Friday, August 22, 2008

The Dark Knight: not so much superheroics as crimefighting with added latex

Andy asked me to expand on my comments about The Dark Knight, so here's what I'd written up when I decided I was going to see the movie a 2nd time before rounding off my review.

I'm a big fan of Frank Miller's original 1986 masterpiece Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, the comic that recast the iconograhpic caped crusader for the harsher times which became the comics Iron Age. Back then, Miller was a major new artist at the height of his powers being given opportunities to push the boundaries of mainstream US comics just that little bit further. The Dark Knight Returns is the finest product of this period, and is surely the work for which Miller will be most remembered. It is certainly one of the most gripping comics I've ever read, a truly memorable experience unique to serial publishing which goes beyond the simple reading to the obsessive return to existing issues as the anticipation of each next one becomes ever more unbearable.

Against this original 3-month geekgasm The Dark Knight- part 2 of just another movie franchise- could only ever've been an also-ran. Unfortunately The Dark Knight is equally an also-ran as a Batman movie- Batman Begins already gave us Miller's quintessential modern Batman; as a true comicbook movie- that honour still belongs to Spiderman; and even as silverscreen '4-colour' adventures thematically embracing the darker sides of heroism, by Doctor Who, naturally enough.

Those were heavy odds against the movie last night, odds which could only've been bucked by a truly brilliant story, the Batman done as The Wire meets Doctor Who without all the cosmic stuff, say. In the event, 2 key edits in the adaption- leaving out Superman and not killing the Joker- rendered everything else academic by stripping Miller's original story of the genre-transcending features which make it an exemplar of the first rank of all that was great in anglophone comics of the early/mid-80's. 'Genre-transcendence' is simply that quality, shown by great genre writers such as Block, Chandler, or le Carré, to turn the cliches of genre hackwork into something enduringly illuminating, a feature I believe Miller's The Dark Knight Returns enjoys in spades.
I'd suggest it is those 2 missing elements which gut Miller's original story by turning it into cops and robbers instead of superheros. More on this later I'm sure. ;)

1 comment:

Andrew said...

"In the event, 2 key edits in the adaption- leaving out Superman and not killing the Joker"

Ah, I see; the flaw with the film is that it's not the film you thought it was. Neither Batman Begins nor The Dark Knight are film adaptations of The Dark Knight Returns. They take a certain style from the comic, but certainly not the plot (thankfully. Superman in TDK? urgh). If anything, I belive TDK borrows more from The Killing Joke, although thankfully not the Joker's origin story, which seems kinda lame.

Personally, I liked the non-comic-bookiness of it. I've already sat through The Incredible Hulk, Spiderman 3 and Superman Returns, wincing at the poor plots and worse characters, and that's enough, thanks.

This was a film about The Joker and Harvey Dent, more than anything. Batman was a bit of a secondary character (who nevertheless had far too much dialogue - that raspy voice didn't do him any favours).

As an aside, I'd suggest you go see Hancock, but I think you're too late for that now.