24 July 2008

This Entry is Essentially One Big Spoiler of "The Dark Knight"

Consider yourself warned.

Saw it last night, finally. I shared the count-up of days from when it opened that I hadn't seen it on my Facebook status, and was oddly delighted by some of the responses I got to that. Even Tom Rowan greeted me after the reading of his play Monday night was over by saying, "So I guess this means you'll be able to see The Dark Knight now." (Sadly, I told him, I wouldn't until Wednesday.) It was a happy problem, not being able to immediately see this movie about my favorite character, a result as it mostly was of having too much acting work filling my time. Still, it frustrated, and as I raced last night from rehearsal to my saved seat five blocks away (old-school Batman t-shirt flapping in the humid breeze) I felt a wonderful lightening conjoined with my excitement. I would see it. I would have satisfaction.

And hoo-boy, I did. I am a satisfied man, at least for the time being -- when I grow dissatisfied again, I shall see it in Imax. That's not to say it was perfect or anything, but I did think it was a much better movie than its predecessor in terms of adapting aspects of the comicbook (which didn't do such a bad job itself). My primary problems with Batman Begins had to do with making the story and character a little too real-world based. That may sound absurd when talking about a superhero movie, but I really do think BB takes some of the drama out of its lead character by making him and his world so modern, so pragmatic. I had rather the opposite feeling about the moments of ridonkulousness in The Dark Knight; they were by-and-large departures from feasibility or overkill that even a huge fanboy such as myself couldn't quite stomach:

  1. My gauntlets shoot razor spires, yo. Erm, yes. You know, they did such a nice job of justifying low-tech uses for the fins on the gloves in the first film, why did they have to do this? It seemed cheap and lame, especially when you consider he's supposed to be good with precision weapons like his little bat-shuriken. Plus: How did those things fire, exactly? The trigger was in his sphincter, or something?

  2. I have a metal-manipulation technology so confusing, even I don't quite know how it works. His entrance includes using some gadget attached to his arm to bend a rifle muzzle into a crazy straw. This would seem to have limited uses, so they make sure we know it can also cut into and grip a van's metal shell. Way to go, Q...er...I mean, Lucius. Was that developed to help the military with creating inspirational metal sculptures? Batman is much more the type, as he does later in the film, to disassemble the gun; and if you need extra cool he could do it whilst it's still in the perp's hands. As for adhering to the side of an escape van, see above note about previously established uses for the gauntlet fins.

  3. I am recent American geopolitical policy personified. That may well be, Batman, but must you beat us about the head and shoulders with it? Er. Come to think of it, that's pretty in keeping with this philosophy. My mistake. Pray, continue.

  4. My cars don't break--they transform into motorcycles. This...was actually really cool. So I'm willing to suspend judgment on feasibility. They did it in such a way that I thought just prior to it, "Dang; how does he get out of that tank if it tanks?" And I'm not a big fan of the whole batcycle idea, even in the comics. But they made it look and work really really cool. So, like I said, I'm willing to forgive. Until I found out they named it the batPod. You think it's hampered by any DRM issues? And finally, the big one:

  5. I can haz Bat Sonar thru lil phones n' ther ownerz! No. No, you can't. Stop being frickin' stupid, LOLbatz. I really don't understand what this was doing in my movie (oh all right: OUR movie). Appeal to the video-gamers? They liked that effect in Daredevil? Say something about the omniscience of . . .. Nope; just don't get it. They could have brought up the same issues and character development if he had simply tapped all the phones, or maybe strung together their GPS functions in some wild way. I reject the bat sonar completely.

But enough of all that. This movie, in an unbelievable number of ways, was the Batman movie I've been waiting for all my life. It stands on its own, doing its own things with the character arcs, but doing them well and in a way that doesn't betray the spirit of the original. I almost don't know where to begin in my praise for this film, until I remember that it features the Joker and gives birth to Two-Face, arguably two of the best in a really impressive menagerie of rogues. And they do it so well, so new. They seemed to be decidedly eschewing the tormented childhood angle on both, which was great not only for keeping Gotham from becoming a reformed nursery, but also for keeping the origins of the characters in the action of the film. Harvey Dent is a true tragic figure. We can see his flaw from almost the start, and we watch as he changes over the course of two-and-a-half hours. Development! What a concept in a superhero movie!

