Knight felt like all of the best qualities of a comic book blended with the noir of a thriller rooted in realism.  I’ve never quite seen anything like The Dark Knight, and judging from the box office, neither has anyone else.  Whether you’re a fan of Batman or not, this one is definitely worth the price of admission and I guarantee you’ll enjoy it on several levels.

The Death of Heath Ledger

As you’ve all probably heard by now, Heath Ledger is dead.  The reports, rumors, and speculations are running rampant, so I won’t even bother to comment on any of those until the facts come out.

I would like to say, though, that I’ve been writing about Ledger for over a year now in relation first to his being cast as the Joker in the new Batman movie, then with the still-shots of him as the Joker, then finally from the acutal Dark Knight trailer.  From the get-go, I trusted Christopher Nolan with choosing Ledger, and from that moment on, Ledger showed me he was perfect for the role.  My respect for him as an artist grew exponentially every time I saw his interpretation of one of popular culture’s most iconic visages.

I’m sure this will sound unreasonable to some, but as an artist, his portrayal of the Joker looks to be perfect, and if one must die, to die at the top of one’s art … well, there could be worse ways to leave this world.  I hope you understand what I mean by that.  I worry it may sound callous, and it’s certainly not meant to.  Artists never want to grow old feeling as though their best work is behind them, and Ledger will never feel that way.

My heartfelt condolences go out to his family, friends, and fans, especially his little girl.  The world lost an emerging artist, but she lost her daddy. 

The Batman Befuddlement

I need to say this from the outset:  I’ve been a huge Batman fan since the age of three.  In 1980, my mom brought out my Batman birthday cake and I’ve been a bat-fan ever since.  Nothing will ever change that.

 

However, even I must admit, when looking at Batman from a motivational standpoint, some inherent problems arise.

 

The following is strictly meant for fun.  I am a firm believer in the suspension of disbelief when it comes to entertainment, and I’ll take my Batman any way I can get him.  Nevertheless, it’s always stimulating to dissect the icons of the comic book world, and Batman is certainly laden with controversy.

 

The whole idea of what “motivates” a super hero, or any character for that matter, can be a tricky one.  Superman is motivated simply because he was taught to do the right thing.  Spider-Man’s motivation comes from a healthy mixture of guilt and the lesson “with great power comes great responsibility.”  Batman’s motivation, though, is far more complicated.

 

As a child, Bruce Wayne’s parents were gunned down before his eyes.  For the average child, this would be a terrible occurrence, but the impact of the event likely would have lessened over time if the child required posttraumatic care.  Certainly, depending on several variables, such a child would go on to live an adult life of relative normalcy.  Lifelong counseling would perhaps be necessary, perhaps not.

 

In Bruce Wayne’s case, he inherited more money than most of us can imagine.  He probably would have had all of his father’s medical friends checking up on him emotionally and psychologically.  He probably would have been sent to the best schools in the world and, in time, the pain of his parents’ murder would have faded just a little.  Perhaps his sense of injustice would have driven him to become a lawyer, or a police officer, or a missionary.  What happened in Bruce Wayne’s case is instead disturbing.

 

At some point during his childhood, relatively soon after he lost his parents, Bruce Wayne embarked upon a quest to learn from all of the greatest minds and fighters the world had to offer.  Some versions of the Batman mythos have him doing this because he already knew he wanted to combat crime on a personal level, some have him doing it simply to deal with his pain.  When he returned, he found his city corrupt.  And so, when deciding how to combat the hell his city had become, a bat inspired him to become a vigilante and do one of two things, depending on your outlook: take revenge on the criminal element that resulted in his parent’s death, or make sure no one else lost loved ones to crime as he did.

 

In literature—and I’ve sincerely considered comic books literature for twenty-eight years—such character motivation is dramatic, potent, charismatic, and wildly engaging.

 

I think it’s necessary to look at this from another angle.  Bruce Wayne has no real adult friends.  Alfred is more of a care provider, so he doesn’t count.  He may hang out with the JLA and Outsiders, but he has files on how to take them all down, and they know it, so how true of friends are they?  Jim Gordon is Batman’s ally, but not Bruce Wayne’s friend.  Tim Drake and Dick Grayson are more like his little brothers or soldiers than friends.

 

My point is, Bruce Wayne seems to be in a state of arrested development.  Sure, he may very well be one of the world’s greatest thinkers and martial artists, but he’s devoted his entire life to a moment from his childhood.  Yes, admittedly a terrible, significant moment, but a day from his childhood nonetheless.

 

If I’m Superman or Green Lantern (pick any GL you want), and I look over at a dude dressed as a bat who can’t get over the death of his parents from over twenty-five years ago, I’m asking some serious questions.  They know he’s Bruce Wayne, according to current continuity.  They have to wonder, if crime is so terrible in Gotham City, why doesn’t Bruce use his millions to better equip the GCPD.  Why doesn’t he open rehabilitation centers and after school programs?  Why doesn’t he run for office and make changes happen internally?  Bruce Wayne, with his fame and fortune, could very well combat all the crime he hates in a variety of ways, all of which would have greater impact than what he does on a street level.

 

This can only lead me to believe that Bruce’s guilt or his selfishness won’t allow him to move beyond that night from his childhood.  He must deal with crime on a face-to-face basis, though his fortune and social standing would surely accomplish much more.  For that to happen, consequently, he would have to act the adult.  He would have to interact, as a genuine adult, as Bruce Wayne with real people his own age.  No masks.  No costumes.

 

The only “friends” he has are taken on when they’re very young and given the mantle of Robin, which leads me to once again determine Bruce is in a state of arrested development.  His adult friends wear masks themselves, or he refuses to remove his own mask, or Batman persona, before them.  At what point does Bruce Wayne become a genuine human being capable of healing?

 

The age-old question with Batman is, which is the real identity—Bruce Wayne or Batman?  Either answer is a disturbing one when looked upon realistically.

 

But, comic books are not the real world—for better or for worse—and Batman will forever be one of my favorites.  Looked at from a strictly imaginative perspective, he is everything the human mind and body could hope to accomplish.  When I was little, I didn’t want to be Superman because I knew it was impossible.  But, as a child, I thought if I exercised enough and studied enough, I could actually become Batman.

 

As someone suspending his suspension of disbelief and looking at Bruce Wayne from a realistic, psychoanalytical perspective, Batman seemingly refuses to grow up.

Trailer for The Dark Knight (New Batman Movie)

Those of you who know me well know that I’m a big fan of Batman.  When I heard Heath Ledger had been cast as the Joker, I trusted Christopher Nolan, the director, completely.  My trust would seem to be well-founded.

Watch this:

http://atasteforthetheatrical.com/deathtrap/default.htm

Thoughts?