Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Dark (But Not Stormy) Knight

I went to the midnight showing of "The Dark Knight." I've been a Batman fan for as long as I can remember (back when I was in the second grade, watching the cheesy TV show reruns after school). In the summer before my senior year in high school, my family made a return visit to Omaha, Nebraska, where we had lived in the early 1980s. I got to visit with my best friend Nicholas for the first time in four years and we went to see "Batman" (the Tim Burton one). That summer, I bought Converse hightops with the bat symbol printed all over it. My parents were hesitant to get it for me and made me promise that I wouldn't be too embarrassed to wear it if they bought it for me. During my senior year, I wore those shoes every day and endured the laughter until it became old news. I became known as "Batman" and one guy was concerned that I'd "ruin" our Graduation ceremony by wearing it. I didn't even consider wearing them for that ceremony until he told me not to. So, of course, I did. At the time, I saw it as my one act of nonconformity when the guys all had to wear the same green cap and gown.

While I was pleased with Tim Burton's vision, the subsequent films had proved disappointing as they kept adding more and more villains and neglected the importance of a story. It just became a farce under Joel Schumacher's direction, with his homoerotic fascination over adding nipples to the Batsuit. In my late teens/early adulthood, I became a fan of the darker "Batman" comic books and wanted to see a film that was geared towards adults. My all-time favourite comic book is "The Killing Joke" because it dealt with the nature of insanity. I wanted to see a "Batman" film that featured Arkham Asylum and cover insanity (is it sane for a man to dress up as a bat to fight crime? Are Batman and the crazy criminals more sane than average humans stuck in the rat race?). "Batman Begins" was the perfect "Batman" film. The director brilliantly captured my vision of what a "Batman" film could be and he did it flawlessly. Because I don't think you can create a better superhero film than that one, I lowered my expectations for the new one.
Like Tim Burton's "Batman", "The Dark Knight" is upstaged by the Joker. Back in 1989, critics all said that no one will ever be able to outdo Jack Nicholson's Joker. He truly made the film what it was. But that was then (I can't believe it has been 19 summers ago when Batmania first hit). Now, Heath Ledger has raised the bar even further. He is simply fantastic in his (sadly) last role. Back in January, there were quotes that he struggled with this role, as he seems to be a bit of a method actor, and if there's one type of role a method actor should not play, it's a crazy person. How do you keep your sanity if you feel the need to become the character during the duration of the shoot?

Anytime the Joker is on screen, Ledger owns it with his crazy clown. What are his motives? Well, there's a certain deja vu quality to this film in that he challenges Batman in similar ways that Nicholson's Joker did to the 1989 Batman. The difference is that this new incarnation is geared towards a mature and intelligent audience. There are several scenes that are relevant to political debate in our country today in regards to war and spying on citizens. The current that runs through this film is the idea that an insane person (think of it as "Joker bin Laden") without moral qualms most desires to see a person who claims a superior moralty lower himself to the same level of brutality. It's a victory of sorts. The kind of film our misguided president needs to see (though I doubt he has the depth to understand nuance).

Overall, though, this film won't dislodge "Batman Begins" from its status as my favourite superhero film of all-time. It's infinitely better than the previous series of four films, which is no surprise. They don't overkill it with too many over the top villains. Only the Joker and his goons are allowed to act crazy, bringing mayhem to Gotham. I have a feeling, though, that the filmmakers are going for continuity between the previous one (Scarecrow makes an appearance) and hopefully the next one (the set-up makes me excited to see where they'll go with the third one). In a summer lacking in interesting movies (this is the first one I've seen since "Prince Caspian" on Memorial Day weekend), I might see this again in theaters before Labour Day (there aren't any other interesting films on the horizon until Oliver Stone's "W" comes out in October).

The director (Christopher Nolan) knows how to add characters to the ongoing saga without diluting the story. Harvey Dent added an interesting angle to the story. In 1995's "Batman Forever", I thought having both the Riddler and Two-Face weakened the story, and the purple half of Two-Face's face looked like some cheap plastic mask. Fans of the comic book know Harvey Dent as "Two-Face" so that's all I'll say about that.

A scarier looking Batman and Joker. This film is definitely not for the pre-teenager set. Leave the kids at home and enjoy a superhero movie geared towards adults.

1 comment:

Mandalynn said...

I saw this movie last night and loved it. I thought Batman Begins was the best Batman movie to date so I thought I'd like The Dark Knight since it had the same writer, director, and Batman star. I was a little nervous that Heath Ledger's performance wouldn't live up to all the hype, thinking that the hype was because it was his last performance. This was not the case. He stole the show. I agree, it is not for a younger crowd. In fact, if I had children, I wouldn't allow my 13 & 14 (maybe even 15) year olds to see it - it's more for the high school and older crowd.