It’s Batman Week on Motion State for several reasons, not least of which is because no self-respecting film criticism consortium would ever be caught dead hosting a Superman Week.
Zack Snyder will be tackling the first installment of the Justice League two-parter following Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and now he’s stated that he also wants to adapt…The Fountainhead? Will Howard Roark be the hero we deserve?
J.K. Simmons will be taking the role of Commissioner Gordon in that Justice League movie, presumably leaving behind any chance of him playing J. Jonah Jameson again. Gary Oldman’s got some big shoes…
In other Batman news, the animated Killing Joke released a teaser photo to mark the start of production. The exciting prospect of adapting Alan Moore‘s comic with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Bats and Joker is almost enough to wash away that nostalgia for the more endearing animation of Batman: The Animated Series in favor of the new style. Almost.
I have a few favorite Batman moments, but the one that trumps them all occurs in the first Batman animated movie Mask of the Phantasm. The comic books are full of contenders, of course — the iconic “legends can never die!” panel in Jim Aparo’s “Man Behind the Mask”, the more-iconic moment in “Hearts in Darkness” when Batman rises from the grave, or the most-iconic “fiend from hell” moment from “The Demon Lives Again!” (which we talked about in our rundown on Batman Begins). The feature films have some epic moments as well, like the introductory call-to-arms of Batman Returns or the final ascension from the pit in The Dark Knight Rises. But Mask of the Phantasm captures what many of these moments capture — the determination of Bruce Wayne, the -ness of the Bat — in a unique way.
Phantasm, of course, is more than just the best animated Batman movie — it might be the best Batman movie, period. It certainly stands with the live-action iterations of Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan, and getting over the fact that Phantasm happens to be animated (as if that’s a point against it) is just a necessary assumption akin to classing The Incredibles at the top of the list of Best Superhero Films. It’s easy to forget about The Incredibles amid the present torrent of live-action Marvel hero flicks, just as it’s easy to forget that Mask of the Phantasm is without a doubt a better Batman film than at least 6/10 live-action Batfilms. I’ll let you figure out which ones I mean.
As with our recent article on Batman Begins, this won’t exactly be a traditional “review” of The Dark Knight Rises so much as an examination of the comics that directly inspired the film, previous iterations of the character on the big screen, and the things that Christopher Nolan chose to pinch and blend together from the two of those in order to give us a recognizable version of Cinema Batman. Some of the most legendary moments in Nolan’s trilogy are those of true originality, but it’s good to remember every now and then that Bruce Wayne has been around a hell of a lot longer than Nolan and Co.
And if we’re talking comics that influenced Nolan’s last Batfilm, the only one really worth mentioning is Knightfall. Yes, there are a whole host of comic arcs that can claim to be influences for parts of Rises — the No Man’s Land arc sees Gotham cordoned off from the rest of the world; the four-part story The Cult has a villain operating from the sewers; Bane is the explicit right-hand man of Ra’s al Ghul in 1999’s Bane of the Demon; and Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns has a similar premise and conclusion to Nolan’s Rises, which we’ll come back to in a moment.
Director Tony Kaye has certainly not been afraid of being too graphic in his limited body of work. In his 1998 movie American History X, starring Edward Norton and Edward Furlong, Kaye doesn’t shy away from explicit detail in showing both the past and present of Derek Vinyard (Norton), a young founder of the white supremacist group D.O.C. and his influence on his younger brother (Furlong). The graphic depiction in this movie, despite making it difficult to watch at times, is what makes it so great, along with the performances by Norton and Furlong. Through these two important aspects of the film, the viewer gets a real look at racism in this country; but more than that, the viewer is confronted with the immense influence — either positive or negative — that either a father or an older brother can have on a young boy.
The movie takes place between two time periods. The present day spans a mere 24 hours with flashbacks to the past that show several years. Each of the flashbacks is presented in black and white, a nice directorial touch to not only make it evident that what is occurring is in fact the past but also to show the ignorance and narrow-mindedness in Derek’s views. Once Derek is released from prison, marking the present day, the scene shifts from black and white to color. At that moment, we find that Derek no longer sees the world in black and white. During his time in prison, due to the help of his unlikely friend Lamont (Guy Torry) and former teacher Dr. Sweeney, as well as a falling out with the Aryan Brotherhood in jail (which culminates in a graphic rape scene), Derek is able to see the world in all its colors and look beyond race and bigotry.
Most of the comic book influences on Batman Begins are fairly evident. Everyone points to Frank Miller’s Year One, the redefining four-part series that put the “Dark” back in Dark Knight, and they’re right to hold that book up as the major influence. Begins relies heavily on Year One for a number of things, not least among them the exploration of the Bruce Wayne/Jim Gordon relationship, the exploration of the Bruce Wayne/Alfred relationship, the Gotham Monorail, the mention of the Joker at the end, the entire character of Flass, the entire sequence where Batman calls a squadron of bats to his aid (a bat-talion, am I right? Guys?) and, of course, the entire bat-flies-through-window genesis of the hero himself.
So Year One is the obvious one. Nolan and David Goyer pilfered little things from other famous Bat-books as well, often just an image or a line of dialogue. Here’s the Scarecrow in Loeb and Sale’s The Long Halloween, another popular arc:
Goyer brought this to Nolan and said “I think Katie Holmes and the little kid who will eventually grow up to be Joffrey from Game of Thrones would look really good if we added them in front of the horse here” (paraphrased) and Nolan said “true dat, brah” (not paraphrased) and ran with it:
The red eyes and flames are an admittedly nice touch.