Category Archives: Comic Book Movies

THE HEROINE’S JOURNEY: An Ever Evolving Narrative of Empowered Females in Fiction PART#1 WRITER’s Q and A

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The Heroines Journey – An Ever Evolving Narrative of Empowered Females in Fiction

Over the last year I’ve been looking into the topic of The Heroine’s Journey through books, articles, youtube videos and of course perspectives from other writers of both fiction and non-fiction. This Q&A is several questions with some expert writers I admire and respect with differing contrasting points of view including Nicole Franklin, Kate Forsyth, Alice Li, Nav. K and Mike Madrid.

There will be an accompanying article up soon on this blog where I comment on some of the Theories and Ideas that are part of the modern version of The Heroines’ Journey, and ideas discussed in this Q&A as specific or unique from Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. So you can consider this PART#1 of #2 on The Heroine’s Journey and I will link the other article to this one once it is completed and posted.

So lets get into it, I hope you enjoy reading the insightful answers from these super-smart individuals as much as I did. It took several months to come together as people live in different time zones, in different parts of the world and are usually quite busy. Thanks so much to everyone who contributed!

NICOLE FRANKLIN

Nicole Franklin

Nicole Franklin is an award-winning filmmaker. Through her 25 years in the industry Nicole has been a television director, editor, educator, and contributing writer to such publications as The Good Men Project, Toronto-based ByBlacks.com and NBCBLK. For seventeen years, her company EPIPHANY Inc. has been producing independent films for numerous cable networks including Showtime, BET, IFC, Nickelodeon, Sundance Channel, FUBU TV and kweliTV.

In addition to the narrative feature on same-race discrimination in the workplace, TITLE VII, Nicole’s other credits include The Double Dutch Divas!, Journeys In Black: the Jamie Foxx Biography, Kids Around the World, Black Enterprise Business Report, Gershwin & Bess: A Dialogue with Anne Brown and the 10-chapter series Little Brother.   Nicole’s affiliations include DGA, PGA East, NABJ, The Black Documentary Collective (BDC) and NYWIFT. NicoleFranklin.com/cine.

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Q.Why do you feel that a Heroine’s Journey is needed that is distinct from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?  How does it differ? How is it the same? 

I think the Heroine’s Journey is needed because as a Black feminist I could not pinpoint why a number of female leads in films I grew up watching were not satisfying role models for me.  Why didn’t I root for women who could change the world—women who were on their own, not handing over the reigns to their male rescuers?  And, why didn’t I root for them on a consistent basis?

Plots and storylines are much better in recent years, but it wasn’t until I heard Alice Meichi Li articulating the characteristics of a Heroine’s Journey vs. a Hero’s Journey while she was speaking on a NY Comic Con panel that I realized most female leading roles have been under siege. Manipulation and lackluster results from a journey that thrives on a woman’s insecurities and borderline insanity seem to have been acceptable practice for years. Li made me rethink The Wizard of Oz after seeing it hundreds of times. Once certain characteristics of female-driven stories seep into our subconscious as media consumers we’re doomed!

Q.How can writers adapt the Heroine’s Journey to their stories? (Nicole: I’m combining questions 2 and 3 here)

First writers have to realize there is a distinction between successfully writing a heroine into movie history or into oblivion. As illustrator Alice Meichi Li has noted, there is a fascination with the goddess/supernatural character Joseph Campbell often describes now being a hindrance, and not at all helpful as she would be to a man on a mission. Is it more of a standard to see backstabbing and deception between women when one’s happiness is within arm’s reach? You bet.

Second, more female writers and directors need to be hired as showrunners and creatives behind the scripts and behind the camera on an equal employment basis. Putting these two very simple suggestions into practice would be a terrific start.

Next, films, books and art are part of commercial business. Audiences must support heroines who rock with their dollars. Li mapped out a guide for what writers should avoid in their storylines starring female leads when I interviewed her for The Good Men Project here: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/heros-journey-vs-heroines-journey-rewriting-privilege/

Q.What changes need to happen in society to further develop the idea of The Heroine’s Journey? (Nicole: See Question above)

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Q.What advice do you have for creators (male and female) who want to create good well rounded female characters?

I would refer creators to my article The Hero’s Journey vs. The Heroine’s Journey: Rewriting Privilege featuring illustrator Alice Meichi Li. Talking to her was so eye-opening for me as an artist, executive producer and feminist.

Q.What impact do you see The Heroine’s Journey having on the literature, films, comics etc of tomorrow?

We have a long way to go when it comes to a female protagonist whom audiences can cheer and demand sequels of beyond the small screen and printed pages of comics. Digital distribution outlets are now the widened doors independent artists have needed for years in order to reach a global audience. This is actually an exciting time to be a creator. And if recent box office numbers of Hollywood films starring talented, three-dimensional female leads are any indication, then this successful model has no choice but to continue and prosper. Bravo!

Where can people find you online, what websites do you contribute to, recommend etc?

Thanks for asking Jonny! I love connecting with people through my website, NicoleFranklin.com. Also, all of my social media profiles are there. I also am the founder of the tech education initiative Hack4Hope.org and the Executive Producer of LittleBrotherFilm.com, a 10-chapter film series with producer J. Tiggett on young Black males and their thoughts on Love.  As a writer I contribute to The Good Men Project, NBCBLK and Toronto’s ByBlacks.com.

You can also find Nicole on Youtube at  https://www.youtube.com/user/Nicoleedits/about?&ab_channel=NicoleFranklin

KATE FORSYTH

Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth wrote her first novel when she was only 7, and is now the bestselling, award-winning author of more than 25 books, including The Wild Girl and Bitter Greens for adults, and The Puzzle Ring, The Gypsy Crown, The Starkin Crown, and Grumpy Grandpa for children. Her books have been translated into 13 languages. You can read more about Kate at www.kateforsyth.com.au

Q. Why do you feel that a Heroine’s Journey is needed that is distinct from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?

To be honest, I see the hero in Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey as being a non-gender specific term. A girl can be a hero just as much as a boy. However, both Campbell’s language in describing the mono-mythic Hero’s Journey and subsequent usages of the format are highly male-focused, so perhaps talking about a ‘Heroine’s Journey’ can open up new ways of thinking and describing a woman’s journey of self-discovery and change.

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Q. How does it differ? How is it the same? [as Campbell’s]

For me, the journey of all my female protagonists follow the mono-mythic pattern of moving through darkness towards light, and through a process of transformation that changes them from the beginning of the story to the end. The trials that they face, the ordeals and obstacles that they overcome, are very different according to the kind of story I am telling … and the type of person my heroine is.

The Hero’s Journey is often just a way of thinking about story structure … and in that sense, it does not matter whether the hero is male or female, or even human at all. I think the secret is not to be too rigid in following the Hero’s Journey – to think of ways to make it fresh and new and surprising. And recasting this quest in the shape of a Heroine’s Journey is one way to do so.

Q. How can writers adapt the Heroine’s Journey to their particular stories?

I always try and think – what does my hero/heroine want? What stands in their way? What is the cost of failure? What do they need to learn before they can get what they want? And then I plan their journey, placing more emphasis on the key psychological turning points in the narrative structure.

Q. What changes need to happen in society to further develop the idea of The Heroine’s Journey?

I’d love to see more movies made with strong, complex and interesting female characters. Often movie and TV makers (as well as novelists) think the way to make a heroine strong and heroic is to make her more masculine – I don’t think this is necessary at all.

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Q. What advice do you have for creators (male and female) who want to create good well rounded female characters that engage the audience/reader?

Make your characters flawed, with real-life fears and problems, and then show them as they grow and change on their journey. Dynamic characters are always more interesting than ones that do not change.

Q. What impact do you see The Heroine’s Journey having on the literature, films, comics, games etc of tomorrow?

I’d love to see more films and books and games being female-centric, with strong protagonists and an interesting character arc.

Q. Where can people find you online? 

My main website is Kate Forsyth at http://www.kateforsyth.com.au/

You can also find me on Facebook, Pinterest and my Amazon Author Page at the below links:

ALICE MEICHI LI

Alice Meichi Li

Alice Meichi Li  is a New York based visual artist and illustrator for comic books, magazines, and album covers. She is the creator of the independent comic book Sherbert Lock. Alice has received numerous awards and nominations from organisations such as the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles and the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Alice also contributed words and pictures to Nicole’s article “The Hero’s Journey vs. The Heroine’s Journey: Rewriting Privilege” that inspired this BATFAN Q&A you are reading right now.

Q.Why do you feel that a Heroine’s Journey is needed that is distinct from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?  How does it differ? How is it the same? 

In a society like ours where women have historically struggled for equality, it’s hard enough to get to a level playing field — let alone set upon a journey for self-actualization. The Hero’s Journey is exactly that: a coming-of-age story where a boy can become a fully-actualized man and surpass his own masters through trials and tribulations.

On Maslow’s Hierarchy, multiple needs must be met before a person can achieve self-actualization, including the physiological, safety, love/belonging, and esteem. If a story takes place in a society like ours where many women can’t even feel safe walking around in our own gender, how can we ever achieve true self-actualization?

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I keep stipulating “in a society like ours” because there are plenty of heroines that take the Hero’s Journey in fictional worlds where they fortunately aren’t bound to a system of patriarchy. (see: Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra) So my definition of a Heroine’s Journey is that where a lesser-privileged protagonist, most likely a woman, sets upon a path to achieve normality or equality to that where a Hero might just be starting off.

Where there are trials that will help the Hero along his way, there are traps and tricks that await the Heroine as she tries to obtain equilibrium in a world that has seemingly gone mad. Where there are Masters to guide the Hero along, there are wolves in sheep’s clothing to manipulate the Heroine along.

Great examples of the Heroine’s Journey would be Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. At the end, neither Dorothy nor Alice become lauded as great heroes. They just return to the normal lives in their normal homes that they were striving for all along.

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Heroine’s Journeys reflect the struggles of women in a patriarchal society where being a woman basically means that the body you were born in impedes you from getting ahead the same way a man can. It can feel awfully like a world gone mad when a woman is constantly told by society that her life isn’t worth as much as that of a fetus.

That the work she does is worth around 77% as much as a man’s work, that she ought to keep at the “Drink Me” bottle to shrink small enough to fit society’s standards, or that she needs to destroy other women (Wicked Witches) to achieve her goals when in reality it’s actually a man behind the curtain who has the true power over her.


Q. How can writers adapt the Heroine’s Journey to their stories?A common piece of advice I see is “Just write a female character like a man”. Well, yes and no. If the story takes place in a patriarchy, but the woman faces zero consequences to acting like a man, then this is completely unrealistic. While I don’t agree with strictly adhering to a gender binary, I recognize that society does.People who fall outside of that gender binary inevitably face challenges from the people around them, and these challenges shape who they are.I had a great conversation with Phil Jimenez (writer/artist for Wonder Woman) once about how Superman couldn’t be written exactly the same if he were a woman, because people would treat him like a woman.
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Would the Daily Planet run the same exact articles on Superman if he were a woman? Wouldn’t there be the inevitable criticisms of her appearance or choice of costume?

Look at how the press treats male actors versus female actors in interviews. (For example — the types of questions Scarlett Johannson received from the press for her role in Avengers versus the types of questions her male co-stars received.

Spoiler alert: They tended to center around her body, costume and weight-loss, whereas her male co-stars were given more difficult questions about actual acting) There’s always going to be a slant. How a female Superman would react to *that* reaction would then shape her character differently than a male Superman.

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Q. What changes need to happen in society to further develop the idea of The Heroine’s Journey?To actually develop a Heroine’s Journey into a Hero’s Journey, we’d need to achieve true equality as a basis for all prospective Heroines to launch their journeys. Calling back to my response to the first question, it’s hard to focus on mastering any goal to a heroic extent if one’s basic needs aren’t even being met.

Q. What advice do you have for creators (male and female) who want to create good well rounded female characters?

First, read stories about real women and the obstacles they’ve had to overcome themselves. When encountering people who express the hardships they’ve experienced, listen or read with an open mind and open heart. Don’t be afraid to be wrong or question your pre-existing assumptions.

