Tag Archives: Redemption

Video Game Noir | Batman Arkham City

The video game noir Batman Arkham City was released this week, and my pre-ordered copy arrived like an angel in xbox 360 green.  Within the first five minutes I had goosebumps from the perfect timbre of Dr. Hugo Strange’s voice and the early appearance of the femme fatale Catwoman. The main story is a lightning paced buffet of the memorable villains and mainstays of the Gothamverse; brilliantly counterpointed by the new “side mission” system that truly introduces you to the basest elements of Arkham City. Within 72 hours I had beaten the main story arc, and was well on my way into the delectable extras unlocked by the accomplishment. Now, I eagerly divulge the noir elements of this noir comics staple turned video game noir- Batman Arkham City according to the noir definition:

1) The Seedy Underworld

Arkham City is a sprawling piece of old Gotham turned penitentiary by the twisted mind of Hugo Strange. All of the inmates from Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison have been inserted into the walled island, and told to fend for themselves. Derelict buildings, the frothing sea-front, and abandoned subways frame this haven of crime. This seedy underworld is absolutely noir.

Video Game Noir Batman Arkham City

via wccftech.com

2) The Anti-Hero

Batman, the dark knight himself, is the anti-hero of this video game noir. He is known as “the world’s greatest detective” and is referred to as such several times throughout the game. The character archetype of Batman is absolutely founded in the private eye/gumshoe detectives of the old noir crime fiction and film noir genres: Batman Arkham City is no exception. As a player, much of your time is spent piecing together clues and following the trail of events to their final (inevitable) conclusion.

3) The Femme Fatale

You would think Catwoman was the femme fatale, but she didn’t fit this role exactly. She seemed to be bored of Batman and he was utterly uninterested in her. Talia Al Ghul was more fittingly cast; she refers to Bruce as her “beloved” and she was identified as the only woman that he ever truly loved. The fact that he chases her around the plot is motivated to save and protect her in spite of her failings makes her the femme fatale.

Video Game Noir Batman Arkham City Catwoman

via digitaltrends.com

4) Misogyny

Every female character in the game is crafted by male defined sexual desire. Talia Al Ghul, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy are scantily clad vixens who exude sexuality. To their credit, each of these female characters have redeeming attributes: Talia Al Ghul is violent and powerful, Catwoman has a well developed personality, Harley Quinn becomes a villain in her own right, and Poison Ivy is a petrarchan monolith (cold and utterly unobtainable). The tragedy in these characters is that they are still wholly male defined.

5) Redemption

The entire Batman mythos is founded upon the pillar of redemption. Bruce must redeem himself from not the guilt of allowing his parents to be killed. Also, as a detective, he “redeems” each crime by exercising intellectual control over it: knowing how it happened. Thus, even though he was unable to stop the initial crime from happening, knowing the details of its execution and punishing its perpetrators spiritually redeems him. Herein lies the tragedy of Bruce Wayne’s story, for he will never be redeemed. Without dropping any spoilers, I would argue that Batman Arkham City is the story of the Joker’s redemption. As you play, ask yourself, “How important is the Joker to the story of Batman?”

Video Game Noir Batman Arkham City Riddler

via gamingexaminer.com

6) Loss of Innocence

The Riddler’s little game with the lives of several hostages comes across as very sick and twisted. Batman finds himself in “riddler rooms” whose chief purpose is to force the dark knight to cause the death of the captive. These deaths are sadistically engineered, and the penalties for Batman’s failure as swift and irreversible. Listening to one captive be blow torched alive was enough to place the Riddler in this “loss of innocence” category.

7) Eroticism

The only instances of eroticism within this video game noir are as follows: Talia Al Ghul bares her middriff, Poison Ivy doesn’t wear any pants (just little green panties), Harley Quinn’s thong is whale-tailing, and Catwoman’s suit exposes her deep cleavage. Selina Kyle’s catsuit becomes more sensual and erotic the longer that you play, because a multitude of snags and tears reveal the delicate skin beneath by degrees.

Video Game Noir Batman Arkham City Harley Quinn

via attackofthefanboy.com

8 ) Blaxploitation

The only black characters are the inmates that Batman pounds in the streets.

9) Smoke

The Penguin enjoys a stogie and several inmates often talk of their desire for “a smoke.”

Batman Arkham City is one of the best video game noir examples on the market. Get it at Amazon.com.

