Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Dark Knight

This post marks my 500th post on this site, and I gotta tell you, I can't think of a better topic.

I have just seen what I am sure will go down as the best comic book movie ever. In fact, The Dark Knight will probably become an iconic film along the lines of Star Wars.

It's not just the audience reaction that allows me to say this movie will have incredible staying power-- though the response has been overwhelmingly positive. No. I'd say it's the vision of director Christopher Nolan and the performance by Heath Ledger that will make The Dark Knight linger in our minds well beyond the closing credits.

Let me just start by saying, if you thought Batman Begins was a dark movie, you ain't seen nothin' yet. We've heard all along that Heath Ledger's Joker was menacing and disturbed, and the fact that Ledger's death has been rumored to have been linked to his emotional state after playing the role only strengthened that impression. I was still blown away by Ledger's ability to portray the Joker's sociopathic nature.

The story picks up not long after the end of Batman Begins. I really don't want to offer too many spoilers, but let's just say there hasn't been enough time to build a bat-cave yet. There has been time, however, for Batman to become a real presence in Gotham City. He has brought a bit of hope to the beleaguered city but also galvanized the Joker into bold action. He is both hailed as a hero and derided as a vigilante. Because Batman has brought a flicker of hope to Gotham, the city is all too ready when the idealistic, and tough, District Attorney Harvey Dent comes to town as Gotham's White Knight. Aaron Eckhart's performance deserves mention because he does a fabulous job of capturing the optimism of Harvey Dent as well as his descent into madness as Two-Face. Dent, in many ways, is the linchpin of the story between Batman and the Joker. Like Many people in Gotham, Bruce Wayne has become a true believer in Dent, despite the fact that Dent is romantically involved with Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Wayne, believing that Gotham needs a hero they can see, supports Dent strongly and harbors a hope that Dent will be successful enough to see that Gotham won't need Batman anymore. But Wayne's hope turns out to be naive in the face of the Joker, whose main motivation seems to be chaos.

There isn't really any back-story to the Joker despite the fact that so much of the movie is given to his character. I mostly know the version of the story that claims the Joker fell into a vat of chemicals, leaving him scarred, white faced and with a permanent grin. But Nolan's Joker is a scarred psychopath who paints his face with the trademark red grin. He leers, licks his lips and walks with a hunched, stilted gait and offers more than one explanation for his maimed face; each more disturbing than the last. There are surprising moments of black humor and Ledger captures the hysterical laugh of the Joker with a spine tingling eeriness and an unpredictability that is chilling. This Joker isn't motivated by money but rather the urge to see other men give in to their basest instincts--especially Batman. He terrorizes the city of Gotham beyond what you would believe one man could be capable of doing. He's a man who would go laughing to his death just for the perversity of it. Nolan also increases the tenseness of the scenes featuring the Joker by sometimes taking out the music and all you hear is a sort of low-pitched buzz. Very effective.

The relationship between Batman and the Joker is a long one through comic book history, but sadly it's likely to be all too short in this movie franchise. Ledger nailed the character so well that it would be a travesty to attempt to put anyone in the role in the future. What could have been a melancholy experience for me was saved by the fact that I didn't see Heath Ledger while I was watching the film; only the Joker. There was a momentary sadness when, in one scene, the Joker says to Batman, "I could see us doing this forever." If only that were true.

Everyone has been talking about Ledger. There's has been blog buzz about an Academy Award nomination, though I don't know if that is more than wishful thinking. But the fact remains, The Dark Knight is Ledger's movie. I've said it before, but I think it bears repeating, that the best thing Nolan did for the Batman franchise was to hire a real actor in Christian Bale to portray Batman. He made the same wise decision when he hired Ledger.

If Christian Bale wasn't such a class act I'd feel sorry for him that Ledger's performance has been getting all the attention for this film. I have seen countless interviews and in each one Bale is asked to comment on Ledger's death, but it never seems to bother him. If you have seen any of Bale's other films, like 3:10 to Yuma or The Prestige, you'd know that Bale doesn't mind leaving the flashier performances to his fellow actors. He is known as a man who dedicates himself to the role and not to being the bigger name on the marquee. The Dark Knight is no different.

There really isn't anything I can find to say that is bad about this movie. There have been a few people who have tried, maybe one or two for the sake of notoriety. I even saw one review that claimed we should be ashamed of ourselves for gushing over this movie when people are still dying in Iraq. Worst segue ever. But I think Nolan hit all the right notes with this one. I liked Maggie Gyllenhaal in the role of Rachel Dawes because I think the storyline demanded a level of maturity that Katie Holmes didn't bring to the role. As always, Michael Cain, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman were solid and believable.