And then the Joker. Much well-deserved, post-humus praise has gone Heath Ledger's way for this performance, and I speak as a humble -- not to mention humbled -- actor when I say it is entirely deserved. Between the writing and his craft an indelible character has come to life, one that is incredible to watch in action. I read a lot about how the filmmakers chose to avoid his history, to make him more a character defined by his actions than his history, and I thought, "Eh, well, sounds pretty shallow." And it might have been, had it not been for Ledger. I was amazed by the effect, too, of the screenwriting for him. They have him explain his face one horrible way to one person, then a completely different horrible way to another, then he starts on a third to Batman at the climax of the movie, and Batman never lets him finish. Not only does this make Joker a force in his own chaotic right, it makes Batman win on a direct philosophical level. The Joker never gets to the punchline, the Joker never finishes the joke . . . his comic three is interrupted!

Which leads me to another thing I really, really loved about this movie. Remember when you watched The Matrix for the first time, and you couldn't be sure of what to expect, and accompanying all this big-budget bad-ass-ness were some really interesting ideas about the nature of reality and approaches to that? (I could be speaking only for myself here, but I doubt it.) The Dark Knight is the first movie since then to really engage that kind of philosophical wonderment in me while maintaining the same high stakes and power fantasy. As I wrote last week in my pining for this movie, my ideal Batman struggle is with a villain who somehow stands in opposition not only to his politics, but to his philosophy. That idea was taken well in hand and run with. The Joker was an unrepentant anarchist with an argument about the nature of life that he made seem easy to make, and Batman had to really struggle to contend with it. The good resolution of that came through a seemingly miraculous coincidence of human benevolence, reminiscent of a Spider-Man fight sequence (Humanity is essentially good, and we'll prove it!), but Joker gets in his dangling dig, too. "It only takes one small push to send you over the edge."

Which brings us back to Harvey "Two-Face" Dent.

All-in-all, we've got a pretty well-adjusted Batman in these movies. He found peace in the mountains (studying the art of despotism), purpose that overwhelms his trauma -- we are not subjected to a movie full of flashbacks to that fateful night. This is the closest to Frank Miller's Dark Knight we've gotten in films; the vigilantism is his fix against the trauma, and when he's doing it, he's strong. One thing I loved about what Miller did in that graphic novel was to emphasize Batman's belief in Harvey's reformation and, ultimately, his fear over the recognition that Two-Face is Batman gone bad. Whereas the Joker is Batman's polar opposite, essentially, take the judgment away from Batman, and you've got Two-Face: a dual-identity obsessive who metes out justice by his own authority. Even in completely restructuring Two-Face's origin story (moreover, perhaps as a direct result of that) the writers set that up beautifully. Hopefully in the next installment they will continue to adhere to that motivation for him, and not turn him into a petty thief of some sort, obsessed with the number 2. It's the duality that's important, not the digit itself.

Just what can we expect from the third movie in this franchise? Will Harvey be back? Will Joker? Was Lucius Fox written out, or did his little name-cued destruction of the "bat sonar" redeem Wayne in his eyes? Well, I'd guess, but had I guessed at The Dark Knight's content I would have been sorely mistaken. One can hope, though. I hope they continue to learn from audience feedback, as they seemed to for this film. I hope we get to see the revamped Wayne Manor, and with it the completed "batcave." I hope they leave the Joker alone at least one movie, though that they keep him in the background: a joker card appearing here and there. I love that we leave Batman an outlaw once again, and hope they don't turn that around too early. Most of all, I hope they make a totally new and inventive movie that takes its characters seriously. As they've just succeeded in doing.

(Also: Take the batPod; leave the gun gauntlets.)

Update, 7/25/08: The WSJ agrees with my assessment of the politics of Batman: What Bush and Batman Have in Common. Thanks, Nat.


Chopper Dave said...

i can haz majik trik?


Davey said...

Glad you've seen it so now I can talk about it with you.

I enjoy your points, I relish your points, I agree with your points.

Also, if you are anything like the rest of us who I watched the movie with, you'll have more problems with the film the longer you go from seeing it.

The Bat sonar was my second biggest break with the film. The first one was so big, I fell completely out of the movie. I actually looked around the theater and looked for other people who's fantasy had been broken.

Willing to go out on a limb here, the next Batman will have Catwoman, because the movie going public is apparently not ready for a comic book movie without a leading lady, even in an adaptation of a book that rarely has a romantic subplot. It will also either have The Riddler or the Penguin, because they are the most grounded in reality. Most likely Penguin b/c the mob is still not completely out of Gotham. Mr. Freeze, Clayface, Poison Ivy, they all have super powers. Nolan and Bale's Batman does not take place in that kind of universe.

