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Supers on the Screen: The Dark Knight

All right, time to talk about superhero movies! Remember when I said my favourite superhero was Batman? Well, I should probably clarify: when I say “Batman,” I mostly mean Christopher Nolan’s Batman. And Christopher Nolan’s Batman doesn’t get better than The Dark Knight.

dark knight

I don’t think many superhero fans (or movie fans) would disagree with me that The Dark Knight is the best comic book film of all time. Except it’s SO much smarter, darker, and riskier than any other superhero movie that it almost seems unfair to put it in the same category. So maybe I’ll just say this is one of my favourite movies, and it happens to feature a superhero.

Here’s why I love it:

The Dark Knight is the only serious comic book movie I know of. Since it came out, several others have attempted to bring some gravitas and cultural commentary to their flashy storylines, but the fact remains that most superheroes are inherently silly. (They were originally created for children, remember.) That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but this movie takes the genre to a whole new level. Sure, there’s a hero with a cape and a villain with a gaudy suit, but The Dark Knight is not an escapist fantasy by anyone’s standards.


First of all, I love the way it’s filmed. A superhero movie without digital effects? Can such things be?? The stunts are performed by real people. The explosions are real, some of the fistfights are real, and, yes, the truck flip is totally real. And although there’s a fair amount of violence onscreen, the really disturbing stuff always happens off-screen. If we got to see the mob boss “try-outs” with a broken cue stick, or if there was a close-up of the cell phone bomb going off, this movie would definitely be rated R (it’s kind of pushing PG-13 as it is). But I think it’s almost creepier this way.


Moving on to the deeper stuff: I hate to point out the obvious, but the Joker is easily the most memorable thing about The Dark Knight. He’s far more unsettling than the average supervillain, not only because of Heath Ledger’s brilliant performance, but also because he should feel very familiar to a 21st-century audience. Most superhero movies at least try to give their villains a motive, even if it doesn’t make much sense, but the Joker is deliberately left without one. He doesn’t have a traumatic past (those conflicting “know how I got these scars?” stories are clearly lies), he’s not out for revenge, and he’s definitely not in it for the money. He just has a complete disregard for human life, including his own, and he thinks chaos is fun. If that kind of villain doesn’t sound realistic to you, just turn on the news. The Joker embodies the scariest kind of real-life villain we have: a terrorist, or a mass shooter–the increasingly common criminal who goes out and kills strangers for no apparent reason. Unfortunately, Alfred was right when he said, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”


Naturally, Batman is the only hero capable of dealing with the Joker, and the way he does it should also be familiar. Tapping cell phones? Covering up a scandal by lying to the public? Sound like anything you’ve heard on NPR recently? And yet, in The Dark Knight, such shady doings are the only way to keep the Joker menace under control. And Batman has the moral high ground over today’s politicians in at least one respect: he takes responsibility for his actions. In fact, he even takes the fall for Harvey Dent’s crimes, which makes him a monster in the eyes of the city he saved. The ending doesn’t completely solve Dent’s dilemma at the beginning of the film: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” But it deals with the question in an intelligent, nuanced way that I haven’t seen in many other action movies.

There have been lots of good superhero movies and lots of good philosophical “thinker” movies, but I’m pretty sure The Dark Knight is the only movie, so far, that has managed to be both. Better step it up, Marvel!


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Ranking the Superheroes

You may be wondering who my favourite superheroes are. The short answer is “all of them,” but there are certainly some that I like more than others. Here are my top five, more or less in order–and once again, remember that these are based on the characters’ movies, not their comic books.

1. Batman


Why? Because he’s BATMAN! But seriously, this guy is just a great character. He has a complicated personality and set of motivations, which is rare among superheroes. His alter ego is as much of a mask (and a weapon) as his bat outfit, which is pretty smart, considering “secret identities” never seem to stay secret for long. He has no powers, but he still manages to kick the butts of some of the most powerful villains in the comic universe. And who doesn’t secretly want a bat cave? I mean, everything about Batman is just so cool. What’s not to like?

2. Spider-Man


Spider-Man holds a special place in my heart because he was my first superhero. Believe it or not, I was a bit of an elitist before I turned 16. I thought I was too sophisticated for superhero movies, until I saw Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. That’s when I discovered that my tastes are not sophisticated at all–I just like stories about unlikely heroes who get a supernatural power and choose to do the right thing with it. Of course I can relate to Peter Parker because he’s a total nerd, but I also like him for having such a strong sense of right and wrong, even if he loses sight of it occasionally.

3. Captain America


Speaking of a sense of right and wrong, Captain America is probably the most powerful voice for common decency in recent pop culture. He’s not a terribly complicated character, but he is more than just a flag-waving patriotic symbol. He’s a courageous soldier who fights for truth and freedom, and always puts others before himself. And yes, he’s pretty patriotic, but he’s willing to stand up even to American leaders if they start abusing their power. In short, he embodies all the best things about America. Including our top-notch fighting abilities.

4. Iron Man


I don’t like Iron Man for any of the same reasons I like my top three superheroes. In fact, it’s almost the opposite. Tony Stark is kind of a terrible person in many ways–he’s a womanizer, he’s a show-off, he lets his girlfriend do all the hard work–but there’s no denying that he is hilarious. And in a genre where the standards have been set by darker heroes like Batman, we need some comic relief once in a while. Besides, Iron Man can be as heroic as the best of them. Sometimes he just needs an extra “push.”

5. Wolverine


This guy is just fun to watch. Wolverine has been through a lot, and he can’t remember most of it, but he always overcomes his many personal issues in time to save the day. He can be ferocious at times, but he has a soft heart underneath the adamantium. And he has one of the coolest superpowers around. Also–I love Hugh Jackman. I really, really love Hugh Jackman.

So that’s my list. Who are your favourite superheroes (or heroines–more on that later)?


monthly fandom

Fandom of the Month: Superheroes

Summer is the season for superheroes. Theatres are full of them, convention centers across the country are preparing to welcome thousands of their creators and fans, and they seem quite patriotic enough for the Fourth of July. So those caped crusaders are a fitting topic of discussion this month.


I have to start off these fandom posts with a HUGE disclaimer: I am not a comic book fan.

I respect comics as an art form, but they’re one of the few nerdy things I have just never gotten into (anime is another). I was introduced to superheroes through their movies, and that’s still where I prefer to meet them. So if you’re a comic book purist, most of this month’s posts will not be for you.

But if you’re a fan of great stories, this month is totally for you. Whether they’re mutants, aliens from other worlds, humans who had accidents with mad scientists, or actual Norse gods, superheroes are the stars of modern mythology. Something about human nature has always compelled us to create fictional heroes who are more powerful than we are, who fight against evil, and who can still be vulnerable and make mistakes (because what kind of story would it be if they didn’t?). The ancient Greeks had Zeus and Poseidon. We have Superman and Batman. They’re just the latest creations in an ancient, time-honoured storytelling tradition.

spiderman on a vase

But personally, I like superheroes better than Greek gods. They tend to have a much better moral code, for one thing. In fact the superhero genre is practically the only one in today’s films that still allows clear, unambiguous lines between good and evil. The heroes in other movies are starting to look more and more like villains, but guys like Captain America still do the right thing without apologizing for it. And that’s always nice to see. Plus, superheroes have more fun than the Olympians. Zeus never got to wear a shiny suit and fly around blowing up tanks, now did he?


Stay tuned this month for fun pictures, humor, movie reviews, etc. Namarie!