Half of this review was drafted during one of my ER calls at work. That’s how LONG this is going to be.
MOVIE DESECRATION HOUR: THE DARK KNIGHT
(as minimally spoilered as possible)
In the beginning there was a disaster of a Batman movie named Batman & Robin, and the world lost hope and lamented that the Dark Knight was dead (now that he finally had nipples and was thus a normal human being) and then some guy named Christopher Nolan said HE was gonna be a superhero and bring Batman back to his origins and it was going to be serious and dark and AWESOME because he gave Batman a tank that I know *I* wished I owned. And thus the world was given Batman Begins and saw it was truly awesome for it had Liam Neeson and Christian Bale who actually pulled off a young good-looking angsty Batman except for that growling voice that made Batman sound like he smoked 10 packs of cigarettes before putting on his suit and terrorizing the bad people of Gotham and it was all very, very good. Except for the close-up action scenes, because when you’re sitting 5th row from the screen all you see are dark smudges and the feeling of being nauseous enough to forego the awesomeness for a sick bag. And so the world and the fans were happy and Nolan said LET THERE BE FORESHADOWING and produced a tiny joker card at the end of Batman Begins and everyone went SQUEE and it was good. And so Nolan said LET THERE BE A SECOND MOVIE WITH THE JOKER IN IT and it was good but the people had every right to be scared but it was good nonetheless. And so Nolan announced that Heath Ledger was to play the Joker and the world trembled in fear thinking that no way was some gay incoherent drawling cowboy could possibly be as awesome as Jack Nicholson, who with a big grin and an axe could convince the world that if babies were born with psycho smiles, you had to pity Jack Nicholson’s mum. And so the world rightly curled under their beds with old Batman comics, convinced that the alleged homosexuality in Batman was going to come right out and attack them FROM BEHIND, but that’s another story.
But then the news of Heath Ledger’s unfortunate death came forth and the world stood in shock wondering what would become of this allegedly AWESOME movie until they were assured that the movie was already in post-production and we would get to see whether a gay incoherent drawling cowboy could make an awesome movie even awesomer. And then the trailer came and there was so much AWESOME in it that everyone knew they would be able to sleep knowing that the Joker would attack them in the night but not necessarily from behind, and it was all good. In fact it was SO AWESOME they didn’t even need to put BATMAN in the name of the movie, and so they waited until July. And then July came and my birthday came and went and aliens descended and turned the world into glass the day before The Dark Knight came out and so everybody died and nobody got to see the movie, not even Master Chief. And so that was not good. Just kidding.
The Fear of Bad Story
While The Dark Knight (TDK) doesn’t start off with snow and 80 pages of people philosophizing about fear and its many aspects, it also has no intention of giving you any backstory either. So you don’t know who’s the drug dealer with the sack on his head? Why’s Batman holding a gun? Why does it look like Mr Marlboro Bat and Mr Sackhead know each other? Didn’t I just see Morgan Freeman in Wanted? Is he going to make Batman bend bullets against Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy and Heath Ledger, automatically making TDK the BEST MOVIE EVAR?? Too bad who asked you not to watch Batman Begins; now you’ll have to sit through 80 pages of fear like EVERYONE ELSE! BWA HA HA! From there it shows Bruce Wayne living his double life as billionaire playboy and as some guy in a very inconvenient suit that can’t turn its neck and his swanky life in a sucky world of crime and corruption. Every time the police try to corner the mafia, they’re one step ahead until Gotham’s new district attorney Harvey Dent shows he’s afraid of nobody and starts cleaning up along with Jim Gordon (who’s not broad-shouldered or a commissioner yet). Granted when he’s got Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend Rachel Dawes (who got plastic surgery along the way and became an entirely different actress) as his girlfriend, you’ll start thinking love will take you everywhere and you don’t need to spend years training as a ninja with Liam Neeson to think you’re invincible. The mob’s money laundering gets chased by the police so first they resort to a Chinese accountant (who breaks stereotype by being EVIL and absconding to Hong Kong with their money) but that doesn’t work when Batman flies to HK (which only reminds people that at night, EVERY CITY LOOKS THE DAMN SAME) and retrieves said accountant. Then the Joker pops in and everyone says hey what’s the worst that can happen? I suppose the one merit that