Superhero Movies, Part 1: The Dark Knight Rises

Last weekend I happened to stumble upon the incredibly uninspired Avengers cartoon.  Seeing the Hulk in action made me want to watch the Incredible movie version again.  I didn't have the chance to watch it at the time, but the simple thought seemed to trigger a thematic movement in my reality.

A few days later, the news broke that Anne Hathaway had been cast as Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final Christopher Nolan Batman movie.  The same news also revealed who Tom Hardy would play: Batman villain Bane.

Not coincidentally, I'm sure, TNT showed the second Batman movie this evening.  TNT is really good at playing movies that kind of force you to watch them, even if you already own the movie on DVD.

Between the Batman movie news, TNT, and my desire to watch the Incredible Hulk again, I have found myself on a superhero movie kick.  It's good timing, too, given how many of these movies are going to be released this year.

The Dark Knight Rises casting story caused quite a stir, although I think more for those who don't read comic books than for those who do.  Want proof?  The phrase "Batman Bane" was one of the most searched on Yahoo last week, because only people who read Batman comics actually know who Bane is.

Those of us who do read comic books talked about how odd the choice seemed, given the library of much more popular Batman villains.  Bane, however, has advantage of being a character who easily translates to film.  He also doesn't have much of a fan following or any pop culture recognition, so he's ultimately a blank slate for Nolan.  There's also nothing particularly campy or over the top about him, or at least such a portrayal can be easily avoided.

I do wonder how much Nolan will delved into the drugs that give Bane his superhuman strength, or if that will even be a part of the movie.  Simply giving Bane such abilities begins to take the movie away from its strengths, and it wouldn't surprise me to see Nolan drop it all together, or at least make Bane's usage of the drug (known as "Venom" in the comics) less frequent.

It will also be interesting to see if we'll get a brief appearance by Hugo Strange, who had a hand in creating Bane.

As for Selina Kyle, I had something of an epiphany about her character earlier this evening.  One of the things that most people have pointed out as being curious is the fact that the press release announcing Anne Hathaway's casting referred to her character as "Selina Kyle."  It didn't say anything about Catwoman.

That's kind of strange, given that Catwoman is a household name and not many people know the name Selina Kyle.  If they're going to name Bane, why wouldn't they name Catwoman?

My theory is that Selina Kyle will never be called Catwoman in the movie or, if she is, it's just as a joke.  She'll still retain all the elements of the character: she's a cat burglar, she's a love interest to Batman -- I would guess she'll probably even love cats.  But I don't think she'll ever use the name or ever wear any kind of costume.

Which makes sense.  Nolan would want to keep this movie as realistic as possible and costumes have been off limits so far for anyone other than Batman.  I wouldn't expect Bane to wear anything resembling a costume, either.

I have high hopes for The Dark Knight Rises, despite the title.

Now, Green Lantern, on the other hand...

Avatar Review, and stuff about science fiction

My friend Tony commented that not seeing Avatar in 3D was a waste of time, and I'm inclined to agree with him.  Unfortunately, a) 3D makes my brain tingle (seriously) and b) I feel like any movie that's dependent upon special effects to be good, really isn't.  And that was certainly the case with Avatar.

The movie was 162 minutes long, which was roughly 142 minutes longer than it really needed to be.  Twenty minutes of an adventure in the alien forest would have been enough.

I won't talk about the story, as that's been beaten to death since the movie was originally released.  No, what Avatar made me think about was science fiction in general, and our efforts to tell science fiction stories in visual mediums.

Basically, the odds of an alien race looking anything like us (as in humans) are really, really small.  The sheer number of evolutionary coincidences that would have to happen to create a humanoid race would be astronomical.  In other words, the little green men wouldn't really be men at all.

Of course, visual storytelling has been hampered by its tools.  Star Trek had face paint and limited prosthetics to work with, so the fact that every alien race they encountered had two legs, two arms, two eyes, two ears, a nose, and a mouth wasn't their fault.  They did the best they could with what they had.

I won't fault Avatar for this, either, even though it was, in theory, the first science fiction movie that could actually move away from this rather ridiculous trope.  From a storytelling standpoint, making your characters humanoid means the audience will be able to connect with them, at least better than they'd connect with, say, a shapeless cloud of energy.

Avatar does lose points for the rest of Pandora's residents.  Every single life form on that planet was an analogue for something on Earth.  You saw the alien creature and you knew it was a bird, or a cat, or a horse.  Each creature matched up with something familiar when, again, the odds of such a thing happening are infinitesimal.  Even the fact that the planet had plant life just like Earth is ridiculous.

And, again, Avatar, with all of its vaunted special effects, is the first movie to come along that truly could have acknowledged all of this.  It could make special effects look real and, in turn, made the unnatural comprehensible.  But it didn't.

No, I didn't see Avatar in 3D, but I think creators actually dropped the ball on this great new technology, which is unfortunate.