Monday, December 15, 2008

“And here we go!”

So, I finally got around to watching The Dark Knight. I think I may be the last person in the U.S. if not the world to see this movie. I will forgo warning about spoilers, since there is probably a 105% chance that you've already seen this movie. Here are some general thoughts I had about it. Before I get into it, though, let me just say that I liked it. I don't know that I'd say it was the 4th best movie ever (as it is currently ranked on IMDb, which really just makes it the 4th most popular movie to come out recently), but I would say it was good. Great, even. But, that being said, there were a couple things about The Dark Knight that really bothered me.

I remember columnists and commentators writing about how the movie offered support for the policies of the Bush Administration. I also remember dismissing those interpretations out of hand, without having seen the movie. Now that I've seen it, I have to say, they're actually kind of right. The most obvious example of this is Batman's giant city-wide sonar/cell phone wire-tapping machine. Sure, Lucius Fox says he doesn't like it. Then he uses it. And it saves the day. Good thing Batman had bugged the entire city.

This isn't the only instance, simply the most obvious. There is the manipulation of the public trust, endorsement of torture (of course, Batman roughing up some thugs for information is nothing new), violation of another nation's sovereignty, just to name a few. Ultimately, the movie makes the argument that for the greater good, especially when people are scared, it's OK for one person to do what they feel is necessary, regardless of how immoral, how illegal, and how many rights are violated. Do what you want/feel you need to do, then feel like a martyr about it later because people are pissed.

Also, just like the Bond movies, I hate it when Batman stories get too gadgety, and The Dark Knight definitely crossed that line a couple of times. The Joker is hiding and needs to be found by midnight? What are we going to do? I know, use the aforementioned city-wide cell phone powered spy machine, complete with voice recognition, that way, as soon as the Joker uses his phone a big red square lights up, telling you exactly where he's hiding! The reliance on gadgets for the progression of the plot just strikes me as lazy writing. Rather than finding the Joker using clever detective work, they just made up a giant machine that found him automatically. Same goes for when Batman makes the digital recreation of the bullet to lift a print off of it, and his needlessly ridiculous escape out of the Chinese skyscraper. It's not a huge deal, I guess, but it's something that's always bothered me about some Batman stories.

And, of course, there's Bale's über-growly Batman voice. That was just silly.

There were definitely things about the movie I appreciated, as well. Nolan tried to address very big, very serious psychosocial and sociopolitical (and any other combination of two or more words) issues in The Dark Knight. This is a tricky thing to pull off in such a huge summer blockbuster. The sheer spectacle of the movie can be distracting when trying to deal with such serious issues. Not to mention the fact that the story still boils down to a billionaire in a scary costume matching wits with an evil clown. But ultimately, I admire that Nolan took a superhero movie with an enormous budget and made such a serious film, even if summer blockbusters and large scale social issues can make for strange bedfellows.

Along those same lines, there were a couple of moments that really struck me, when I realized how large of a movie it was, both in its scope and its sensibility. The funeral procession following the death of the police commissioner featured some amazing shots of the Chicago streets filled with people, really showcasing the size of the movie. As well as the scene in which the "ordinary citizen" shoots through the crowd at Coleman Reese (the accountant or whatever who was going to publicly out Batman) in an effort to keep the Joker from blowing up a hospital is emblematic of the seriousness of the movie.

Also, I liked the way the character of Harvey Dent/Two-Face was handled. And I don't just mean he kick-ass half burnt face (watching that eyelidless eye roll around in the socket was awesome!). Two-Face is one of those characters who has a lot of potential, but can easily delve into the ridiculous and silly. It was nice to have the horrible taste of Tommy Lee Jones washed out of my mouth.

Oh right, and there were some seriously kickass action set pieces. That scene when Dent is being transported to central holding, and the Joker and crew pull up next to them in the semi? Awesome. When Batman flips that semi end over end in the middle of the street? Also awesome.

And of course there is Heath Ledger. Hands down the greatest representation of the Joker there is. Not only was Ledger's performance the best Joker performance there is, but it was just flat out a fantastic performance, period. I won't get too much into it, because there's not much I have to say that hasn't been said. Even if the movie on the whole didn't live up to the hype (seriously, after 5 months of hearing about this movie, there is no way it was going to meet expectations), Ledger's performance did.

So, that's it I guess. It's a strange movie to consider. I feel like there are a lot of ways to look at this movie, and a lot of different points of view from which to judge it. I'll leave it by saying that I enjoyed it. I watched it twice in two days, and definitely enjoyed it both times. I'd say it was pretty great.


