Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

July 18, 2008

I Won't Go See Batman Because I Can't Stand " Super-hero Movies

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 7:45 am

Sorry, I don’t care how “dark’ and “deeply sophisticated” pop culture critics” call it, how deeply darkly and darkly and deeply serious they want us to believe it is, so they can reserve both their aura of intellectual sophistication and their pop cult street cred, . I don’t care how “iconic” comic book heroes have become. At a certain point even super aware cultural critics like myself who revel in rock and tv have to draw a line, however lonely it is on this side of it. I’ve always thought one sure way of spotting a pseud when it comes to cultural critics is the over-praise he or she devotes to comic book super hero movies.

Have you ever in your life seen alleged cultural critics mimic each other or try to out do each other in terrifiedly telling us how horrifically dark the new Batman: The Dark Knight will be. (it opens today). Why it even has “dark” in the title Knight(Knight=night, get it) for the clueless, but the air off over-over excitement, over statement, over-gush that has preceded this film is vritually sickening in its athletic self mimicry.

Oooh. it’s a comic book franchise but it’s like, really, really dark. Scary kids! But (don’t tell the kids) it’s really made for subtler sophisticated adults like us our nations staunch and hardy pop culture critics who can look into the heart of darkness and see…Batman.

Oh right, it’s got Heath Ledger and he plays a scary clown. Whoever would have thought of it before, a scary clown. Clowns are suosed to be funny! So ironic!! He’s already been handed not just a posthumous Oscar but pretty much a Nobel prize for Scary Clowns.

Jeez. go read a book or something (remember them). or see a brilliant smart, truly dark movie (Double Indemnity, Chinatown again. It’s sad to see desparate critics so undernourished by crap international CGI fare and super advanced cartoons that they clutch for dear life onto something that is marketed to them by clever studio as “dark”. You could watch the advance hype build and the suckers all climb on the choo choo to “darkness”. Sad that one has to depend on something like this to be the intellectual high point of your (writing) summer. At least the audiences have, you know, lives. It’s not their profession to take this seriously. (That’s dark.)

But it goes beyond just this film, which by the way, I’m sure is very, very dark. It probably makes Dostoevesky look like Archie&Veronica. But why not give the big D. himself a try first, (or at least Conrad) then you might get a sense of proportion. Wouldn’t be blown away by a comic book movie.

Still I must admit that it’s not just Batman or super hero movies: I hate all super heroes in general, in particular the cult of super hero comics as Something More than they are, fun for kids. Don’t get me wrong I read Superman comix as a kid, but the only thing I took away from it that was anyway original or thought provoking was the concept of “Bizarro world”–the badly drawn, cracked mirror image of the comic book “real world”. In Bizarro world super powers are all a joke.

Let’s face it we all livein “bizarro world”. That’s the way the real world is! That’s the thing that those who worship the “darkness” of really, really, really, “dark” Batman movies won’t admit. That the movie I’d like to see.

If I want truly scary this summer I’ll go see the Abba movie. Meanwhile the only super hero movies I’ll watch are the ones (re)done by “Mystery Science Theater 3000”. Anybody seen their Santa Claus Versus the Martains? Unbelieveably hilarious. Far more brilliant than any Batman movie you’ll see even if they take dark to the nth power. I won’t spoil the ending for you.



  1. Ron –

    There’s a fellow down on the southwest corner of the Union Square Greenmarket who’s selling dvd’s of old b-movie sci-fi. He’s got Santa Claus vs. the Martians, also Quatermas and The Pit, and quite a few other delicious stinkers.

    Also – I enjoyed this blog entry almost as much as your article years back about ‘references’ in Q. Tarantino movies.

    I’m wondering if you put all graphic novels in the same category as The Dark Knight? To me, hearing adults sing the literary praises of graphic novels is akin to watching forty year old men wax rhapsodic about the new wheels on their skateboard.

    Comment by J M Seaver — July 18, 2008 @ 10:35 am | Reply

  2. Amen! Does Hollywood do anything nowadays but peddle endless re-treads of tired old vehicles like Batman? Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Incredible Hulk, James Bond, Rambo…Hollywood is nothing but a re-make and sequel factory. How can any intelligent person take anything coming from Hollywood seriously these days?

    As for “graphic novels”, the proper term is “comic books”!The former term is itself a symptom of the intellecutal pretension of comic books’ juvenile forty-something advocates.