Second, don’t use rape or sexual assault as a character development tool unless you *really* know what you’re doing. And most people — men and women who haven’t been sexually assaulted — don’t. Even on Mad Mad: Fury Road, George Miller brought Eve Ensler (Vagina Monologues) on board as a consultant to make sure they portrayed a wide range of rape victims realistically and sympathetically.

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Q. What impact do you see The Heroine’s Journey having on the literature, films, comics, games etc of tomorrow?

Ultimately, I hope that exposing the struggles that Heroines have to deal with to achieve true equality will help others to be able to put themselves in a Heroine’s shoes and develop empathy for those who are less privileged than they are. But also, it’s just about time we had more stories focused on marginalized protagonists within their societies. In a way, the Hero’s Journey is easier to do than a Heroine’s Journey where a protagonist is just not the “right type” of person to succeed in that world.


Q. Where can people find you online? 

Here are the places you can follow my work…

http://alicemeichi.com
http://alicemeichi.tumblr.com
http://facebook.com/alicemeichili
http://twitter.com/alicemeichi

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I’m also doing covers for my husband’s comic, Sherbet, which is a dark comedy/sci-fi story that focuses on a lesbian detective who solves paranormal mysteries in a steampunk-inspired vaguely British future. (It’s okay because he’s British, too)  Sherbet would be another example of a woman who’s not adhering to a patriarchal society’s Heroine’s Journey.
NAV K

Nav K

Nav K is a writer and Blogger in Australia, a big Superman and DC fan who writes in depth insightful articles covering the DCU in Comics, Television and Film. You can find her brilliant Girl-On-Comic-Book-World blog at https://girloncomicbookworld.com/

She also writes about the Marvel theatrical films and Netflix TV shows such as Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. She was last seen flying somewhere over the city of Metropolis.

Q. Why do you feel that a Heroine’s Journey is needed that is distinct from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?

Considering Campbell’s Hero Journey structure was created a few decades ago, looking back at it you can see that it is very specific for a male hero. The structure draws upon stories that have come from the past, meaning it draws upon many stories where women were viewed more so as objects, to accompany a man, have children, be a prize etc therefore the structure isn’t completely relevant to a heroine’s journey. Because of critical social change over the past few decades it’s important to re-contextualize the hero’s journey to better fit a female protagonist.

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Q. How does it differ? How is it the same? [as Campbell’s] 

Universal elements from Campbell’s model that should be used in a heroine’s journey include the character being drawn into the adventure, facing psychological and/or physical threats and finishing the journey in a changed manner. However the heroine’s journey should take in aspects that are specifically related to females. The hero’s journey is often presented as a solo journey, however as women are typically communal the solo quest may not work as well. Also it’s important to incorporate the conflicting roles many women have in the life such as the family/work balance, maternal instincts etc.

Q. How can writers adapt the Heroine’s Journey to their particular stories?

Writers shouldn’t limit themselves to a strict structure for a heroine’s journey. Really what’s most important is to understand that you are writing a female’s journey, not a man’s journey, so don’t ignore feminine attributes. Not all female characters have to have some inherent maternal instinct, or longing for a community, however a heroine’s journey shouldn’t be afraid of incorporating female attributes.

Q. What changes need to happen in society to further develop the idea of The Heroine’s Journey? 

I think once this stigma is removed that no one cares about female leads, we will get a much better start on developing the idea of the heroine’s journey. Creators still choose to stick to the traditional male hero archetype as it’s a safer bet than focusing on a female lead. Once creators get an idea of greater acceptance in society for female leads, they will start creating better female characters. Just looking at the superhero sphere, there has been a lot of controversy at Marvel for their failure to recognise their female heroes as equals.

Black Widow doesn’t get toys and solo movies, and it won’t be until 2018 that we see a solo female superhero movie from Marvel. This is happening because Marvel don’t believe that a female hero can sell right now. So they will wait until Wonder Woman makes her debut and gauge the audience reaction to her so that they can commit more.

But considering there has been this controversy in the first place, from both female and male audience, recognises that there is an acceptance and want for more heroine leads. Furthermore understanding that the emotional side of a heroine isn’t a weakness can help propel the idea of the heroine’s journey, removing the idea that only the emotionless yet aggressive male heroes are the only heroic lead that works.

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Q. What advice do you have for creators (male and female) who want to create good well rounded female characters that engage the audience/reader?

Don’t be afraid to embrace the femininity of the character. You often see creators trying to develop “strong female characters” by stripping away the very aspects that make them female, and emphasizing their masculinity.

Writers shouldn’t be afraid to show emotional vulnerability, maternal instincts, communal values etc from female characters because they may be afraid of creating a weak female character. Just looking at one of the most talked about strong female characters in film this year, Furiosa from Mad Max perfectly captured her femininity, maternal instincts and strength.

Q. What impact do you see The Heroine’s Journey having on the literature, films, comics, games etc of tomorrow?

Its clear creators are having a stronger focus on female characters. You can watch an action movie now where the female isn’t just always the damsel in distress character anymore, we have stories like Mad Max, Hunger Games etc. Especially within the superhero sphere you can see the huge impact the heroine’s journey is having.

Wonder Woman who has for the longest time been viewed as this feminist icon is finally getting her debut on film decades after her creation. And we can see in these female superheroes that they aren’t being stripped of their femininity to create a “strong female character”, these characters are embracing it.

Q. Where can people find you online? 

You can find me at girloncomicbookworld.wordpress.com which is basically a place with discussion and opinion on everything comic book related from movies to TV to actual comic books!

Follow Nav on Twitter @Nav_Kay

Nav K articles:

Comic Book Movie Articles

Comic Book TV Shows

Comic Book Character Analyses

MIKE MADRID

 Mike MadridMike Madrid is a native San Franciscan and a life long fan of comic books and popular culture. The former advertising executive is the creative director at Exterminating Angel Press. He is featured in the documentary “Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines.” He also has a fantastic TV news anchor worthy mustache.

Q. Why do you feel that a Heroine’s Journey is needed that is distinct from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey? How does it differ? How is it the same?

Traditionally in Hero’s Journey stories, the male protagonist starts out being hindered either by youth, inexperience, or both. But he often has a mentor to guide him on his journey to being a hero. However, the fledgling is never shown to actually be hammered by his gender. This is not the case with many heroines in comic books.

Women who want to take on heroic roles in comics often have their abilities questioned simply because they are female. And this skepticism often comes from their fellow male heroes. These women usually need to undertake this journeys to heroism on their own, without the help of a mentor. So, the Heroine can start off her journey facing adversity not only from her foes, but her allies as well.

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Q. How can writers adapt the Heroine’s Journey to their particular stories?

I’m not sure that a female hero has to have a distinctly different journey from a male. The motivation for being a hero should be the same for a woman or a man:the desire to make the world a better place. The end goal is going to be the same, although the woman may face additional or different challenges along the way. A woman’s methods may differ from a man’s, but that’s what will make her a believable character.

Marvel’s current version of Thor, who is a woman, is an interesting example of a female hero’s journey. The new Thor has had quickly assumed a mantle of great power, and the reader sees her jump right in and grasp her new role. She displays a formidable persona that convinces her fellow heroes of her tremendous abilities.

But through Thor’s internal dialogue the reader can experience how this heroine is evolving in this role and learning about her new life. So she seems like a real character without having to be presented as a bumbling newcomer trying to figure out how to swing her hammer.

Q. What changes need to happen in society to further develop the idea of The Heroine’s Journey? 

Well, obviously women have to be viewed as being equal to men. This is a challenge in America, where women aren’t paid the same as men and where we’ve never had a female president. As much as comic books present this fantastic view of the world, often the values seen in these stories are much the same as what we see every day in our so-called “real world”.

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Q. What advice do you have for creators (male and female) who want to create good well rounded female characters that engage the audience/reader?

It’s good that the mainstream comics industry has finally recognized that there is a sizable readership, both female and male, who will buy titles featuring strong heroines. The problem is that these characters are sometimes just written as men, with breasts.

I think the most successful recent incarnations of Marvel’s Black Widow and Spider-Woman and DC’s rebooted Batgirl are good examples of characters that are shown as strong and capable, but still also come off as believable women. A woman doesn’t need to suppress her female nature just because she has taken on a heroic role. She can be strong and brave, but still show compassion and understanding.

Q. What impact do you see The Heroine’s Journey having on the literature, films, comics, games etc of tomorrow?

I think the Heroine’s Journey can teach readers, particularly female readers, how to overcome obstacles in order to achieve their goals. However, I feel like comics often focus on this journey for too long in the case of female heroes. While people ideally continue to grow and learn new things throughout their lives, as a certain point I feel it’s important to show female characters as established heroes rather than continually putting them in the role of novice.

This has been the case with Wonder Woman throughout her long career. Male writers seem to think she is a more interesting character when she is the outsider learning what it takes to be a hero. And so we have seen her origin story continually retooled and her journey toward heroism beginning anew again and again. I prefer when Wonder Woman is simply presented as an established hero on the same level as her contemporaries Superman and Batman, rather than a few steps behind them.

Q. Where can people find you online? What projects / websites / books etc are you involved in?

Besides The SupergirlsDivas Dames & Daredevils and the companion volume Vixens Vamps & Vipers, I am doing a series of collections of the adventures of some of my favorite Golden Age heroines like Black Angel and Spider Widow. You can find more information about my books at  heaven4heroes.com.

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Note from BATFAN JOHN: I own all three of these books, and I highly recommend them, Supergirls is a fun informal history of female pulp characters and Superheroines, while Mike’s other two books contain reprints of vintage comics along with some introductory essays to the comics and their era. You can find Mike’s books on Amazon.

THANK YOU so much to everyone who made this article so much fun to put together and read. Thanks to Nicole, Kate, Alice, Nav and Mike. Words can not express how grateful I am to you all for your insightful and interesting diverse answers to my Questions.
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‘Batfleck’ Ben and Star Wars

One thing I like about Marvels Avengers movie is the lack of cynicism.

Both Man of Steel and The Dark Knight while enjoyable films have a hard edged cynical feel to them, that don’t exactly scream “fun” or “comic book” to an audience.

It is fair to say that Man of Steel and The Dark Knight and the forthcoming Batman v Superman are films that while taking inspiration from comic books, want to be taken seriously as grim realistic movies, or at least as realistic and depressing as cartoonish movies can be with a man who dresses up like a bat and an alien space Jesus in tights.

In contrast Marvels Avengers and Iron Man films are not afraid be what they are – big bombastic fun comic book movies.  Emphasis on fun. Most people don’t go to the cinema to feel miserable, they want to feel good and have fun at the movies as a respite from their daily lives.

Avengers movie illustration

Personally, I love to see fresh new interpretations of Batman.

Each time Batman has a great new creator team making some enjoyable comic book stories I get excited.  I get super jump out-of-your-skin excited when any new Batman project is announced.  A comic, a game, a new film or animated series, I love it all.  No matter how many projects DC do, each time I still get excited.

And yet, as an adult I am far more critical of any Batman adaptation than when I was a kid and indiscriminately consumed whatever media was thrown my way with joyful glee.

Becoming more discriminating in the media I choose to consume and enjoy can be a sign of maturity, but it can also be a sign of a world weary soul who complains about every new project BEFORE it is even completed.

When I ask myself what is the point of getting emotionally invested in some new movie or cartoon I have not seen, and so really can have no accurate view on, well what is the point?  It is pointless.  Most films, cartoons and video games I like to know a fair bit about before investing my time in them.

Batfleck Ben and Jen

But with Batman, I don’t want to know too much and have my view coloured by other people to the point that it prevents me from enjoying something.  I will watch any Batman film, period.  Even if it is shit.  I want to like any Batman film that comes along.  I will give any animated show a fair shot before writing it off.

