Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Comic Book Wednesday: Christopher Nolan’s Batman (and later Phantom Troublemaker's Batman)

If Christopher Nolan has truly created a Batman universe that is too realistic to allow for the existence of Clayface, Poison Ivy, Mister Freeze, Man-Bat or any of the more fantastic members of the Dark Knight’s Rogues Gallery; then his lauded interpretation of Batman is a failure.
I am not saying that Nolan’s films are not good, and I am also not saying that these characters should or should not be in the third installment. My argument is against the oft-voiced opinion along the lines of:
“Oh, it’s got to be Riddler or Catwoman because Killer Croc just wouldn’t work in a Nolan Batman movie.”
And this opinion will come from somebody that fully supports Batman Begins and The Dark Knight as the greatest interpretations of Batman on film. I say that you cannot rationally claim both. If Nolan’s vision of Batman is truly the definitive film interpretation, then it must allow for the more unreal villains. If not, then his movies have fallen short of being true Batman stories because Croc, Ivy, Clayface, Freeze and all the rest are just as much a part of Batman mythology as Alfred or Commissioner Gordon.

Again, this does not make Nolan’s movies themselves better or worse, it simply brings into question how effective they really are as Batman movies. And that is why I think we need one of these characters in the third movie. Batman Begins paved the way into this new cinematic world and gave us a protagonist that – while driven beyond average limits – was very real and acceptable to the average mind. The villains in this introductory chapter were no more outrageous than anything you might see in the headlines – a terrorist and a serial… well, creep. My dad is the first guy in the theater to call out the ridiculous and he maintains that Batman Begins is one of the best movies he has ever seen. In other words, one of the most straight-laced and no-nonsense people I have ever known bought it.
The Dark Knight took us one step further in with the introduction of Joker and Two-Face, readying our minds for acceptance of characters and situations that were slightly more fantastic than Ra’s Al-Ghul (or even Scarecrow) from the origin movie. Joker’s manipulation of an entire major city was unreal and mind-blowing. Harvey Dent’s journey from devotee of justice to furious madman was equally unreal; particularly the whole walking around with half of his face burned off bit. But we bought it (my dad included) because we were already invested and along for the ride. Nolan has eased us into the crazy.
Now I think Nolan needs to ask even more of his audience. He already knows we’re in. We’ve bought what he’s selling. To finish off this masterpiece, Nolan’s final chapter cannot end with, “The End”; but must instead end with, “And that’s how all this crazy shit got started…”
Because Batman’s story will never end. Nolan’s movies should serve as one overarching storyline that is an introduction to the Dark Knight’s never-ending struggle against evil and corruption. There’s no way the third can close with Bruce Wayne hanging up the cowl and Alfred saying, “Good work, Master Bruce. You sure did clean Gotham up, but good! Let’s move to Cabo.” Know what I mean?
So, if you’re still with me, I’ve got some ideas about the Rogue’s Gallery and who could play who. That’s right, all of that opening stuff may have sounded really thoughtful but it was all just leading up to
Nolan’s Batman 3 Fantasy Casting!
That’s right! You’ve just been suckered into reading another entry into one of the oldest and laziest nerd pastimes ever. But I promise it’ll be worth your while. At least this time I’m writing one before the cast has already been announced!
I – like everybody else – have no idea who is actually going to be in the movie. We’ve all heard the Riddler and Catwoman buzz, but I think most of that comes from the ignorant thought process that started this article. Here are some ideas about what villains could reasonably show up and who should play them. And no, I don’t think Megan Fox should play Catwoman.
Mister Freeze
There are many reasons why Mister Freeze might not be the best idea. Okay, well – one reason:
But I love Mister Freeze, so I’m going to cover him, anyway. He has a simple origin, a simple motivation and one of the most arresting looks of any of Batman’s humanoid villains. He can basically be as powerful and threatening as needed and could present a legitimate physical threat to Batman in any kind of face to face confrontations. This is important because we’re going to need a big, climactic battle somewhere in this movie.
I’ve thought for years that John Malkovich as Victor Fries was unquestionable. While this would still be great, I’m starting to really like the idea of Brad Pitt.
He’s got the range to be a grade-A villain and a pretty face would really play into the sympathy that this character should generate. Imagine Pitt in a cute, loving scene with whoever plays Nora Fries (I’d re-team him with Julia Roberts because everybody loves her), and then later as the outcast and isolated Freeze, desperate to revive his only love. Hell, they could give Mister Freeze his own movie.
This would be an amalgamation of the original Basil Karlo and Batman: The Animated Series’ Matt Hagen characters. Let’s just call him Hagen for the sake of ease. Hagen would be an aging B-movie actor who had only ever had top billing in one film. He discovers that a remake is being made in Gotham and wants to reprise his role. Naturally, en route to Gotham for an audition Hagen is in a horrible accident that leaves his face disfigured. He has no money for plastic surgery. After being approached by an unscrupulous WayneTech employee (whose division was created after the Harvey Dent tragedy), he accepts a graft of some Darkman-esque skin. He’s himself again!
Hagen makes his audition only to find out it is for a cameo, simply to pay homage to his role in the original movie. After begging to be allowed to try out for the lead role, he is given a shot and gently told that he’s not what they’re looking for. He’s too old.
Hagen returns to the WayneTech employee, asking if anything can be done to his artificial face to make it younger. If I was getting paid I could probably come up with a better sequence of events, but for now let’s just say he ends up getting pissed and falling into the vat of experimental skin. Since he has already been conditioned to bond with it once, his system absorbs everything. TA DA! Clayface!
And then he decides everybody in Gotham needs to be ugly or something. Like I said, if I were getting paid I’d probably willing to flesh things out a bit more. You get the idea, though.
I think this is a pretty cool concept because it plays off of some of Hollywood’s bigger current issues – the glut of remakes, casting skewing too young – and it creates an opportunity for us to see Bruce Campbell as the major villain in a huge Hollywood movie. Oh, did I forget to mention Matt Hagen would be played by The Chin?
Well he would. I honestly don’t know if Mr. Campbell has the dramatic chops to pull this one off, but I’m pretty sure he has enough real-life experience with some of the subject matter to create some powerful scenes.

