Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dark, Dark Knight

I'm having trouble beginning this blog. We just returned from Dark Knight, the follow-up to 2005's Batman Begins. If you don't know it's the follow up, and haven't heard any of the insane buzz around Heath Ledger's last full performance, then this blog really isn't for you. Just skip on down to one of the posts about birds.

To answer the questions,

1. Heath Ledger's performance really is that good. I didn't care for Jack Nicholson's take; Ledger's is different. There's an unrehearsed, anarchic quality, as if The Joker showed up on the set one day and director Christopher Nolan decided to keep rolling. It's brilliant, it's terrifying. And while none of the gore may show up on the screen (with an MPAA rating of PG-13), much is implied.

2. The film really is that dark. I really loved Batman Begins. Dark Knight takes us to a part of the Batman legend where the "Batcave" is a secure cellar; stark, and easy to clean. There is no Wayne Mansion - it's still in the rebuilding stages, and Nolan decided against giving us an idea of when they're planning on breaking ground. There is some repartee between Bruce, Alfred, and Lucius at turns, but on the whole, a lot of the fun of the previous installment has been sucked out.

Instead, it's been replaced by an airtight story about what happens when the lines between protector and villain blur. A film that stands among the ranks of American Gangster or Kingdom of Heaven (Two very different but somewhat similar Ridley Scott films, each dealing in their own way with definitions of heroes and anti-heroes). Perhaps not what moviegoers expect when attending a movie about characters owned by DC Comics. If you are squeamish at all about knives, this is not the movie for you. If you cringe at children being placed in horrific situations, this is also not the movie for you. If a dented Lamborghini brings tears to your eyes...I really don't know what to tell you. Nice cars have short lifespans on film. But I digress.

The Gotham City of Batman Begins had its elements of comic-book stylization - the broken down elevated train, for example. This Gotham is Chicago. There are no stylized creations to buffer the perception of reality. Dark Knight is that much more disturbing because it feels so much more real. Nolan took off the kid gloves for this one, and settled down to tell a raw story about pain and how people react to it. About hope, how to create it and how to stifle it. About what to do when, maybe, the whole truth isn't the best option.

I can appreciate this film. I don't think I liked it. I don't think I would choose to see it again, although I suspect I would cringe less.

There are highlights. Morgan Freeman, as Lucius, poses a question to a Wayne Enterprises employee that brings down the house. And the bike (pictured above) that the bat-mobile produces when it becomes indisposed is frankly pretty rad. Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckert as Harvey Dent and the wonderful Gary Oldman as Lt. Gordon; all top notch.

Rachel Dawes, I think, is the weakest point of the film. She crosses a line that comic book girls don't get to cross, and for a good set of reasons. I won't write about them here; if you really want to know, shoot me an email. But she deserved better. She deserved, at least, to be likeable. The casting shift of Maggie Gyllenhaal taking over for Katie Holmes is part of it. While I never believed Katie as a DA's Assistant (I mean, really), she projects a kind of sweet likeability. I don't believe that sweet likeability are two words that will ever, truly, be used to describe Maggie Gyllenhaal. We believe this Rachel survived law school, but we have no reason to feel affection for her when she clearly appears to hold the world in contempt.

I can't unilaterally recommend this film. It is brilliantly casted, acted, and directed.

But it wasn't fun. If you want fun, see Hellboy II. You don't even need to see the first (we didn't; it's fairly self-explanatory). And I'll write that blog review soon, but I had to get this one off my chest.

We may pull Winnie the Pooh off the shelf tonight, if only to get Ledger's "Why so serious?" out of my head.

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