The Dark Knight Rises Again

According to stand-up comedian Karl Marx – not of the Marx brothers – history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce.

And so it was that a comic book…hero isn’t quite the right word… who shared some of the same roots as film noir except with a cape n’ cowl in place of a nifty trenchcoat-fedora-drinking problem combo, turned into Adam West, he of the paunch, the dancing and the bat shark repellent spray.

Decades later Burton’s gothic fairytales of grotesques and mad men begat Val Kilmer’s backside and George Clooney’s nipples.  And Schwarzenegger as a scientist.  Everything freezes indeed.  History repeated as tragedy, the Batman franchise was put on ice.

There were rumours of course, but nothing concrete: Schumacher feels guilty enough about Clooney to make the Batman film the fans actually want instead of the Batman film the toy company wants.  They’re doing a Batman: Beyond film, probably a sort of neon-nightmare techno noir.  No they’re not – they’ve cast frickin’ Dirty Harry to do Frank Miller’s paranoid fascist take on Batman as an egomaniacal retiree. No, it’s gonna’ be a Justice League movie because Wonder Woman isn’t an embarrassing anachronism and they haven’t already done enough to kill Superman’s cinematic reputation.  I have no idea whether Wonder Woman is an anachronism, but the hotpants and basque don’t inspire hope.  Let’s ignore Green Lantern for the time being.

Anyhoo, Batman slumbered on until films like Xmen and Spiderman proved that the public adores spandex.  Green lights were lit and several years and two films later Nolan had shepherded The Batman into a box-office smashing behemoth, like a fiscal Incredible Hulk.  Or the DC Comics equivalent if you prefer.

After The Dark Knight, the stakes were high and the knives were drawn even while the collective audience drooled in anticipation.  After all, as Nolan himself remarked, how many good third films can you name?

Plus there were persistent rumours about the studio wanting Leo DiCaprio as the Riddler, or Eddie Murphy whenever they fancied trolling the denizens of the internet.

When I heard the news that Anne Hathaway had been cast as Catwoman, sorry, Selina Kyle, I thought “oh dear, Nolan, you’ve clearly lost your mind.”  Maybe the pressure had caused him to crack – I pictured a crazed Howard Hughes figure clinging to an Imax camera while dementedly wrecking his own production with stunt casting, silly flying vehicles and improbable gadgets before demanding more Ewoks.

Because teddy bears with sticks would definitely bring down an evil galactic empire.  Obviously.

Anne Hathaway, star of the Princess Diaries and lazy fluff such as One Day, or that one where Steve Carrell’s a spy and Dwayne Johnson…also happens.  Anne Hathaway, probably a decent actor, typically appears in mediocre films, like a Sandra Bullock mk II.

That being said, my first reaction to Nolan’s Batmobile was one of utter bemusement, my reaction to the news that the ‘star’ of the appalling A Knight’s Tale was playing the Joker one of whole-hearted contempt.  Hindsight is a lovely thing, and Miss Hathaway’s Selina hits all the femme fatale notes, because that’s essentially what Catwoman is, with aplomb.  Several ‘plombs’ even.

The Dark Knight Rises is too long, there is no Heath Ledger performance, there is a race against time cliché, there is a silly flying vehicle; it is a typical sequel – the villainy more villainous, the danger more dangerous.  A flawed masterpiece, then, but a masterpiece nonetheless.  The Dark Knight was a tough act to follow, its own significant flaws notwithstanding, but Rises finishes what Nolan started with self-assurance, style and even a little gravitas.  No mean feat for a series of films based on an irredeemably silly premise.  I liked it anyway.

Which brings us neatly to Karl Marx.  The rumbling post-Avengers and pre-Rises was that Nolan’s darker take on Batman was, whisper it, a touch out of date, old hat (and therefore financially risky).  Why so serious, Nolan? Avengers represents the future-elect of comic books on film – lighter and less alienating, funny if you like corny one liners and featuring a pouting woman in a sexy outfit.  Hell, you can even take your kids to see it without feeling on some level like maybe you’re a bad parent.  And Scarlett Johansson’s bum is in it.  In 3D.

Now it all rests on The Man Of Steel.  If that does well, which it almost inevitably will, we’ll probably get the day-glo Justice League inflicted on us, Green Lantern’s shonky catchphrase and all.  With Wonder Woman’s bum in it.  And boobs.  In 3D.

What if Man Of Steel isn’t so good, and with Zack Snyder at the helm I’m not exactly holding my breath, what if people don’t like sombre Superman, what if it underperforms – what then for the Bat?  There are rumours, of course, but nothing concrete.  And there’s no reason pessimistically to assume that we’ll get Clooney camp rather than Keaton crazy, except for the weight of comic book celluloid history, but my money’s on ‘The Kitsch Knight Re-rises’: history repeated as farce.

With Leo DiCaprio as the Riddler.

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