Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Watching the world burn

You've seen it, I've seen it (twice), everyone has seen it. Is there really anything I can say about Dark Knight that hasn't been seen or observed a hundred thousand times before in the last month or so? I doubt it. It's just too late, sorry, no full review. Here's just a couple of personal highlights from me. We're riding my ego here like the Bat-pod. Which leads me to-
  • The Bat-Pod-I don't know how it happened that I never found out ahead of time that the Bat-Pod actually was the coolest escape-pod in the history of anything that comes from the destroyed Bat-Tank. I was trying to engage the film in a non-fanboy way until BAM Batman slid under the truck, capsized it like an AT-AT and then did that bad-ass vertical 360. SO COOL!
  • Anyone else get a pseudo-Obama vibe from Harvey Dent? A public figure everyone is pinning there hopes and dreams on? Anyone?
  • Congratulations Aaron Eckhart, welcome to being an honest to god movie star. You've met Mr. Downey I assume?
  • Heath Ledger is of course awesome. Same goes for the opening heist and the amazing magic trick. My favorite Joker moment is in the interrogation room when he turns the tables on EVERYONE! Nolan continually had the Joker be at his strongest when you'd think he was at his weakest.
  • And may I just say bravo for making the Joker's schemes being honest to goodness moral quandaries (a quandary Jack Donaghy!) with no simple solutions. After years of crappy movie super-villain plots it was great to see how threatening (and genuinely frightening) a good villain can be.
  • As great Ledger is (and he's pretty damn great) my favorite character in the film (and favorite performance to boot) is Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon. His return was a triumphant moment for both my audiences. He gets put through the ringer, but just like Michael Caine was in the first film he serves as the moral center when everything goes to pot. His desperation at the prospect of losing Dent is heart-breaking and both his moments with his son are perfect. I'll admit to getting a little nerd-teary when he gets promoted, a moment that gets perfectly punctuated by the Joker's creepy-ass applause (a moment I've since heard was improvised on set).
  • Man I wish they could go back and CGI replace Katie Holmes with Maggie Gyllenhaal in Batman Begins.
  • Neither the trip to Japan nor the almost secret identity reveal felt superfluous to me as the both show Batman as a detective (something that had been lacking in every single Batman film up to this point). It's a facet of the character that was a pleasure to see.
  • I am a little bummed that the wanna-be Batman thread never gets picked up again. It had a lot of potential. It would've nicely echoed the idea of Batman as a malleable symbol.
  • OK I'll admit it, Christian Bale's Batman voice sounds like GOB Bluth. "Michael I'm onto you"
  • Having his legs broken by Batman is my favorite Eric Roberts moment, no strike that, favorite Roberts family moment, in any film ever.
  • For all it's grimness I think the film has a pretty damn inspiring ending. "The Joker cannot win." He's not saying it hypothetically, he's stating it as a fact. Batman, moreso than any other superhero, is driven by his ceaseless determination. He will not quit. It's what made the whole "I can retire now and leave this all to Harvey Dent" sub-plot kind of wishy-washy and forgettable for me.
  • Bat-Manuel is the mayor of Gotham city? Who says Christopher Nolan has no sense of humor?
  • I don't think it's reasonable to compare this movie to The Godfather or it's sequel. I will say though that its ok to call it "Heat with costumes."
  • I like the fact that people are responding to this film not for it's action but for it's deeper discussion of justice, it's questions of circumstances defining morality and how institutions can be compromised. I still don't think it's an excuse to not bother checking out independent or foreign films. Which begs the question, anyone want to go see Baghead?
  • It's my favorite movie of the year so far (just beating out Wall-E) but let's keep things in perspective folks, the year ain't over yet, not by a long shot.
  • Is the Joker this year's Daniel Plainview? People sure do seem to respond to him. My friend Amir over at collegehumor gives one of HIS finest performance yet in tribute here.


the BFG said...