Take for example the Batman: Brave and the Bold cartoon.  I watched a clip when it first aired and found the show to be camp, silly, annoying and childish. It was too much like Adam West Batman for my tastes.  Imagine my surprise years later when I took another look at the show to discover it is absolutely brilliant, and one of best animated shows DC has ever created.  Brave and the Bold even manages to have some of the most emotionally affecting Batman stories ever told in any medium, and it is a cartoon intended for children that just happened to sneak in great stories and nods to fifties DC Comics.

There is a real danger (well danger is too strong a word, but you get my drift) that as fans we become world weary and cynical and overly opinionated about our favourite fictional characters and worlds.  Some fans start to even have too strong a voice thanks to the internet, even potentially interfering with the creative process by making a hullabaloo about not very much at all.

I personally feel that any artist in any medium is only accountable to themselves to create the vision they had intended

Whenever I read a criticism of say a film that “didn’t do this, and didn’t do that”, I pause and reflect, thinking, well, did the writer/director intend for the film to be what YOU wanted it to be, or did they intend for it be what THEY wanted it to be.

It seems sometimes we are willfully ignorant.  If we don’t like a particular artist, writer, director or whatever, we the audience of loud mouthed reactionary idiots (a.k.a. fans) can choose not to interact with whatever media they create.  Nobody is forcing us to consume their intellectual product!

If you don’t the vision a certain director or writer has in an adaptation of something you like, well then don’t bloody well watch it.  Don’t watch something you hate just so you can go online and bitch about it like a whiny little spoilt kid.  That is giving in to the dark side of the force my friend!  Not in a cool Darth Vader way, just a really pathetic and sad waste of life energy that COULD have been used to do something worthwhile.

Times likes these, I ask myself, WWBD?  What Would Batman Do?  Go online and whinge like a little baby, or go out into the world and do something, however big or small to make a difference.  Would Batman spend his efforts complaining about how the world is, or invest his efforts in creating a better word?

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Superman flies better when he is drunk

It boggles my mind why any fan would mindlessly watch a film or play a video game purely because it is based on something that at one point in their life they enjoyed, but now seem to get a perverse kind of joy out of vocally hating and being miserable about every new incarnation of their favourite character or fictional world. (Wait, didn’t I just say something earlier like I would watch ANY Batman film…..)

Two examples that come to mind are Star Wars and Ben Affleck.

Did you groan at the mere mention of those words?

Affleck is NOT who I would pick for being Batman. But hey I don’t run a film studio, and nobody is asking me.

Ben Affleck being announced as Batman was not something I was enthusiastic about

However, I don’t have anything against the guy, I give him the benefit of the doubt that I will watch the film then form an opinion about it.  The vocal minority who skew the perspective of geeks world wide with their endless ranting, bitching, pissing and moaning and spewing copious amounts of nonsensical bile and venom is a really UGLY phenomenon that I want nothing to do with.

When I hear someone mention the word “geek” I think of people who are passionate about their pop-culture or whatever they are in to.  The ugly side of geeks it is when the fans think they own the Intellectual Property and try and dictate to the film studios and character creators and writers how they feel it “should be”.

Love or hate Ben Affleck, it makes no difference to my life whatsoever.  If you enjoy the Batman v Superman film– great. If not, there is always another Batman film right around the corner, we are in no danger of running out of Batman films in the next one hundred years, chances are you will like at least one of them.  And whether B v S is brilliant or a right load of old cobblers, what difference will it make ten years from now?  Life will go on.

Detective Comics 590 cover
I like my Batman dark, brooding and Gothic thank you

The Star Wars prequel issue had a bit more teeth to it.  At least people actually WATCHED the films, then started ranting, raving and foaming at the mouth about the things they didn’t like in Episode 1.  To be fair, Jar Jar Binks was a stupid and irritating character that most of us want to forget ever existed.

I am not a Star Wars fan, (I like it, I know it well, just not enough to be a fan will all the cool toys etc) but frankly I would happily pay for a version with Jar Jar Binks edited out of Episode 1: The Phantom Menace or at least have him him be relatively mute for the majority of the film.  For me, that character does ruin a food portion of an otherwise enjoyable film.  But the rest of the insane over reactions that George Lucas was somehow ruining people’s childhood by making the Star Wars prequel films was childish lunacy.

There is a danger once any art or intellectual property that reaches a mass audience, that the I.P. starts to be dictated to by the audience that consumes it in a serpent eating its own tail fashion.  A film studio or a comic book writer can do target market research and get good input back from fans, that sort of thing makes sense.

In a healthy creative cycle the creator has some awareness of the audiences expectations, reactions and what they love and hate about a particular intellectual property. But the moment that fans start dictating to the creators what they should be creating, the whole creative process falls apart.

When a company or publisher (or fans) dictates to the artist / writer what they should be doing, the creative process falls apart

The only thing an artist in any field whatsoever owes is to follow their unique creative vision, and be true to that vision.  If they are doing work for hire, there may be an outline and rules to follow, that is a given.

And if fans feel so strongly that they don’t like what a particular artist is doing, rather than wasting energy in a pointless endeavor to be little dictators intent on changing what the artist creates, instead they could take that same energy and passion, and go create something themselves.

They could go and create something and start their own conversation in the arena of public consumable entertainment.  That is at least part of the real reason I feel that some fans get so foamed up at the mouth like rabid dogs, they are jealous of those who create and contribute something (however meaningful or trivial) to the world.

Young kid anakin skywalker

I want to say to anyone in any medium, good on you for creating something, ANYTHING.  Congratulations on living the dream and getting off your ass and doing something.  Whether it is writing a movie script, drawing an awesome piece or art, writing books or fan blogs, contributing to a pop culture website or building dioramas or whatever the hell you are into. Paid or unpaid, career or hobby – it doesn’t matter, when you do what you love time just melts away and like minded people will enjoy your work.

Let those creative juices flow, the more you create, the more satisfied you are.  Creating something, sticking with a project through all the difficulties and seeing it through to the end takes real concentration, passion and a little Barry White style staying power.

I have zero wisdom to impart in this post.  It is just a random brain fart / rant that I felt like sharing.  I like to bitch and moan as much as the next dude about shit that I care about and want to see done right. But what is “right” is just my opinion, and I may be wrong.  Don’t expect to see too much of this sort of thing on my Batman Blog, as I prefer to spend 90% of my attention and efforts concentrating on what is right with the world, and what I love (and who I love) in life.  I just feel better that way.

It is easy to be a moaner and complainer and be really cynical, I did it for years.  But it is also a really in-authentic way to live.  Batman is the most honest and authentic guy around (excusing the whole dual identity thing of course), so if I am REALLY a fan of Batman, then I am going to live the most authentic life I know how.  That means facing up to problems in life rather than running away from them, and like our man Gandhi, being the change you want to see in the world, rather than sitting on the fence telling other people what they “should” be doing or not doing.

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Well… if there is a lesson to be learned perhaps it is don’t give into hate, hate leads to fear, fear leads to hate and the dark side of the force or some such nonsense Yoda said in the Star Wars prequels.  I watched the Star Wars prequels last week with my girlfriend (who had never seen them).

Moments in the first two prequel films are pretty cringe-worthy, but that third film, wow!  Also, my girlfriend is obsessed with Ben Affleck, so I guess that is why I ended up mixing these two topics together in my mind.

The final transformation of young Anakin into ultimate bad ass dark side of the force chokes his own subordinates Darth Vader was hell impressive.  Beautiful little free spirited and inventive Anakin Skywalker turning into the cold remorseless unfeeling all time no good son of a gun Darth Vader is nothing less than genuinely heart breaking.
I still really enjoy that third film, but episodes IV, V an VI still kick the ass of the prequel films, they are like bottled lightning, destined to never be repeated.

Well, as Stan Lee was fond of proclaiming…

‘Nuff said.

LEGO Batman – The Playful Knight

LEgo Batman_2LEgo batman and john

I never thought I would see the day when I am genuinely more excited about watching a LEGO Batman theatrical movie  than the next Batman live action movie

LEGO Batman, he’s a swell cat I tell ya, I even got to meet him one time when he was in Melbourne as you can see in the fabulously cheesy picture up there.

I just happened to be wearing a Batman T-shirt at the time of course, he waved me over but refused to sign my powerade bottle, explaining that his LEGO hands were too big to hold a human sized pen.

You can take the best Batman cosplayers in the world and frankly it bores the hell out of me.  I mean I respect what they do, the passion and the enthusiasm, but it just does not hold my interest.

But a photo with a life size LEGO Batman excites the hell out of me.  It speaks to that inner child that used to play with Kenner Super Powers Superman and Batman toys and the same kid who listened to read along picture books with an audio cassette that read the book out loud to you (and had cool sound effects). The two books I had when I wass a kid were TRON and Star Wars, both were AWESOME!

LEgo BAtman 2 Video Game DC Heroes Unite

Lego Batman is not the sort of thing I thought I would ever care about

I remember un-enthusiasticly playing with some LEGO bricks as a kid in a big plastic bucket along with other odd toys that got mixed into it, possibly some Playmobil.  Either that or the fisherman dude in the bucket was a giant.  It was fun I guess but I never really built anything, just sort of messed around with them.  When I was a teenager I had this cool LEGO set that could be built into a Formula 1 style racing car or a single seater biplane, both were pretty cool.

That is the sum total of my experience with Lego, which at this point means I have not touched a LEGO brick in at least twenty years.  When LEGO Batman (the LEGO toy sets) came along, I was not even aware of it.  I had seen the Harry Potter and Star Wars LEGO toys in shops whenever I went browsing for superhero action figures at Kmart and other chain stores, and was aware of the various licensed LEGO video games by Travellers Tales.

When Travellers tales released the first LEGO Batman video game, then I started to pay attention.  I had previously played only one of the TT LEGO games, the original Star Wars Trilogy LEGO game that I played for free and wrote about for an old video game review for a website.

LEGO Batman_3
Yeah, don’t leave your girlfriend alone with Batman, or this may happen

LEGO Star Wars was a fun but unremarkable game, most noteworthy for its two-player co-op which suited kids playing together, and the drop in- drop out co-op was also well suited for parents playing video games with their kids.  The LEGO games are mindless fun, relatively easy to complete but a challenge to find every item and unlock every character.  They are games that encourage replay, but can get a bit dull after a while, they really are made for and suit a younger audience.

The most memorable thing about the LEGO Star Wars video games were the amusing story scenes that played out throughout the game, giving a brief overview of the major events in the movies.  Like animated cliff notes really.  The cut-scenes had no dialogue, just expressions and sound effects.  By the time LEGO Batman arrived on the scene, the Travellers Tales LEGO video games now had voice actors, which meant that LEGO Batman 2 had a full voice cast, and the story scenes were good enough to be released separate from the game as a direct to market animated CGI feature with expanded content.

Fast forward a few years and the video game series is up to LEGO Batman 3.  LEGO Batman made a significant multiple scene stealing appearance in the theatrical The LEGO Movie, voiced by Arrested Development’s Will Arnett, next to Chris Pratt’s lead character (Andy in the brilliant Parks and Rec, Star Lord in the ever groovy Guardians of the Galaxy).

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I know that the upcoming Superman v Batman or Batman v Superman (or whatever other nonsense click baiting name they come up with) film will be great fun, and I can’t wait to see it.  But however good or bad it is, every BATFAN has basically already seen it in our minds.

The story will be cobbled together from comics that have been around for donkeys years, there will likely be nothing new in the film, other than JLA member cameos building up to DC’s eventual JLA movie release.  If you want a JLA Year One story, well Mark Waid already wrote that comic series in 1998, it is a good read, and I encourage you to take a look at it if you have not already.

As much as I want to see Batman v Superman, I don’t expect anything new or innovative from the film.  However, the LEGO Batman solo movie, spinning off of the success of The LEGO Movie and LEGO Batman video games I am super excited about.  The Lego Movie not only had Batman as one of the main three characters, but cameos from Superman, Wonder  Woman, Green Lantern

LEGO Batman the Lego Movie_1

I’m a big fan of Arrested Development, as are my brother, sister and girlfriend.  There is barely a day that goes by that we don’t mention a quote or reference to Seinfeld and/or Arrested Development.  For people that don’t “get” those shows, saying to a fan you don’t like Arrested Development is like saying you don’t like oxygen.  It is just UNFATHOMABLE!