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Film Noir: Max Payne (2008)

Late last night I watched the 2008 film noir Max Payne (directed by John Moore, starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, and Beau Bridges). It was the third time that I have seen the film, and I seem to like it more and more with each consecutive viewing. While I enjoyed certain aspects of the film initially, I felt it had some glaring faults as a film noir and as a tribute to one of my favorite video games. My arguments were many and varied, and I had trouble pinpointing what peeved me the most, but now that I have had some years to digest I am ready to tell the world what I think of the film noir Max Payne.

Film Noir Max Payne

Max and Mona in the derelict druggy district

Let us begin with that which was lacking:

Max Payne needs his pain killers! I couldn’t believe that there was not one single reference to painkillers in the entire film (and believe me there was ample opportunity). Also, Mila Kunis needs a different make-up artist, because she is a sexy and vibrant young woman who they have managed to make look like a goblin in the first few scenes. Now, I admit that the first time I saw this film noir I thought she looked even worse (this most recent time I realized its not as bad as I remembered it), but she was not the femme fatale that she could have been. Had I been in charge I would have eased up on the eye-liner and given her some bright red lipstick. Next, The film noir needed at least two more dark monologues. They start with a bang, (which I will talk about later) and then they never come back to the Max Payne defining inner monologue. This lack of narrative was a gross oversight on the part of the screenwriter, because this script could have been magical. And finally, Jack Lupino needed more character development and less wordless looming. In the video game, Lupino is so scary because you learn that he is a Satan worshiping psychopath who believes he is immortal. In the film, they try to make him scary by having him stand on cold rooftops without his shirt on (not very effective). With all the time that they wasted on showing him loom over the city scape, they could have been developing his character by giving him lines.

Film Noir Max Payne Blu Ray

Bullet time.

things they did right:

The first monologue was chilling, and Mark Wahlberg was a great choice for Max Payne. I was absolutely blown away by the opening lines of the film noir, but when they never came back to the same overly stylized Max Payne scripting I was utterly disappointed. I think that they were afraid that the script would be too cheesy if they mirrored the level of drama in the video game, but that’s the point! The heavy handed drama is what makes Max Payne who he is! Next, Olga Kurylenko was an excellent femme fatale. Her part is short lived, but she tip-toes on the edge of lust and danger with deadly skill. Also, the drug Valkyr was portrayed in a way that far surpassed the video game noir series. The ‘snowflake to embers’ effect was unbelievably cool, and the valkyries themselves in all their demonesque glory were amazing. Lastly, all of the action sequences were top notch in your face violent. The sets and special effects were all blu-ray worthy, amen.

Film Noir Mona Sax Max Payne Femme Fatale

Mila Kunis never looks this good in the film, this is not a screenshot.

“There’s an army of bodies under this river, people who ran out of time, out of friends. I could feel the dead down there, reaching up to welcome me as one of their own. It was an easy mistake to make.” -Mark Wahlberg as Max Payne

Some interesting noir definition moments:

This film noir has two femme fatales: Mona Sax and her sister Natasha. Mona plays the partner/equal/confidant role in the story, where Natasha plays the sexy/lusty/dangerous role. Interesting choice on the part of the film makers, because normally the femme fatale in any noir would have all of these attributes (and in the game, Mona and Natasha are identical twins so go figure). Also, Max Payne has a classic Redemption Theme. Max is attempting to redeem the irredeemable, for even if he successfully finds and punishes their killer, his wife and child will remain dead (and thus beyond his power to redeem). But the power of his story lies in the idea that if he can obtain revenge, that vengeance will redeem their memory and bring him closure. Max Payne is a classic film noir. (I purchased my blu-ray from Amazon.com) (also, Max Payne got 16% on rottentomatoes.com and that is where I got these film noir images).

Film Noir Natasha Sax Max Payne Femme Fatale

Olga Kurylenko as one sister of the femme fatale pair

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“To be, or Noir to be…” A Noir Definition

I believe that there is great value to a list of qualifications I expect in any noir piece. Anything that I review on this site will have to match at least one of the requirements below. Please remember noir can be found in any media, be it art, literature, film, video-games, or comics, it’s there.

1. The Seedy Underworld

Noir Definition Seedy Underworld

"sheesh this fog is so crimey..."

The setting of any great noir piece is the filthy underbelly of the polished public. This place is filthy, grimy, bleak, and often deranged. Expect steaming sewer grates, torrential downpours, second-hand-smoke, and nefarious characters. Crime thrives here, and its perveyors are brutally corrupt and extremely adept. Sadly, these roads are lined with condemned buildings labeled ‘hope,’ ‘faith,’ and ‘charity.’

