Sunday, July 20, 2008

Dark Knight Reviewed


Years ago, I went to see Snatch in the theatres with a group of friends. We ran into another group of friends after the show and they asked us what we thought. My pal Bryan chimed in 'It was one of my top three movies ever.' At the time I thought this was kind of a ridiculous statement --- how could you immediately put a movie in your all-time top anything five minutes after you've finished watching it? You have to let a great movie breathe like a fine bottle of wine. You have to digest it, maybe watch it a few more times to see how it holds up before you can truly state it's one of the all-time greats.

Now I've seen The Dark Knight. And I can confidently state it's one of the three best movies I've ever seen. It might very well be number one. I've spent 24 hours thinking about imperfections and coming up with....I dunno, maybe a few less reaction shots of people watching the Batmobile? That's about it. I came into the film with the highest of high expectations, and they were surpassed.

The movie takes some familiar Batman themes (morality, duality, order, responsibility, justice) and presents them in a fresh package. The script is virtually flawless. It's a wonderfully layered film that takes time to develop its various threads and gives appropriate time to every character and storyline. At this point, Christopher Nolan is pretty much the best writer/director in the world, right? I mean, three masterpieces (Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Memento), one well-regarded movie that I would call a minor masterpiece (Prestige) and a very good noir crime drama (Insomnia). Insomnia's his worst movie, and a remake, not a Nolan original concept, and even that one is a four-out-of-fiver. And this is all in the last nine years! He has to be the leader in the clubhouse for Director Of The Decade, right? I can't think of anyone else off the top of my head who's even in the ballpark.

Some might say it's time for Nolan to get another Oscar nomination, and the Oscars seem to be a common theme in almost every Dark Knight review I've read. The bulk of the attention is going to Ledger, of course, who gives a performance so legendary that he seems destined to join James Dean as the quintessential star who passed before his time. I've mentioned before how Joker is the Hamlet of comic book villain roles --- well, now the role has its Olivier. Ledger was so good that whomever the villain is in the next movie will have a really tough act to follow. (btw, my pal Brian posted about possibilities for the third film, and I put up a big rambling response. Short preview: Michael Emerson as the Riddler. Click the link for the rest.) Ledger found the perfect balance between being darkly funny --- Joker in the nurse costume was pretty hilarious, and his 'magic trick' with the pencil actually got a 'holy shit!' reaction and applause from the audience --- and completely terrifying. There was no moment when Joker got too goofy or comical. He was a threat from start to finish. His schemes never stopped being shocking.

But really, why should the award goodness stop at Ledger? Will there be five movies better than Dark Knight released this year? In the words of Blueby the Talking Pie, fuck no! If the world is just, Dark Knight will be to comic book films what Lord of the Rings was to fantasy movies, or what 2001 and Star Wars were to sci-fi movies: the gateway to mainstream critical respectability. Nominate the movie, nominate Nolan, nominate the script, nominate the makeup (my favourite minor detail was the drops of blood on the side of the pillow that Dent was resting his scarred side upon), nominate the art direction, nominate the cinematography, nominate the score, nominate the FX, nominate Ledger...hell, while you're at it, nominate Aaron Eckhart and Gary Oldman too. I've always found Two-Face to be kind of a dull villain, since the Jekyll-Hyde dichotomy can only be played out so much. Therefore it was a good idea to limit the character's arc to one movie, yet even though 'Two-Face' didn't emerge until two-thirds --- ooh, a duality reference! --- of the way through the film, it still felt like there was plenty of development given to Dent's villainous side. Compare how Nolan used Two-Face to the crammed-in Venom character in Spider-Man III or the crammed in...well, pretty much everyone in X-Men 3. Eckhart makes Two-Face into a Shakespeare-level tragic character, perfectly illustrating how Dent came to madness. It isn't just a simple, flip-the-switch to evil after his scarring, you can see his gradual push over the cliff of sanity --- another great little touch was the revelation of the Two-Face name. As for Oldman, he made Jim Gordon the unsung glue of the entire picture. I mentioned the audience cheer at the magic pencil bit; the other big cheer was for Gordon's reappearance after faking his death. (There was also an ovation for the hospital explosion, which was, uh, kinda strange). An Oldman nomination would correct an oversight in Oscar history, namely that GARY OLDMAN NEVER BEEN NOMINATED FOR A GODDAMN OSCAR. That's inconceivable. One of the 10 best actors in the world and he's never even gotten a token nomination?! I have no joke here.

