Gotham or Bust

How long have I loved--and wanted to be--Batman?

It's difficult to judge. I'm no fanboy, certainly. I can't tell you the Batmobile's horsepower or the number of notches in the guy's utility belt.

But for as long as I can remember, I've loved him. Or, more accurately, the idea of him. The Batman myth.

The earliest evidence of my adoration lies in a scrapbook at my parents' home. One of the photos is from Halloween circa 1984, which would put me at no more than five years old. In it, my cousin and I are dressed as Superman and The Caped Crusader, respectively.

In a sad commentary on my life, I have never looked more awesome.

As I got older, I began tuning in to the Adam West TV series in syndication. The fanboys will tell you that show almost killed The Bat-Man. It certainly nearly killed his raison d'etre, his mystique and his pathos.

But that campy show also was revolutionary in its way. It took The Dark Knight out of the comic-book pages and into the zeitgeist. As one scholar posited: We search in this age for the wonders of Troy, both real and imagined. In thousands of years, it's not hard to imagine us searching for the Batcave.

And while I can't tell you when my love affair with The Bat-Man began, I know exactly when it was consumated--nearly 20 years ago.

It was the year Tim Burton's "Batman" burst onto the silver screen, in 1989. I couldn't have been more blown away if I'd put my head inside that Batmobile engine.

The flick was dark. It was brooding. It was quirky. It was serious, yet sleek and slick and sexy. Shit, what more could a kid want:

Burton at the helm at his fantasmagorical best, Kim Basinger as the sultry damsel in distress, and a still greatly underrated and underappreciated turn under the cowl by Michael Keaton. He's still my favorite Bruce Wayne--understated, sad and hangdog. He wore the mask better than anyone before or since. It just seemed to fit his head perfectly.

All of this, of course, without even touching on Jack Nicholson's turn as The Joker: "Wait'll they get a load of me." It still gives me goosebumps. What else can be written of his archetypal performance? It is a piece of pop art, light years ahead of its time.

I committed every line of the script to memory.

And then, alas, came the sequels.

History was not kind to the Bat-franchise in the ensuing decades, and Joel Schumacher nearly pulled off what the TV series failed to do.

But you can't kill Batman, and thank God for Christopher Nolan. His "Batman Begins" was a steady, sure-footed origin tale, even if it lacked gravitas for some.

And his sophomore effort, "The Dark Knight," is spectacular. To call it simply the greatest superhero movie ever made diminishes the feat.

It is a brilliant film, period. With or without the costumes. Period. It's one of the best crime dramas I've ever seen. Period.

And there's no need to rehash or restate what has been said about Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker. Everything you've heard is true. He is remarkable and terrifying and hilarious and dripping with bile. The performance belongs among the top 10 screen villains of all time, behind maybe only Darth Vader, the T-500 machine in "The Terminator," and Dennis Hopper in "Blue Velvet."

If I had my way, we wouldn't see another Batman movie for many years. There's just no real way to top this one, and part of that is because of the inescapable melancholy lent to the film through Ledger's death. What a fucking swan song. His character dominates the movie, and the actor's death permeates it, adding to an already eerie and ominous plot. In The Joker's words, this is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. It is a dark, dark film. And it's nearly perfect.

But the fact is, many more Batman movies will be made before I die, for two reasons. First, Batman is timeless and eminently compelling. His story is a human story because he is one of us. His parents were murdered in front of him as a child, and it has turned him into someone who, in some ways, is as disturbed as his enemies. His anger and his nobility, his rage and his discipline, his vengeance and his justice ... these are balanced inside this man in a very complex--and a very American--way.

We will always want to see more of him.

The second reason is because "The Dark Knight" made a shitload of money. And the studio will always want to see more of him, too.

So I pose to you, dear readers, a simple and whimsical question, because neither of those traits is inherent in "The Dark Knight."

For the franchise's third installment that will most certainly begin filming soon, what C- or D-list actor should Christopher Nolan (or his replacement) incorporate into the plot, as has become the custom?

In "Batman Begins," it was Rutger Hauer, playing a slimeball CEO. Hauer hasn't done a marquee film since "Blade Runner," and it doesn't look like he'll be back in demand anytime soon.

In "The Dark Knight," it was Eric Roberts, playing a high-level mobster. Roberts, to my knowledge, hasn't really done ANY film that wasn't a straight-to-video release (although he was excellent in "Heaven's Prisoners").

So who's next? C. Thomas Howell? Craig T. Nelson? Dabney Coleman? D.B. Sweeney?

Let's hear some suggestions.

And if you haven't seen "The Dark Knight," run, do not walk, to it.

Original MySpace post: 7/27/2008

Leave a comment