Yep, in my never-ending quest to make sure I do (mostly) daily posts and don’t harp solely on the biblical and spiritual stuff (because I am more than just a religion), I’m going to go ahead and make the “Deacon’s DVDs” feature a weekly thing, more or less.
Today, a double feature: Iron Man and The Dark Knight.
Let me begin by saying these were among the two best movies in 2008. Not the best, necessarily, though arguments could be make for that, but certainly among the best.
Not that you’d know that from the Oscar nominations, of course, since mostly, these two films got relegated to the special effects, makeup, cinematography, sound, etc. categories. Just like every other action-oriented or adventure film. As if action and adventure and fantasy aren’t worthy (with the occasional exception of Lord of the Rings or The Wizard of Oz). Too often, just like great comedies that might have some important things to offer than just laughs, or stellar animated fare like Wall-E, fantasy and action are generally shunned and denied a spot in the Best Picture category. Instead, we get a couple truly great dramas, maybe, and then a couple overblown boring dramas that we all assume we should like but most of us really don’t, and the whole cycle repeats the next year.
Basically, I think The Dark Knight got robbed, and I’d argue that Iron Man did, too. They should have been better contenders than they were. They were both acclaimed by audiences and by and large by critics, and they also were succesful films. By such standards, I think they should be rated better than they were by the Academy. But enough about that.
I saw one person in the blogosphere sneer that the fact these were very good comic book-based movies is like making a five-course gourmet dinner out of Skittles. Fuck you! A lot of the dramas you’re so fond of are like making a five-course gourmet dinner out of Valium. Narrow-minded, high-and-mighty twits!
Robert Downey Jr. certainly owned the role of Tony Stark, the billionaire behind the high-tech armor, and he did most of the heavy lifting in this movie. But it was still a great ride, with a script that took things seriously and touched on some real issues, fantastic special effects, and solid direction to keep it all together. Downey was much of the magic (and his role in Tropic Thunder, for which he was nominated, is every bit worthy of consideration as well), but he wasn’t the movie itself. And even if he had been, many Best Picture nominated films have ridden mostly on the strength of the lead actor(s) and/or director rather than on truly good material.
This is a film that shows an narcissistic, egotistical, arrogant jerk can still learn to do the right thing after a lifetime of not doing so. It even shows how such a guy can also be likable and even become a hero. It shows how the military-industrial complex often goes wrong in today’s world. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
The Dark Knight
As much as I liked Iron Man, this film, The Dark Knight, was even more a drama while also being every bit the action movie at the same time. When well-handled, Batman is a character who speaks deeply to dualities and conflicts: justice vs. vigilanteism, good vs. evil, dedication vs. obsession, duty vs. desire.
Some have argued that the movie was overlong. Well, it never dragged, and that’s saying something. So what if your bladder was a bit full by the end of it? Some have said they hate Christian Bale’s gravely Batman voice, but hey, he still acted the hell out of Bruce Wayne and Batman. And some have said we’re only saying Heath Ledger’s role as The Joker was great because he’s dead and we want to pat him on the back posthomously. No, he created an indelible, disturbing, wicked and even sometimes sadistically funny character. Something at least as good, and perhaps better, than Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs.
The Dark Knight gave us a look at how effectively evil people can step up their game when good people strike some blows for justice and start to turn the tide. It showed us how citizens we think are respectable can do or consider heinous things and sometimes the criminals and the people on the fringe of society realize better when to do right. It shows how wealth and power can be used for positive purposes, and how close it can bring you to the temptation to overstep yourself.
The movie never bores, as far as I’m concerned, and it put a lot of issues about class, terrorism and human nature up on the screen. Just because some of it was wrapped in costumes and gadgets doesn’t make the message hiding there any less important.
And yes, great acting by most of the cast, too.
That’s the thing about both these movies. They took the material seriously and didn’t go for camp. They aren’t just really entertaining comic book movies. They showed us the humanity of superheroes. They provided gravity and emotional weight to a medium that is largely scorned by those who don’t realize that, like with novels, comic books can be great literature too. Most of what’s out there is just fluff or entertainment, but so are the bookshelves in the stores. There’s great stuff there, and issues to mine and minds to blow, even with superhero movies.
In the right hands, at least.