Tuesday, July 22, 2008

You're Just Too Much Fun - The Dark Knight

So with great fanfare, promotion and anticipation, The Dark Knight opened on July 18th and I was able to sit and watch the film with Mrs. Blog o’ Stuff. The film starts a bit slowly but pretty powerfully – a nice gradual reveal of The Joker. Mark Hamil’s Joker was probably the definitive interpretation of the Joker for me, but because the exceptional Dini/Timm Batman Animated series was aimed at a younger audience, the Joker couldn’t quite be as insane and murderous. Well with The Dark Knight, there are no limits and Ledger has redefined the villain and what he represents. When I initially heard of the three villains from Batman’s rouge gallery being in the film – The Joker, Scarecrow and Two-Face, I thought it would be villain overload. Boy was I wrong, but more on why I was wrong later.

Bale is more confident as Batman in The Dark Knight, which might be because of the new suit with which he was outfitted for the majority of the film. His Bruce Wayne is the perfect arrogant fop, but the Wayne persona isn’t in the film quite as much as the first. The Batman persona has fully taken over Bruce Wayne. Granted, Bale performs a great many scenes without the Batsuit, but in a good portion of those, he’s in the new/ temporary Batcave plotting his plans with Alfred and Lucius Fox. Unlike the Spider-Man films, seeing Bruce Wayne/Bale without the Batmask is not contrived. Bale’s Batman in this is even darker than in Begins and his methods at the film’s conclusion lead one to question whether he has gone too far. This methods is a great parallel to fairly recent events (JLA: Tower of Babel and Infinite Crisis) in the DC Universe. I thought those themes that have been present in the comics over the past few years worked in the film without asking the general audience to have the vast knowledge of the comics a lot of geeks and fanboys like I have.

Goyer and the Nolans flesh out the players of the film very well, with the primary new characters being (of course) the Joker and Harvey Dent. A lot of people are praising Ledger’s performance as the Clown Prince of Crime, and rightfully so, but there doesn’t seem to be as much chatter about Eckhart’s ownership of the Harvey Dent role. Dent/Two-Face has never been one of my favorite Bat-villains, but Eckhart’s intense performance, seemingly ripped from Jeph Loeb’s stellar portrayal of the character in The Long Halloween was really good. Not to sound too corny, but after Eckhart’s portrayal, I Believe in Harvey Dent. He stood in great contrast and comparison to Bruce/Batman.

Although Jim Gordon was an important character in Batman Begins, here he takes another step up in both the filmed Batman mythos and as a character in his own. Gary Oldman is becoming one of my favorite actors and I’m learning why he is considered a great actor. He must have read Batman: Year One and a lot of the Gotham Central comics to really get Gordon, because he just is the character.

Fox and Alfred, as Batman’s ‘assistants’ were perfect and like a lot of the other players in the film, Caine is the perfect Alfred. Gyllenhal’s Rachel Dawes was just sort of there, she is a better actress than Katie Holmes and her role served its purpose. Eric Roberts as Sal Maroni was very good too, once I got over the fact that it was Eric Roberts.

As for the plot of the film, in its barest simplicity, the Joker arrives and stirs up a lot of shit. Of course there are a lot of layers and threads to the film, all of which are amazingly tight and feed well off of each other. There isn’t any plot element that seems unnecessary or just filler; everything is necessary to the greater good of the film and establishing the character of Batman, his world, and ultimately, his relationship with the Joker. The same night of the Joker’s robbery, Batman breaks up a heist led by the Scarecrow. It wouldn’t be such a tough job for Batman except for all the Batman imposters who want to help Batman. After The Joker’s bank robbery, which began the movie, he soon enters a mob meeting where a Japanese “businessman” and potential partner of Wayne Enterprises is telling all the mob heads how he can secure their money after he learns of an attempt from the police and Harvey Dent to seize their marked money. The Joker; however, offers a deal to the collected mob heads after poo-pooing the Japanese businessman– give him half of their money and he’ll kill Batman.

The stuff between Dent, Gordon, and Batman was played really well, essentially a triumvirate of good. Corny analogy aside, what these characters represented to the film, to Gotham and each other was a strong theme from the movie and one that was [again] played out equally well in Loeb/Sale’s aforementioned The Long Halloween.

The Joker is more of a terrorist in this film and promises to kill one person a day until Batman unmasks. Batman contemplates revealing himself in order to save lives, but here the story mirrors the threat of terrorism in the real world. Does Batman give into the terrorist and let the Joker “win?” Dent makes the decision for him and ‘reveals’ himself to be Batman.

The scenes in the Police HQ are absolutely brilliant and where Ledger’s Joker is spectacular. His tone and vocal affectations take on a darker and more considered approach – the Joker walks a fine line between speaking the truth of the world as he sees and flat out insanity; and it is scary how right he just may be. Of course that is the power of an individual like the Joker – his insanity is laced with truth and sane talk.

As the scenes in the Police station continue, it becomes clear the Joker wanted to be caught, again showing how everything in this film is tied together. The chaos the Joker spins touches everything, from Batman, to Dent to the Police and as a theme it is convincing and effective. As the Joker says, he is “an agent of chaos” and “I just *do* things.” Even though the Joker hints at a “multiple choice” origin, his past is never revealed truly revealed and that’s just how it should be- the Joker is, aftera all, probably the most famous unreliable narrator .

The Joker reveals that Rachel and Dent are in two separate locations and Batman can only save one of them. This eventually leads to Dent becoming Two-Face and allowing Eckhart’s acting ability to shine even more. As Two-Face, we see just how much of a vigilante and dark demon Batman can be come if his conscience were left uncheck. At times, I found myself rooting for Two-Face, but that was somewhat short-lived.

Paralleling Two-Face’s revenge is Batman’s chase and final confrontation of the Joker. Nolan and Co. have said they used The Killing Joke as inspiration for the portrayal of the Joker and his relationship to Batman – itself one of the landmark stories in both characters evolution. No surprise that Alan Moore wrote it and damn if the echoes of that story weren’t loud and clear in this confrontation. The theme of one bad day changing a person forever, though not implicitly stated in the film, is another great parallel to The Killing Joke.

“I think you and I are destined to do this forever.

You won't kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness...and I won't kill you because...you're just too much fun.”

Of course talk of a follow-up to the film is inevitable. I almost don’t want to see a follow-up, this film is too good and I fear anything might be a pale specter of the greatness of this film.

As good as Spider-Man 2 and Batman Begins were this movie is in a whole other league. There were a lot of plot threads but all of them were necessary for the whole of the film. The same goes for the themes, most notably chaos v. order. This film shows how three villains can be used effectively in one film. This is absolutely the best comic book/superhero movie, hands down. On its own merits, it was a great film, a great crime/caper film, and it is in my all time top 5 films. I can’t fully judge how high that ranking goes, if for nothing else that is reason enough for me to see this film in repeated viewings.

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