See more articles, reviews, fiction and poetry, including more of my writings, at group blog PLUTO'S REALM.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Brooding on Batman

I just got the dvd of Batman Begins through Netflix. I'd been looking forward to it for a while; I'd missed this movie in the theatre when it came out earlier this year. You understand, I'm a big fan of sci fi and comics and anime, and I've been reading Batman since I was a kid. I think Sin City is the best comic book movie I've ever seen and one of the best movies I've seen in a while. Friends whose opinions I respect, who are not comics fans, have told me that the new Batman was great, so I was expecting a lot. But I am disappointed, and I'm trying to figure out why.

After all, I like dark movies, and this one sure looks dark. It's not nearly as surreal as Tim Burton's Batman, but the moviemakers haven't flinched from the subject matter; there's some blood and guts, we see the execution of Bruce Wayne's parents, and even a whole new scenario where Bruce goes to prison for a while before being enrolled in a killer cult (surely it's too late for spoilers).

First, let me tell what I don't like about most of today's fiction. I think the main attractions of anime to me are that no one expects it to be realistic, and that most of it comes from Japan, a country whose culture is just about as different from ours as you can get, among highly evolved cultures. So you might guess that the last thing I want to watch is what passes for "realistic" drama -- doctor and lawyer and cops shows. Because I think the people who watch the shows, even though they know the shows aren't literally true, think that's how their society works. Just watch any doctor if ER was credible, or ask me if any of those law or crime shows are remotely real. Did any of you ever sit through a real trial?

So what's wrong with that? Well first, if you believe that's how the world works, that the noble heroes on those shows are going to save you from the problems you have day-to -day, you're going to be bitterly disappointed. These shows will give you new heroes, but at the bottom they're the society propagandizing itself. They are telling you that the culture is right, that your existence is right and justified as long as you adhere to the cultural norm. Whereas no one expects Inu-yasha to be realistic, and as long as you're not expecting it to tell you how to live, maybe that moment of relief will help you to decide for yourself. What we need fantasy for is to help us step back for a moment from ourselves and the world we construct for ourselves in our minds moment by moment, to maybe see clear of the propaganda and make our own decisions. You might say, isn't Japanese society authoritarian and much more culturally homogeneous that American society? Maybe so, but it's not the same mindset we're bombarded with and locked into everyday, so that anime, or anything that gets you out of your lockstep thought process for a minute will help clear your mind. You hope.

Some anime will blow your mind entirely, by the way. Can anyone tell me what Gantz is about, really? But I wouldn't miss an episode.

The problem with Batman begins is that it's just a standard bang! bang! Hollywood movie trying to look like a dark new reinterpretation of a modern myth, whereas really it' s just Superman XXXVII or worse. For a while as we watch this thing we think Batman is going to go the way of The Punisher or any of those vigilante movies, which even though they're warped in a way Donald Rumsfeld would probably like if he could see his way out of his own fantasies to watch the ones on the big screen, but by the end he's just another good cop. And if there's anything that turns me off it's a movie that devolved into a big chase scene at the end, and that's this thing in spades. By the way, has anyone noticed that's also the trend in modern novels? Does anyone think maybe it's either because these hacks can't write endings, or because if there's enough flash and action that no one will realize that the turd they just passed has no interesting characters, conflicts, or (gasp!) meaning?

So Franks Miller's nihilism is a lot more interesting, because if you're going to annihilate evil, you have to start by annihilating the fake good that's been pounded into your head and keeps you from deciding for yourself what you think is right. And then maybe you'll realize that there is no evil except ignorance, and in the case of popular culture, a boring and mindless movie. And Frank Miller, by the way, is the author of the Sin City graphic novels as well as of the movie, with Robert Rodriguez, and also the author of the Dark Knight Batman graphic novel, so there is a very valid basis for comparison here. Needless to say he had nothing to do with Batman Begins.

Addendum: Did it not bother anyone but me that the movie is obviously set in modern times, but that Bruce Wayne's parents were killed in the Great Depression, which ended in the late '30's? This means Bruce/Batman would have to be at least 65. Well-preserved, I'd say! This bugged the crap out of me all through the movie. It seemed like an insult to the intelligence of the audience, but if no one noticed it I guess it's not an insult after all.

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