Monday, July 28, 2008

The Dark Knight

Well, I went to go see the Dark Knight at midnight on opening night. However, due to the constraints of the mirror image course, I haven't been able to cook up the review until now.

Jeff and I went to the midnight showing in Poulsbo. To give you an idea of the popularity of this film, Poulsbo had six screens showing at midnight, and all six sold out.

Christian Bale reprises the double role of Bruce Wayne and Batman. As in Batman Begins, he does an excellent job of portraying Bruce Wayne as a billionaire playboy, and no small measure of jackass. As Batman, he's very imposing. Easily the best portrayal of the character to date.

The performance that has everyone abuzz is the late Heath Ledger's role as The Joker. Unlike previous incarnations of the killer clown in both animated and live action, Ledger shys away from the "Clown" and leans on the "Killer". Gone is the laughing gas, gone is the flag pistol. They are replaced by semtex and RPGs. The madness is certainly still there, but it's not humorous insanity, it's very dark. In my humble opinion, it's easily the best acting performance of the year.

Aaron Eckhart plays Harvey Dent, Gotham's new district attorney. He's the purest civilian character in the film aside from Rachel Dawes. Hailed as Gotham's "White Knight" Dent represents the best chance Gotham has to reclaim itself from the criminals without relying on vigilantes like Batman. There's a twist to the character that everyone with a passing familiarity to the Batman mythos will see coming, but for those who don't know it beforehand, it's pretty powerful.

Gary Oldman plays Jim Gordan, a police officer who works with Batman to crack down on the criminal underworld. He's a very sympathetic character in that he seems completely outmatched, yet is determined to do his job.

Maggie Gyllenhal replaces Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes. Rachel Dawes' role in the story was scaled back from the original film. In Batman Begins, she represented the judicial system, a role that has been taken over by Harvey Dent in this film. She gets involved in a love triangle between Dent and Wayne, but has become much more of a bystander in the second film.

Michael Caine comes back as Alfred, Wayne's surprisingly wise butler. He's pretty much the same as in the first film.

The film is a little cleaner in the visual imagery than Batman Begins, however the plots are much darker. It opens up with a bank being robbed by a group of men wearing clown masks. As each man completes his role in the heist, another man kills him. Eventually the last man standing pulls his clown mask on to reveal a scarred face painted up like a clown. The Joker.

The story begins in earnest from there. Batman has put fear into the criminal element of Gotham. Most low level criminals won't even conduct business when the bat signal illuminates the sky. Furthermore, Batman has inspired other, lesser men, to take up the mantle of the bat in order to fight crime, much to Batman's chagrin. The mob is getting desperate, faced by Batman on the streets, and a fierce new DA who refuses to be intimidated by the mob's heavy handed tactics.

Desperate, they turn to a new face in the criminal element. The Joker. They offer him one half of their combined fortune in order for him to bring down the Batman. Eager for a challenge, the Joker accepts, and launches a campaign of terror, murder, and violence to try and pull Batman out of his anonymity. As Batman's conscience makes it harder and harder for him to remain anonymous as people are dying, public perception begins to turn on him, just as the Joker intended.

The Dark Knight is a superb movie. The visuals are sharp. The audio is a little distorted, and I wonder why it seems Batman felt the need to have microphones built into his knuckles. But other than that it's fine. The acting is simply incredible. The acting is truly what sets this movie apart, that, and it's lack of an editor.

The one flaw for this film is a rather big one. It's far too long. Like an hour too long. When you get a feel for the twist, and you see it coming, you can see the film unfolding in the following manner, lead up, climax, twist, fade to black. That would have been perfect, and a great setup for a sequel. Instead, it goes, lead up, climax, twist, about 30 minutes of meandering dialogue, restart. It seems almost as if instead of taking advantage of the natural cut point in the plot, they simply filmed the sequel, tacked it on the end, and added a poorly done bridge.

The Dark Knight is 152!? minutes long, and earned an 82 on Metacritic. It would have easily been a 10/10 for me if they had taken the time to cut the fat a bit more, but as it stands, I have to give it an 8/10.

Thematically however, there are some very impressive points that I'd like to discuss, however, if you haven't seen the film, I warn you, Here There Be Spoilers...

One of the main themes is 3. There are several distinct character triangles. Initially there is the love triangle between Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent, and Rachel Dawes.

But more subtle at the same time, is the triangle between Batman, Jim Gordon, and Harvey Dent. Batman represents power, Gordon weakness, and Dent potential. This is manifested in public sentiment around Batman, that he's a vigilante and dangerous to all around him. The perception of Dent is that he's the infallible savior of the city who will sweep away the mob. While Gordon, who is truly incorruptible, toils in obscurity, and usually fruitlessly without Batman's power behind him.

A third triangle is the late film relationship between Batman, the Joker, and Two-Face. They come to represent Order, Chaos, and Chance, respectively. They are primal forces that can be very destructive if unguided. There becomes a certain dichotomy between each character. Batman and the Joker are polar opposites, and the Joker often comments that he won't know what to do if Batman isn't there to fight him. Harvey Dent is often referred to as the "White Knight" of Gotham, even after his fall from grace, while Batman, the titular Dark Knight, takes the burden of being an outlaw upon himself in order to protect the city's perception of Dent. Two Face and the Joker share an air of amorality. Joker threatens to kill both a ship full of prisoners, and a ship full of innocents. Two Face flips a coin to decide who lives and who dies.
These three triangles dominate the film, each taking precedence in a third of the film.

Another major concept is the idea of perception blurring the line between hero and villain to suit the psychological needs of the populace. Harvey Dent goes from hero to villain, but due to the labors of Batman and Gordon, he is always seen as a hero, as that is what the people need. While Batman is always a hero, the perception of him being a hero goes from being questionable, to being a straight up villain over the course of the film.

If you haven't seen this film yet, you're a terrible person.


The Charming Hedonist said...

It's SO true! Seriously, they could have totally parlayed (sp?) the Two Face thing into another movie. Holy box office blockbuster Batman!

Angela said...

I didn't think the movie was too long. I stayed interested the whole time. Maybe they could have shortened in a LITTLE, but I didn't think it dragged on.