But like the movie poster above shows, the triad of Batman, the Joker and Harvey Dent are what this movie is built upon and it's a heck of a solid foundation. The movie is a dark, violent, tense ride of a PG-13 movie and I can't recommend it enough.

16 comments:

Nepharia said...

Yes, I am planning on seeing it after the craziness dies down -- I don't relish standing in line for hours just to get in :D Of course, they were also saying that on the first 24 hours of its release it grossed more than Spiderman III did during its theatrical release. Truly amazing.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

It sounds a movie to remember.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I have seen this twice already. First on the IMAX, then in a regular theater, sitting back to be able to take in the composition of the action scenes.

I won't mention anything about the film's plot here, to avoid spoilers, but I will mention one thematic issue which drew me in.

The hero is too often portrayed as the White Knight, the heroic person taking a stand against the odds. However, there is another side, a less absolute, the idea that there is another sort of hero, one that works in the darkness and behinds the scenes, one that receives little credit, and little adoration. This hero acts in a manner that the other hero would never follow, but stays true to a conviction based on an ultimate concept of good.

The White Knight, The Dark Knight. I refrain from using the phrase antihero. That is something entirely different. The antihero is usually self-serving and tends to stay true to a personal code, but not to a philosophical one that deals with more profound issues.

The fascinating thing is that The White Knight has no villain against which to test himself in this film. Don't think for a second that the Joker is the White Knight's nemesis. The Joker isn't evil. The Joker instead is chaos. The Joker is a twisted reflection of the Dark Knight and is therefore that icon's ultimate foe.

Fab said...

happy 500th post!

and I am so looking forward to The Dark Knight here, but I fear it will be a while before they'll release it here.

SQT said...

Stu

The hardest part about writing a post about this movie is deciding which part to focus on. There are so many themes that run through the film that narrowing the focus is tough.

I don't think they had time to fully develop Dent's character. I never got the sense that the Joker was his nemesis. I just felt like he was a pawn in a game the Joker was playing. When the Joker said to Batman, "I could see us doing this forever" I think he was saying how much he liked the game. Testing Batman's ethics and what he's willing to do to accomplish what is right. Dent wasn't even on the Joker's radar other than as a means to get under Batman's skin.

Wilson said...

Best superhero movie. Period. Though watchmen will be close contender...we'll have to see...

Steve Malley said...

I remain, until the movie opens in New Zealand, hopelessly, hopelessly jealous...

ALso, peeing-my-pants excited!

SQT said...

Wilson

Yeah, that looked interesting. I don't know enough about the story but it looks cool.

Steve

Doesn't it open soon over there? I hope so. It's really great.

Charles Gramlich said...

That's a great review. Sounds like the advent of CGI and the ability of talented actors and directors to take comic books seriously has led to some fine new movies. Spider man first, then iron man and the Bat mans. I'll definitely see it.

SQT said...

Thanks Charles. I really wanted people to know they should see the film without giving away too much. Kind of hard to walk that line.

chauncey devega said...

As good as Star Wars..hmmmm. In fact, I will be doing a post on why Dark Knight is not Empire next week...or when I get over my love affair with DK.

I was there at midnight opening night but I will have to think about that one! And I mean that nicely.

Do you think it can be followed up on? Part of me says lets end it here because it cannot likely be surpassed, the other part of me knows that business dictates a 3rd...and Nolan has said this is it. Will it be the Riddler or Catwoman? Of do we go in the future to DK returns?

Chauncey Devega

SQT said...

Chauncey

I didn't say better than Star Wars, but now that you mention it....

What I meant was that it will be remembered long-term like Star Wars.

SQT said...

DK is a comic book movie. Star Wars is not.

crunchycarpets said...

Gah..I don't know when I am going to get to see this movie...

eeeeeeh

Anonymous said...

ehh... I thought it was OK. The Dent metamorphosis was *very* hard to swallow (I don't know the comic at all, it was unexpected). Good action scenes, though.

SQT said...

Anon

Fair enough. The Dent transformation was sudden but I think they were trying to show that the trauma of losing Rachel, his disfigurement and the Joker's prodding all made his mind snap. It's virtually impossible in a 2 1/2 hour movie to cover all the plot lines and get into more depth than they did.