Jeff Wills said...

Dave: "I'm gonna make this pencil disappear..."

Davey: Mm. Clearly, we do need to talk. You seem far more dissatisfied with your Dark Knight experience than I was. I just can hardly wait to see it again, in Imax. In most ways, I found it a superior to "Batman Begins."

Nolan has said that Penguin was too far-fetched for his Batman; I feel he's focusing on the birth-defect and umbrellas too much. Penguin'd be good. You're right about the superpowers, but keep in mind Nolan's willingness to completely reinterpret things. Catwoman, I think, is your best guess. He's succeeded twice in re-creating villains from the Burton/Shumaker days, and Hollywood does love it some sexy ladies.

Adam said...

What was Davey's number one prob? I'll grant you the Bat-Sonar was 'a little' far fetched, but it wasn't that bad, and in total line with what 'The Goddamn Batman' would do.

Jeff Wills said...

I've no idea, Adam...yet. I'll let you know after I talk to him

As to "bat sonar"...it WAS that bad. It was tarded, twice; which is to say, it was retarded. It was poorly conceived, executed and on top of all that, probably cost them tens of thousands of dollars when Batman taking out a building full of SWAT members should not require fan-tactical technology.

But that could be just me.

Davey said...

Here's why Bat Sonar was bad: All the reasons that have been mentioned, plus, it made Batman a tech relying fighter. Instead of the world's greatest detective. Batman does not need sonar.

You know when the cops are surrounding the building and Gordon (I think it was Gordon) says, "why did he pick a place with so many windows"? Batman should have figured out that the clowns were more hostages and that the real minions were hiding elsewhere. Because he should have used his brain. He has the biggest fricken brain in the DCU. If you tell me that Batman figured out that the hostages were fake based on the way they were standing, and that the minions were hiding in shadows based on certain missing light bulbs, I would say "way to go Batman!" If you tell me that he spent millions on a city wide Bat Sonar that is supposed to work based on lots of people carrying them around, and yet still seems to produce great shots with only a School Bus full off people... I say "Damn it Reed Richards, go back to your own stupid comic book".

Also, still not the scene that pulled me out.

Moheggie said...

I felt that the film was significantly lacking in scenes of Batman naked in the shower. Even a few more shirtless scenes without his chest and arms all fuged up would've sufficed, but naked, wet Batman...come on.

Oh, ok, he can keep the mask on...

Moheggie said...

OH! And how come we never saw the bank explode in the opening? The police seemed able to walk through the safe fine, which in a grenade explosion I would think would not have been feasible. But I haven't taken grenade explosion 101 in awhile either...

Mark said...

I know which scene pulled Davey out of the movie, but since he wants to keep you guys guessing I'll leave it to him to reveal. I should be leaving work in 4 minutes, so here's my synopsis, starting with the negatives:

-- Bat Sonar was an interesting idea (I mean, he's a bat, right?) so I applaud them for trying, but the premise & execution were lamer than the dessert line at the VA Hospital (too far?).

--WTF was up with the Mayor? Was he a bad guy-to be or just an asshole in eyeliner?

-- The movie was about 20 minutes too long. No, that wasn't my ADD kicking in, they could have just cut a little of the blunt-force-trauma dialog (example: Two-face convincing me that it was up to the coin, not him, got old quick.) and the scene with the hostages duck-taped to guns was poorly executed and kinda wasted my time.

-- Nobody was willing to just shoot The Joker in the face. Seriously! None of the gangsters, not the cops, and certainly not batman. Batman's politics are not Bush's. Bush would have shot the Joker in the face (or gotten Cheney to do it. Zing!)

-- Tangential to that was the face that the Joker controlled *everybody*. Seriously. Every time you needed a dirty cop, he was in the right place. Every time an explosive device needed to be stashed somewhere, it got there. The Joker's manipulation and foresight skills were so high, you eventually assumed that every person who had been in-screen for more than 30 seconds was going to turn on Batman, and with the exception of Gordon driving the SWAT truck, you were right.

-- This probably wouldn't have bothered me if it weren't for Ironman, but compared to Tony Stark Bruce was a WEAK playboy. He was half-assing it the whole time. Bruce-as-millionaire-playboy may not be the 'real' Bruce Wayne, but it does make him a lot more fun to watch.

