Monday, December 19, 2011

Watching The World Burn: The Legacy of 'The Dark Knight'


'The Dark Knight' is the kind of a movie that either most people saw, know someone who did or simply heard of it. This is a feat not easy to accomplish, and love it or hate it, The Dark Knight had been and stayed on everyone's tongues for one reason or another for quite some time, and became an almost universally praised surprising megahit at the time of its release.

The reasons for its commercial success can be debatable. There had been numerous theories as to how did the WB get people into theaters in the beginning, but whatever the initial marketing strategy was, and whether it was aided by the news of Heath Ledger's tragic death, it doesn't change the fact that the vast majority came out very satisfied, pleasantly surprised or shocked by the movie's adult oriented story. It also doesn't change the fact that the word of mouth carried the movie to such high position.

Joel Schumacher took Batman back to the colorful and campy tone of the 1950s and 1960s, exclaiming that a comic book movie cannot be taken seriously and that "it's called comic book, not tragic book". 


While the comic book fans of the dark portrayal and the fans of the Tim Burton movies didn't necessarily share those views, the general public's perception has been altered yet again. Batman movies were now a colorful and loud entertainment for the entire family to enjoy


Batman Begins set the tone and showed that Batman isn't beyond being taken seriously again. It also showed that a comic book/superhero movie can easily be viewed and enjoyed by people who dislike the genre and prefer dramas and crime action movies. It was a feat harder to achieve than one might think. After a decade of colorful, all age accessible entertainment that Batman was considered as within this time period, many thought the character can never be taken seriously again and can never became legitimately dark again. 


But just as in 1989 the Tim Burton movie showed that a blue tights wearing smiling hero can be turned into a Gothic and murky violent story, Chris Nolan showed that Batman can still become what he was before 1995, plus more


David Goyer: "Certainly darker than the Schumacher films," said Goyer. It treats the story seriously and it's also quite romantic. We were determined to create a new classic and we treated the subject matter seriously." (IGN)
My only thought was that it seemed to me that the latter ‘Batman’ films were diverging farther and farther away from how he was popularly being depicted in the comic books. That’s all I’ll say about that. (Rebecca Murray int 2005)


Christian Bale: I think that we’d seen what a comic book movie could be with the last two Batman movies, you know, and very definitely we were trying to create something completely different. (indielondon.com 2005)

Batman Begins did very well in theaters, however it didn't catch the world's attention like its successor did. Still, it presented the mythology through the prism of real life world and characters, and also presented an interesting Elseworld outlook: what if Batman existed in real world?
The issue of realism itself has been greatly overanalyzed and there has been too much thought put into the premise of reality by some. What Nolan and Goyer meant by saying it's realistic is that they set it in real world and showed the reaction of common, everyday characters. They did not set out to make a full detailed recreation of reality, they set out to make the most grounded superhero movie set in our reality

Christopher Nolan: My job is to translate something abstract into something concrete (...) I wanted something serious that doesn’t take itself too seriously (Box Office Mojo 2005)
I wanted to try to do it in a more realistic fashion than anyone had ever tried to a superhero film before (Guardian.co.uk 2005)

The term “realism” is often confusing and used sort of arbitrarily. I suppose “relatable” is the word I would use. I wanted a world that was realistically portrayed, in that even though outlandish events may be taking place, and this extraordinary figure may be walking around these streets, the streets would have the same weight and validity of the streets in any other action movie. So they’d be relatable in that way. (filmcomment.com int 2012)

David Goyer: It’s definitely a depiction of Batman that…I mean, it’s all filtered through Chris’ vision and he is a very naturalistic director  (Rebecca Murray int 2005)

Nolan also specifically mentions heightened reality of his movies

Christopher Nolan: You’re working in a genre that is heightened reality. I like to talk about these films as having an operatic quality or being on a grand scale and a bit removed from the rhythms of real life, no matter how realistic we try to make the scenes themselves. In this scene, for instance, we went for the gritty realism in the textures of it, but it is a heightened reality. We’re trying to work on a more universal scale. If you get that right, people are going to be able to bring a wide variety of interpretations to it depending on who they are. It’s allowing the characters to be a conduit to the audience. Allowing an audience to sit there and relate to Batman and his dilemma Batpod1whether they are Republican or Democrat or whatever (La Times 2008)

Schumacher's movies represented Batman as more of a typical, cape flowing hero with a stance of Superman, with all the elements of the dark, shadowy bat taken out.