I am also a big fan of Will Arnett in pretty much everything, even the lesser Saturday Night Live vehicle movies with hit and miss gags I find are still pretty entertaining.  But my favourite Will Arnett appearances would have to be his minor roles in The Rocker, Blades of Glory and 30 Rock.  And his brilliant pairing with Christina Applegate in the TV show Up All Night.

In addition to numerous cameos in everything from 30 Rock to Parks and Rec and The Office, Will Arnett has been a decent voice actor in a surprising amount of animated theatrical features and video games.

Danny Phantom, King of the Hill, Ratatouie, The Simpsons, Monsters vs Aliens and more are on his resume, so it is not a bit surprise that he as was cast as LEGO Batman when you consider all the voice acting experience he has.

LEgo Batman_4
“Will this work?” Of course it will! “Why?” BECAUSE I’M BATMAN!

The LEGO Batman theatrical film will be something special, with a much bigger budget and a better voice cast than the direct to market previous CGI  LEGO Batman animated feature (the story scenes from the video game were released as a direct to market feature).

The success of the LEGO Batman games and animated spin offs also lead to the recent DC original feature, the mouthful that is LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League vs. Bizarro League.

The JLA LEGO animated movie is short at under an hour, but it is great fun, and again aimed at kids (but I watch everything).  This JLA feature is unique in that there is no video game it is directly based on.  It uses the LEGO DC characters as featured in LEGO Batman 2, and has a decent voice cast including the ever talented Diedrich Bader and John DiMaggio from the excellent animated show Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

LEGO JLA vs bizarro JLA DC Animated Feature

The strength of the LEGO Batman I.P. (and by extension the DC universe) is so strong now that new media can be born from it that has no connection to the LEGO toys at all, other than the basic look of the characters, instead trading on the visual recognition of the iconic LEGO character style, and immediate market value of Batman and the DC Universe.

One of the things I love about LEGO Batman is that it is a great introduction of Batman to kids that parents know will not sneak in any underhanded psychotic violence like other DC animated shows and features.  I don’t have any kids (yet), but when I do, LEGO Batman is something I would be very comfortable for them to enjoy, as a game, or movie or as toys, the I.P. is just really fun and I am super excited for the upcoming LEGO Batman film with that funny bastard Will Arnett.  More excited than Batman v Superman because it will be something fresh and exciting, rather than stale and predictable.

My girlfriend finds the Nolan-verse Batman films too dark and depressing, but she liked the Will Arnett LEGO Batman, and enjoyed The LEGO Movie so much that she went out and bought the Blu-Ray.  That is a testament to the good writing and fun humour in the film, but also the strength of the timeless look of the LEGO toys and characters, which are fun for kids, adults and man-children such as myself.

Lego Movie Batman_1

If you’re itching for more fun reading, head on over to my brand new blog *Pixels in my Blood (link in blue below), a blog about my favourite video games of ALL TIME.  It doesn’t have a “follow”” tab yet, but relax about it – there will be one soon enough dear reader.  Now if you will excuse me I have to get back to playing LEGO Batman 2, easily the best game in the series (yes, better than the dull levels of LEGO Batman 3).

*Pixels in my Blood

No Pain No BANE – Tom ‘Hardman’ Hardy

Bane Dark Knight Rises football stadium two turntables and a microphone
He’s got two turntables and a microphone

Of the three Nolan Batman films, I feel that The Dark Knight Rises is the weakest.

The performances are good, the movie is spectacular in just about every way with meticulous production design, cinematography, an epic score and all the usual bells and whistles.  It’s got emotion, heart and pathos.

Nolan pulls out all the stops and delivers an epic over the top memorable Batman film.

However, Dark Knight Rises also has gaping plot holes too big to jump over even in that magical Tumbler.

Repeated viewings are not so much fun as tedious exercises in looking past the bad to find the good.

Tom Hardy plays Bane, a one-dimensional gimmick villain from the comics that I really can’t stand, but somehow Hardy manages to take a character I could not give a crap about, and not only make him compelling, but actually likable and sympathetic.

When I watched the Dark Knight Rises for the fourth and fifth time, it was to enjoy Tom Hardy’s Bane, as many other elements of the film just don’t work in my opinion, and even fly in the face of what Batman stands for.

But the cinematic Batman is its own mini-universe, and Chris Nolan has license to do whatever he wants.

While the scope of the film effectively ramps up the tension and large scale mayhem from The Dark Knight’s claustrophobic riff on Micheal Mann’s Heat, it seems to come unraveled with plot holes and too many “THAT’s why he did that… really….no, REALLY?” type moments.

The first much anticipated viewing of Dark Knight Rises at the local sticky floored multiplex had me genuinely annoyed that Batman is so easily beaten by Batman, and he made so many bone-headed rookie mistakes in the film.  That was not the comic book Batman we know and love.  But hey, it is a movie adaptation, and they are doing their own thing.

I just don’t have to agree with it.  And yes I did just say Batman beat Batman and not Bane, why?  Well it was a typo, but I reread the sentence and you know what?  Batman DID beat Batman.  He beat himself by being out of condition and ill-prepared for an enemy he knew next to nothing about, idiot!

Bruce Wayne was Batman for like two times in those other movies, then he sat on his ass for around eight years doing nothing, moping about some woman who chose to be with a good guy turned sociopath rather than him.  Cry me a river Bruce.  Great work, way to stay in shape and keep your edge, way to stay true to your vision of your war on crime and avenging the death of your parents, and the whole “never give up” thing, well done mate.

What the heck was Bruce Wayne doing for all that time?  I hope he didn’t just watch television while wearing turtle necks ala Michael Keaton’s Batman.  Did you ever notice that Tim Burton never let you see Bruce Wayne’s neck?  Kind of weird if you ask me.  What was that about, was he planning to turn Batman into a vampire in that cancelled third Burton Batman film? Because I would watch that film.

Bane sewers batman fight

The epic scope of Dark Knight Rises is sometimes criticised as being the type of large scale scenario that is outside of Batman’s abilities. The city being taken over and the imminent threat of a nuclear bomb seems more like the sort of thing Superman could handle without breaking a sweat.

Putting aside the rampant plot holes, the logical inconsistencies and all the things that a very out character Batman does seemingly without reasons

Shifting focus from what I didn’t like, what is there that I did like about Dark Knight Rises?

By about the third viewing, I started to warm up to Tom Hardy’s Bane.  Tom Hardy is a brilliant actor whose career has gone from strength to strength.  I have enjoyed following his various film roles, my favourite films with Hardy being the Nic Cave penned Lawless, followed by Warrior with Joel Edgerton and eternal booze-hound and swear machine that is Nic Nolte.  I like Hardy in just about everything.

He is not quite the chameleon-type of actor like Gary Oldman, but Hardy disappears into any role he sinks his teeth into. Let us be clear, I don’t like Bane.  He is a gimmick character who is rather boring and shallow, so I was not easily won over by Hardy in Dark Knight Rises.

When I first read that Bane was to be a villain in Nolan’s third Bat-film, I felt a cold shiver down my spine not felt since the words Joel Schumacher and Batman were uttered in hushed tones for fear that even mentioning said words would warrant a rather justified public hanging.

Bane is boring and dumb.  I had no belief whatsoever that any film with that character would be a a good film.  But now when I think of the film, Tom Hardy’s Bane is really the only good reason to watch the movie.

Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman all do serviceable jobs, but they are just rehashing what they have already perfected in the previous two films, and at times they just feel redundant in a very busy film.  Alfred and Lucius seem to exist in the Dark Knight Rises just to give exposition and push the plot forward.  Sure you could say the same of the previous two Nolan Bat-films, but here they feel non-essential.

Bane Dark Knight Rises plane scene painful for you
It would be very painful…. FOR YOU

Somehow, Tom Hardy’s Bane becomes the performance to watch in Dark Knight Rises.  He is genuinely un-nerving and scary with his strong man physique juxtaposed with the bizarre choice of an aristocratic Englishman’s voice.

Bane is just creepy enough to be scary.  He is strange enough to be a Bond henchman ala Jaws or Oddjob, but surprisingly much smarter than a henchman, and fans are still debating who the real villain / mastermind was in Dark Knight Rises.  What could have turned out to have been the most unintentionally camp villain in a Nolan Batman film, instead becomes a performance of a very driven, obsessive, intelligent and capable man.

A man not unlike Batman himself.

Whether Bane is the mastermind of the plot to give Batman grey hair at an early age and that whole thing with the Nuclear bomb set to blow Gotham to teeny tiny pieces or actually just a pawn of Talia and Ra’s Al Ghul is never clearly established.

Was Talia the master planner who used Bane?  Did Bane use Talia?  Were both merely pawns of the deceased Ra’s Al Ghul?  All are valid speculations, and Nolan loves to keep fans guessing about the “official” version of events in his films.

Unlike some directors who leave things open ended (which Nolan also has a habit of doing) Nolan always has his official version of events that is not revealed to the fans or press.  But sometimes, even years later he leaks out little morsels, little crumbs to salivating fans eager to promote or debunk the latest Inception or Batman theory.

On a sidenote, I really like Schumacher’s other films such as Tigerland, The Client, A Time to Kill, Falling Down and Phone Booth.  He is a decent director, but any Batfan knows the two Batman films he directed were terrible films on nearly every level.  But Schumacher is not solely to blame, Batman Returns is bizarrely the darkest most messed up of all the Batman films ever made, and yet slides into cheesy camp territory before Schumacher was even a whisper around the water cooler.

Oh wait, you don’t think Returns is all that dark?  Let’s see, for your consideration, in The Dark Knight the Joker puts a pencil in some guys eye, (a criminal) and blows up at empty hospital building.  In Batman Returns two parents try to kill their newborn baby, then Batman sets a guy on fire and leaves him to burn to death.  That is just the first fifteen minutes.  It gets worse.

Getting back on track, the anti-climactic first fight of Batman vs Bane is so one sided that Batman is laughable, but then he had been sitting at home for several years moping and doing nothing.  Perhaps taking a leaf out of Keaton’s Batman and watching a lot of television in turtle necks.

The second fight scene between Batman and Bane packs plenty of punch. While the brief fight with Batman and Bane in amid the crazy crowd under a blanket of fresh snow is just a prelude to Talia and the eventual saving of Gotham City, in this scene the actors actually make contact with one another.

Bane vs Batman  dark knight rises snow tom hardy close up with creepy eyes

Christopher Nolan is a brilliant film maker, he makes blockbuster films, but with brains.  The cinematography and film scores are top notch.  However, one area that is a consistent let down in the Nolan Bat trilogy is the fight choreography, which looks like pre-matrix era american action movies.

Not Batman Forever levels of awfulness, but noticeable enough to anyone who has grown up watching Hong Kong action flicks of the seventies and eighties.  Take the worst Jacky Chan or Jet Li movie from the eighties, and the fights scenes are one hundred times better than anything you will see in the Nolan Batman films.

Why?  Well, the Hong Kong action movies get by on their action, and little to no story.  The genuine martial arts and amazing stunt men (and women) of asian action cinema took the world by storm with the rise of Kung-fu cinema in the seventies, and it took Hollywood decades to catch up. Notably the Wachowski Brothers worked with Yuen Woo Ping on The Matrix.

The Matrix was the first mainstream american Hollywood film to really embrace the superior technical knowledge of asian choreographers that people actually watched.  Once you had watched The Matrix you could not un-watch it.

Seeing John Wayne throwing haymakers in old western films (or any of the generic and boring movie fight scenes that followed in his wake in american cinema) just would never seem the same again.  But take another look at the fight scenes in Batman Forever or Batman and Robin  (made just two years earlier) and see how laughably bad the fights are.  You will cringe if you freeze frame and take a look at the cut-aways and absolute nonsense on display.