It will take some time before I decide where to slot Dark Knight on my personal list of favourite movies. But perhaps in keeping with the partnerships of chaos/order, white knight/dark knight, Joker/Batman, Harvey Dent/Harvey Dent, I'll say for now it's at number...two.


And, as if the movie wasn't enough, there was also the added bonus of the Watchmen trailer. Now I'm not one to bust a nut over a movie just because of a cool trailer, since almost any movie can be distilled down to two minutes of quality footage. But Watchmen is a special case since there has been so much trepidation since the film was announced, not to mention 20 years of worrying if/how the graphic novel would be translated to film. (Translation: "How are they going to fuck it up?") The wicked trailer is a good way for Zack Snyder to assure people that he has some idea of what the hell he's doing. It remains to be seen if the movie delivers, of course, but the trailer is at least a sign that Snyder doesn't appear to be Schumacher-ing it up. And, as an added bonus, good lord does Malin Ackerman ever look hot as the Silk Spectre.

Speaking of Schumacher, the musical choice interested me. The song in the trailer is 'The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning,' the slowed-down, remixed version of the better-known single 'The End Is The Beginning Is The End' by the Smashing Pumpkins. The clever bit is that 'The End...' was the single from the soundtrack of Batman & Robin, which was probably the worst movie of all time. Since Watchmen is a deconstruction of the comic book genre, it is perhaps fitting that the film version takes the remixed, 'reverse' version of the song from the definitive nadir of the comic-book movie genre. Does this mean Watchmen will be the direct opposite of Batman & Robin? If so, that'll put it in....Dark Knight territory.


Oh, and this wasn't a superhero trailer per se, but my god did the Tropic Thunder trailer ever make me laugh. If Ledger doesn't win the supporting Oscar, just give it to Robert Downey Jr. right now. Maybe there can be a tie.


Emmett Macfarlane said...

Went to a midnight showing on Thursday night, and have to agree with everything you've written. My audience had exactly the reactions yours did - I think the cheers for the hospital explosion was because of the Joker's smacking the detonator to get the final large explosion to go off... oh, and they cheered loudly at the truck-flipping scene...

Anonymous said...

the biggest cheer we had was for the one-wheel 360 on the batpod. people went nuts.

i too really liked how they brought in the name "two-face." that's an area that can get really cheesy, villain names that is.

and i agree about the oscar nominantions. considering this movie within its genre especially. compared to other superhero and comic book films, there really is no contest.

Unknown said...

I feel really fortunate to have experienced this movie with a packed house, on an IMAX screen, on the second day it was released. It is such a cool sensation to share such a wicked movie with an expressive audience, and right around its release. I always wished I'd been alive to see Star Wars when it was first released, though I'm sure this experience was somewhat like it, though perhaps less nerdy.

Great review.

Anonymous said...

1. So, can't think of anything flawed? Namely, the fact that the goddamn Batman sounds absolutely ridiculous anytime he said more than four words in a row? I found it positively cringeworthy. Especially when the character has been voiced by so many people who did it so much better- I'm including Adam West in this estimation, such is my contempt.

2. The 'Oh noes is Gordon dead' would have been much more effective if they hadn't positively ruined the 'shock' by having the Gordon/Joker face-to-face in the original trailer (by the time he gets gunned, it hadn't happened yet- immersion ruined). This is more of a meta-concern but I think it was predictable (as was much of the movie) to anyone who knows film economy. It's still a comic book superhero flick at the end of the day, I guess.

3. Lastly, I think that the reason the Joker came off as well as he did (whereas I actually found Dent to be far, far less mustache-twirly) is because he was used with at least a modicum of restraint... and that Ledger's performance kept changing from scene to scene, to prevent any one delivery from dissolving into being purely grating, which I definitely could have seen happening.

I also maintain that the 'magic pencil' was a high-water mark for the character they never really met for the rest of the movie.

Anonymous said...

On a more positive note, Snatch still remains in my top three, and Prestige and Memento probably top TDK for me at this point as well.

Watchmen, now, there's a movie I can definitely be more 'slavering fan' over than everyone who got/still is so excited over TDK. I'm quite worried it will suck, but the Pumpkins song gave me some hope... also, the fact that they're removing the pirate substory entirely from the theatrical cut.