Batman Begins brought back the signature elements of the Modern Age character that were non existent in Schumacher's movies, such as Batman sticking to the shadows, moving on the rooftops, taking poses like a bat, the black color to the outfit (Forever mixed the its first suit with silver, then presented a silver blue suit, B&R was also a mix of silver and navy blue), the classic Batman imagery to name a few, and also brought back the anger and control issues to the character.


Also, Batman Begins brought back the dark elements of Gotham which were completely abandoned in Schumacher's movies, like poverty and corruption


Most importantly, BB had a heart. It wasn't predominantly a colorful loud entertainment, it was driven primarily by a believable human story.  It was a rollercoaster of emotions, from anger to sadness to satisfaction, as the viewer is taken for an emotional ride along with the main character of Bruce Wayne. Wayne is much more humanized, showing to be a vulnerable man and a man that seems real unlike most of the superheroes. Also, in most superhero movies the audience feels safe when the hero appears on screen, but this time the fight was a real struggle for Batman and it wasn't something that came easily. Also, while he managed to save the entire city, his house got burned to a crisp, Arkham inmates got free and Narrows went to hell. And the hero should get a girl at the end right? Not here. He saves most of the city but looses his parents' house and the woman he has feelings for, its a tough exchange. The moment is beautifully accented by a great musical track Corynorhinus


Bale feels like a real person and thats why humanizing the character works so well in Nolan's movies. He acts like a real person and re-acts like a real person, going through real emotions that we can identify with. The juvenile confusion and anger,pain induced anger, desires etc.



The sequel went even further with this realistic portrayal of a human character, showing that in real life good doesn't always win and that life can bring the unexpected and many terrible sacrifices and outcomes. That's the reality of Nolan's Batman movies

Christopher Nolan: We try to ground it a little more in reality and so I suppose there's a sense there that might get under your skin a little more, if it relates to the world that we live in. (...) I think of any of the superheroes Batman is the darkest. There is an expectation that you're going to be dealing with more disturbing elements of the psyche. That's the place that he comes from as a character, so it feels appropriate to this character." (Rebecca Murray int, 2008)

The Dark Knight grounds the story even more and dives into darker corners of reality of life. Even visually, the colors were cold blue now. TDK pushed the envelope as far as it was possible for the PG-13 rating, stirring quite a controversy at the time of its release. History repeats itself. Once again, the Batman mythology got a dark and serious makeover and once again the sequel was a subject of controversy because of it's violence and dark tone.
Very soon after The Dark Knight premiered, the complaints from parents about the movie's rating started pouring in. "There has to be a way to tell parents that someone is going to get a pencil in the skull," said one of the parents to USA Today, who brought his 12-year-old son. "I'm not sure I would have brought him.". Most of the complaints pointed out to the pencil trick and the video of Joker "torturing" the Batman impostor. Such complaints mirror the criticism of the older Batman movies, in which Joker also used a writing tool to kill someone.


One would wonder why parents still haven't figured out that the current motion picture Batman is not an entertainment for a young audience, and it seems like despite Batman Begins released 3 years earlier, Joel Schumacher's movies were still imprinted in general public's mind before the TDK premiere


"I know it's a good movie, but it should have been rated R." said one of the parents to USA Today. It is no secret that The Dark Knight is a very violent movie, but it was never marketed as something else. "You have to do your homework," says Larry Olmstead, 38, of Dallas, who saw the movie with his wife but left their 10-year-old with a sitter (USA Today). However, it wasn't only the kids who felt appalled by the movie. MoviesOnline.ca published a letter from Jill, who said that "this movie needed an R rating due to the sadistic violence and disturbing images throughout. I wish I had not seen it. While I applaud the acting, parents need to be warned that the tone of this film is grossly sugar coated when it is referred to by reviewers as "dark". I would strongly encourage parents to not take children or young adults to see this film.".


