This may turn out to be our All-Time Heavyweight Smackdown — the equivalent of Ali versus Frasier — where both of the fighters are at the top of their games and both deserve to wear the champion’s belt even though only one can.Â The DC/Warner “The Dark Knight” in the ring against the Marvel/Columbia “Spider-Man 2” pits two comic book film sequels against each other, both of which are considered better than what preceded them, and what preceded them was considered fantastic.Â Both are directed by the same men who were trusted with the franchise a second time after they had shed themselves of the responsibility of an “origin” story and could get deeper into their redefinition of what makes the character really come alive. Â Let’s get the fight started…
“The Dark Knight” picks up where “Batman Begins” left off.Â Millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne has literally gone to the dark side, prowling the streets battling crime using his new Batman alter-ego as his cover.Â The way the new film tells it, he’s been pretty successful:Â criminals are afraid to come out at night, he’s got a cozy relationship with the cops, and most people are pretty happy he’s getting the job done.Â With the crime lords looking for a new move to counter the Batman, they find an unstable, but powerful, ally in the Joker.
We saw this film at a DGA (Directors Guild of America) screening at Howard Hughes Center here in LA on an IMAX theater.Â Given that director Christopher Nolan was there for the Q&A afterward, I have to assume it was projected to the highest technical standards.Â It was breathtaking.
Nolan said that the thing that drove him to do this sequel was his desire, after creating such a vivid new re-imagining in “Batman Begins,” was to answer the question:Â “Who is the Joker in this world?”Â He has done that, and more.
You’ll hear that Heath Ledger isÂ phenomenal in this role and he is.Â Literally every second he is on theÂ screen, you’re simply afraid to look away because you’ll somethingÂ unique and special about this final performance given by Ledger beforeÂ he died.
Something else that Nolan has done differently here is to give us Gotham City as it’s meant to be.Â He admitted that his first take was a little art-directed and that in this case he went for a “slight genre shift” by shooting a great deal more on location (mostly Chicago) and to give us a crime story that is more in the tradition of Michael Mann than Tim Burton’s first time out with Batman.
The Champion – Spider-Man 2
Most superhero movies focus on the powers and could care less about the people who have them.Â Here’s where “Spider-Man 2” gets it right in a big way, always keeping the focus on the fundamental humanity in each of its characters.Â Being able to swing across town is all well and good, but the real reason we all love Spidey is because he’s got problems just like ours.Â He’s shy around girls, can’t pay his rent, and he’s not ready for the responsibility of having abilities that can save lives.
We learn right away that getting toÂ beat up bad guys isn’t nearly as cool as it sounds.Â Peter Parker isÂ failing out of school and about to be kicked out his apartment, and hasÂ to beg to keep his menial job as a pizza delivery boy.Â Even when he’sÂ out being heroic, his reputation is dragged into the mud by the DailyÂ Bugle.Â Mary Jane, tired of waiting around, has rebounded to anÂ astronaut that seems like much better boyfriend material.
Peter just can’t catch a break, andÂ his depression causes his powers to stop working.Â Beaten down andÂ discouraged by this development, he makes the fateful decision to tossÂ the costume and start living for himself again.Â Naturally, evilÂ chooses exactly this moment to corrupt the once-noble Dr. OttoÂ Octavius.Â Like the best match-ups, the hero and villain have aÂ surprising amount in common, with one key difference: Spider-Man canÂ control his powers, but Doc Ock is controlled by them.
“TheÂ Dark Knight” isn’t just a great comic book movie, it’s a great film.Â People are already calling it “The Godfather II” of the comic book filmÂ genre.Â The reason for this is simple: from the story and script byÂ David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, there is aÂ constant interplay between the yin and yang between hero and villainÂ and good and evil.Â When the Joker tells Batman, “You complete me,” itÂ gets a laugh because of its Tom Cruise reference, but it is no joke.Â These two guys do complete each other and that’s why the moralisticÂ stylings of the story come to life so well.
Yet if the characters have been takenÂ to a new level, it is not at the expense of the action or plot. ThisÂ is one of the most realistic comic book plots I’ve ever seen (no, it is themost realistic), and it is pure adrenaline in how it delivers.Â It isÂ also, surprisingly, a suprising movie where things do not go by aÂ connect-the-dots telling.
It’s hard to pick Batman overÂ Spider-Man and, generically, as characters maybe I wouldn’t.Â I grew upÂ more in love with Spidey than Batman, for sure, and I have great modernÂ sympathies for the Marvel film franchise.Â Stan Lee has been a friendÂ of mine for over a decade now (we worked on a TV pilot together and I helped him launch his Stan Lee Media in 2000) and Sam Raimi handed over the reins of his “M.A.N.T.I.S.” franchise to me at Fox back in 1994.Â But still…
OfÂ all the vast multiverses full of superheroes, Spider-Man stands aloneÂ for one important reason: He’s the only one who’s most dramaticÂ battles take place behind the mask as Peter Parker.Â Bruce Wayne, onÂ the other hand, has to be the most boring “millionare playboy” who everÂ lived, making Tony Stark look like a workaholic.Â He hardly existsÂ during the day, living only to wage his grim crusade during the night.Â As Batman, we respect him but ultimately can’t relate to him.Â He’s anÂ outsider, a figure to be feared but never loved.
Not so with the webslinger, who atÂ one point finds an entire train full of New Yorkers rooting him on.Â We’re doing the same from our seats, since he represents the best in usÂ without being better than us.Â He isn’t an abstract symbol of vengeanceÂ looming in the shadows, he’s our friendly neighboorhood Spider-Man. Â The bottom line is that Marvel’s film has two great characters, Peter Parker and Spider-Man.Â DC’s film gives us a world.
Nolan has created a dense andÂ well-crafted film with “The Dark Knight,” but it’s really a crime filmÂ that just so happens to have elements of the Batman mythos woven intoÂ it.Â Raimi did the impossible with “Spider-Man 2” and brought a comicÂ book to wonderful life.
The bottom line here is this.Â OnceÂ in a great while, something comes along that just re-writes the rulesÂ and trumps what was once uncontested.Â “Spider-Man 2” was the greatestÂ comic book movie ever, but not anymore.Â Now it’s “The Dark Knight.”