2. The Anti-Hero

Noir Definition Anti-Hero

yeah....smoke that

The main character of the noir genre is at best despicable. We are fascinated with his/her moral ambiguity and glaring flaws while hiding our disgust with the same. Dangling from this character’s lips is the tell-tale cigarette and the greasy tendril of smoke tickles the street lamp above. Usually this character’s life is at stake, and this is almost always due to their own poor choices. We quietly root for him/her and cringe when the baseball bat or crowbar beats their brow bloody.

3. The Femme Fatale

Noir Definition Femme Fatale

"man, this blows."

A secret ingredient that adds spice and variety to any noir is the femme fatale. She is sultry, sexy, and manipulative. Her power over the main character is unmistakable and she gently leads him along to meet her own ends. Elegance of speech and brutal double crossings as common as lipstick stains on wine glasses and discarded lingerie. She is deadly, untrustworthy, and 9 times out of 10 the villain.

Each of these three items are hallmarks of the noir genre. I will use these criteria as pegs to hang my reviews on, and as indicators of proximity to the noirWHALE (the ‘big-one’ so to speak). As the media I encounter exhibits these traits, I will detail their strengths and weaknesses on this site. I am sure that there are other hallmarks of noir out there, and as I discover them I will add to the list.

UPDATE: April 7, 2011

4. Misogyny

Noir Definition Misogyny

"turn your breasts to the light dear."

Throughout the genre of noir, there seems to be a fairly steady stream of misogyny. I’m not suggesting that this “dame-hating” is always aware of itself or that it’s a conscious decision by the noir creators, but it rears itself very consistently in each piece. Women are the villains, the burdens, and the childish fools that merely tolerated by the hero. Also the women are always “male-defined.” Their behaviors, attitudes, and appearance are constantly pandering to a male audience. I assume that this must be incredibly frustrating for female audiences (it frustrates me and I’m a male). As a result of these male definitions, noir seems to always focus on beautiful women with low sexual standards and no depth of character (other than where it serves plot). Recently I’ve read that there are some female authors who have reversed the roles in modern noir novels. I hope to read some of them soon  so I can report back my findings.

5. Redemption

Noir Definition Redemption

This may be an actual crime scene...

Another theme that has presented itself in my studies is that of redemption. In noir, the detective always arrives after the tragedy has taken place. He is plunged into a world of chaos, where something whole was just shattered (murder, rape, violence, etc.). His job is completely consumed with trying to redeem the unredeemable. Think Batman. Bruce Wayne is haunted by the murder of his parents. He decides to seek vengeance for the rest of his life by “righting” all the wrongs in Gotham. The only catch is that his task is impossible. He cannot change the fact that his parents are dead, nor can he completely succeed in purifying Gotham. He can’ t win. The only measure of success he achieves is through putting as many pieces back together as he can. In this way we (the audience) are lead to believe that something has actually been redeemed. We feel better about the injustice when we know how or why it happened, even though it still occurred. Dean DeFino calls this “illusions of order” and “intellectual control.” He says that “the story redeems that sense of order and control by (fictionally) exposing its logic, its cause-and-effect chain, how one thing leads to another.”

UPDATE: June 21st, 2011 

I have always wanted to create a very robust noir definition for noir in all of its forms. Thus far I have previously set forth 5 unique elements that are found in any noir media. They are: The seedy underworld, the ant-hero, the femme fatale, misogyny, and redemption. Recently I have thought of two more that must be added: Loss of Innocence, and Eroticism.

6. Loss of Innocence

Noir Definition Loss of Innocence

giving us the reasons why

This aspect of noir is the one that hits us in the gut. It wrenches our emotions and makes us uncomfortable. Torture, rape, sin, and abuse all fall under this thematic umbrella. Usually, the loss of innocence within any noir piece holds the responsibility of answering the question “why?”, as in: “why is this character this way?” or “why do they do what they do?” This is closely related with the Redemption aspect of noir because usually the loss of innocence is what causes the need for redeeming.


Noir Definition Eroticism

eroticism in the 80's

One thematic element of noir that has caused the most controversy in the genre is that of eroticism or sexuality. These tend to not be the main stream accepted types of sexual behavior, instead they are the outré and bizarre fetishes that make us cringe. Prostitution, adultery, sadomasochism, and other unmentionables are the mainstay of noir. Most often, lust plays a huge roll in any noir crime fiction as well as lack of self control. Those characters that can control their sexual desires are those that are the most successful, while those who succumb are the victims of their own self destruction. This is closely related with the theme of Misogyny in our noir definition, especially as it pertains to the portayal of the femme fatale.

