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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Caped Crusaders

And the winner is. . . .  Well, it's actually a tie.  With two votes apiece (The Solipsist really needs more readers, folks), the best Batman award is split between Michael Keaton and Adam West.  This tells us two things: One, a good 50% of Solipsistics are ironists.  And two, all the readers exhibit discernment.  The fact is, there has not yet been a perfect Batman.  Oh, undoubtedly, The Dark Knight is a superb movie--the best of the franchise, and a tremendous film in its own right--but this does not make Christian Bale the best Batman ('tho perhaps we can stipulate Christopher Nolan the best "bat"-rector?  The Solipsist is open to discussion on Tim Burton).  The trick is, any actor has to embody not just the menacing hero but also has to be convincing as Bruce Wayne.  Christian Bale had a clear persona as Wayne the bored playboy, but it was almost TOO clearly a persona.  Michael Keaton (the Solipsist's personal choice) presented the best combination of a believable Wayne and a threatening Batman--but even he didn't quite pull off "playboy" (and his weak chin looked disturbing poking through the cowl). In fact, on paper, George Clooney was perfect.  Too bad the movie was made.

But anyone playing a comic book character has the deck stacked against him (or her):  (A) They have to be good enough actors to pull off the dual personalities described above.  Who was the best?  Probably Tobey Maguire: For the Solipsist's money, he WAS Peter Parker, and, since Spidey's personality is not too drastic an opposition to Peter's, he worked well in the costume as well.  (B) Even when they ARE good actors, they are overshadowed--first by the high-tech moviemaking, and second--and more significantly--by the villains.  Michael Keaton was fine; Jack Nicholson was memorable.  Christian Bale was probably about the best one could hope for; Heath Ledger was scary.  The filmmakers know this, too.  Just think about how many times the villain has been a bigger star than the hero: Gene Hackman and, later, Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor opposite a then unknown Christopher Reeve and a still unknown whatshisface (no, he doesn't even merit a Google lookup) as Superman.  Sir Ian McKellen as Magneto vs. a then-unknown Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.  (Yes, yes, Patrick Stewart was Professor X, but that's more like the Brando role, not the superhero.  And the fact that a mega-star like Halle Berry was relegated to the second fiddle of Storm says more about racism and sexism in Hollywood than any number of Academy Award snubs).  Eric Bana as the Hulk vs. Nick Nolte as. . . well, whatever his name was in the movie.  Need we go on?

And why shouldn't this be the case?  Let's face it, villains are more interesting.  Be honest with yourselves, folks: If YOU had super powers, would you use them for good or evil?  Maybe a little bit of both, but none of us would likely be as pure of heart as Superman.  In an escapist medium, we identify more with villains, and filmmakers and movie stars know this.  Maybe (MAYBE) deep down we want the hero to win, but while those two hours pass in the darkened theater, a tiny part of us wants to see the bad guy come out on top.  And having the villain played by the name-above-the-title gives that tiny part something to cling to.

(PS: The single most terrifying comic book ever written, "Miracleman" by Alan Moore, is basically a disquisition on what would happen if Superman walked the earth--not for the faint of heart.  For a cinematic taste of what this would be like, keep your fingers crossed that the upcoming "Watchmen" (another Moore project) is worth seeing.)

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