Christopher Nolan: If you assess the film carefully and analyze it with other films, it's not a particularly violent film actually. There is no blood. Very few people get shot and killed, compared with other action films. There's plenty violence in the film, believe me. We tried to shoot it and dress it in a very responsible way so that the intensity of the film comes more from the performances and the idea of what's happening and what might happen. A lot of the intensity comes from the threat of those things that may happen that then don't. There's definitely an intensity to that. I think the MPAA were very responsible in their assessment of the movie. I made it very clear to them that I'd gone into this knowing that it had to be a PG-13 and every day on set when we were dealing with violent issues I would be careful to tone things down and say, 'Okay, we're not going to use any blood squibs. We're not going to shoot things that can't possibly be in the film.' So it's a very bloodless film. We're dealing with a hero who won't carry a gun and who won't kill people, which is almost unique in terms of an action film. It's a conversation that I've had with the studio, with the MPAA and everyone else at different stages to say that it's very hard actually making one of these huge-scaled films with a heroic figure who's not prepared to kill people. But I think it's an interesting challenge and I think that it takes the story more interesting places. (Rebecca Murray int, 2008)

The movie's dark tone and pessimistic theme has also been a target of criticism:
Christopher Nolan panders to hip, nihilistic tendencies, forgetting that superheroes are also meant to inspire hope
(nypress.com)

This year's Batman is no kid flick and doesn't even try to be. Its PG-13 rating should be enough to warn parents that the content isn't suitable for young children (parentsdish.com)


We’re way beyond film noir here. The Dark Knight has no black-and-white moral shading. Everything is dark, the tone glibly nihilistic (...) But Nolan’s The Dark Knight has one note: gloom. For Nolan, making Batman somber is the same as making it serious. This is not a triumph of comics culture commanding the mainstream: It’s giving in to bleakness. Ever since Frank Miller’s 1986 graphic-novel reinvention, The Dark Knight Returns, pop consumers have rejected traditional moral verities as corny. That might be the ultimate capitalist deception. (nypress.com)

Though it is rated PG13, Dark Knight doesn't feel like a summer superhero movie. In tone and intensity, it feels like more like an R-rated crime drama. Unless they are teenagers, leave them at home.(moviesonline.ca letter)


The press is certainly right about one thing, and it's that this movie isn't what you'd expect from a superhero film. It's what you'd expect from a crime drama, meaning an adult meaty story of politics, corruption, relationships and terrorism. While being a Batman movie, it doesn't rely on what superhero movies usually rely on -  flashy heroic visuals, designs and thrills. If one would take Batman out of equation, the movie would still work. Some take it as a negative, however it's only a proof that the movie doesn't stand solely on the appeal of the character but rather on its story, at the same proving it can be as enjoyable and valid for those who are not into superhero and comic book movies at all.

The movie spends a great deal on characters, conversations and politics and dwells further into the drama of human stories. The hero is a loner who wants a normal life but his current personal life is a tragedy in itself. The woman he have feelings for and is ready to sacrifice everything for is with another men and reluctant to change her current path. He sacrificed his life to fight crime but gets no rewards or accolades whatsoever. The city soon betrays him and the woman is planning to leave him


Then he fails time after time and is even rejected by the city who wants to cast him out and blames him for the terror that overshadowed the city. We actually see a superhero broken spiritually and simply not being able to help no matter how much he tries. Joker's victims die one after another, the city's in terror and - the biggest hit and shocker - his childhood love dies tragically because she was involved in the twisted game Joker had planned for Batman. We see a doubled impact of Rachel's demise when it takes toll on both Wayne and Dent. We then witness the over the edge Dent who snaps psychologically and tries to murder Gordon's young son.


At the end, the city gets evacuated, paralyzed by terror, Rachel and Dent dies and Batman is casted out. All this is not what you would expect in a movie of that genre. Its all a dramatic and psychological journey which shows the opposite of what comic book movies usually show - a glorious and victorious ending for the character. TDK really shows what the most probable outcome would be in real life, the sacrifices, tragedy and half baked victory. The audiences watched the world burn
At the same time the movie touches upon some moral questions, such as with the scene on the ferries.

In short, the movie does not sugarcoat reality of fighting terror and cruel and sick individuals, and presents Batman as a real person who is simply not able to do everything himself.