Coming back to Dark Knight Rises –  in the first fight between Bane and Batman, they barely touch each.  While the fight has emotional impact, and the sound makes us feel how brutal the beat down for Batman is, freeze framing any part of the fight (or playing it in slow motion) will show the actors are often several feet apart from one another, and it is even noticeable at full speed if you really pay attention.

Bane vs Batman mugshot dark knight rises snow
The much anticipated final round of “Dancing with the Stars”

In asian action movies, by and large there is contact.  Often you have amazing stunt men and women, genuine martial artists, acrobats, athletes and stunt professionals who are not afraid to get roughed up.  By contrast, in Hollywood the studios have to protect their stars, have all sorts of insurance issues to worry about and so actors rarely fight.  Cue the stunt people, they come in an do the hard work, and generally don’t get any credit for risking their necks.

While Hollywood post-Matrix has embraced better fight and stunt choreographers, allowing the open influence of the superior Hong Kong action cinema methods, Dark Knight Rises really drops the ball.  In american action movies (or movies in general) the actors don’t actually hit each other, they stand slighty askew, and the camera makes it look like they are getting hit with clever angles.

But in Dark Knight Rises, you can actually see the wrong angles that show the two actors not hitting each other.  On repeat views, the hardcore brutal fight scene with Bane demolishing the ineffective out of shape Batman, it becomes laughably bad.  Once you notice the bad camera angles and cuts, you can’t un-notice it.  This is really just me nit-picking here, but in future if a Nolan film has a fight scene, I am not saying I want Ninja Turtles and Kung-fu masters flying through the air and doing spin kicks.  Not at all.

Whether showing a martial artist like Batman or an ordinary Joe Billy Bob in a bar room brawl, what needs to be improved is the shot showing the close up action and mid-distance action.  This can be improved simply by bringing on a consultant who already knows not just how to stage fights for the cinema screen, but how to shoot fights for the cinema screen.  Both skills are essential, there is no need to reinvent the wheel.  By and large American cinema has dramatically improved the staging of fight scenes since the old days of ham-fisted Westerns.  American cinema has been a tremendous innovator of action cinema and stunt work.

Bane is awesome_publicity shot_dark knight rises 549x600

When it comes to big-budget big-spectacle action films, America is the world leader.  But when it comes to showing up close and personal fights, whether ring fights, bar fights, or martial arts chop-socky, Hong Kong kicks the rest of the worlds collective ass.  Yet, strangely when it comes to World War II films, American cinema manages to display reasonable combat scenes, usually due to having ex-military experts on consulting duties.

There is place for every type of fight choreography.  A Punisher film should look and feel different from a Batman film, a Batman film should look and feel different from a Captain America film, Crank, Rambo, Commando, Police Story, Kill Bill, Enter the Dragon, Ong Bak, Scott Pilgrim and friends should all look and feel like independent entities with their own unique styles of fights from realistic to cartoonish and anything in between.

Rarely is any sort of combat shown in a realistic manner on screen outside of a military context. Pseudo-military influenced entertainment like James Bond, Bourne and Jack Bauer in 24 while moving closer to fight/combat realism than the typical cartoonish action movies such as Rambo are still far removed from reality, but convincing enough to do the job.

My point is there is an infinite variety of cinematic fight styles and choreography styles, and it is the job of the director, writer and producer to identify what is most relevant to their film, and if they don’t know, find somebody who does know and ask them.

The fight scene in the sewers between Bane and Batman – the two Titans of Gotham – has so many bad camera angles that while “selling” the fight, also make the fight look ridiculous on repeat viewings to anyone who has even a passing knowledge of action cinema and fight choreography.

The fight scenes are passable to a general audience.  But a LOT of that geek audience has been watching action movies most of their lives, and they know the language of cinema, and the language of action.

A significant number of fans like wrestling, comics, UFC, Batman and other cool shit.  They have read Batman comics and watched UFC for a decade, and when Batman fights worse than the lower tier fighters in UFC, well that just looks bad any day of the week.  Batman is supposed to be an expert martial artist, and yet he flails his arms like a little school girl in the first fight with Bane.  The best he can do is cover up like a boxer facing Rocky or Clubber Lang, Bane reigns down one merciless blow after another, and Batman does virtually nothing.  In the second fight at the end of the film, the actors are much closer together.

Bane vs Batman punch dark knight rises

In the second encounter, Batman is now the stronger willed fighter back in top form after training and out matches Bane.  Batman is hungry for the win.  Bane is now the one on the receiving end of a beat down courtesy of Batman, who fights a little closer to how we would expect him to, but still manages to look like a bit a jack ass because of the obvious limitations of the costume he is wearing, and the fact that we are (for the most part) watching an actor and not a stunt person.

I don’t know how much of the fight scene is Christian Bale and how much is the stunt double, (and we should not notice with good editing and creative camera angles, or it takes you out of the bloody film) but there is enough Bale in there and the scene has much better camera shots than the first fight between Bane and Batman. The second fight feels much better, it looks better close up and far away.  If you go frame by frame (and I did) there are no glaringly obvious flaws.  Pound for pound it is a better screen fight.  Also if you watch Bane and Batman in slow motion in this scene it looks like they are dancing, in a rather weird and creepy way that makes me want to see it on Youtube with pop music.

Bane / Hardy notably shifts his bodyweight back and forth, pivoting on his feet displaying the kinetic chain of powerful punches good strikers are known for, the picture above shows him pivoting his feet, snapping his hips and whipping his arms into Batman’s body in a flurry of merciless bodyshots.

Batman Bane Dark Knight Rises punch rock em sock em robots

Perhaps I am picking on this one element of the film too much, but my background in martial arts, watching action movies all my life, reading way too many Batman comics and expecting more of Christopher Nolan just makes it hard for me not to be hyper-critical.

I really dig The Dark Knight Rises.  It gets a lot right.  It is a phenomenal  spectacle of a film that is brilliant to watch, but it makes some critical errors that are hard for any Bat-Fan to ignore.  Had it been a smaller tighter paced film, perhaps it would have had fewer plot holes and head scratching moments.

But fans and studios demand more in big budget action movie sequels.  And more of everything is what we got.  More action, more explosions. Bigger explosions.  More explody explosions.  Angrier Batmen.  Hotter Women.  More plot.  More… everything.

More is not always better, but we keep asking for it, so it keeps showing up.  We really only have ourselves to blame.  In the case of Batman I want a good story.  I don’t think more is better.  If I watch Jason Statham in Crank then yeah, more is better in that scenario because it is a movie that is vapid, shallow and pointless, and  I love it for what it is.   A hyper-kinetic insane movie of “top-this” ludicrous series of events, set-pieces and lashings of the old ultra-violence turned up to ’11’.

In Dark Knight Rises Tom Hardy effectively becomes the Darth Vader of the nolan Bat-Trilogy.  He has the mask and creepy voice, and we really don’t know what it is that he wants – other than to destroy the life of Batman and break the will of Gotham City.  He is just a really nasty, smart and evil guy you do not want to mess with.  It is not an easy task to act with your face obscured, particularly the mouth.

Tom Hardy gives a mesmerising performance as Bane, effectively using his body language, his voice and he says a lot with his eyes.  Bane is a bad guy, but one we can’t help but feel some sympathy for.  He may be a monster, but his reasons are far more human and relatable than the Joker or Ra’s Al Ghul.

He is perhaps the most humane villain we have seen in a Batman film, despite being a killer and potentially part of a death cult who presumably will be killed along with the citizens of Gotham in the planned nuclear explosion.  He will kill you and beat you mercilessly, but he will also give you a damned good reason for why he did, and you will be hard pressed to disagree with his reasoning.  He would make a great salesman.

In Bane we can see a brutal and ruthless man dedicated to his cause, but also a small and timid boy, a wounded soul not unlike Batman himself, born in tragedy and pain.  The comic book version of Bane, who appears to be like a muscle bound idiot was the creation of Chuck Dixon.  In the first Bane story Vengeance of Bane, (a 64 page one shot that introduces the character as a prelude to the Knightfall storyline) Bane is established as being very smart and very strong.

A self-made man like Batman who studies and perfects his mind and body while in a harsh South American prison run by a corrupt warden.  Born into captivity, prison is the only life he has known.  That he not only survived, but thrived in that environment is a testament to his strength of character and mental resolve.  Like Batman, he too is a creature of will power, strength, intelligence and emotional trauma.

Bane was still basically a gimmick character to “break the bat”.  A big strong bruiser of a man to mess up Batman conceived in the same era as Superman died at the hands of the mindless killing machine Doomsday.  Unlike Doomsday, Bane has as much brains as brawn.  He is more than a simplistic character, yet he is still a throw away gimmick character that I really don’t care for.

Except when Tom Hardy breathes raspy charismatic life into him, then I care about Bane, I feel something for Bane. Without tom Hardy, I don’t think Dark Knight Rises would be worth watching more than one time.  He takes a flawed film and salvages something in it that makes it worth repeat viewing.

I’ll be watching The Dark Knight again every year that I live, but Dark Knight Rises not so much.  And I’ll always remember the time that Nolan and Tom ‘Hardman ‘Hardy made me care about a character who I thought was lame and stupid. Hardy transforms Bane into a very flawed, passionate, dedicated, and horrible human being, who remains deeply human and strangely relatable, like the best villains such as Darth Vader or Dr Doom.

And yeah that mask is not connected to ANYTHING.  Seriously, WTF?

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Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face: Gotham’s White Knight

harvey-dent I belive in harvey dent Two Face Aaron Eckhart The Dark Knight Nolan Bale Ledger

Aaron Eckhart could have been Batman.

He has the square jaw and intensity of Batman, the charisma, charm, slick confident attitude and good looks to be Bruce Wayne.

It seems fitting that an actor who could have easily played Batman / Bruce Wayne ends up becoming Two-Face.

Two-Face has been handled differently in the comics according to the values of the day, and who was writing the character.  In his original inception, he is a knock off of a Dick Tracy era “ugly gangster with a gimmick”.

The split in half suit of contrasting colours, double sided coin and split personality were a gimmick that made Two-Face distinguishable from other comic book or pulp villains.  The classical look of Two-Face speaks to the era of guys in suits, Al Capone era bad guys, mob enforcers and other similar crooks and made men.

The modern day version of Two-Face plays up the similarities and differences between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent, and gives more emphasis to the psychology of Two-Face rather than just the gimmick clothing, coin and gangster schtick.

In Batman: The Animated Series the early years of Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent show the two of them as friends and contemporaries.  Both men are passionate about law and order, and genuinely care about proactively fixing the corrupt city they live in.

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The relationship of Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent was retroactively established in Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. Comics are a strange medium where time is fluid, where events can change seemingly without warning.  The next retcon (retro-active continuity) is only just around the corner for most modern characters.

When the friendship of Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne was established in the Batman comics, set during his earlier years in Millers Year One, it retroactively meant that every story before that was now affected by this new continuity.  It meant the relationship had always existed, even if stories  in the previous decades had failed to mention it.

That Harvey Dent / Bruce Wayne relationship endures in most modern interpretations of Batman.  Nolan’s The Dark Knight takes it cues from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, Miller’s Batman: Year One and Jeph Loeb’s The Long Halloween.

The movie version of Two-Face is played by Aaron Eckhart as Gotham’s White Knight, a bastion of goodness, moral virtue and incorruptibility.  He is a day time version of Batman, who needs no mask and operates within the law, he exists as a bold contrast to Batman’s Dark Knight.

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In some ways The Dark Knight is more the story of Harvey Dent than Bruce Wayne.  The entire film sets up Harvey Dents’s inevitable fall from grace, he is used as the Joker’s example (one of his many pawns) of how even the best of us can become rotten inside, if we were not already rotten to begin with.

Even the best of us can turn our backs on our own highest values and dreams, and instead be overcome with anger, grief, depression, vindictiveness, the need for revenge or to take out our frustrations on the world, rather than owning our behavior, and accepting the roles and responsibilities as authors of our own lives.

