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July 19, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: And So It Begins...


It’s 12:14 A.M. on July 20, 2012.  About twenty minutes ago, I was playing Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 with my brother (for a night-devouring three hours straight).  But with that done, I can focus on more important matters.  See, by this time twenty-four hours from now, I’ll have seen The Dark Knight Rises -- in IMAX, of course -- and laid this black-clad beast to rest. 

It’s the biggest movie of the year…well, one of the biggest, considering The Avengers.  It’s a movie that’s been anticipated by countless comic fans, film fans, and generally anyone who just likes living.  It’s set to vaporize box office records and cast them into the wind.  The time is ripe for Christopher Nolan, Batman, and everyone involved with this trilogy to step onto the stage -- the final proving ground -- and lay waste to all our hopes and dreams, and substitute them with dreams of the cowl-shrouded crimefighter.

And I for one am glad.  Because now -- or eventually, at least -- we can all shut the hell up about Batman.

"Now where did I leave my keys...?"


Now don’t get me wrong.  I don’t have anything against Batman as a character.  Far from it; even though I don’t have an intimate knowledge of his storied mythos, I respect what others have done with him, as well as the hero as a whole.  Batman (when he’s done well, at least) is an interesting character, even for someone who’s only got a basic understanding of him: he’s surprisingly brutal at times, but sticks to a strict code of honor and is ultimately out for the safety of the people.  He’s had it rough throughout his life, and not only has to balance life as a billionaire and a brawler but also two distinct personas.  He exists in a universe where, even with all his tech and resources and skills, he’s automatically outclassed by way of being a human…a human often in the company of an alien messiah, a venusian gladiator, and a space cop whose only limit is his imagination (good thing he’s got such a shoddy one).  Batman’s had a lot of fans over the years, and he’s certainly earned them.

And yet…I can’t say I really care for him.  Like if you asked me to choose between getting a Batman comic every day for the rest of my life and a Superman comic, I’d go with Superman.  It’s personal preference, to be honest; I’ve always found the “truth, justice, and the American way” type characters (i.e. Captain America) to be far more appealing than brooding, scowling, stoic anti-heroes.  It’s a bit of a sweeping generalization to put Batman in that category since, again, I don’t know everything about the mythos -- or Superman’s, for that matter -- but you get the idea.  Think of it this way: given the choice between hanging out with Batman and hanging out with Superman, which one do you think would be more fun?

To be fair, Superman has his off-days.

But what does that have to do with the Nolan trilogy?  Because -- if you’ll allow me to make another sweeping generalization -- it’s easy for me to look at the movies and blame them for necessitating so many dark and gritty reboots.

I know that’s not a fair declaration, but play along here.  After the atomic blast of money that the other two movies made -- two movies that are notably dark, and notably gritty, and notably serious, is it really so far-fetched to assume that there’s a correlation between the Dark Knight Trilogy’s success and the grimification of other products?  The most obvious example would be the recent Amazing Spider-Man, but I’d argue there are other examples.  For some reason, people have tried to make Snow White gritty.  On a different axis, you could link the bombastic, action-packed nature of several properties (Transformers, Battleship) to becoming gritty.  Comics dip in and out of being gritty all the time, but I have to wonder what bank-annihilating franchise could have spurred on a few of the changes on this list.  TV’s gotten grittier, too; the new Green Arrow show looks primed to revel in delicious filth, and I could probably chart out Smallville’s gritification with enough time and repeat views of episodes.  And the less said about gritty reboots to video games, the better off we’ll all be.

Among other myriad travesties.

Is there a definite link?  Well, that’s hard to say with 100% accuracy.  But whatever the case, whatever the facts, I have my opinion: I’m tired of grit.  We can have worlds where everything is brutal, the heroes range from ineffectual to outright villainous, and there’s violence and societal/political overtones between every panel.  But if EVERYBODY decides to be gritty, NOBODY wins.  Why can’t heroes be allowed to be heroes anymore?  Why can’t we have color?  Why is there a stigma towards people and worlds and events that are actually likeable, and are geared towards making us smile?  Why can’t we -- oh wait, never mind, we still have things like that.  It’s called The Avengers, and it just finished casting Ultima on the box office.