Man-Bat and Poison Ivy
This one kind of needed the casting done up front. You’ll understand why when you get to the end. John Cusack would be Kirk Langstrom and Carla Gugino is my Pamela Isley.


Retrospective Note: Please excuse this in advance. It is very stream-of-consciousness and completely off the top of my head, but I kind of love it.

Act One
Kirk Langstrom and Pamela Isley are both scientists who work at WayneTech (yeah, everything happens at WayneTech – it’s an easy and reasonable way to directly involve Batman/Bruce Wayne). They are both molecular biologists. Isley is involved in theoretical research on using plant cells to allow humans to process carbon dioxide (or something). She also has a side project that is kind of like Destro’s killer salad from the GI Joe cartoon, except the purpose is to create sturdy, fast-growing biodegradable answers to geographic difficulties – vines that grow nearly instantly and conform to predetermined shapes through the use of electrostatic impulses (so far she can only produce a crude stool – the growing part works, but the shaping is a problem). Langstrom is deaf and is trying to facilitate the combining of human cells with bat cells to work around deafness (or something). His whole deal is making the combination possible, not necessarily the actual hows of the process.
This may shock you, but Langstrom’s research ends up as part of a series of budget cuts at WayneTech (possibly resulting from Lucius Fox taking ill and Bruce Wayne being preoccupied by the fact that every time he puts on the bat suit he has villains and cops gunning for him now) . Desperate, Langstrom uses his process (I envision something a little more complex than an injection) on himself to show that his project is still worth pursuing. In a scene reminiscent of An American Werewolf in London, he changes into Man-Bat.
Langstrom retains very little of his human consciousness after the transformation. The change has made him skittish and unbalanced (as you might imagine) and he gets into the habit of attacking random Gothamites at night while out hunting for food. Naturally, the already Most-Wanted Batman gets the blame for these attacks and Commissioner Gordon has no choice but to start pursuing the Dark Knight in earnest.
Act Two
Meanwhile, back at the lab, Dr. Isley has figured out that her secret crush – Dr. Langstrom – is actually Gotham’s new winged menace. She develops what she believes is a cure for him based off of her research. It involves some sort of energy field (or something) and… AN INJECTION! Knowing she needs more money to put together what she needs, she approaches Bruce Wayne with what she knows and begs him for funding. Naturally, Wayne is so relieved to find out the source of these attacks that he agrees.
While WayneTech does set up the whole scenario to ensnare Langstrom and administer the supposed cure, we all know Batman is going to have to get involved. There would be some kind of security team that would herd Langstrom into the building where the process would take place. All would go as planned until Langstrom actually entered the building, at which time Scarecrow pops up out of nowhere and doses the whole building with his fear gas. Everything goes batshit (heh) crazy and Langstrom gets away. Scarecrow (who had been keeping track of Langstrom’s fear-inducing activities since the second or third report; he is one of the few who never believed it was Batman) is dancing merrily away when Batman swoops down and incapacitates him. Looking up, he sees Langstrom flying away and gives pursuit. We witness a spectacular rooftop chase that ends with Man-Bat being taken down by Batman and brought back to the building where Isley is waiting (she and the scientists in the staging area were wearing protective gear or something that kept them from being exposed to Scarecrow’s gas). Man-Bat is restrained and placed in the energy field, but he is still feeling the effects of Scarecrow’s fear gas. As Isley approaches, he begins thrashing and comes loose from his restraints. One of his wings knocks Isley over, the syringe flies up in the air and lands pointy-part-down in her chest. The plunger doesn’t go down, but there is more chaos and the guy coming over to help Dr. Isley gets knocked over and falls on the hypo, injecting her with a serum intended to – in conjunction with the energy field – isolate mammal DNA (or something) so that his bat aspect can be removed or reversed or whatever. Isley appears to be in agony, Langstrom is going nuts, the security guys are just starting to recover from the fear gas – but not enough to keep one of them from freaking out and shooting Langstrom. Isley sees this and freaks and the scene ends.
Side note – at some point we have already established Dr. Isley’s hippie tree-hugging side and her dislike of authority and law enforcement. We’ve probably been witness to some altercations with the above security team and her disdain for military-types. We have also witnessed her general horror at humanity. Part of the reason she does the research she does is the amount of time she spends separated from humanity – whether in the lab or in a jungle somewhere looking for rare plants. That’s why her connection with Langstrom is so unusual and special to her. He is the rare person that she likes being around. All of this could be covered with less than five minutes of exposition. Also, now that everybody has seen Man-Bat, Batman’s name is kind of cleared.