Harvey Dent’s transformation into Two-Face comes about not because of the scars on his face, the damage to his body, but because of the unbalancing of his fragile mind.  He becomes Two-Face because of his psychological scars, although the movie does hint that he has a hidden dark side.

A throwaway line earlier in the film has Gary Oldman’s Gordon refer to Dent as “Harvey Two-Face”, a name he had been called by former associates. Whether this meant he was genuinely bad, or just unpopular because did his job so well, putting criminals behind bars (many of whom who had were in league with corrupt cops) is unknown.  The Joker does not make Two-Face so much as give Harvey Dent a small push at a critical point in his downfall.

Had the Joker hospital room conversation with Harvey taken place earlier in the film, Harvey might have laughed it off. Instead in his fragile, weakened and traumatised state, he subconscious is laid bare, he openly lets the Joker’s foul ideas into his own mind, and accepts them as his own.

Two-Face is one of the most popular villains in the long running various Batman comic books.  While it was good to see him used in the Nolan Batman Trilogy, we only see Harvey Dent become Two-Face towards the last third of the film.  He could have been the main villain in a Batman film, rather than a side-note.

A one time gimmick character who appears only sporadically through Batman’s first thirty years became a staple in the Bat mythos of the seventies and eighties and has been used regularly since then up until the modern day era.  The character has enough complexity and depth to him that there are more stories yet to be told with Harvey Two-Face.

Considering the amount of characters, plots and sub-plots that must be given screen time in the Dark Knight, Aaron Eckhart does an excellent job with the Two-Face character.

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I really enjoyed Aaron Eckhart’s performance, and would have liked to have seen more of him as Two-Face in the Dark Knight film, before his untimely demise at the hands of Batman.  Despite his strict “no-killing” policy Batman manages to cause the death (directly or indirectly) of a major villain in each of Nolan’s three Batman films.

Whoops, so much for those values and codes of behavior Batman holds so dear.

One weaker element of The Dark Knight is Dent’s relationship with Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) which seems under baked at best.  Poor Rachel seems to exist in a man’s world, where despite being a strong, feisty independent woman, her role still revolves around the men in this fictional world.

In Batman Begins Rachel wants to be with Bruce, but that does not work out as Bruce will not give up being Batman.  In The Dark Knight, she is with Harvey Dent, but then he dies.  It is assumed that between the films she reverts to the strong independent solo women she supposedly is, but any time we see Rachel on screen – in either film – we only see her reacting to events caused by the male leads, or being saved by Batman who is also secretly Bruce Wayne, or being held hostage by a villain.  She fails to exist as her own character separate from the male heroes and villains.

It is no secret that women come off second best in Christopher Nolan’s films.  They are there to serve the plot, and the male leads.  Nolan is no more guilty than the majority of other mainstream films in a patriarchal society that is content to churn out multiple male superhero leads every year, despite roughly half their potential audience being women.

Rather than being second-stringers, it is long past the time when we should be seeing female leads in superhero films, there are no shortage of characters to choose from.

But getting back on topic, I really liked Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face, he was a welcome addition to the Nolan Batman franchise, and his face looks truly horrific in the film.  I was surprised how graphic and detailed his realistically damaged face looked on screen.

I winced when I first saw it, but the horror fan in me was proud of the special effects and attention to detail shown in Dent’s exposed eye socket, jaw, teeth and muscle and connective tissue.  In The Dark Knight Eckhart shows us some of his best talents.

He shows us his charming best qualities – the slick charismatic and genuine guy we saw in Thank You for Smoking, the leadership  qualities he displayed in Battle: Los Angeles and the softer, fragile tender side he displayed in Rabbit Hole with Nicole Kidman.

I think Aaron Eckhart is a wonderful actor, and I have enjoyed following his career and hope to see him in more films that really utilise his talents and have him grow as an actor and a human being.

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Have you read these other Nolan Bat Trilogy posts?

Why Christian Bale is the Batman Gotham Deserves

Christopher Nolan – The Intellectual Knight Gotham needs

15 Greatest Quotes on Ledger’s Legendary JOKER Performance

Heath Ledger’s Legendary JOKER Performance PART#2

Why Christian Bale is the Batman Gotham Deserves

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I never want to feel that I’m playing it safe. -Christian Bale

A few years ago… well, MORE than a few years ago my best old mate would not shut about some guy called Christian Bale.

“Who’s he then?  Never heard of ’em” I said.

“Oh, he’s good, you gotta watch him in The Prestige, or The Machinist!” he replied.

“I don’t know what the hell you are talking about, I’ve never heard of those films… and I don’t know I care to continue this conversation, good DAY Sir!”

“Trust me, you have GOT to watch them, you’ll thank me man”

And so it went.

Except the “good DAY Sir part” from Willy Wonka, I added that in just now.

So one lazy afternoon, weeks later after I had finished work and *completely* forgotten the conversation with my friend I ambled into a video rental store from the last century and saw the cover of some movie that proclaimed it was “Memento meets Fight Club!”  Well, balderdash and poppycock!  I love both Memento and Fight Club, and surely this was another wild and irresponsible claim that would prove to be a bald faced lie.

But then I remembered my mate who was raving about The Machinist from a few weeks back. I decided that it would probably be crap, but I would watch it just to prove whoever wrote that steaming pile of hyperbole dead wrong.  I watched The Machinist later that night, towards midnight, the perfect time for a paranoid fever inducing film of madness and insomnia.

That quote on the front cover turned out to be pretty accurate. Fast forward in time and I watched The Bale in The Prestige, which became my favourite film for several years.  Not because of Bale, but because our man (I live in Oz) Hugh Jackman was in it, and I liked him in everything, even the crap films. Also,  David Bowie was keeping up appearance as Nicola Tesla, and Bowie is my favourite musician of all time, so I knew I had to watch it, at least for old Ziggy Stardust. Hugh Jackman Christian Bale The Prestige_800x532 The Prestige is without a doubt, Christopher Nolan’s best film.  The internal structure is so sound, that it makes criticisms of the plot in his later films such as The Dark Knight Rises and Inception even more poignant.

To be fair, The Prestige was based on a book, while Inception was not.  Inception is my favourite Chris Nolan film by far, and the one I have watched most next to The Dark Knight.  But while Inception is my personal favourite, I think that The Prestige is Nolan’s best overall film so far.  It became the mold for most of his following films, it established his working relationship with Christian Bale and “good luck charm” Michael Caine.

The Prestige sets up two warring adversaries – not unlike the Joker and Batman, and it features women marganalised by career obsessed men who abandon their loved ones perhaps for a higher calling, or perhaps just because they are selfish – similar to Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, Cobb in Inception and Cooper in Interstellar.  While similar ideas were explored in Memento and Insomnia, The Prestige became the prototypical blueprint for a “Nolan” film, one he has not deviated far from ever since. After watching The Machinist and The Prestige I sought out any other films with Christian Bale.

American Psycho was tremendous fun, I loved Bale’s performance, Harsh Times was another highlight.  Bale became someone I went from never having heard of, to eagerly anticipating any upcoming film he might be in. I was genuinely excited when he was announced as Batman/Bruce Wayne in the upcoming Batman Begins, but  I never went to the cinema to see it.

Why not?

Two words: Joel Schumacher.

Joel SChumacher director Batman and robin Forever_800x571 Nicole-Kidman-and-Val-Kilmer-Batman-Forever George Clooney Bruce Wayne The bad taste in my mouth was still there from the previous off the rails lunatic high camp low intelligence Schumacher directed Batman films that I did not care for.  Every performance was turned up to ’11’, and not in a good way. Christian Bale brings a certain kind of intensity, passion and devotion to any role he inhabits.

The funny thing is, if you look at the other actors who have played Batman (not including the shitty old movie serials), all of the actors are pretty decent in their own way.  The two Schumacher films are total rubbish in my view, but both Val Kilmer and George Clooney I really like in a variety of other roles.

Val Kilmer I really dig in Spartan (that co-starred a young Kristen Bell, later sassy TV detective and crush of a million nerds Veronica Mars) and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with Robert Downey Jnr.  Kilmer, while only briefly in Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans alongside Nicolas Cage makes a strong impression that recalls his best work, and had me pleading to the movie gods to rescue Kilmer’s long dead career from Micheal Madsen levels of bargain basement crap.

George Clooney I have enjoyed in just about everything.  Out of Sight and Oceans’s 11, The Descendants, Micheal Clayton, Three Kings, Good Night and Good Luck, Up in the Air etc.  Yet his Batman is shockingly bad, so much so that Clooney has publicly acknowledged his performance was not good. Yet, I don’t blame Kilmer or Clooney for their performances.  An actor who does their job follows the lead of the director, writers and producers.  With the exception of the power players like Pitt, Dicaprio, Russel Crowe and friends who write their own ticket these days thanks to Producer credits, and long term friendships with bankable name Directors.  They can make or break a project if they choose to. Christian Bale Buff Batman Begins Shirtless vs The Machinist super skinny Body Transformation The Schumacher Batman films followed the Batman ’66 idea of over the top camp, there is nothing wrong with that – but they did it as a time when people wanted a darker version of Batman – at least the public did.

Meanwhile, the film studios felt that Tim Burton’s Batman movies were “too dark”.  Studios have been saying Burton’s films are too dark for over two decades now, despite the fact that most his films really are not that dark, if anything his films have become lighter in tone with the exception of the genuinely dark Sweeney Todd. How does any of this relate to Christian Bale?  Well, he is known for his passion and dedication to a performance.

But interestingly, if you look at the previous Batmen – Micheal Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney – all of them I would call passionate and dedicated actors.  Except we don’t see that so much with them as Batman, but more in other films. Although, they don’t tend to put their bodies through physical extremes for roles like Bale in The Machinist, Rescue Dawn  The Fighter and Batman Begins. Bale’s dedication to total physical transformation, going from one extreme to another recalls the classic Bobby Deniro/ Scorsese pictures Raging Bull and The King of Comedy.  Denero transforms himself into a lean and mean athlete for the boxing movie Raging Bull, and then later an overweight comedian in The King of Comedy. The King of Comedy Rupert Pupkin Robert Deniro Raging Bull Taxi Driver Body Comparison Micheal Keaton for example is far darker as a recovering addict in the brilliant Clean and Sober.  Val Kilmer is far darker and more passionate as Jim Morrison in the Oliver Stone directed The Doors, or David Mamet’s Spartan.  George Clooney is far more brooding and dark in Syriana.  So each of these actors was quite capable of being a darker dark knight in the style of Chris Nolan and Christian Bale or Frank Miller or Denny O’Neil and Neil Adams. That they were not was really a reflection of the times, and what the studio wanted to put on screen more than anything.

It is easy to blame actors and directors for a poor movie, but for a studio blockbuster film made by committee, the fault equally lies in the people who dictate what the tone of a movie will be before it is shot, or a word of the script is written. The studio – in this case Warner Brothers – wanted a lighter tone for Batman and Robin after the dark films of Tim Burton.  In Batman Returns the movie starts with parents trying to murder their own baby, who later grows up to be the Penguin, despite their efforts.

The Penguin consumes a raw fish and later vomits blood in generous amounts, and yet later in the film Batman is harassed by cartoonish real Penguins with rockets strapped to their backs. The style of Batman Returns (thematically, not visually) is a bit of a mess.  In some ways it is the darkest Batman film ever made, in other ways it was already heading towards Adam West Batman ’66 style camp, BEFORE Joel Schumacher ever came along to ruin the dreams of a million children around the world. The idea that Nolan’s Batman is the darkest is somewhat erroneous.

