The dark stink

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

BE­FORE WE BE­GIN, let us make one thing clear. There will be no reve­la­tions about the plot of The Dark Knight Rises in this ill­tem­pered, mean-spir­ited rant by an older film critic who – though he likes the se­ries – doesn’t think Christo­pher Nolan’s Bat­man fran­chise can solve world hunger or re­verse cli­mate change. So, there will be no need to ac­cess Twit­ter and type the (hor­ri­ble) word “spoiler” over and over again un­til your thumb bleeds.

The ob­ses­sion with plot reve­la­tions in re­views is just the most con­spic­u­ous man­i­fes­ta­tion of con­tem­po­rary hy­per­fan­dom in ac­tion. The whinge­ing has be­come a mod­ern par­lour game. A mil­lion film fans de­vote all their spare time to scour­ing copy for el­e­ments of story. Crit­ics have been dis­cussing the plots of nov­els for aeons. Re­view­ers have been of­fer­ing syn­opses of films for a cen­tury. In the past five years, how­ever, the un­avoid­able prac­tice has taken on the qual­ity of well-poi­son­ing or cat­tle mo­lesta­tion. For­get about re­veal­ing that Rose­bud is a sled. Don’t dare even men­tion that Charles Fos­ter Kane wears a hat.

The hy­per-fans wan­der around in a state of per­ma­nent right­eous in­dig­na­tion. They don’t just adore the lat­est su­per­hero pic­ture, ju­ve­nile wizard adaptation or sci­ence-fic­tion re­boot. They feel they own the prop­erty. If any critic dares to de­file the sa­cred en­tity, he or she will be made to feel they have burst into the com­menter’s home and taken a dump in the baby’s cot. The in­ter­net throbs with fury. When did it all be­gin? The re­lease of Sam Raimi’s Spi­der-Man in 2002 is prob­a­bly a good place to start. Colum­nists would not be­gin bab­bling about Web 2.0 for an­other two years, but there were al­ready enough out­lets on which Spidey fans could get strato­spher­i­cally up­set about the great “or­ganic web-shooter” con­tro­versy. As you may re­call, Sam (un­like the mak­ers of the re­cent The Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man) had de­cided that, even in the Mar­vel Uni­verse, it seemed im­plau­si­ble that Peter Parker could, over a busy af­ter­noon, man­u­fac­ture a sub­stance that would rev­o­lu­tionise ma­te­ri­als sci­ence. So, rather than em­a­nat­ing from ma­chines, Spi­der-Man’s web­bing emerged from glands in his wrist. Tak­ing on the man­tle of brave Rosa Parks, the an­grier com­menters de­manded a boy­cott.

When I spoke to Raimi about this be­fore re­lease, he smiled and cast his eyes to heaven. The vir­tual furore seemed to have taken him en­tirely by sur­prise. Within five years, such spats had reached epi­demic pro­por­tions.

The web-shooter out­rage of­fered a model for one grow­ing strain of hy­per-fan ma­nia: an ob­ses­sion with faith­ful­ness to the source ma­te­rial. The com­ments sec­tion of the In­ter­net Movie Data­base (IMDb) swells with ac­cu­sa­tions of cre­ative apos­tasy. The as­sump­tion is that any de­vi­a­tion from beloved source ma­te­rial is, in it­self, some­thing to be de­nounced and de­monised. The sug­ges­tion that any al­ter­ation may ac­tu­ally im­prove the smooth run­ning of the plot is greeted with ut­ter baf­fle­ment. One seems to hear An­nie Wilkes, the an­tag­o­nist of Mis­ery, fu­ri­ously re­mem­ber­ing an in­fe­lic­ity from an an­cient movie se­rial. “He didn’t get out of the cock­adoo­die car!” she bel­lowed. Come to think of it, the en­tire in­ter­net seems, at times, to be pop­u­lated by key­board­ham­mer­ing ver­sions of Ms Wilkes.

The re­lease of Watch­men in 2009 trig­gered a par­tic­u­larly vir­u­lent at­tack from the Faith­ful­ness Po­lice. When crit­ics sug­gested that Zack Sny­der’s bor­ing film suf­fered from stick­ing too closely to Alan Moore’s mighty comic book, one felt a mil­lion brains spin­ning into a state of ad­vanced geek­shock. “How is that even pos­si­ble?” one gen­uinely con­fused punter asked on IMDb. Watch the movie and learn, young fel­low.

The Harry Pot­ter films slip into nar­ra­tive chaos as – ap­par­ently fear­ful of the on­line mob – they des­per­ately strive to in­clude ev­ery pos­si­ble in­ci­dent from JK Rowl­ing’s of­te­nenor­mous books. Yet the hy­per-fans still be­moan the goblins and elves that have not quite made the fi­nal cut. Who would now dare med­dle with a best­selling book the way the writ­ers of Jaws mucked around with Peter Bench­ley’s pulp sen­sa­tion? “Hooper dies in the cock­adoo­die end!” a time-trav­eller from 1975 writes. The folk with the burn­ing torches have Hol­ly­wood’s new Franken­steins on the run.

Now to this week’s sub­ject of dis­cus­sion. The hy­per-fans reached the height of their power with the re­lease of The Dark Knight in 2008. Like 1970s rock’n’roll fans ea­ger for their prog idols’ first col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Lon­don Sym­phony Or­ches­tra, many comic- book en­thu­si­asts (of which I am one) have long yearned for artis­tic re­spectabil­ity. Nolan’s sec­ond Bat­man film seemed to de­liver that holy grail. A se­ri­ous di­rec­tor of­fered up a beau­ti­fully made, ob­ses­sively gloomy en­ter­tain­ment that won rave re­views from the ma­jor­ity of crit­ics. But that wasn’t enough. The Dark Knight had to be a mas­ter­piece. In­deed, the mil­i­tant wing would only be happy if it were recog­nised as the great­est film of all time.

Shortly af­ter The Dark Knight was un­veiled, it surged to num­ber one on IMDb’s list of the best films of all time. Fair enough. The hy­per-fans, all of whom breathe on­line air, are en­ti­tled to give the pic­ture 10/10. But here’s the thing. It soon be­came clear that the same en­thu­si­asts were si­mul­ta­ne­ously award­ing The God­fa­ther 1/10 to drag the gang­ster pic­ture’s av­er­age be­neath that of the Bat­man flick. An on­line cam­paign was afoot to make the dream a re­al­ity. Mean­while, any crit­ics who dared to dis­like

were sub­jected to tirades of abuse. Stephanie Zacharek, then writ­ing for

was treated like filth for ar­tic­u­lately ques­tion­ing the film’s bril­liance. In a YouTube re­view she joked: “Girls are not sup­posed to be al­lowed to re­view comic-book movies.” She was not over­stat­ing the case. “This woman is a fuck­ing idiot . . .” har­vey­dents writes be­neath her clip. “she just needs to get laid,,,or come out of the closet...fuckig? c**t.” (In­sert [sic] wher­ever seems ap­pro­pri­ate.) The com­ment was not an aber­ra­tion. Many sim­i­lar slabs of or­dure still

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