Izzy Wess said...

To be honest, I was a bit let down at first viewing for a lot of the same reasons. I thought nothing, and think nothing of any political agenda the film may have had. All films have them, it's within their right as filmmakers to add them, and having them (love or hate the message) adds just another degree of complexity to a genre that needs some. What with the plethora of mindless shit that's normally put out there. Especially in the action genre. I should know, as I've had to edit 3 Jason Statham films this month...

My largest problem was most definitely the cellphone bit. I'm hating cellphones as plot devices more and more. I remember fall 2006 when Casino Royale and The Departed were 2 of the only movies I saw in theaters that year. Both relied on cell phones to a ridiculous degree in moving the plot forward. I agree. In those instances it's lazy writing.

In this film, it's worse. It's not just lazy writing, it's complete nonsensical writing. Somehow Batman turned everyone’s high-tech phone into a sonar emitting device? He is now a scientist capable of building all this stuff without the help of Lucious? Dude must have a lot of spare time. This whole sequence of the film is very Michael Bay. It reminds me of this excerpt I read from the spoof Michael Bay Dark Knight script:

BRUCE, ALFRED, and the GENERAL are all pouring over an enormous computer monitor. It flickers with images of military tactical maps.
Now here, about 10 clicks south-southwest of the DMZ, our DC10s discovered a BDK with some CMVs.
So, you’re saying the JOKER is hiding here, in the Middle East?
Exactly. Then, he repurposed the AAs for a wide angle of cover reaching around back here to PPD.
And then he set up an online computer defense grid?
Well then, what do we possibly do.
There is a heavy silence as they search for a solution. Finally, BRUCE’s face lights up with equal parts brilliance and insanity.
We hack the internet.
Hack the internet?
No one’s ever hacked the internet before.

Ok, so that’s hilarious, but the sonar phone bit is not far off at all.

My other main issue with Dark Knight is something that drove me nuts during Batman Begins. Casting is amazing in these movies. Like you said, Heath Ledger blew us all away with his portrayal of the Joker. Eckhart’s Two Face was echelon’s above Tommy Lee Jones.’ And while some may argue, I think Bale is our best batman to date. All this is also likely due at least in some art to the directing of Nolan. That being said: WTF. How do we keep getting these random screw ups reading lines during scenes with the Batmobile. I don’t why anyone even needs to be delivering lines? The action can speak for itself. We don’t need to cut away to some producer’s nephew saying “he’s flying on rooftops” “at least tell me what it looks like” “well this is not good!” Seriously, these are some great exciting scenes, the last thing we need is to be pulled out of it by some hammy dialogue.

Aside from that, the movie is solid. Really solid. Hey, I have some other complaints, and some things I’d have done differently, but overall the movie kicks my ass. I’ve watched it a few times since and it actually does get better with each viewing (so far). Oh and Scott, you missed it in theaters, which means you missed the gloriousness of imax. Do yourself a favor, and either buy a blu-ray DVD player or watch it at a friend’s who has one. It looks phenomenal.

Brad said...

This one was certainly solid but it didn't have the visceral shock of the new. Luckily, it had Heath Ledger, which proved to be even better. Unfortunately, I can already feel my interest in Nolan and Bale's Batman movies beginning to wane...

Scott said...

I don't know that I thought that The Dark Knight had an overtly political agenda, per se. And even if it did, I agree that it's not something that I'm going to dwell on. I didn't go into the movie looking for a political statement, and that's not what I took away from it.

And it's really funny, I didn't think much of it at the time, but Izzy's totally right about the ridiculous throw away lines that pop up throughout the movie. At one point, I think a cop says something like "Have a nice trip, see you next fall" as he's putting a mobster in the back of a squad car. That crap did seem to come up a lot.

Problems aside, I think The Dark Knight was better than Batman Begins, so assuming the principle players stay on, I'm still pretty pumped about future installments.

And, Izzy, you're working on 3 different Statham movies?! That guy has 3 movies in the works? Please, please tell me one of them is Crank 2!

Scott said...

Oh yeah, and I heard that they are re-releasing The Dark Knight in theaters sometime in January. Maybe I'll get to catch it on the big screen after all. Plus Austin has an IMAX theater here in town, but somehow I doubt they're re-releasing in IMAX.

Matt said...

I'll go if they do. I didn't get to see it on IMAX.