For example, Micheal Keaton’s Batman kills goons left and right and dumps his love interests at the first available opportunity.  He seems amoral and uncaring, close to the original Batman in Detective Comics #27. By contrast, Christian Bale’s Batman goes out of his way to save lives, and is like a lovesick puppy-dog when he realises the love of his life has spurned him when he returns to Gotham.  So the idea that Burton’s Batman or Nolan’s Batman is “darkest”  kind of misses the point, both the Keaton and Bale versions of Batman are dark in their own way, and both are influenced by the same source material. Chrsitian Bale Batman Bruce Wanye Mansion

I start from scratch with each movie; I wipe the slate and I certainly don’t rely on some bag of acting tricks I’ve amassed over the years  -Christian Bale

Christian Bale came arrived at the right time.  He arrived when the world was ready to see another cinematic Batman that was more in line with the darker version of the Batman character that has been around since the 1970s. The foundations of the modern day Batman were laid down by the Neal Adams (artist) and Denny O’ Neil (writer) run in the 1970s.

They re-established Batman as a super cool character.  A globe trotting spy and man of action like James Bond, who had over the top adventures, and he even got a cool Bond like villain in the form of Ra’s Al Ghul. Frank Miller established the darkest version yet of the Batman in The Dark Knight Returns in the 1986 prestige format four issue mini-series that was later reprinted in a single volume and has remained in print ever since.

Dark Knight Returns is the single most influential Batman story ever published. Miller followed this up with Batman: Year One which Nolan’s Batman Begins draws on heavily for its story and themes.  Allan Moore wrote The Killing Joke in 1988, the only story as dark, if not MORE dark then The Dark Knight Returns. Batman 404 1987 Year One_390x600 The Killing Joke well and truly re-established the Joker as a psychotic amoral mass-murdering lunatic, and that version has become the main version of the Joker in recent decades.  The Joker had been portrayed in many different styles over the decades, sometimes he committed pranks and robberies, sometimes he was a killer, his personality varied with the times, as did Batman.

The Killing Joke, and a few other key stories would lead to the eventual metamorphosis Heath Ledger would undergo for The Dark Knight. All of the great Batman stories ultimately paved the way for a dark knight that was embraced in the modern era, who was closer than ever to the modern comics version of the Caped Crusader.  Christian Bale had the intensity, passion and dedication to pull off both Bruce and Batman in a believable manner, quickly becoming a fan-favourite Batman on screen.

Of all the big screen Batmen, he perhaps is closest to the character in his values. Bale is passionate, dedicated, unrelenting and determined in his acting career, and I feel that this puts him a cut above any actor to put on the cape and cowl so far.  To be Batman means being the best version of yourself you can be, it means making sacrifices instead of being soft and lazy, to be Batman requires that unwavering dedication and iron-will, and Christian Bale has no shortage of that.  He is by far my favourite live action Batman, and I am glad he took the role seriously.

Heath Ledger’s Legendary JOKER Performance PT#2

To me superhero comic books are not just stories.  They are windows into other worlds.

They are mad brilliant universes where the rules of physics don’t apply, where the impossible happens everyday.

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Worlds where a dude gets bitten by a radioactive Spider and instead of dying of radiation poisoning like a good chap, instead he can now jump around ten times his own height and crawl up walls, because… well, THAT makes sense.

Imaginary worlds where a baby in a rocket can land on planet earth and grows up to be a modern day Space Jesus who shoots laser beams out of his eyes.

Worlds where a child’s parents can die in cold blooded murder in front of his face, a baptism of blood.

The solution…  Booze, broads and pills!

NO?

Instead he gets really angry, dresses up like a giant bat and goes out punching crime in the face night after night terrorising the mob and saying  a healthy “Fuck You” to the cops when they try to stop you.  Of course it makes sense, it is only what any of us would do, wouldn’t we?

If comic books are windows, doorways to imaginary universes, then what are comic-book films?

To me, while still clearly fantasy, comic book movies are one step closer to the “real” world, that we live in.  We see actual people disappear into imaginary worlds made of real sets and locations, but somehow slightly askew.  If you think about it too long, your brain starts to hurt, so don’t do it kids, learn from my example!

These exaggerated hyper-worlds are imagineered to life through the magical conduit of special effects, camera tricks, false perspective and good old story telling.  We come to believe that these stories are somehow almost real.

That these fictional characters and events could almost be playing out in a parallel world one step removed from ours,  one that bends a little more to the realm of imagination, and doesn’t bother with the usual rules of a hard line material realm.

When we see Ledger’s Joker in Nolan’s Dark Knight film, it is NOT a performance, Heath Ledger the kind hearted endearing man who is spoken of with great affection by friends and family… goes a-way, and the… Jo-kerr… well, he .. now what was it he did… oh yeah..now I remember… he emerges from the existential void of chaos like the combined ghost of Travis Bickle, Tom Waits and Alex from A Clockwork Orange thrown into a blender set to “crazy town”.

Heath Ledger’s brilliant performance as the lunatic Joker is the most memorable screen villain in recent decades.  He takes a very silly character and makes him believably dangerous and truly frightening.  He makes a cartoonish two dimensional clown come to vivid life before our eyes, and the scary part is, he shows us his madness is not so mad.

That we could become like him with just a little “push” at the right time, a tiny bit of leverage applied in the right way, at the right time and OVER the edge of sanity we go, like Holmes and Moriarty tumbling over the Reichenbach Falls.

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If Nietzsche had his Overman / Superman, then what is Heath Ledger’s Joker but the opposite of that?  He is chaos and materialism personified.  He exits in a moral vacuum of his own creation and he insists that the essential element of the universe is chaos.  His living philosophy is that life has no meaning, just chaos, random events and morality is meaningless.

That there are no causes, divine plans, no consequences or purpose to anything.  Just an existential void where you can play paint by numbers at your leisure with the entrails of your best friend or your enemy.  It makes no difference what you do or why you do it, as there is no God, no final judgement, no scales of Justice nor  Karma, just free floating pure selfish egoism in a world of chaos where everybody takes what they can get while they can get it.

The Joker sees all this and laughs, not in desperation, but with mad puppy-dog like glee.  His god is chaos.  His reason is un-reason, as a trickster character like Loki or Pan, he is there to fuck with our beliefs and world view, and he thrives on attention, on dragging people down to his level.

He doesn’t want to see the world burn, so much as light the match that gets the process started.  He would rather somebody else like Batman or Harvey Dent lit that match, and his efforts to do anything are ultimately meaningless.

In a pack of cards, the Joker card is a placeholder.  The Joker card is “Wild” in that it can take the place of any other card, or be anything the players of the card game choose it to be.

The Joker card always matches or beats whatever it is against.  …For each character or group, the Joker has a different manner of speaking.

-Dean Trippe

Comic book creator Dean Trippe observed on his Batman Podcast The Bat Cast that some film critics of Ledger in The Dark Knight found his performance inconsistent.  Something that may not be obvious that Dean pointed out, is that the Joker is a wild card, not just symbolically but literally.

Watch any scene, and you will see Ledger adapt and change into different voices and intonations, his actions seem almost random.  But look closer, and you will see that Heath Ledger as the Joker embodies the idea that the Joker card can match any suit or trump any other card.

Ledger as the Joker matches or trumps the very characters he plays off of.  Whether the police, Batman or the mob, the Joker becomes whatever someone else needs him to become.  He is like a chameleon, hence his varied performance in The Dark Knight, which is clearly intentional rather than accidental as some film critics have implied.

Is the Joker even aware of his chameleon like nature?  There is no real way to know, but if you watch the film again, you will see it.  The way he changes up his behavior, mannerisms, tone of voice and false values, or lack of them to suit who he is dealing with in the moment.

It all adds something to the role that makes you appreciate the research, and attention to detail Heath Ledger put into the role.

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When Batman looked into the existential void after his parents death he decided to make sense of senselessness.  As an adult, he uses the death of his parents as fuel for transcendence. He still feels pain, he just doesn’t make pain into his identity as so many of us do.

Batman acknowledges his pain, loss and grief.  But he moves on and dedicates himself to the ideal of Justice.  He didn’t get there overnight.  He went through his own deeply perosonal dark knight of the soul, he went through chaos and despair, grief and pain, and over the years he emerged on the other side of that.  This deep psychological stuff is hard work, it is not easy, it is not something we can set goals for or plan for in any rational way.

Pain happens, despair happens, depression happens, and we deal with it the best way we know how, and no two people do it in the same way.

The Joker by contrast didn’t just stare into the abyss, he fell in love with it.  He made it his personal god and he jumped into the void head first, dancing and laughing all the way.

There are valid arguments about whether Joker is truly insane, or whether he just enjoys what he does and puts on the theatrics as a cover story for why he does what he does, why he is who he is.  Some would say he is not insane at all, he just loves killing people, causing pain and chaos wherever he goes.  He is in love with being the Joker.  He is the only sane man in an insane world.

There are no real boundaries to what the Joker would say or do. Nothing intimidates him, and everything is a big joke – Heath Ledger

The beauty of Ledger’s Joker is that just when we think we have him figured out, just when we think we have him pinned down – he wriggles away like a snake shedding its skin.  He is undefinable, incomprehensible and his world view is unfathomable.  To try to understand him with logic or reason is an exercise in futility.

The Joker is a true sociopath with no empathy, no reason, who only believes in chaos and no higher meaning to life.  His constant narcissistic retelling of his own self-invented fictional origin is a good example.  He relishes dramatising his own disturbing past for people.  He gets off on the drama of the performance.  Each time inventing a new fiction as to how he became who he is or who he pretends to be for the audience.

He relishes the sheer terror and faint hint of understanding in the eyes of his victims.  That faint hint of sympathy they may have for him is his version of a cat playing with a mouse.  The Joker just can’t help himself, he likes to PLAY with his food before he devours it.

At the end of film, we are still no closer than at the beginning to understanding the Joker, nor his motivations.  He is a wild card, and each game means he holds a different value, a different role to play.  And he knows he plays a role, because life is a game to him, a big cosmic joke.  A twisted, demented game, but a game none the less.

There are elements of the Joker’s personality and habits that appeal to us, that are fun.  Ledger is simultaneously hilarious and horrifying as the clown prince of crime.  It can be fun to give in to our dark side, it can be fun to say “fuck you” to the world, and do things our own way.  It can be a vicarious thrill to not just self-destruct but pull others down to our level.

But unless we are willing to embrace madness or give ourselves over to true nihilism, most of us will eventually crash and burn.  Our darker self will stop being fun, we will cease to be agents of chaos, and instead will be slaves to whatever random impulse enters our sphere of influence on any given day, we become unthinking impulse driven animals, and it is a long climb back to normality from that place of spiritual unconsciousness.

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We can learn from our own dark side, and it is something in us that can not be denied.  To deny we have these impulses is to deny our very existence.  Instead we can make peace with those impulses and feelings, and find a way to express them without destroying ourselves or those around us.  I explored this idea more in depth in a previous article

“I am Vengeance I am the Night” – Exploring the dark Psyche of Batman

Heath Ledger’s role  -if you can call it that, because he IS the Joker, he inhabits him from the inside out – Heath as the Joker became the role of his life.  He really knocked it out of the park, and he will always be remembered for that role. He is iconic, hilarious, terrifying and above all – entertaining.  While I will have more to say about him in future posts about The Dark Knight, let’s end this post with a quote from Heath himself on the role he loved.

It’s a combination of reading all the comic books I could that were relevant to the script and then just closing my eyes and meditating on it,

“I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary and experimented with voices — it was important to try to find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh. I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath — someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts. He’s just an absolute sociopath, a cold-blooded, mass-murdering clown, and Chris has given me free rein. Which is fun, because there are no real boundaries to what The Joker would say or do. Nothing intimidates him, and everything is a big joke”

-Heath Ledger / EMPIRE Magazine Interview

Did you miss part #1 of this article?  Well delay no further dear reader, read the 15 Greatest Quotes on Ledger’s Legendary Joker Performance now!

15 Greatest Quotes on Ledger’s Legendary JOKER Performance

It’s the second stinking hot summer month of 2015 here in Perth, Australia, and I have already watched Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight three times so far.

The Dark Knight is a film I find endlessly rewarding on each repeat viewing, for ONE main reason.  Can you guess what that is?

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The initial fever-like frenzy that surrounded the cinematic release was the kind of buzz that normally I ignore.  Take for example all the hype for the upcoming Batman v Superman film.

