Monday, January 29, 2007
Super heroes have their powers, tasks and lives cut out for them. Prefix the tag 'Super' to the already omnipotent heroic trait of the story, suspension of disbelief takes precedence over logic, believability, plausibility, and in some cases even gravity. Though the genre of super heroes is categorized as science fiction, it is more in the realm of fantasy that the super heroes, their death defying stunts and their dare devilry, operate in. Superman had the planet Krypton, Spider man had the bite from the genetically mutated spider, Hulk had the fall out from a nuclear blast compounding to his already scientifically altered gene structure, Daredevil had fire explosion that took his eyes out enhancing his other senses considerably, and similarly the ensemble super heroes (or heroines) X-Men, Fantastic 4 and many such. The common thread that binds them all or the important characteristic that differentiates the above from the man in question, Batman, is none of the above chose to become a super hero. The powers that came with the territory came naturally to them, either congenitally or accidentally. Nobody has worked for them and nobody has wished upon them. This fundamental difference separates Batman from the rest. The only thing that ties him with the rest of the group is his mystic outfit during the hour of duty. He is as human as the one next to him. He is as believable and as real as any regular hero operating under the same rules that govern the rest of the society. He hurts when he crashes on the ground from up above, he bleeds when he takes a good beating, he is the kind of hero who occupies the bottom most rung in the super powers endowed super heroes list. And it is this exact trait that makes Batman the most identifiable of all the implausible characters.
Christopher Nolan (the co-writer along with David Goyer, and the director) pegs his entire script on this believability factor and makes Batman as human and as normal as can cinematically be possible, stripping him off the excesses that usually accompany, and naturally encumber, the super heroes. All the subtexts, deeper meanings, hidden manifestos aside, comic books are really about the eternal clash of good and the evil. How within the framework of the story can the super hero and the super villain, standing on the far sides of the spectrum, spar, makes up for the traditional good versus the evil struggle. To elevate the 'super' status of the hero, a weird, eccentric, and an almost 'super' villain is created, empowering him with the weaknesses and the vulnerabilities of the hero. It is an interesting way of showing the concepts behind the creations of these heroes and villains than assume (or presume) that the audience is already aware of all these beforehand, at least superficially, and set out to work at creating the necessary conflicts, rifts and the battle sequences. Right after "The Sixth Sense", Shyamalan tackled the same topic in an artistic way in "Unbreakable", which deals with the building/making of the super human, his discovery, his realization and ultimately his utilization, than concentrate on the obvious fireworks and special effects ensuing the discovery of his special skills. Nolan takes this exact approach stripping his hero off all the convenient powers, which would later be displayed one by one in the climactic battle with the villain, much earlier in the script and then rebuilding him with all the necessary ones, the origins of which are neatly explained and logically built up.
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Morality forms a key ingredient in the build up of the super hero's character. In fact, it is the only character that distinguishes him from the similarly powerful villain, intent on using his powers towards destruction. It is regarding this same character trait that Batman differs from the rest of the super folk. While most of the heroes tend to be troubled (bordering on remorse) of their actions, playing God with the rest of the society controlling and changing its destiny, the more human Batman is quite clear of his conscience, setting out doing the exact same thing he donned the cape for in the first place. This lack of guilt in him, places the extra burden of building the drama angle somewhere else, which Nolan and Goyer brilliantly transfer it to build process of Batman, meaning, Batman is more conflicted deciding what path he should embark upon, whether legal or illegal whether it is acceptable within the rules and norms of the society, than brooding on his overseeing authority or hold that he has over the lesser mortals. It is the idea or the notion that someone or something stands up to the crime that has to intimidate the criminals and that no misdeed goes unpunished remains the hallmark of Batman's tenet. Modeling his alter go (the one of super hero's) around this philosophy, his hovering presence becomes as symbolic as it is real. Similarly, concluding the movie with the excellent extension to this theory, whereby someone (The Joker) tries to imitate his antics, his extravagant costume, his over the top gadgets and his super human abilities, applying them in the reverse, for the destruction of the society, is indeed the masterstroke in the script. The Pandora's Box syndrome (the intimidation via use of super human force, the use/misuse of technical advancements, the overseeing/vigilante authority) once opened, be it for the good of the society or the bad, protects as much the ones on the good side as it does the villains on the other end (case in point, the building and stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction in the contemporary society).
Here is finally a super hero movie that respects the ideas behind the creation of one, here is finally a big budget special effects laden venture that cares more about the underlying ideology, here is finally a way a super hero movie has to be made.