It is often said that 'The Dark Knight' rose the bar as far as the comic book movies, but at the same time there aren't many superhero movies that would be of a similar subject. Marvel heroes and DC's colorful characters kept dominating the silver screen in years that followed, however Watchmen was a direct descendant of TDK. It dealt with human dramas and dark side of life and it was without a doubt influenced by TDK's success.
One thing for certain, TDK will often be cited as the pinnacle or one of the best comic books movies so far

'The Dark Knight' naturally impacted comic books as well. Here are just some examples:
The Joker in 2008's graphic novel looks exactly like Heath Ledger's version. However, the influence might have been the other way around since the artist, Lee Bermejo , claims that he came up with that look before Nolan and co. did. Some claim it;s a pure coincidence that the two look exactly the same. What's the answer? Take your pick


The regular continuity Joker got a Glasgow smile


Tumbler appears in Detective Comics #850

The growling voice is referenced as well. Note that Bruce resembles Christian Bale


.....................................................................................


To be continued...

20 comments:

  1. Gothamstreets,Dark Knight isn't the first superhero film to end on a downer hell even the Spiderman 1 and 3 end on a downer. Spider-man 3 especially Harry dies, sacrificing himself. Furthermore the idea of Batman existing in the real isn't that foreign to the Batman mythology.... the realistic Batman has been in the comics, look at Year One(which is in continuity.

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  2. sure , there has been plenty of other downer endings but I didnt say that TDK was the first or the only one (hence the use of the word 'usually'), I just mentioned it since it adds a lot to the overall feel of the movie and is a big part of the story

    As for realistic Batman, well Year One is a part of canonical mythology, so this is the same universe and continuity in which ghosts and demons appear (in the late 80s)

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  3. Regardless if it was in a fantastical continuity, Year One was still a largely standalone story that was first in the Bat-mythology to depict Batman in that fashion before Begins. Its more realistic than Begins in some regards.

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  4. its true what youre saying if we're talking about a self contained story, but in general - if we take whole continuity into consideration - it still takes place in the same mythical world of Batman

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  5. Anyone noticed the role reversal in TDK? Dent takes the "blame" for Batman's heroic doings and then Batman takes the blame for Dent's wrongdoings

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  6. Gothamstreets you articles are great as usual but I need to make a few more contributions, on
    this part

    "The issue of realism itself has been greatly over-analyzed and there has been too much thought put into the premise of reality by some. What Nolan and Goyer meant by saying it's realistic is that they set it in real world and showed the reaction of common, everyday characters. They did not set out to make a full detailed recreation of reality, they set out to make the most grounded superhero movie set in our reality"

    Here's an interview from Latimes that has a quote from Nolan would make a good addition to this part of your blog.

    GB: It seems to me that, more often than not in a genre such as the one you’re working in, most of the political messaging has more to do with the viewer than the filmmaker. It’s inferred, not implied.

    NOLAN: I agree completely. Especially if you do it right. If you’re working in a genre that is heightened reality. I like to talk about these films as having an operatic quality or being on a grand scale and a bit removed from the rhythms of real life, no matter how realistic we try to make the scenes themselves. In this scene, for instance, we went for the gritty realism in the textures of it, but it is a heightened reality. We’re trying to work on a more universal scale. If you get that right, people are going to be able to bring a wide variety of interpretations to it depending on who they are. It’s allowing the characters to be a conduit to the audience. Allowing an audience to sit there and relate to Batman and his dilemma Batpod1whether they are Republican or Democrat or whatever. …
    -Nolan Latimes,2008

    Also I wouldn't say Schumacher destroyed perception of dark Batman in the public, no one really watched them outside maybe Forever and even that was a dark(yeah it had camp, but still it was rather dark. Also Forever humanized Bruce Wayne, before Begins(not as much as it) by still it humanized Batman before.

