Sunday, July 20, 2008
Dark Knight Reviewed
SPOILERS! BEWARE! SEE THE MOVIE FIRST!
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.