why so serious?

Dark Knight was a triumph. We haven’t seen any movies in the theater since the baby was born but we made a major effort for this one, and it was worth it. It was a brilliant, layered, intelligent, and genuinely original interpretation of the Batman mythos, which paid due homage to the best of Batman in print but also broke new ground. For example, the Trinity of Dent, Batman and Gordon was perfect – three men with the same aim, to save a city they love, each bound by their own constraints and rules but acknowledging that together they have genuinely transformative power. That’s straight out of the best of the graphic novels like The Long Halloween.

However, the concept of Wayne Enterprises as an active partner in Batman’s strategy was also fresh. In most tellings, Bruce Wayne’s playboy image serves to distract people from his identity alone, but here it’s essential to distract people from the more critical question of where the Batman gets his stuff. With Lucius Fox as CEO, and Wayne the frivolous trust fund brat who snores trough critical board meetings, connecting the dots is truly beyond the realm of even informed speculation, as the blackmail scene with Coleman Reese and Fox amply demonstrates.

The best part of course was Heath Ledger’s Joker. In a nod to Ledger’s most famous recent film role, Joker tells Batman, “you complete me” – but the meaning of that statement is perhaps better told here than even in Miller’s graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns. The novel edge of Joker as anarchist rather than just evil for its own sake, a man driven to watch the world burn, seems more fitting, and more menacing. The Joker believes that the veneer of civilization is superficial and that at the heart of things, the world is as morally empty as he is – he fancies himself the only one willing to rip the facade off and embrace the true nature underneath. From his perspective, everyone else is lying and he is the truth-teller.

These movies have totally erased the nonsensical Tim Burton versions that were as cartoonish in their own way as Adam West’s portrayal. Brian Tiemann says this better than I; for me, this IS the Batman movie franchise, not a reboot like the Bond films with Daniel Craig.

The question though of course is, what next. I can’t discuss that without straying from Vagueland to Spoiler Field, so follow me after the jump…

Given that the Batman is now an outlaw (and note the sublime entendre of the movie title), redemption will obviously be a theme of the next movie, but it still needs a villain. In a movie 2.5 hours long, every subplot has to carry the main plot forward, or point the way to the future. This is why I think the matter of Coleman Reese has some significance. In fact, his name itself suggests the identity of the villain he might play: Mr. Reese… mysteries? What better riddle exists than the identity of Batman himself, especially given the Dark Knight’s fall from grace? It’s certainly a better name than the overused E. Nigma. The basic motivation of greed is well-established in Reese’s blackmail attempt; but how Reese will fit into the larger picture of how Batman (presumably) reclaims his role as guardian of Gotham is still a rich vein for speculation.

What do you think?

4 thoughts on “why so serious?”

  1. Hey, good call there on Mr. Reese. I wonder how many people will honestly be able to claim to have caught that, if that turns out to be what happens…

    I’m a bit chilly on the Riddler as a villain, though– maybe it’s too
    many Matthew Lesko commercials, maybe it’s the idea of “Riddler” and “Joker” being too conceptually close for comfort in a way that the canon material always dances around but never addresses head-on (like that “Man-Bat” character from the Animated Series and perhaps earlier material, which never seemed to want to acknowledge any kind of mirror-mirror interplay with Batman as a concept, but instead just played it straight, as though the Man-Bat was just some run-of-the-mill paranormal creature dropped into a city that had never heard of anyone called Batman).

    By the way, something I have to wonder about– you suggest that “You complete me” is a reference to Heath Ledger’s “most famous recent film role”… what, do you mean Brokeback Mountain? Because that phrase is from Jerry MacGuire, not BBM (though undoubtedly it does show up in innumerable parodies of the latter)…

  2. hmm. did i mix up jerry mcguire and brokeback mountain? i was aiming for the latter – what was the actual line? im certain there was a famous line but cant recall it now.

    good point about the joker/riddler duality. in fact you could argue that with previous incarnations of the joker as just evil or Nutso the distinction really didnt matter. But in the context of these films, the difference is pretty large – the joker is an anarchist with a social agenda, to show the world they are liars. Hes an egomaniac. The riddler, if its mr reese, would be motivated by greed, and since hes a banker/lawyer type is presumably very wedded to the establishment. I suspect the identity of the Batman is the main driving Riddle that creates his persona. What hs goal would be is probably simply extortion – i dont see this version of the Riddler being the sort to rob a bank and leave little mechanical gadget clues lying around. The way they have come around here in these films leaves quite a conceptual gap between those villains, far more than in the cartoons or movies etc. even the comics, for that matter.

    (I’ll admit to not having seen enough of the Animated Series to be able to pass judgment; I have, however, added the DVD to my netflix queue for Gotham Knight, which is a set of anime-inspired shorts set between the two films’ continuity)

  3. “hmm. did i mix up jerry mcguire and brokeback mountain? i was aiming for the latter – what was the actual line? im certain there was a famous line but cant recall it now.”

    Probably “I wish I knew how to quit you”. Heh… that would be
    hilarious coming from the Joker.

    It’s difficult to figure out how serious they meant the threat of
    exposure from Reese to be. In the blackmail confrontation scene, we’re left thinking that Reese has essentially been cowed into silence by Fox’s
    reductio-ad-absurdum defense, which Reese takes as ample reason to quietly withdraw and even give up his evidence. But then he evidently has an off-camera change of heart, and decides to go public, even without the evidence, and even knowing that it’ll still sound as ridiculous to the public as Fox suggested it would. (We don’t ever get the chance to find out how his revelation would go over, because he’s upstaged by Dent’s “unmasking”.) So… does that mean Reese is scheming supervillain material, or just a guy with amazingly poor judgment?

    Historically, the Riddler has been a comic character, and Reese is not that; much as I’d be glad to see something as far removed from the farce
    that was Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones cavorting about with each other as possible, I’m not sure how much movie there is in foiling an extortion artist. How much does the city even want to know who Batman is? To what degree is this Riddler a “good guy” whose goal in unmasking Batman coincides with the city’s? How can his escapades measure up in scale to those of the Joker and Ra’s al Ghul in earlier outings?

    But I guess that’s why I’m not Christopher Nolan… 🙂

  4. It’s a tough call. I find it hard to believe that a blackmail scene would go to waste in a Chris Nolan film. Definitely an interesting theory, and the Nolan Riddler is something I would line up to see…

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