I can give this movie is that it has twists, not just “oh he’s not really dead because he’s alive in the trailer and we haven’t reached that scene in the movie yet”. Each time I think oh it’s going to end up this way it doesn’t and when I think oh something different’s going to happen here, it doesn’t. Then Harvey becomes Two-Face (OMG SPOILER like you didn’t see it coming) and then the movie gets…predictable. A lot of the movie’s action hinges on how the Joker thinks (if only because he’s really the only one causing all the action). This shouldn’t be a problem because once you get the idea that bad things can happen to good people, you’ve got all the twists sorted out. For the 2nd half of the twists you can’t get, you just think like the good guys and think about faith and happiness and the innate goodness of man and there you go. Anyone who’s played any stealth or shooter (FPS or team) game can figure out the last twist and there you go. It’s only shockingly unpredictable if all you’ve been watching are happy-end hollywood movies or you think Batman is like Superman or you’re a sodding optimist, in which case you need to be shot for ignoring Batman Begins. My dad complained about how everyone’s analyzing the movie and its parallels to terrorism and OMG THE AMERICAN DILEMMA and we should all just take the movie at entertainment value. Considering the movie was written by two British chaps and the cast is primarily non-American, it’s safe to say that what happens in the movie is not a uniquely American situation. First you’ve got the Joker with his impromptu grainy videos of kidnapping people and making them read messages or interrogating them in front of the camera and then Harvey Dent makes a speech about whether we should bow to the terrorist demands or support the vigilante who’s making the city a better place through collateral damage. The lose-lose situation is something that happens all over the world – either way you’ve got someone who disrupts your normal life and prevents you from sleeping soundly. Sure Gotham City’s lucky they’ve got BATMAN, but if Batman’s like those peacekeeping armies who burst into your house and shoot everyone because a terrorist *happened* to be using your bathroom, the point’s lost. So then Bruce Wayne mopes whether anybody needs Batman because if he’s doing more harm than good despite his intentions, maybe it’s better if everyone just had ONE thing to bitch about than two.
Then Harvey Dent gets HIS revelation and becomes more vigilante than Batman but we can’t have that because he’s the paragon of virtue and lawlessness! His actions are hypocritical! Lawful good guys don’t become chaotic good guys just because they get a makeover! Good thing he’s taken care of quickly because that would just mean less screen time for the Joker. And now let’s talk about the Joker.
Why so serious lah.
We know Heath Ledger is awesome as the Joker. He makes you squirm, he makes you pay attention, he’s a snappy (cross)dresser, the movie’s boring when he’s not around, and he didn’t say, “I wish I knew how to quit you” which would’ve been better than quoting Jerry Maguire. The last part was just *disappointing*. The fact we know nothing about his Joker makes it even more awesome. The police run DNA scans, clothing traces, fingerprints, dental records – nothing. Chances are his retinal scan would turn up negative too. Makeup hid his face so well I couldn’t recognize him. The one time he takes off his makeup the whole scene’s in chaos so all you get are fleeting images. That’s all you need – any longer and we’d be able to identify him. The Joker doesn’t *want* to be identified as anything else but that cackling clownface. Once the audience sees the Joker as-is, the mystique’s lost. He’s just another caucasian shmoe who’s got a ton of stage paint. His anonymity is how real world enemies are – you can’t label them, they could be anybody. Sex predator? Your relative. Terrorist? The nice gardener who trims your hedges every weekend. White-collar embezzler? Waddaya know, it’s that hot girl you met at the bar yesterday! By not looking like anything you recognize, he has taken ALL your fears, your mistrust in the human race, and put it into one concentrated mass of terror. Why fear your neighbours when you can fear the clown that doesn’t even LOOK like a real clown – just the clown who released the lions, set fire to the big top, sexually harasses little kids, and murdered the ringmaster after they got fired for not being funny enough. But he’s more than just makeup, he’s an actual clown. Clowns pull tricks they know get a reaction. Clowns spray each other with water and throw pies and fall down because they know everyone’ll laugh. It’s like gag reflex. The Joker knows what strings to pull, what buttons to push. The Joker doesn’t make people laugh, but he makes them cower, he pisses everyone off left and right, and he makes people jump up and react. That’s