Jan 19, 2011

Benefit of the Bat-Doubt

There was some huge news that broke today.  I'm not talking about the House repeal of the health reform measures.  I, of course, am talking about the news that Christopher Nolan has officially announced Anne Hathaway will be playing Selina Kyle (Catwoman) and Tom Hardy will be playing Bane in the new Batman movie.  For those of you who really care about this, you already knew that.  For those of you who don't care about this, here is a link to coverage of the health care repeal.

As you would expect, the news brought a lot of discussion and hand-wringing from the comic book fans out there in the blogosphere.  (And let's be honest, that's a good portion of the blogosphere.)  I already read some comments, wailing against the news.  One of the first comments I saw on a news story was, "NOOOOOO!  NOT HER!!!"  That person was apparently not happy.  Other people were angry that the villain was going to be Bane instead of Hugo Strange or whatever.  I thought the casting was interesting and really had no problem with it.  Here's my own personal reasons.  One, I like Anne Hathaway.  She would probably be in my list of five favorites actresses.  So I'm glad to see her in the movie.  In fact, when I have talked about how horribly miscast Katie Holmes was in Batman Begins, I have often said, "If it was someone like Anne Hathaway, the movie would have been perfect."  So, no gripes there.  Two, I like Tom Hardy - from what I have seen him in.  He was fine in Star Trek: Nemesis (also known as Star Trek X: The Remake of Star Trek II).  And he was very cool in Inception.  I think he will be fine.  Three, I love Bane as the villain.  He's one of my favorite Batman characters.  You know, as long as he is actually being treated the way he should be and NOT like some big dumb thug.

Beyond my personal likes and dislikes, though, there are some other reasons I wasn't frazzled by the news. My first reason is that we need to give Christopher Nolan benefit of the doubt at this point.  He has taken great care with the Batman franchise.  His vision has been incredible - actually giving the series even more depth and power.  Batman already was my favorite comic book hero by far.  My next favorite is Iron Man.  The same goes for the movie franchises.  Jon Favreau has done an amazing job with Iron Man.  But Nolan went far beyond that - taking the Batman films somewhere no one thought possible, both commercially and critically.  I mean, if The Dark Knight had come out a year later, it would have been up for a Best Picture Oscar (in the expanded ten film field).  A comic book movie up for Best Picture?!?  That doesn't even make sense.

Taking this further, here's two words - Heath. Ledger.  Remember the uproar when he got cast as Joker?  No?  Oh, man.  People went nuts.  "Are you kidding?!?  Isn't that the guy from Ten Things I Hate About You and Four Feathers?  The gay cowboy?"  They ridiculed his pretty boy looks.  They jumped on non-comic book credentials.  It was a feeding frenzy.  I remembered in Ten Things his smile, and I thought it could be workable.  Now, looking back, it proved to be genius.  Ledger thrust the movie into the stratosphere.  He won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.  Yes, an ACTOR in a COMIC BOOK MOVIE won an OSCAR.

So we have to cut Nolan some slack.  He got grief when he cast Christian Bale, who has been stunning as Bruce Wayne AND Batman.  (Most people in that role can get one side right, but rarely do they get both right.)  He got ripped a new one about Ledger.  People scoffed at Cilian Murphy as Scarecrow.  But, he was right on all of those things.  His movies have been brilliant.  And, when you take The Prestige and Inception into account, the guy is at the absolute top of his game.  To me, he's entered Pixar territory.  Until he screws up, you kind of have to give him some leeway.

The second reason I think this is good news has to do with Bane.  The character of Bane in the comics was incredible.  He was unbelievably strong, thanks to his dependence on venom - a super steroid that was pumped directly into his nervous system.  He had been trained to be a killer.  And he had spent his life figuring out who Batman was and how to break him.  And then he did break him.  It was the first time we ever saw Batman lose like that.  Bane systematically destroyed everything Wayne held dear - everything he relied on for strength. And then he broke his back and threw him off a building.  Eventually, Batman's replacement took care of Bane.  But years later he returned - free of the venom - to once again challenge Bruce Wayne as the only man who had ever defeated the Dark Knight.  Wayne's Batman eventually prevailed.  It was a villain worthy of Batman.  If Nolan can pull it off, which I think he can, the movie could be unbelievable.  Remember, at the end of the second film, Batman is on the run from the police.  Gotham believes he is a murderer.  He is going to have to do things alone, which is where Bane wants him.  I'm excited to see.

Now, I can understand some concerns.  When I say that Nolan has done a great job with Batman, that is certainly true.  But he has had some small missteps.  The biggest of those are in the female lead department.  Katie Holmes was horrible.  She wasn't as bad as Kate Bosworth in Superman Returns - who singlehandedly ruined what could have been good movie.  But she was close.  I cringed whenever she was on screen.  I hoped that the arrived of Maggie Gyllynhyll (is that the right number of y's?) would help.  But she didn't.  It made me wonder if it was the just the character was stupid.  Or does Nolan have a problem with directing females?  In Inception, most complaints center around Marion Cotillard's Mal character.  In The Prestige, none of the ladies did much to distinguish themselves.  I haven't seen Memento or Insomnia, so I can't be sure about those films.  If Nolan actually does have a problem eliciting good performances from females, this film could be in trouble.

Hathaway is a good actress.  She does funny.  She does dark and troubled.  She has an Oscar nomination.  She's the right calibre for the role.  BUT, is she Selina Kyle?  I think she could become her with the right direction, just like Ledger became Joker - even though he was not suited for it at first glance.  Kyle is a beautiful woman with distinctive features - which Hathaway can mirror well.  But the thing about Catwoman is that she is dangerous.  It is like, you know that you should just stay the heck away from her - but you can't.  Batman knows she's trouble.  He shouldn't hang out with her.  But he still does.  The fact that he tolerates her without constantly tossing her in jail shows her powers over men.  Does Hathaway convey that?  I'm not sure.  She doesn't seem like it.  That doesn't mean she can't.  But if Nolan has trouble helping ladies, then it could be a problem.

All in all, the news today did nothing to diminish my excitement for the film.  I love Batman.  I love Nolan's filmmaking.  I love the characters of Catwoman and Bane.  I like Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy.  Hopefully it will let that film trilogy go out with a bang.

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