Act Three
Isley wakes up in the hospital. She is extremely pale and her veins are standing up and appear to be almost green. I’m sure there is some kind of problem with a blood transfusion, but I’m not getting into that one. She does the stereotypical waking up in the hospital bit and gets out of bed. There are flowers in the room. She touches them and immediately falls to the floor, screaming as a green discoloration moves up her arm from where she made contact. On the floor, she raises her hand to look at it. As she does, the flowers rise slightly. The whole deal here is that once she touches vegetation, she has bonded with it and can control it, but also feels what it feels. Hence the collapse from touching the severed flowers. This all happened because my “energy field” wasn’t positioned around Isley when she got injected, so the serum has isolated her mammal qualities and rendered her plant-like. Or something. I think my magic energy field can probably also be tied into her method for controlling the vines.
Isley uses the fast-growing vines I mentioned above to slaughter the man who shot Langstrom and the rest of his team when they get in the way. She no longer has to worry about pulses controlling the shape of the vines since she can do it herself. She has sort of a breakdown after she is done. She leaves the vines rooted into the ground, so they can grow and thrive (and be evidence).
Batman does some Batman stuff and figures out what’s up. Somehow we get to the point where he is desperately trying to stop her from getting to Gotham Central Park because she’ll be able to destroy Gotham from there. The park is surrounded by giant Ivy-vines that are spreading outward towards the rest of Gotham, so Batman does the obvious and sets them all on fire, trapping himself and Isley inside the park. This is being witnessed on TVs all across Gotham, particularly in one hospital room with a big, black eye observing from restraints. The eye starts rolling around and noises are made.
Batman fights his way through the park to Isley, who is simply sitting Indian-style in the middle of a clearing. Her arms are an angry, inflamed red and she is clearly suffering from her plants burning. She looks up at Batman pitifully and then suddenly looks all super-angry and vines shoot up out of the ground and clobber the fuck out of him. The fire is growing closer the whole while.
She makes some sort of big speech about humanity sucking while Batman subtly cuts away at the vines. Suddenly the vines yank him right up to her face and she screams about being able to feel it. Clearly, she is about to tear our hero apart. Except that now he is close enough to dispense the scientifically named drug he developed into her face from the dispenser in his gauntlet, sending her into some kind of fit, followed by her collapsing.
The Batmobile comes crashing through the fiery trees while Batman secures Isley. He stands with her over his shoulder and just as he turns around, Man-Bat makes an extremely dramatic landing between him and the Batmobile. A brief fight ensues and with the fire approaching, Langstrom flies away with Isley. Batman hops in the tumbler and follows. Langstrom turns out over the Gotham River to escape, but the Batmobile ejects some kind of glider or something and Batman is still in pursuit.
We end up on top of some cliff. There is a big fight between Batman and Man-Bat while Isley lays unconscious on top of a flat rock (not in contact with any vegetation). Everybody is pretty beat up. We get a close-up of Isley’s eyes as they pop open. She sees what is going on and slowly reaches towards the ground, the last of her vines in hand. Just as Batman lands some kind of crazy knockout move, she pulls her hand back and lays back down, a tear rolling out of one eye. Shortly after that, Batman is standing over her.
“Why what?”
“I saw you wake up. Why didn’t you help him?”
“Because that’s not how he needs to be helped. Please. Save him.”
Or something like that.
We see a now human but clearly a little unstable Langstrom being escorted into a cell in the brand new Arkham Asylum. The camera turns around him and goes back up the aisle, passing Isley, Jonathan Crane and a dark cell with laughter coming out of it. The camera proceeds out of the asylum, eventually to Gotham, through the streets and up the side of a building to where Batman is standing. There’s some dialogue about Gotham being his city and we’re done.
I did not mean for that to turn into a whole fricking treatment. I just really got into that story. Believe me when I say it could have easily been a whole lot longer. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I kind of feel like I’ve already asked too much of you today, so I’ll be back soon with some more casting villainy.

Until next time, stay creepy,

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