Friday, July 25, 2008

The Dark Knight (2008)

Note: This review was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

By popular demand, here are a few notes on the new Batman movie, which I saw over opening weekend.

Overall impression - very good movie. Not perfect, but very entertaining, and certainly above the curve compared to other action and superhero movies coming out these days. Was it better than Batman Begins? Tough question. I'm tempted to say Batman Begins was better, but this movie was also very good and it could probably use some more time to sink in.

One thing that struck me particularly in this movie is that I have a hard time seeing Christian Bale as Batman. Frankly, I think he's a lot more convincing as the floozy billionaire than the Dark Knight. Plus, his gruff "Batman voice" sounds kind of forced - I can't remember if it bothered me or not in the last Batman movie, but it was kind of distracting in this one. I might be partly biased against the characterization of Christian Bale since seeing American Psycho, which, even more so than Equilibrium, has engraved a certain personality into my head of what Christian Bale is supposed to be like. Oh well, Batman is Batman, regardless of who's behind the mask.

It's easier to air my grievances than to talk about what I liked, since the grievances stand out more against the backdrop of a good movie, I suppose. I kind of got the feeling that there was too much in the way of chase scenes - with the Batmobile or the Batcycle. But hey, it's an action movie, so what can you expect?

So let's talk about this Rachel Dawes character. I have to admit, I was entirely confused when I saw Maggie Gyllenhaal's face on the screen. I totally did not make the connection that she was supposed to be playing the same role that Katie Holmes played in Batman Begins. So I had no idea who this character was and why she seemed to have such a personal connection to Batman. In fact, I didn't figure it out until after the movie. With her going "Harvey, Harvey" all over the place, I was entirely convinced that she was going to become Joker's sidekick, Harley Quinn, which would have been freaking awesome. But since that didn't happen, I was kind of disappointed...

As for Two-Face, I was completely surprised to see him in the movie. Everybody knew The Joker would play a large role in this title, considering the way the previous movie ended, but Two-Face to me was a surprise. And a pleasant surprise - I like Two-Face, I think he's a really cool villain. However, up to about 3/4 of the way through the film, I was certain that they were setting Harvey Dent up to become the villain in the next Batman movie, so I was surprised when his role as Two-Face started playing out in complete right here in this film. On a related note, this movie was definitely very long, but my perception might have been influenced by the fact that I really had to take a piss towards the end but I couldn't justify getting up before it was over...

Shall we talk about The Joker? I have nothing but good things to say about The Joker's characterization in this film. That having been said, I don't think the success of these new Batman adaptations should necessarily render obsolete the excellent Tim Burton versions of Batman and Batman Returns. I think Jack Nicholson played a great Joker, and his role shouldn't be eclipsed by this new Joker, who is at least as good. I think they should both be considered as different interpretations that are each worth exploring. But anyway, Heath Ledger's Joker is awesome. I'm not influenced by the hype, and I have no agenda to honor the dead - but it's true that it was a good role executed well. The Joker's philosophies on chaos and disorder and everything he preached were very interesting - even convincing. And as a villain, he definitely had that cool that all the best villains have to have.

What else to say? The theme of the movie was good. I think that exploring Batman's origins in Batman Begins was slightly more interesting, but I love the ideas presented in this film, especially along the lines of Batman being "The Dark Knight", and being successful because he chooses not to be a hero, that he's the one who is capable of making the tough decisions that softer people can't handle.

Comparing the villains to the previous movie, The Joker and Two-Face is a strong pair, but I have to admit I always liked the idea of The Scarecrow - which was executed exquisitely in Batman Begins. As for Ra's Al Ghul, I had never heard of him, and yet he made an equally awesome villain in that movie. It's saying a lot that they were able to make those lesser known villains every bit as interesting as The Dark Knight's more well-known names. But now it sounds like I'm reviewing Batman Begins...

I definitely caught the reference to Catwoman in this movie, even if it was just a passing homage to please the fans. I don't know what the plans are on making any more Batman movies, or what villains will turn up, but I will always be excited to see a new take on Catwoman. Even though I have a hard time believing that anyone will be able to top Michelle Pfeiffer's performance in Batman Returns, Catwoman is just such a cool character that I would never object to seeing more of her (unless she's really really terrible - I haven't even seen Halle Berry's interpretation, but I know enough to know that it's not worth it).

Another villain I will always be excited to see is The Riddler - I've always liked The Riddler, and not just because he wears green. I think Jim Carrey's performance in Batman Forever leaves something to be desired. Too cartoony. I'd love to see a serious and pathological Riddler. And that's exactly the kind of personality you'd expect to find in these new Batman movies. But only time will tell who (if anyone) we'll get to see.

I have to admit, even though The Joker wasn't killed or anything at the end of this movie (oops, was that a spoiler?), I don't have any major expectations of seeing him turn up again, and not because the actor that played him is dead. It just feels like to me, this is the villain in this movie, and that's the villain in that movie. Although, the Scarecrow did show up in this movie, but in a pathetic practically-cameo role which didn't really make sense or add anything to the story. Unless I missed something. Sure Batman and Joker are arch-rivals and they complete each other and all that, but this isn't a TV show - this is movies, and each new movie focuses on a new villain. That's just what I'm used to though - feel free to change the formula.