Tweet The opening titles of The Adventures of Tintin, while not technically part of the screenplay, offer a jaunty, tongue-in-cheek symposium on the action-adventure genre. Or, that is to say, on the films of Steven Spielberg. There’s a boy, he’s got a companion, in this case a dog, and there is danger and bad guys and [...]
X-Men: First Class does something I haven’t seen a superhero movie do before. It’s not just a period piece, that’s unusual enough, but it also places its fantastic characters, Gump-like, in the middle of historical fact. Captain America: The First Avenger, released concurrently, went back in time to place its difficult-to-like protagonist in his proper context, but then wove a fantastical story around him involving ancient Norse artifacts and a guy with no face. First Class not only places its characters in history, it puts them at the center of the darkest, most traumatic events of their time.
The Oscar nominations were announced the other day. To no one’s surprise, the screenplay for The Avengers was not among them. That’s a shame, because the screenplay for The Avengers is a startling model of precision, density and propulsion. It manages to juggle no fewer than ten wildly disparate main characters in its ensemble cast and give each of them weight, clarity and purpose. Dear readers, I’ve worked on many a comic-book movie, none of which ever got near production. To get one superhero narrative to work is damn near impossible; The Avengers soars with seven.
Contrary to its reputation as a garish, headache-inducing day-glo nightmare, Batman &Robin is, in fact, a sensitive, heartfelt examination of power, frailty, family, humanity’s custody of the earth, the ties that bind and the mysterious ways of the human heart.
I kid, of course. Batman & Robin, as every schoolboy knows, is ridiculous. A ludicrous traffic-jam of a narrative, it makes no goddamn sense whatsoever from any conceivable point of view. However, that does not mean it is unworthy of study. To paraphrase Charlie Brown, if one learns more from one’s mistakes, that must the creators of Batman & Robin the smartest storytellers who ever lived.
No fewer than six main characters vault into the narrative of Batman & Robin, each with his or her own agenda. Some of these agendas cohere into a compelling, thematically- linked narrative. Others, well, not so much.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is in interesting entry in the world of long-form cinematic Batman stories for a few different reasons. First, it manages to do what the Tim Burton movies were unable to — make Bruce Wayne/Batman the protagonist of his own story. Second, it’s primarily a detective story as opposed to an action story. Third, at least half of the story is told in flashback, a parallel-action setup ambitious for an animated movie thought of as primarily for kids. Lastly, the story it tells is rather emotional and internal — Bruce/Batman broods a lot in this movie, even by his own standards. The action sequences feel perfunctory and tacked-on. The two that come to mind — a truck chase and the explosive finale — are poorly motivated and don’t advance the plot in any meaningful way.
Like Batman, Batman Returns presents three protagonists, almost the same protagonists as 1989‘s Batman — a deformed freak of a gangster (this time the Penguin instead of The Joker), a blonde who’s crazy about bats (Catwoman subbing for Vicki Vale), and Batman himself. In addition to its three protagonists, it offers an antagonist from outside the traditional Batman world — a ringer, if you will, in the form of businessman Max Shreck.
It would be great to report that Batman Returns takes all of these worthwhile, interesting characters and weaves them into a single, unified story, but it does not. Instead, it presents two separate stories, each compelling in its own right, and kind of sutures them together like the irregular chunks of vinyl of Catwoman’s bodysuit. As this is an unusually complicated narrative with three separate, competing plot strands which actually take place in utterly different genres, let’s separate out each character’s storyline and examine them one at a time.