    Comment by Dennis — July 18, 2008 @ 11:12 am | Reply

  3. It’s interesting that you proclaim your crotchety disdain of comic books as though you’ve taken a courageous stand, when it’s a fairly typical American viewpoint. Blockbusters notwithstanding, the American comic book industry is a mere shadow of it’s popular heyday, back when you were reading about Superman fighting the Nazis. Asia and Europe don’t share America’s patronizing juvenile view of comics (superhero or otherwise), but honestly, what do those cultures know about art?

    Superheroes are merely mythology –a uniquely American form– and superhero movies are just a genre. You’re entitled to despise them, just as you might despise comedies and westerns. I’m sure your intellectual buddies with the patches on their elbows won’t ostracize you for your –er, heroic stand.

    Comment by jimmy_olsen — July 18, 2008 @ 1:20 pm | Reply

  4. To “Jimmy Olsen”. talk about heroes! You’re too timid to use your real name in a discussion of comic books! How pathetic. Plus, learn to read doofus. I said I loved reading comic books in childhood (long after WWII BTW.) I just said movies based on them were lame except to those with retarded intellectual development (and critics desperate to seem hip). You fit one or the other category obviously, but we’ll never know since you need Superman to protect you from the scary dangers of
    disclosing your name. I guess.

    Plus if you use Europeans as your standard for esthetic worth (clearly having read little of serious worth in your own language) you’re stuck with defending Jerry Lewis. Good luck, brave Jimmy. Nor would anyone except those with a reading deficit conclude from what I wrote that I “despise comedies and westerns”. You may not be aware, not having yet graduated to adult books or R-rated movies, that not all of them are based on your trusty comix.

    Comment by Ron Rosenbaum — July 18, 2008 @ 2:53 pm | Reply

  5. A lot of these movies are really bad, but a lot of them (like Iron Man earlier this year and, my fingers are crossed since I haven’t seen it yet, the Dark Knight) are really good. I don’t know why you’d be prejudiced against /all/ of a particular genre. Your critique seems to be that you don’t like that the films darken children’s stories to appeal to adults. But the truth is that like the comic books that the films are based on, not all comics are for children. And certainly having a dark, adult Batman isn’t a novelty in 2008 (I’m pretty sure Tim Burton made a dark Batman film awhile back).

    It sounds to me like you’ve just got a knee-jerk prejudice. You should swallow that, say ‘Amor fati,’ and go see the flick. Maybe it’ll be really good and you’ll enjoy it. There are certainly worse things than engaging the pop culture zeitgeist.

    (P.S. One thing worse than engaging the pop culture zeitgeist? Complaining about it. Bitching about popular media – whether it’s Britney Spears or Comic Books – is so passe!)

    Comment by Mordy Shinefield — July 19, 2008 @ 3:44 am | Reply

  6. To Mordy,

    I’ll assume you’re new to the blog otherwise you’d have seen, as you still can, just how engaged in the “pop culture zeiitgeist” I am. Mostly posts about things I love, film, tv, music. Part of being engaged is being allowed to find threads that you don’t like, or the hype about it. Reading the almost identical “It’s dark! It’s dark! Oooh, it’s dark!’ identical “critques” by “professional” pop culture critics only re enforces my feeling that comic book super hero films brings out the worst in them.

    Comment by Ron Rosenbaum — July 19, 2008 @ 7:25 am | Reply

  7. Nice post.

    I left a special screening on Wednesday where the crowd applauded at the dumbest scenes and one-liners like it was a pantomime performance, although I’m happy to report no one int he audience was wearing rubber costumes or anything.

    I enjoy the action scenes and special effects, up to a point. But I’m 30 years old — there’s a limit to the enjoyment of dumb power fantasies. Seemingly half of every Hollywood movie made features a brooding (boring) male lead pretending to be tortured by his ability to rip vehicles in half. It’s during these brooding moments, when the girlfriend tries to “reach” the male lead, that I usually look at my watch and wish I was somewhere else.

    Even worse, I suppose that since Marvel’s publically-traded, there’s no end in sight.

    Comment by Mike W — July 19, 2008 @ 9:43 am | Reply

  8. “Howard the Duck” was the only great super hero comic and, of course, the movie was awful

    Comment by charlie finch — July 19, 2008 @ 1:00 pm | Reply

  9. I’m not that new, Ron. I posted on your Jews who love Christmas songs thread back around… well, Christmas. And if your problem is with pop culture critics making the wrong kind of fuss about Dark Knight, then obviously your job is to see it and make the right kind of fuss. It seems bizarre to be turned off to seeing a film because you don’t like the way it’s reviewed.