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  7. That is a great quote. I had tons of interviews saved up at one time about the whole realism thing but decided not to write about it and just deleted them. Its great that you provided me with this quote and its a very important one because Nolan mentions the HEIGHTENED realism

    As for Forever, it has some attempt at depth and humanizing the character, but I feel its very artificial. The story tells us that its humanizing, but I really dont feel that it is. Its done in a sterile way imo, and Kilmer doesnt really represent any feelings other than depression. He has his head down all the time and acts as if the tragedy happened just the day before. There is no anger to the character, no fury, no intimidation - in short, no dimensions really, despite PARTS of the script calling for some. In my case its hard to believe in the character that just overacts in 'being sad' department and seems to be on Valium all the time. He always either looks spooked or like needing a hug. I usually dont voice my opinion on Schumacher's films, but to say it as nicely as possible, Im not a fan of them at all

    Bale however, feels like a real person and thats why humanizing the character works in his instance. He acts like a real person and REacts like a real person, going through real emotions that we can identify with. The juvenile confusion and anger,pain induced anger, desires etc. Thats why Nolan's movies work SO well

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  8. Schumacher did not get Batman at all. Even the '66 show got it cause they imitated what was in the comics at the time. Schumachers Batman was just a generic superhero in a cape. The only good thing about his movie was Bruce's flashbacks and the deleted diary scene

    Thank God for Nolan who brought back BATMAN onscreen

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  9. ^ Well B&R was like the 60s Batman so he "got" that one. Forever is better but I agree that Kilmer's Batman is just....off

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  10. Yeah, Schumacher went overboard with whole "the boy who got his parents killed" thing.

    Lol. Schumacher said Kilmer was the best Batman, Kilmer is a terrible actor and was a terrible Batman. Keaton, Bale were much better.

    Val Kilmer's Batman was the most ''emoish'' portrayal of Bat's ever. He was just a sad guy in a bat-suit, with nothing to compliment or balance that.

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  11. Gothamnstreets, I love your articles, but I couldn't help notice a few stains on an almost spotless article...I see you added that bit with Forever's attempt at humanizing Bruce Wayne, but I think you need to rework that bit as I'm spotting errors in grammar, and you sound a little too opinionated, and not sophisticated/objective enough. I suggest you do some rereading of this article to fix up some grammar errors for the rest of this article.


    Anyways great job as usual!

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  12. This is an example.
    ''Bale however, feels like a real person and thats why humanizing the character works in his instance. He acts like a real person and REacts like a real person, going through real emotions that we can identify with. The juvenile confusion and anger,pain induced anger, desires etc. Thats why Nolan's movies work SO well''

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  13. I decided to delete this part after all. It really is too opinionated

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  14. Gothamstreets,I don't think I agree with the notion that Schumacher altered the public perception of Batman to the point that many thought he couldn't be taken seriously anymore, I can assure you that Forever was the only Schumacher film that many folks saw, and even that didn't have that influence. The Burton films permanently altered folks perception of Batman so much that a box-office flop like Batman and Robin could never even remotely reach that level of impact on the masses, hell even Keaton admitted to not seeing any of the Schumacher films(by 2004 many masses already thought of Batman as dark, and brooding which is the very opposite of Superman who is bright, and optimistic before any of the Nolan films came out which is a testament to the bat-mania of 1989.

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  15. Well, the Burton films at the time of their release were considered very dark in those times and created quite a stir among angry parents (Returns especially which even had TV specials dedicated to criticizing the movie for its darkness and sexuality), but after Schumachers movies Batman was more or less considered a child friendly entertainment

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  16. I wouldn't really say Batman was considered 'child friendly' are you talking Batman in general? If so, I don't agree as Schumacher's films had very little impact on the peoples view of the character, many folks I've talked to never even seen the Schumacher films,especially Batman and Robin. I will agree however, that the Dark Knight had a bigger, more profound influence on the character, that elevated the dark avenger view of him to the next level, and essentially pushed the bar for superhero films.

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  17. I meant that Batman from Schumacher was considered friendly for young viewers. Even BTAS got much lighter at the time

    I remember when Forever was coming out and even more so B&R, Ive never ever seen the trailer for it once on TV, yet I kept seeing Kenners Batman toy commercials every 15 minutes. That alone was sending a wrong message I believe

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  18. Oh alright fair enough, Gotham-streets was Schumacher's Batman based on modern Batman?

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  19. Yeah, 70s mostly as you can see in the 'Comic Book references in movies Part III' article

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