It's less than two weeks until the release of The Dark Knight, the long-awaited sequel to Chris Nolan's franchise re-booting Batman Begins. Early buzz is good--very good. I think we can expect mid-to-lower 90's on Rotten Tomatoes, slightly lower on Metacritic. And it's a good thing too, because expectations are quite high.
For starters, this is Batman. You've got a legacy of film to go up against with this character. He was on the big screen in 1943 and 1966 before Tim Burton's genre-defining 1989 interpretation, and all that's in addition to the 1960's Adam West series and the celebrated animated series' of the 1990's through today.
Then you've got the pantheon of Bat-Men. To whom shall we compare Christian Bale? To Adam West's stodgy pun-infused Batman (my favorite line of his will forever be from the '66 film: "The bat-arries are dead!") To Michael Keaton, who played Bruce Wayne as a slightly awkward, neurotic billionaire playboy. Or perhaps Val Kilmer, an atrocious Batman if a credible Wayne. Or George Clooney, just the opposite (I may have those reversed--it's been awhile, and I can't bear the thought of revisitting them). Will Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent have the same effect as Tommy Lee Jones (God, I hope so--I really hated that film) or Billy Dee Williams? And, of course, the big question is about Heath Ledger's swan song performance: how will it compare to Jack Nicholson?
Well, if the early buzz is true, we needn't worry there. The cast holds up. Maggie Gyllenhall is a welcome replacement for Katie Holmes, who has been transplanted out of fanboy fantasies and firmly into the Scientology-makes-people-crazy camp. The regulars? Well, how can you go wrong with Gary Oldman and Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman? And as for Ledger, I understand his Joker will leave you saying "Jack who?"
Then there's the summer-movie expectation, and all things considered, it's been a hell of a summer. Between Iron Man, Wall-E, the upcoming X-Files 2 and the it-sucked-ass-but-people-are-still-watching-it Indian Jones 4, there's a lot to compete with. We're about movie'd out, here at the Pankau-Haworth ranch. But we're stoked about the new Batman film. One might easily confuse our excitement over The Dark Knight as being slightly more intense than our excitement over our upcoming nuptials. But I assure you, it only seems that way. No, really.
Still, the almost-here TDK and the recent Incredible Hulk re-vamping got me thinking. The Hulk was the flagship of a new branch of the Marvel franchise, and it reviewed well, but fans hated it, and now it's been replaced with a slightly-campy-but-nonstop-action brawler. The sputtered-out Batman franchise under Joel Schumacher and Tim Burton had sunk into camp-without-purpose (or much effort, it seems) and was re-vamped with Batman Begins, a return to the grit and realism that had endeared us to the character in the first place. But the original Hulk film and the re-vamp Batman film have an awful lot in common.
They both involve ordinary men who've created a dark and brooding monster-hero because of unresolved issues with their fathers. Both films are start-to-finish origin stories, with the character not coming into lovable, recognizable form until the third act. This last fact, while dispariaged in The Hulk was lauded in Batman Begins. Come to think of it, the recent (wildly successful) Iron Man also fits the above mold. But the Hulk franchise re-vamp and the Burton Batman films glossed over origin stories and dove straight into the action. Spider-Man was also mercifully brief on origins, also the X-Men films.
I guess it all comes back to expectation. People had already seen a Batman that was senseless fun and gadgetry, all style and no substance, all bait and no tackle. They wanted something new and based in reality--an exploration of the character, which is admittedly less appealing when applied to a film about a giant green gorilla. People expect a Spiderman movie to over-narrate. They expect an Iron Man flick to be snarky and saucy, with just a little Tony Iomi. They expect X-Men to turn into a bloated treatise on intolerance. They expect a Hulk film to not be very good.
I expect The Dark Knight to kick serious ass. I'll find out first hand in just under two weeks.