It is the film I most want to see, but read NOTHING about online,

…because I don’t want to know what will happen.

I’ve subscribed to Empire (the film review magazine) for over five years now, and devour each monthly review of new films.

But in the lead up to The Dark Knight, I read not one of their articles, nor their review of The Dark Knight, at least not until AFTER I had seen the film.

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Chris Nolan films are films that I truly savor, and look forward to.  I want to know as little as possible about them, other than the cast or the general setting.  In this way I can enjoy the films on my own terms, and not have them ruined by plot spoilers or tainted by caustic reviews.

Watching The Dark Knight (and the other two Nolan Bat-verse) films this month has got me all nostalgic, so I thought why not do a series of articles on the films, looking at the good, the bad and the ugly.

As much as I love the Nolan Batman Trilogy (which is not really a trilogy at all, I’ll tell you why later…) they are not without flaws, especially the giant plot holes in The Dark Knight Rises, which somehow manages to be a decent film, despite the MANY logical flaws and inconsistencies, leaving it an uneven film at best.

Well, there is no rush, I’ve got old cast interviews to read from all three films, in character publicity photos to drool over and some pondering to do before getting into the meat of things (in upcoming articles).   But in the mean time, let’s start with 15 great quotes about Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in Chris Nolan’s film, from popular press reviews of The Dark Knight.  

Because Heath Ledger’s phenomenal performance as the Joker is easily my biggest highlight of the Nolanverse Batman films.

I love acting. Oh, God, I love it. But all this fame and all this bullshit attention. I’m not supernatural. I’ve done nothing extremely special to deserve the position. It happens every couple of years, and it’s happened to hundreds of people before me.  – Heath Ledger / Newsweek

“Batman” isn’t a comic book anymore. Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” is a haunted film that leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing tragedy. It creates characters we come to care about. That’s because of the performances, because of the direction, because of the writing, and because of the superlative technical quality of the entire production. This  film, and to a lesser degree “Iron Man,” redefine the possibilities of the “comic-book movie.”

– Roger Ebert

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“Even without Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker, Christopher Nolan’s pitch-black sequel to BATMAN BEGINS (2005) would be a tour de force. But Ledger’s mesmerizingly damaged agent provocateur is the film’s dark heart, a presence so malevolently unpredictable that it remains palpable even when he’s not on screen.”

“That Ledger stands out in such a powerhouse ensemble is a tribute to his radically unhinged interpretation of a familiar character: The lank hair tinged seaweed green, the darting tongue and faint lisp that call constant attention to the ghastly rictus of his mouth, the nightmarishly smudged make up… taken together, they make previous Jokers feel like, well, jokes.”

– Maitland McDonagh / TV Guide

“Actors are sometimes described as “disappearing into a role.” Never was that term more fitting than in the case of Ledger…  

With his cracked white pancake makeup, black-rimmed eyes, smeared lipstick and greasy, greenish-tinged hair, The Joker bears no resemblance to the strikingly handsome actor who played him. In fact, the character is like nothing we’ve seen or heard before.

Sure, there’s a whiff of Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange in the performance, but Ledger has made this anarchic maniac a singular and supremely unhinged villain. From the clumsily repellant way he flips his tongue around to his sneering, nasal voice, he is a peerless eccentric.”

– Claudia Puig, USA TODAY

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“Ledger is so horrifically riveting you can’t take your eyes off of him.

In Gotham City, crime is the force that never ends, and the arrival of the maniacal Joker (Ledger) is a manifestation of its most anarchic impulses.

With his butchered face resembling a wrinkled finger wrapped in a Band-Aid for too long, his love of chaos drives the Joker to take giddy pleasure from dragging everyone down to his murderous level.”

– Joe Neumaier / NY Daily News

“In The Dark Knight, nothing is nearly so cut-and-dried. Whereas the radicalized Ra’s, with his arsenal of dirty bombs and his urge to eradicate Western “decadence,” was a supervillain of the sort that anyone who reads the papers has been conditioned to expect, the Joker of The Dark Knight is all the more terrifying for not having a plan or an identifiable motive.

A committed anarchist in a dusting of floury foundation, a smear of crimson lipstick, and pools of Louise Brooks eye shadow, this Joker isn’t the ebullient prankster of Batman movies (and TV shows) past, but rather a freakishly disturbing embodiment of those destructive human impulses that can’t so easily be explained away.

His only rule is to show others the folly of rules, the absurdity of striving to impose order upon chaos. “Some men just want to watch the world burn,” observes the ever-wise butler Alfred (Michael Caine). Except that this Joker doesn’t merely want to watch; he wants to strike the match.”

– Scott Foundas / Village Voice

“His Joker is wonderfully textured, with a weird lip-smacking facial tic and a shoulder-hunching gait. He’s also very funny—a funniness that has more to do with timing than with the usual villainous catchphrases.”

– Dana Stevens / Slate

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“Batman’s stature as a radical symbol of good has invited a more sinister criminal presence to Gotham City — and, as seen in the crackerjack bank-robbery sequence that opens the pic, one who operates in terrifyingly unpredictable ways.

Utterly indifferent to simple criminal motivations like greed, Ledger’s maniacally murderous Joker is as pure an embodiment of irrational evil as any in modern movies.

He’s a pitiless psychopath who revels in chaos and fears neither pain nor death, a demonic prankster for whom all the world’s a punchline.”

– Variety

“Ledger’s Joker is every bit as disturbing as he is disturbed — tongue-flickingly reptilian, and yet disarmingly commonsensical in the way he relies on the dark side of human nature to aid him in wreaking havoc.

He uses crowd psychology to endanger crowds, subverts legal niceties (wait till you see what he does with that one phone call he’s allowed when arrested), and greets the perpetually self-doubting Batman as a fellow damaged soul.

It’s a heart- stoppingly unpredictable performance, haunted by the audience’s knowledge of Ledger’s death earlier this year — and rendering even darker what has to be as dark a superhero fantasy as Hollywood is likely to produce any time soon.

Regardless, the real relationship here is between a Batman in existential crisis and a Joker who’d love to leap with him into the abyss tight-assed yin and anarchist yang in a fantasy franchise that Nolan (in concert with his scriptwriting brother Jonathan) has made as riveting for its psychological heft as for the adrenaline rushes it inspires at regular intervals.”

– Bob Mondello / NPR

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“Bale, all steely reserve, once again captivates as the haunted caped crusader who must shed morality to beat the devil at his game.

But just as Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman was anchored by the joy-buzzer glee of Jack Nicholson’s party-down Joker, The Dark Knight takes its cue from its Joker and his deadly circus of chaos. Heath Ledger’s mesmerizing, scary-funny performance begins with the creepiness of his image: the greasy long hair, the makeup that looks as if he’d drawn it on with crayons, then messed it with tears.

That ghostly rotting paint job covers his scarred smile (explained by a backstory that gives you the willies, even if he just made it up), and the disturbing thing is that when Ledger’s Joker talks, with those ”Ehhh, what’s up, Doc?” vowels that make him sound like Al Franken crossed with a nerdish pedophile, you realize that the icky sloshing sound you hear is him sucking on his cheeks; he uses his attachment to those scars to fuel his sadistic (and masochistic) whims.

This Joker may be a torture freak, but he also has a lost quality, a melancholy hidden within those black-circled eyes. He turns slaughter into a punchline; he’s a homicidal comedian with an audience of one — himself.”

– Owen Gleiberman / Entertainment Weekly

“And then, of course, there is the Joker, whose wide smile has been carved into his face. He’s a slapstick gargoyle. When Jack Nicholson played the Joker, his campiness was only one step removed from the giggles of the old “Batman” TV series.

By contrast, Ledger doesn’t offer the audience the slightest glimmer of hope or hilarity. His motto is a sick-joke variant on Nietzsche: “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stranger.” Nietzsche had it as “stronger,” and that applies to the Joker as well: He’s fortified by awfulness.

He can’t get enough of it, and nothing – not wealth or fame or anything else – will buy him off. As Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred (Michael Caine) puts it, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

– Peter Rainer / The Christian Science Monitor

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“I can only speak superlatives of Ledger, who is mad-crazy-blazing brilliant as the Joker. Miles from Jack Nicholson’s broadly funny take on the role in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, Ledger takes the role to the shadows, where even what’s comic is hardly a relief.

No plastic mask for Ledger; his face is caked with moldy makeup that highlights the red scar of a grin, the grungy hair and the yellowing teeth of a hound fresh out of hell. To the clown prince of crime, a knife is preferable to a gun, the better to “savor the moment.”

– Peter Travers / Rolling Stone

“That would be the Joker, of course, a demonic creation and three-ring circus of one wholly inhabited by Heath Ledger.

Mr. Ledger died in January at age 28 from an accidental overdose, after principal photography ended, and his death might have cast a paralyzing pall over the film if the performance were not so alive.

But his Joker is a creature of such ghastly life, and the performance is so visceral, creepy and insistently present that the characterization pulls you in almost at once.

When the Joker enters one fray with a murderous flourish and that sawed-off smile, his morbid grin a mirror of the Black Dahlia’s ear-to-ear grimace, your nervous laughter will die in your throat.”

– Manohla Dargis / NY Times

“Admittedly, when Ledger died I was a bit perplexed at the plaudits for a guy who had a couple of above average performances under his belt, but his Joker is almost perfect. Forgotten are the clowning geriatrics of Jack Nicholson’s version, for Ledger makes the Joker his, imbuing the character with such menace and genuine insanity I finally got a sense of what talent he really had.”

– Pete Vonder Haar / Film Threat

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“But the performance that you will remember for years is Ledger’s as the Joker.

Stepping from behind the shadows of Jack Nicholson’s Joker of 1989 (and, briefly, into the red fright wig of Cesar Romero’s TV version), Ledger is a terrifying, unpredictable presence, his shoulders rigid, his head hanging like the business end of a mallet, his fingers splaying about menacingly, his mouth pursed or spewing sneers or little smacking sounds that nauseate as much as they frighten.

Denied any sort of back story, more clever by yards than his pursuers, this Joker is like a dream of irrational evil, a terrorist without a cause, a man without a soul, a nightmare looking for minds to inhabit and discovering that he’s only happy inhabiting all of them.”

–  Heidi Williams / The Oregonian

“One shot, in particular, crystallizes everything that Ledger and Nolan were working for in “The Dark Knight.” It’s a shot that deserves to be anthologized, YouTube-ized and immortalized: The Joker is in the foreground, walking toward the camera, playing (and really, that’s the only word) with a bomb detonator.

Huge explosions are going on behind him as he walks toward us, stiff and happy and hobbling, like a toddler. He’s a child, and this is pure id. At the heart of existence isn’t creation, but chaos.”

– SFGate

“Two hours and 32 minutes long, “The Dark Knight” is grimly magisterial. It’s a summer blockbuster that contemplates near- total civic disaster: Crowds surge, tractor-trailers flip, and buildings explode, but the pop violence feels heavy, mournful.

Yet flitting through this 10-ton expressionist murk is a diseased butterfly with stringy hair and a maniacal giggle. Played by a dead actor, he’s the most alive thing here. – Ty Burr

Light barely escapes the film’s gravitational pull.

It’s not quite fair to say that the late Heath Ledger steals “The Dark Knight” from Christian Bale and the forces of (problematic) good, but, as the Joker, he is the movie’s animating principle and anarchic spark – an unstoppable force colliding with the immovable objects of Batman and director Christopher Nolan’s ambitions.

Much more serious in intent and message than 2005’s “Batman Begins,” “Dark Knight” would be fatally ponderous without Ledger’s nasty little sprite. As it is, the movie strains at its own Wagnerian seams.”

– Ty Burr / Boston (dot)com

And in case you were wondering, the deliriously delicious publicity photos are the property of Warner Brothers, they can be found online by searching for Heath Ledger Joker publicity photos.  Do check them out, as they are many beautiful high resolution photos from the same shoot that look even more spectacular at the full size resolution.

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