Like everyone else in the country, I saw "The Dark Knight" this weekend. Here are my thoughts. As always, spoilers imminent.
The main event of the movie was Heath Ledger, and he definitely did NOT disappoint. Between the face paint, the voice and his complete immersion in the Joker character, he was unrecognizable and mesmerizing.
He did a strong job balancing the Joker's manic laughter with an omnipresent dark side, making his portrayal of the Joker the strongest I've ever seen. Unlike Jack's Joker, Ledger's felt like a serious threat that could actually exist in the realm of the real world. And that's no easy feat for a comic book villain, especially one that's generally such a caricature.
On the subject of the Joker, I loved what they did with his backstory: They didn't tell us anything. The best we got was Morgan Freeman explaining that the Joker's just an anarchist, and the Joker's own lies about how he got the scars that make him have a permanent smile. It's no simple task to pull off a comic book bad guy who's not motivated by greed for money or power, but this movie made it work and made it believable.
Those two points transition nicely into this point: This is NOT your average comic book movie. It's infinitely darker, it's worlds smarter, and Batman's conflict is much deeper and more intense (unlike in the Spider-Man movies where they try to make his conflict seem intense but it just feels like they're trying too hard).
Between this and Iron Man, I think we may be seeing a new era of comic book movies... ones with really good stories, really powerful acting... and really good special effects that are used to enhance the acting and storytelling, not replace it entirely.
I mean, people are talking about a potential Oscar nomination for this movie. No one was saying that about "Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer".
As for Christian Bale, I've come around on him being Batman. I didn't love him in "Batman Begins", but I accept him here. I don't love how slimy he plays Bruce Wayne... I prefer Bruce Wayne to be cool and confident without devolving into being a dickhead all the time... and I don't love his growling Batman voice, where I think he goes overboard... but he is growing into the role. And his ability to convey emotion while wearing the Batman mask and talking in a growl is pretty impressive.
These two Batman movies have been so hardcore that I just don't see how they can integrate a lot of the old Batman characters in. Obviously Robin and Bat Girl are way too lame. But even ones like Mr. Freeze, the Riddler and Poison Ivy seem too cartoon-y and unrealistic for this brave new Batman universe. I can see Catwoman working and maybe the Penguin... but after the Joker in this one, it's going to take a hell of a realistic bad guy to make the next Batman film feel like anything but a letdown. Anyone kinda expecting Batman versus Osama Bin Laden?
I love them filming this movie in Chicago... it's an absolutely incredible city, I'm glad to have lived there and I feel, photographically, it's the best urban environment in the country. But some of the shots they used were almost TOO Chicago. Like, when characters are in an office overlooking the Chicago River, it pulls me right out of the movie to say, "Come on, that's not Gotham. It's clearly Chicago."
Zeus? Debo? The giant prisoner with a conscience? He's all three.
Another moment of getting pulled out of the movie? During the climax on the boats, when all of a sudden Tommy "Tiny" Lister appears as one of the prisoners on the boat. My initial thought was "It's Zeus" but there were a lot people in the theater who recognized him more from his role in "Friday"... and started yelling out "Debo!"
On the point of the boat climax... it sure felt like the movie had a LOT of endings. By the time Two Face was kidnapping Gary Oldman's family, I was exhausted. I mean, seriously... the cops had already arrested the Joker, he'd escaped, Batman had already re-captured the Joker while simultaneously fighting off a misguided SWAT team, AND the two boats had already decided not to blow each other up. (Yes, I realize that line makes no sense if you haven't seen the movie.) This movie just wouldn't stop ending.
I was surprised to see them kill off Two Face. They spent a ton of time in the movie focusing on Aaron Eckhart's character. So to have him be introduced... lionized... jaded... kidnapped... scarred... villainized... and killed off in one movie -- a movie that already had a spectacular bad guy -- almost felt like overkill. I thought they'd want to save him for the next movie.
I was glad they killed off the Rachel character. I didn't like Katie Holmes as that character, I didn't like Maggie Gyllenhall as that character... I just don't like it. It isn't necessary for Batman to pine after his childhood love. He has plenty of character motivation without that. I'm glad to see we won't have to be slogged down by that plot contrivance going forward.
And finally, when I wrote about Wanted, I noted that Morgan Freeman is clearly in the phase of his career where be in ANY movie where the check will clear. During that write-up, I compared him to another actor in that phase of his career: Michael Caine. I forgot that they were both in Batman. Seriously, I wonder if them both phoning it in showed up on Bruce Wayne's superwall of cell phone radar.
Overall, I think Dark Knight was a very, very strong film and a very positive sign of the direction that comic book movies are headed. I don't know if it's Oscar-worthy, but it is worthy of a solid 9 points out of 11. And that's just about as good as an Oscar nomination, right? Hello? Anyone?
This post was originally published on Monday, July 21, 2008 at 11:45:43 PM under the category Movies.