Monday, July 21, 2008

OK, I'm a nerd

Holy shit.

So, I just saw "The Dark Knight" and I must pronounce it a few brushstrokes short of the masterpiece widely proclaimed in the media, but only because of minor things that I as a viewer brought to my viewing of it and not for any particular failing on the part of the film itself.

One, I did not like the handling of the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent. Bruce and Harvey are lifelong friends, which is why Batman is never able to finish off Two-Face. He is what Bruce would have become if life had been just a little bit different. It was one of my countless quibbles with that piece of shit Batman Forever movie where Tommy Lee Jones chewed all the scenery as an aged, cackling Two-Face - hell that guy's face is so wrinkled and craggy who could tell one side from another, if not for the purple face paint? Jones' Two-Face was too old to have been a contemporary of Bruce Wayne as played by Val Kilmer and otherwise, thusly, his criminal operation in that movie seemed to consist of the same porkpie-hat-and-fingerless-glove wearing goons the Joker used in the earlier (and better) movie. I guess they needed the work but couldn't afford a change in wardrobe.

I thought Aaron Eckhart was very good in this movie, all serious and devoted to the cause but always just a little inscrutable, but his blonde hair and midwestern aura rather openly violate the fact that Harvey Dent has traditionally been portrayed as black. Not enough young, dashing, enigmatic black actors out there in Hollywood? And finally (spoiler alert), I sure hope they didn't actually kill him at the end of the movie, but that it was instead one of those "he-was-badly-injured-but-recovered-miraculously-between-the-two-movies" sorts of things. If he's actually dead, and we don't have Two-Face as a villain sometime in the next few movies, then this series is burning through major characters WAY too fast.

Second quibble - I only sort of love that they filmed it in Chicago and made Gotham City into a more real place and not the cartoonish fantasy movie-set of previous pictures because that tracks with the other real-world style elements of their overall production design, except that I've only been to Chicago a couple of times and yet even I recognized some of the locations filmed. I've always felt that Gotham was another major character in the Batman mythos, a decayed and brooding place of faded Art Deco facades and crumbling Victorian mansions, echos of a lost glory and a threadbare glamour. New York City in the 1970's, perhaps, or current-day Detroit only still bustling and populated and not so-much gone to seed. I feel like shooting so blatantly and recognizably in Chicago has higher costs than benefits, because part of the fun of visiting Gotham was in seeing our familiar selves through a looking glass, the cities we love reimagined and reinvented and somehow familiar and still strange. Sort of like Liberty City of the most recent Grand Theft Auto game - New York City, but... not. Somehow. Gotham has always been an amalgamation of all the abstract ideas of the "failed American city" and Chicago is just so darn clean, and modern and functioning that I think the images of clean streets and unbroken windows in shiny, modern skyscrapers leeches some of the operatic quality from the mythology to then plunk the Batman story down there. Chicago is not Gotham. New York is not Gotham. Nor Detroit, nor Baltimore, nor Cleveland nor Philadelphia. They are all Gotham.

Final quibble - I don't like that he goes to Hong Kong in one scene, even if it is to retrieve a stooge/plot device because Batman doesn't exist outside Gotham City. Sure, OK, Justice League and all that, but Batman is not Superman and that is one sources of the ongoing difficulty between them. Bruce Wayne isn't trying to save the world. He's trying to avenge his parents by saving Gotham City. The Man of Steel may sleep in Metropolis, but he can go anywhere on the planet he is needed because he is a citizen of the world. Batman is a citizen of Gotham City.

But those are minor complaints. The answer to the major question at hand is "is the movie any good?"

Yes. Oh, my yes.

It is transportive. It is operatic. It is loud and violent and not for kids and vicious and mean and it is the Batman movie Tim Burton could never have made much less any of his successors and it is the only one I think actually does justice to the dark, complex metaphor

And that is due in no small part to the late, great Heath Ledger. Decades from now, our children will look at us and ask who this Heath Ledger guy was, in much the same reverential tones we asked our parents about James Dean. We will point to "Brokeback Mountain" and his Joker in "Dark Knight" to explain what a hole in the world was created by his death. Part of me is sad because he is so perfect in this role that The Joker will either be played by someone less perfect in the role in future films, or we simply won't see The Joker again until Batman is reinvented by some other director in about ten to fifteen years. The Joker of the comic books (particularly Frank Miller's) is, quite simply, the greatest villain of all time. Grendle, Darth Vader, Moriarty, the boogeyman... none of them compare to the cackling psychopath with the clown makeup in the green and purple suit. And the way they have him done up - with greasy, stringy, greenish hair and smeared, garish makeup - and the way Ledger plays him - with dead shark eyes and a shuffling, broken gait - he is a world-hating, violent, shambling nightmare vision. A grinning, blood-soaked, unhinged agent of chaos made flesh.

He will win the Oscar.

Go see this movie.


1 comment:

Izzy O'Rainey said...

Your "shark eyes" comment struck a note with me. The thing Ledger does with his mouth as sort of a pause...he gulps air in a weird way. like a fish out of water, or more correctly, like a shark tasting the water...

Plus, the part where Goose died when he hit the canopy brought me to tears.