Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Gotham Violence

I saw the new Batman movie on Sunday.

The movie was quite abusive towards physics and human stamina. It irked me slightly that a microwave machine didn't affect people, that Bruce Wayne seemed to heal from wounds as if he was Wolverine, that the fear poison didn't affect children or Arkham inmates, and that the antidote to the fear poison worked perfectly for Bruce and Gordon but only partly for Rachel.

But it was a comic book movie, so that was okay. Strange techno-gizmos and unexplained bouts of health and weakness are part of how the genre works.

What irked me more was the low-quality nature of most fight scenes. As Scott Kurtz wrote, "The fight scenes in the second half are awful and are so jumpy you don't really see anything. The movie shines most between the action. I kept waiting for the action to end so that I could get back to the movie. Which is strange for a Super-hero flick."

It's not that I wanted better action. The issue was simply that the "non-fight scene" at the docks worked very well, and the people who made the movie clearly knew this, and then it seemed like they forgot.

The film's theme was fear. Our role as the audience was to watch people be afraid and either conquer or succumb to fear. Bruce conquered his fears. The thugs at the docks didn't. The fight scene at the docks worked because its basic message was that the fight was over before it ever really began.

The terrible fight scenes were a complete contrast. So what if Batman moves fast and punches hard and the camera can't keep up? Why was Bruce fighting Ducard in the monorail anyway, once he jammed the control? Did Batman ever use his gloves with whippy fingers? Who cares? Most of the fight scenes only distracted us from the drama that was the core of the movie.

Rachel was a great character. She was naive and idealistic and no match for the evil and violence of Gotham. Bruce as Batman could not relate to her, and at the end they both realized this. It was the perfect setup for a strong female character in a sequel, to pose for Bruce the dilemna of a accepting a woman to which Batman could relate or remaining patiently faithful to Rachel -- the choice of stepping more permanently and completely into the dark and cynical role of Batman or retaining his humanity.

Gordon was a great character. He had a family; he was vulnerable and wimpy; his only virtue was recognizing Batman as a worthy ally. He was constantly in over his head, not knowing what to say or do, but able to do the best he could, which was good enough.

Bruce not only conquered his own fear but helped Rachel and Gordon conquer their fears. To make this blatant he did so chemically as well as emotionally.

The Scarecrow used fear poison to create images of a person's personal fear so they would fear more. Batman used the image of his own personal fear to help others conquer fear (if they were "good guys") or overpower them without much fighting (if they were "bad guys"). This parallelism should have been supported by every scene with violence: the docks and huge stairwell were too few and isolated.

Ducard tried to end Gotham's decadence, of which Earle was the token representative. Bathman tried to raise Gotham's sense of self-control, of which Lucius and Gordon were the token representatives. In the end Earle lost and Lucius won because Gordon won, and Gordon won because Batman helped him conquer fears.

And Rachel lost, but was brave about it, because a Gotham with self-control meant more to her then a romance with Bruce. That was our expected reaction too, as the audience: we should want a living symbol that helps us conquer fear, and a place where people have courage and self-determination, more than we want a romantic ending.