So yeah.  With the Nolan trilogy finally ending (but let’s be real, I doubt this is the last we’ll see of this universe -- can you say “Catwoman prequel”?) I’m hoping that we can step away from the grit for a while -- and the general worship of Batman and co. -- and move on as a paradigm.  Let’s have some fun with our worlds, yeah?  Doesn’t that sound awesome?

With that little rant done, it’s time to move to the real purpose of this post: it’s a preamble to my upcoming thoughts on The Dark Knight Rises.  Just as I did for The Hunger Games, The Avengers, and Prometheus, it’s my wholehearted intent to dissect this movie as best I can.  I’m not going to be swayed by hype or improbable motorcycle physics; gritty or no, I’m going to go to the movie, watch it, and decide for myself whether or not it’s good -- and I’ll relay the good word to you, fair blog-readers, for your sake.  Even though it’s likely that by the time I finish, you’ll have already seen the movie.  You know, because you exist.

If you don't, Batman will smack you with his backhand without even turning to look at you.

But before I do, I want to use this post as a record -- a piece of evidence to use for or against my testimony.  I’m going to make my predictions.  Five predictions that will be proven right or wrong by analysis’ end.

The five predictions are:

1) Based on my previous chart, The Dark Knight Rises will be somewhere around here on my SmartChart (yes, that’s what I’m calling it now):


2) TDKR will be a good movie.  Not the greatest thing ever, but as competent as I predict.

3) I will have a newfound appreciation for Batman.  That said, it still won’t be enough to make me love him more than anyone else.

4) I will be able to rest easy, knowing that some of the low review scores and complaints about the movie have no power over my experience.

5) If someone asks me what I think of the movie -- friends, family, or otherwise -- I will be able to answer, without hesitation, as such: “Really good.  It had its flaws, but I enjoyed it.”

All right.  See you guys on the other side.



6 comments:

  1. Interesting perspective on the whole gritty vs clean? (I'm not sure what the opposite of girtty is) But yea, I tend to agree all I read, watch and play are gritty stuff and it's hard to think of a title that has a clean aesthetic to it. The best I can think of is Mirrors Edge and I really like the design of that game.
    And I'm on the same boat as your Batman expectations, I think it'll be a good movie but I don't think it will be flawless. Either way I know I'm going to enjoy it on the day.

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  2. I think the opposite of gritty is light-hearted, at least as far as comic books are concerned. You do present a good case here, on comic books and heroes. I think that the trend with making everything gritty is what I like to call...pessimism porn for lack of a better word.

    Pessimism porn is when a creator (or an audience) decide to use their characters or franchiuses to create a darker vision, where everyone's a villain and morality is gray. Did pop culture need that? You bet your sweet ass it did, ever since the Cold War.

    But we're way past that, as a culture. Sure, there exist problems, but people know that they don't need a comic book or a movie or a game to remind them of it. For better or worse, superheroes should be about escapism and I for one, applaud the Avengers for keeping up with the original comic book's spirit instead of making it about invading Soviet superhero fossils or whatever.

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  3. I'd argue that in terms of "cleanliness", Nintendo's the prime exporter of squeaky-clean goods. Mario Galaxy ans Skyward Sword are two fine examples; depending on how you view them, certain JRPGs (Persona 4 in particular) and a bevy of XBLA titles (Braid, Fez) dare to do something besides be gloomy and grimy.


    But even with those and others in mind, the game industry can still do more -- and I'm convinced that with the Dark Knight trilogy out of the way, we can move a bit closer to a resurgence of cleanly worlds.

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  4. "Pessimism porn"...that's actually a really good term for it. I'll have to remember that one.


    That aside, I thought of something I want to add to my little "discussion." To the credit of gritty stories, I'm not adverse to them trying to introduce more meaningful themes, threats, stakes, and the like to the final product. But it seems like sometimes, people confuse grittiness with goodness -- like anything that offers otherwise is unnecessary, or that something more light-hearted isn't capable of being deep. (Obviously that's NOT the case; one of these days, I'm going to do a postmortem rundown of Zelda: Skyward Sword, because that game -- more than virtually anything else this generation -- affected me deeply.)