Well, I hope that we can continue to add to our noir definition in the future! Please email me if you think of any aspect that needs to be addressed! Chad.deLisle[at]gmail.com

Noir Definition UPDATE: August 26th, 2011

8. Racism

Noir Definition Blaxploitation

Black Caesar

One aspect of the noir genre that has recently leapt out at me is the heavy-handed theme of racism. Condescending language, disparaging remarks, and sexual abuse are all hallmarks of Racism. This racism may be a byproduct of the era in which the noir genre was birthed, but it certainly thrives in the contemporary time period as well. Understand that the racism in film noir, noir crime fiction, and noir comics is not only directed at Blacks; others feel the sting as well. I believe this theme rests entirely upon power, control, and illusions of power. The white male desires to remain in control, so he inflicts emasculating and denigrating roles upon white females, blacks, and any other race or people he considers inferior. In this way power threatening groups are robbed of their ability to affront the acceptable order established by he and his cohorts. What do the white females, blacks, and other races do in response? They mimic the abuse inflicted upon them by white males and perpetrate heinous crimes against one another. And thus the only way they can obtain power is by accepting roles and behaviors that are white male defined.

UPDATE: February 16 2012

This last week it was brought to my attention that there was a problem with my noir definition. A frequent visitor to NoirWhale.com pointed out that I had misappropriated the term “blaxploitation.” After some research and review I concurred with his analysis. Blaxploitation actually refers to a process of stereotypical media that was meant to appeal to black, not offend them.  I had been using it as a term synonomous with racism, and while it has a racist element, they aren’t the same thing.

Thus I append the noir definition; instead of removing the element altogether, I’m renaming it “racism” because that is what I truly meant in the first place. It should be noted that blaxploitation can be found touching several areas of the noir genre, it’s just not as frequent a theme as racism. So moving forward, I’ll still be pointing out the generally racist nature of much of the genre, I’ll just be using the proper term for it.  Thanks Justin!

9. Smoke

Noir Definition Smoke

Dorian Leigh

Anyone who has seen an episode of Mad Men will understand why “smoke” must be added to my noir definition. Curling tendrils of cigarette smoke portend sexual encounters in seedy hotels, cruel seduction, and infidelities. Profanity and profundity crosshatch the hanging smoky-mirk in scene after scene of film noir, noir crime fiction, and noir comics. Smoke caresses the lips of the femme fatale, stings the eyes of the innocent, and tickles the throat of the stooge. It stains the teeth, fingernails, and wallpaper of the anti-hero, yet entombs him like a viking king on a floating pyre. Disgusting in real life? Yes. Amazingly enticing in noir? Yes. I know this seems obvious, but in hindsight “smoke” should have been the first quality that defines the noir genre.

As with my other noir definition updates, I’m sure there are more to come…

Noir Definition UPDATE: January 28th 2012

10. Emasculation

Noir Definition Mad Men

Roger Sterling, Peggy Olson, Don Draper, Joan Holloway, Pete Campbell (via celebrations.com)

Only recently apparent to me is the frequent theme of emasculation in the noir genre. Emasculation in noir refers to robbing a male of his “manliness” in some degree; either through humiliation or through some means of impotence. Examples: A man can’t provide for his family, he’s beaten or humiliated by some thugs, he loses his livelihood, he can’t land the femme fatale, his health fails, or he literally has his “manhood” taken away (read Sin City: That Yellow Bastard). Often the driving theme of a noir piece is the fear of emasculation, even if it hasn’t occurred yet. In Night and The City, Harry Fabian becomes more and more desperate as he becomes more and more emasculated by his failures to succeed.

If you’re still failing to grasp what I’m referring to, look at Mad Men for example; Don Draper, Pete Campbell, Roger Sterling, and others each have a certain masculine ideal which they subscribe to. For Pete it’s success in the workplace without the aid of others, for Don it’s strength and privacy, for Roger it’s health and sexual conquest, for others it’s something else. Although each man may have a slightly different definition of masculinity, ALL of them fear its loss and panic when it’s endangered. Pete’s marriage suffers when he fails at work, when Don’s secret past rears itself he attempts to flee, and as Roger’s health plummets he weeps like a child; each of them are emasculated by their greatest fears. Thus our noir definition is expanded.

Got any ideas for the noir definition? email me: chad.delisle [at] gmail.com


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