-- Corollary: There should have been more naked Batman.

-- Finally, in the negatives column, the theme of the movie seemed as schizophrenic as its 3 main characters put together.
Good vs. Chaos? White Knight vs. Dark Knight? Bruce vs Batman (in terms of the very forgettable female leads ability to commit to him)? The fall of a hero? The inherent evil/good of the common man? I could go on of course, and trust me, I like a multi-themed piece. But those themes should weave together to form a tapestry, and I felt like this was more of a throw-paint-on-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks method.

Now, all of that said, I did like *alot* about it. I loved the Joker, period. I loved Two-Face as well, in terms of story and for the most part in terms of acting... the script just seems to let him down a bit. I loved Lucius' character, and felt that he added a few wrinkles that didn't need to be there, but made the Batman operation as an undercover wing of Wayne Enterprises feel more real to me. I loved the complex and truly viciously chaotic plots the joker came up with, even as I questioned their realism (Ask me about the movie Saw sometime). The movie, as a whole, achieved what it was supposed to achieve. Oddly, I'm noticing that a lot of my comments both positive and negative have to do with realism -- but that's because the director made a choice to try & convince me that this was a cohesive and real world he'd created. On some points he succeeded, on others not so much.

Ultimately, I think my problem with the movie is that I'm not going to remember it. I'm going to remember the Joker. I'm going to remember the outlandish and disbelief-breaking "what were they thinking?" moments. But in the balance between those two things was a movie that didn't shock, didn't titillate, and didn't inspire. I should give it a second or third viewing before rendering that decision with finality, but that's the impression that I've been left after the first run.

Chopper Dave said...

The next villain will be Clock King!

Jeff Wills said...


Jeff Wills said...

Dude: Mark, I couldn't disagree with you more. Sorry. I think it's a classic. I don't quite understand how we could have such different opinions, except to say that they made a bold movie, which makes for loving it, or hating it.

Nat said...

Finally saw it! Huzz!

Okay, so I'm with you totally: I thought the bAtsonAr was a bit too much. Too much plot-wise, too much tech-wise, and, especially in light of that awe-inspiring WSJ article, too Bush's-transgressions-justified-wise. I'm actually at quite a loss as to why that's in there. I mean, are the Nolan brothers really hard-core conservatives? 'Cause it sure made it seem like wiretapping and all that madness is a'okay if you catch someone with it. L. Fox's weak voicing of disapproval and Batman's stern and brave commitment was a little too Hannity/Colms for my taste. And, again, why?

But, other than that, I only had one problem with the movie. It was, I think, a problem big enough to really pull me out of it (I don't know if it's the same problem Davey had, and I say "I think" because I just saw it 3 hours ago and some time could change it), and it occurs near the last half of the film, which is a shame, as I was in it whole hog up until then.

'Twas Two Face killed it for me. The character was great, the arc was great, even the acting was a'ight by me. But in a movie that was so careful to show all the realistic sides of everything up to and including Two-Face's two faces, it pulled some inexplicable punches with the physical realities of Two Face's existance. After that reveal, everything "real" about Two Face was gone. We didn't see the drool that would constantly escape that wound. Or the tears that would constantly leak out of that exposed eyeball. Or the incredible pain it would cause just to talk. And most of all, his voice didn't change in the slightest. That's what really killed me (particularly in light of the Joker's lip-licking, slightly lisping voice which seemed to obviously stem from the scarring on the inside of his cheeks). Dude has literally half the lips he used to and it sounds just fine. I was really, REALLY pulled out by that. Maybe they did it to keep their already outrageous PG-13 rating, but it was kinda insulting, I thought.

Jeff Wills said...

Interesting, Nat. That makes three people thus far who felt "pulled out" of the movie by something, and all three by different somethings. Maybe they did try to make too-long a movie after all.

For the record, Davey's problem scene had to do with the Joker being left alone in a room full of party. That is the closest any of these "pull out" moments came to working on me, and even then I was simply irritated by it for a few moments before giving msyelf over to the action again. I guess, given my reaction to the first movie, I felt like I knew what kind of movie to expect from this one and was pleasantly surprised. I could buy a cauterized Two-Face; I could accept lots of themes smushed together (I mean, look at all the crap they jammed into its predecessor); I could even accept the relative lack of shirtless Wayne.

But I'll say it again: Bat Sonar is just out.

Chopper Dave said...

Kite Man? KGBeast? Ten-Eyed Man????