Published September 3, 2008
After a slew of thought provoking and intelligent films that helped turn public perceptions against the war in Iraq (remember that one?), we are now back to business as usual. Valur Gunnarsson takes a loot at this summer’s blockbusters.
Hellboy 2 did indeed manage to show us that the world is going to hell, though this was rather due to the diabolical plot rather than the I-was-picked-to direct-the-Hobbit special effects. Here, we have as contrasts the German by-the-book officer who won’t let Hellboy torture prisoners for information (damn Nazi). Of course, both he and the audience soon accept Hellboy’s ways as being most effective. And, he may be the son of Satan, but at least he doesn’t have a European accent. It’s funny how quickly European directors turn on their home continent once Hollywood calls.
Hulk beats Hellboy
The best of the bunch is actually The Incredible Hulk, by far the best superhero film this year. It goes down much the same path as Batman Begins did three years ago, injecting a real dose of the outside world into a comic book saga. TIH is full of references to AIDS, poverty in Brazil, the angst and paranoia inherent in living in a big city. Even the bad guy manages in a single sentence to convey the tragedy of aging that we must all eventually face. Not bad for a monster film.
Hellboy, on the other hand, fails to find any meaning for its monster, so instead we see him watching Frankenstein on TV – as if Guillermo’s lack of depth can be substituted with allusion. Not to mention the X Files movie catchphrase, “To find the truth you must believe.” No, actually, to find the truth you must doubt and examine with scientific enquiry. But that’s not quite as sexy sounding.
The Joker vs. Jar Jar Binks
Which brings us to The Dark Knight, probably cinema’s biggest disappointment since The Phantom Menace. And in the same way that Jar-Jar Binks made you yearn for the Ewoks, The Dark Knight kinda makes you miss George Clooney.
Batman Begins is still by far the best superhero movie ever made. It harkened back to 70’s cop films such as Serpico, with Batman and Gordon the only honest men in a crooked city. But it’s funny how every time realism is injected into action movies, it eventually succumbs to the demands of the genre, and before you know it has turned into a new form of movie cliché.
Here, the honest all-American criminals become virtual heroes. They are only in it for the money, which makes it alright then. The Joker is the true menace, not because he kills people but (whisper it) he burns money. The idealist, Harvey Dent, is shown up to be just as bad as the bad guys (damn idealists). But Batman is a Kissinger type realist. His only weakness is his inability to kill people. His failure to launch a pre-emptive strike, of course, leads to countless innocents getting killed. Within the premise of the film, as well as the comics, the only right thing for Batman to do would be to kill the Joker right off. But Batman is a sadist and the Joker is a masochist, which is why they make the perfect couple.
Of course, the Batman premise is flawed to begin with. If someone with Bruce Wayne’s wealth really wanted to eradicate crime, he could do so with a host of social programs that would all be less cinematic than donning a cape and beating up bad guys. In fact, if you look at early Batman comics from the 40’s, he wasn’t cleaning up the streets so much as providing home protection for the wealthy. In other words, protecting the interests of his class.
Worse still is that the Batman eventually wins out by high tech spying on everyone in the city. But that’s alright, you know, cause it’s the good guys doing it. Of course, they would never abuse their power. And in any case, the terrorist Joker is so evil that any response becomes good in comparison. How a seemingly intelligent person like Christopher Nolan decided to go pro-Patriot act now, when everyone else has wisened up, remains a mystery.
Liberal Nightmare vs. Conservative Fantasy
The Incredible Hulk is a liberal nightmare, of scientists being constantly hounded by the government and forced to apply their knowledge to make WMD’s. Tim Blake Nelson says quite matter of factly that he hates the government as much as anybody, just before bullets start flying through the windows. The Dark Knight, however, is conservative fantasy – someone who cuts through the red tape and throws bad guys off of balconies. Government here is not insidious, just useless. It is up to private (and very wealthy) individuals like Bats to clean up.
To each his own. But the one thing you should be able to expect from a non-stop action film apart, of course, from non-stop action, is at least a semblance of a coherent plot. This is soon dispensed with in the Dark Knight. The entire Gotham mob keeps all its savings in paper bags, left in the care of a Chinese person which serves as an excuse for Batman to go to Hong Kong. The Joker, despite his contempt for money, has people everywhere and explosives rigged to every building in the city. How he gets people to work for him is never explained. The officials here are not corrupt as in Batman Begins, but merely incompetent, which makes for far less compelling viewing. In between, we get some fuzzy wuzzy philosophising about freaks, which was done before and just as irrelevantly by Tim Burton in 1992. Hulk makes you believe that if giant green monsters would exist, they would be something like this. Batman, who only dresses up in leather and rides a bike, is far more fanciful.
Anyone still awake at the ending will see Batman chased by the police. Why? Because he has to frame himself so as to protect Dent’s reputation. In the midst of a killing spree by an insane clown posse, Batman decides to FRAME HIMSELF, to account for the killings. Batman deserves to be put away for life. What he does not deserve is another sequel. But no one ever gets what they deserve, it seems.