Ledger did an outstanding job of making the Joker disturbing and dangerous, but then the direction stymied him. Even New Yorkers should have left this movie being weirded out that they liked the Joker. They didn't, though. Perhaps if the smiles on the videoed captives had been made from knives rather than makeup, then a stronger and more meaningful feeling of danger and disturbance would have been achieved. As it is, the movie, for reasons I in my ignorance neither know nor understand, stood at the edge of brilliance with the Joker, saw over the precipice, and blanched.

El Gigante said...

A well articulated comment but I disagree. There are reasonable limits to what one can expect from a PG-13 rated mainstream film and this film really does push the rating. The suggestion of horrible violence i always there and Nolan even makes the viewer in acts of outright terrorism. I've heard and witnessed across the board audiences laughing at the hospital explosion (because of the way he scampers away) and at the pencil trick (I'll cop to laughing too). Look I'm sure some alternate universe has a balls to the wall sick as hell R rated Grant Morrison's Arkham Asylum style Batman movie but that's not what this is and it's unfair to imagine it as such. What was key to the Joker was the air of unpredictability and every scene with him, I believe, consistently created an air of uncertainty. The Joker is spontaneous, random. He could kill you or he could just make a bad joke and leave, it's the anarchy, the fact that there is no logic to his action's that make him frightening. It's the potential for brutality rather than the brutality itself.

El Gigante said...

Correction: "The suggestion of horrible violence IS always there and Nolan even makes the viewer COMPLICIT in acts of outright terrorism.

Etan said...

Sorry, Gigante, but the BFG is right. We're not coming from some fantasy world where filmmakers can do anything they like irrespective of market forces, but it is entirely valid to evaluate a film based on what was being attempted.

Nolan has made it clear in interviews (though I think it's pretty clear from the film itself as well) that he was intending the Joker character to personify chaos. He wanted the audience to never feel comfortable when he was onscreen - to feel like anything was possible with his characters - that he wasn't governed by the traditional rules and boundaries.

Talking recently with Elvis Mitchell, Nolan said, "You reach a point where you don't know what's possible and what's not possible. What's allowed in this story and what's not allowed in this story. And I think that makes the Joker become a very, very unpredictable character. You really - at times I think you really do feel that he's prepared to do absolutely anything."

Other films have accomplished that, including Wes Craven's 1972 The Last House on the Left and Rob Zombie's 2005 The Devil's Rejects. I mention those only to establish that what Nolan was aiming at is possible in American film (certainly in other world cinemas, but that's beside the point).

And here's the problem: the movie is rated PG-13. That simple decision prevents Nolan from ever achieving what he set out to do. There is no way an audience can feel like anything is possible, because our lovely U.S. censorship is ensuring that anything is most certainly NOT possible. There are films with every rating from G to R that do not draw attention to their boundaries (Wall-E is a wonderful recent example). These movies understand the constraints and work within them. The Dark Knight is no such movie. Very quickly it becomes apparent that both the story and screen direction are being guided by the helping hand of the "family-friendly" studio/censors.

The first time the Joker sticks his blade in someone's mouth I was on the edge of my seat - as Heath Ledger's brilliant performance had me convinced that I really couldn't be certain, not using traditional morality or storytelling conventions, what he would do next. But as the film progressed and it became ever more clear that Nolan was never actually going to cross any lines, that the tease of unpredictability was just that - a tease - the film ceased to be anywhere near as compelling.

I'm not upset that some different Batman movie I have in my head was not what I saw when I sat down in that dark IMAX theater, I'm upset that the film Christopher Nolan, and the brilliant, late Heath Ledger, set out to make did not nearly live up to their intentions. It is a movie in contradiction with itself.

Ultimately what we got in The Dark Knight is but a shadow of what should have been there. I'll buy the movie on DVD, but it saddens me that the version I'll be watching will simply be the "kiddie pool" version of what it should have been.