    Comment by Mordy Shinefield — July 19, 2008 @ 2:22 pm | Reply

  10. The funny thing is that The Dark Knight shys from actually being dark. Oh, it looks dark. There’s lots of shadow, rain. Plenty of tense music. And the film goes out of its way to try to invent a situation in which the true “darkness” of human nature is revealed, creating an elaborate situation where two sets of hostages are set against each other: only one can survive, and they must kill the other hostages to make it. But despite the Joker’s insistence that people are as crazy and violent as he is, the film sentimentally dodges this conclusion via a rather silly “twist”.

    So no, it is not a sophisticated film. It is not truly a dark film, despite the body count or the fact that one of its actors happened to die before it was released.

    I just wanted to make that clear in case your readers mistakenly take the critics’ side merely because you didn’t see the movie.

    Comment by Dan Mack — July 19, 2008 @ 5:16 pm | Reply

  11. Also, you really need to do something about your italics.

    Comment by Dan Mack — July 19, 2008 @ 5:20 pm | Reply

  12. just saw “the dark knight”: i don’t have anything against comic book movies (or bubble-gum rock) on principle, but apart from ledger, who did have a great performance, the movie was abysmal. why: at the most basic level, the writing sucked. one of the most critical scenes at the beginning was a straight rip-off of “The Godfather II” – a mob witness who changed his testimony in court even though he’d previously testified about his boss’ culpability. the mobster smirked, the D.A. (Aaron Eckhart, who is wasted in this vehicle) acted outraged, and i thought about getting my money back. there were other out and out cliches through the movie – unbelievable high school stuff – “it’s always darkest before the dawn, but the light comes.” all the virtuoso photography and special effects in the world can’t save a movie without a script. what a waste of talent, and misuse of money. Forget it, Jake – it’s Chinatown.

    Comment by paul — July 19, 2008 @ 10:49 pm | Reply

  13. Right on! The brutal truth is: Comic books aren’t that great, Jonathan Lethem and Michael Chabon notwithstanding.

    Comment by Peregrine — July 20, 2008 @ 5:42 am | Reply

  14. There’s no accounting for taste.

    Running an attack on a genre because you don’t like it is rather boring. Sure, ardent defenders show up to fight back, but the whole exercise is pointless, except as a sneer at the hoi polloi who see such movies. It’s not like others are going to flock to your banner here. The movie is not meant for you personally to be entertained, but to make money by entertaining masses of people. By that standard, it is a success.

    Comment by OmegaPaladin — July 22, 2008 @ 7:51 am | Reply

  15. [/i]I realize I’m a bit late to this discussion and I won’t go so far as to try and defend comics since, for the most part, they really are light fare not worthy of serious criticsm.

    But, before you go so far as to dismiss an entire genre as such, I highly recommend reading the universally acclaimed pinnacle of the form, Alan Moore’s [i]Watchmen[/i]. It’s a moderate investment in time compare to reading a novel but I guarantee you won’t regret reading it. Even if you don’t like it, you will be in a much more informed position to make sweeping statements about ‘comics’ or ‘graphic novels’ or whatever you want to call it.

    If your only exposure to them is a few Superman comics as a kid, you come across as arguing from the side of ignorance.

    Thank you for your Watchmen suggestion. It seems to me that several commenters have not read what I wrote with much attentiveness (bad effect of reading comix?). It’s not an attack on comix or grahic novels per se. I have read and liked many graphic novels. Guess what: they’re not all about suerheroes, quite the opposite. My post was a complaint about the cult of the allegedly dark movie superhero and the way critics mimic each other in praising the “darkness” of formulaically troubled movie super heroes in order to apear “deep”.

    Comment by Kasey Rasmussen — July 22, 2008 @ 9:44 am | Reply

  16. You make a good point. I guess I got caught up in the discussion. Now that I think about it, while I like a lot of comics, I don’t usually like super heroes either. With a few exceptions (Watchmen, Concrete, Preacher) I find they don’t make for interesting characters. Much like wrestlers, they need a gimmick in order to appeal to an audience. As such, their value as entertainment is pretty short-lived.

    Comment by Kasey Rasmussen — July 23, 2008 @ 10:11 am | Reply

  17. I’ve read the good stuff, too.

    It’s not wrong or sweeping to say that superhero-anything is overblown, especially when half of all made movies seemed to be based on the genre.

    Comment by Mike W — July 26, 2008 @ 8:44 pm | Reply

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