    Anyway, I'm with you on the whole escapism thing. I mean, stories -- a fair number of them at least -- exist to make people happy. Why bog down countless mediums and a general paradigm with grit?


    Well, if I get my writing career off the ground, rest assured I'll do what I can to try and reverse the pessimism porn. Hint: it may or may not involve Power Rangers.

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  5. I didn't want to read your The Dark Knight Rises posts before watching the movie due to the fear of spoilers, but now that I did...
    It's very interesting that you raise this discussion on grittiness as most people don't talk about it. The grittiness in comics began in the mid-late 80's with comics like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. At the time it was original and refreshing. Comics (even Batman) had been campy fun for many decades and the grittiness brought a much needed sense of realism to the medium. It allowed the medium to grow in various unexplored directions. Super-hero movies eventually followed the trend. The X-Men wore black leather, the Joker expresses his views on nihilism and anarchy with more complexity, and comics like Sin City are allowed to be made. To be honest, I'm a 'grit man', give me Batman, The Punisher or John Constantine over Superman and Captain America any day of the week, but this is merely a question of taste, not of content or quality. I'll choose quality first. I understand you might be sick of gritty stories, but that doesn't mean they're necessarily bad stories.
    If I had to find a reason for today's excess of grittiness I would have to say its caused by the 'discovery of the grit' and its liberalization. Things have been campy, fun, light-hearted but also stern and controlled for centuries. Today, people talk about sex with more ease, kids drink and take recreational drugs at a younger age, foul language has become more and more common, politics have become more accessible to the everyday man, music became heavy and dark especially with heavy metal and its derivatives, goths, metal-heads and emos have made dark clothes fashionable, and the internet allows us to watch weird sick things we never even thought of. These are all things from the last 30-40 years. Some are good, some are bad, but it's the world we live in. Eventually, when all is said and done, we'll probably revert back to a majority of light-hearted themes. Humanity develops in cycles. Most stories like Snow White were originally very dark and violent. They were then sanitized by Disney. Now, people want to explore the grit again. I think its only natural.
    Actually, in comics their are a few writers who are returning to the clean superhero. For example, Robert Kirkman who writes The Walking Dead, also writes a monthly comic called Invincible that takes on old school superhero themes. I think there's room for everybody, grit and non-grit alike.

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  6. Oh, don't get me wrong -- in my eyes, gritty doesn't automatically equal bad. I can't say any of my favorite stories are gritty (at least off the top of my head), but I'll readily recognize when a gritty story does something right. The most obvious example would be The Dark Knight, but I definitely see the merit in things like The Dark Knight Returns, Max Payne 3, and Breaking Bad, to name a few.


    My biggest issue is that even if humanity is cyclical, as you suggested (and I'm hard-pressed to disagree), I think we've spent too much time on the gritty end of the spectrum, at least in terms of creativity. An immediate cessation of grit wouldn't do us much good, either; what I want to see most is a balance. I want to see games (games especially) and movies and TV and comics and all of that to be unafraid to be clean as well as gritty. Grit ceases to be spectacular and meaningful when everyone's being gritty...and more gritty entries means there'll inevitably be stories with some shoddy quality.


    I will say -- and I'm going to be a bit adamant about it -- a story doesn't necessarily have to be gritty to explore certain themes and ideas. I'm sure you know this, and I'm sure you can name plenty of examples, and I'm sure you can agree with me on a point or two; my stance is that making a story darker and more brutal doesn't automatically lend itself to being more deep and mature. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is an AMAZING example of being deep, and its designs look like something out of a Pixar movie (and Pixar in itself deserves praise). Admittedly, there are certain ideas that Zelda and Pixar can't explore because they aren't gritty, but in exchange they can do things that anyone can appreciate, regardless of their persuasion.


    That's pretty much where I stand. Grittiness isn't bad, but that's not the only way to make a good story. That's all. But my ranting aside, I appreciate you dropping by, and I hope you enjoy my posturing on The Dark Knight Rises. It should be...er, interesting for you, I think.

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