some great button-pushing right there, and he does it well because next to him, humans are really predictable. That’s why he’s got no backstory – that’d be predictable. Harvey Dent is predictable because he’s got the backstory to justify his evilness (which is why HE lasts 30 minutes). The Joker doesn’t, even though he tells several stories about his scar (which I couldn’t see anyway). Maybe all the stories are true, maybe none. At first I thought they were giving him justification, and then that went to pot. These days we LIKE our villains to have backstories to give them sympathy, make them human. Sephiroth’s madness was more terrifying when he had actual grounds. By that logic Joker’s lack of backstory should have reviewers saying they couldn’t empathize with Joker and how he sucks and they should give him some flashbacks, BUT this IS the Joker that doesn’t work on logic anyway, so it all makes sense. The best part is that Joker does what he does best with so much passion (which may or may not be trying to sleep with Batman) it’s hard not to enjoy watching him. You’re not supposed to enjoy him! He looks like he’s got Tourette’s with all that tongue-twitching! He’s a criminal, he Bses every other minute, shoots friends in the back, a flaming hypocrite (either everything’s part of the no-plan plan or you don’t have a plan, MAKE UP YOUR MIND!), and his jokes are lame (Pencil trick is FANTASTIC lame, but lame nonetheless)! If you LIKE him, you’re a degenerate dammit! …But we do. We adore him. We write glowing reviews about how he will be THE Joker for years and years to come. We have become a mini army of Harley Quinns just stopping short of going BATMAN GO DIE and demanding a Joker spinoff. When we watch Alfred the butler, we’re watching Michael Caine as Alfred. We’re not watching Lucius Fox, we’re watching Morgan Freeman as Lucius. When we see Batman/Bruce Wayne, we’re seeing Christian Bale look better when he’s NOT being Batman. Even when Gary Oldman channels Gordon, it’s still me wondering how this guy can be Sirius Black. However, when we see the Joker, it’s not Heath Ledger as the Joker; it’s the Joker as the Joker. That’s what good acting does – it makes you forget the actor and focus on their character and you think “Oh man that is one HELLUVA Joker I can’t wait for part 3” until the credits roll and it says “In Memory of Heath Ledger and Conway Wickliffe” and you remember OH CRAP HE’S DEAD YOU’LL NEVER SEE HIM AS THE JOKER AGAIN EVER and then you weep. That’s why Heath Ledger deserves an Oscar for this – not because he died for your entertainment, but because he’s just that good.
So…how was it?
Christian Bale makes a good Bruce Wayne, but a lousy Batman – his lower face does not make for good aesthetics, and that 10-pack-a-day voice ANNOYS me! I don’t know how Lab thinks it’s manly, because I just think of strepsils and how much work I have at the microbio lab the next day! Ahem. When the credits rolled, I was…sitting there. Deep in thought, fingers steepled, staring at the credits like there were subliminal messages for me to read. Maybe it was the splitting migraine and neck pain, but I wasn’t blown away. Not like Incredible Hulk or Prince Caspian or Iron Man or Wanted where there was an adrenaline rush and I was telling everyone I knew it was a damn good movie. I went home, went to work, and even when I told people it was a good movie, I felt empty. I felt like I was lying for the sake of hype because I didn’t get the blown away feel. There was a big black abyss of empty in my heart after watching the best movie of the year, this couldn’t be right. As the day went on, more bits about the movie came back to me – the pencil trick, the conversations, the ending. I started analyzing the movie and recalling all the earlier reviews I’d read, and then it hit me. I want to see the movie again. I NEED to see the movie again. I want to watch the scenes again, the details, the plot, the music cues, everything. I want this movie to stick in my head for a while. I want to soak up the details and make sense of the sonar readings (and the sly explanation of why comic Batman just has big white eyeholes for eyes), and see the charas again. TDK works because while there is a superhero, it’s not always about the superhero doing things. While he’s doing things, other people are doing things, and an understated Batman works because he’s an integral (but not major) part of the crime drama stuffed in there. His equipment’s plausible (Mini Arc Reactor made in a Taliban cave, I’m looking at you), the themes about human nature and corruption and terrorism are more universal and relatable (Sekrit WW2 projects involving supersoldiers, I’m looking at you), and you don’t need to have read all the graphic novels to enjoy it (though it’d help). Batman Begins was the movie needed to revive the franchise; The Dark Knight is the movie the series deserves.
So watch it; you won’t regret it.