Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why So Serio---Ah, You Know

So. Shall we talk about The Dark Knight?

Click to continue reading this entry [POSSIBLY SPOILERIFFIC!]

What didn't work:

--I've never been a huge fan of Bale's raspy delivery.
--I thought the 'Pod' was a little poorly designed [wheels too thick].
--It was just *this* shy of being too long, but didn't totter over into the abyss of self indulgence.
--The dumb c*nt in our row who had her phone go off twice, and both times carried on coversations, one of which had her repeating over and over that she was in a movie. As such, I didn't catch what The Joker said regarding the hospital, and why the cops started evacuating. [I understand the c-word is offensive, but when the same thing happens twice, you deserve it.--Ed]

Now to what did work.

Full disclosure: I make no secret of the fact that I believe Batman and the Joker to be the greatest pair of nemeses in the history of literature. From Holmes and Moriarty to God and the Devil, I find no relationship more fascinating than that between the man who needs to have everything around him tightly organized, and the man who is chaos incarnate, and lives for no other reason than to upset the social order.

The hype over Heath Ledger's depiction of the Clown Prince was already deafening by the time I got to see the movie today. Opening weekend reviews [and box office receipts] suggest he deserves a nod from the Academy this Febraury, so I suppose I was prepared for something good. I was not prepared for what I got.

Given a script that cherry picks the best work done on the character in the last 25 years [Moore and Bolland's The Killing Joke, Loeb and Sale's Long Halloween and Morrison's Arkham Asylum, and recent reinvention in Batman and Son], Ledger took the charater and made it completely his own. For the first time, the Joker is what he always should have been: a tornado of death and destruction loosed upon a city by forces that have no idea how to control him, because he can't be. He doesn't value money, or power. He only values anarchy. And Ledger is terrifying in conveying this.

As a proper fanboy, I questioned some of the early decisions, like the greased out, heroin addict look, and the fact that he obviously wears makeup, but it all works so well in the world that Nolan and co. have created, that when something like Harvey Dent's scarred face and burned suit come on screen, it's actually a little jarring because it's too...'comic booky.' In a movie that has a guy in a supersuit airlift a Chinese mobster out of a skyscraper with a skyhook, that's saying something.

The thing that I was not ready for going in was that the movie has...themes. And big ones, ones that strike to the core of our existence as human beings. Themes like what good and evil mean, and how we choose to embrace one or the other. Themes like what it means to be a hero, and what sacrifices are made, and what lines are crossed to be one. Liberally borrowing from the aforementioned Killing Joke, amidst all the plots and explosions is the Joker's attempt to prove that anyone can fall, anyone can become him: all it takes is one bad day. In one memorable sequence he rigs up two ferryboats with explosives. One boat carries criminals from the jails and asylums, the other innocent civilians. The Joker challenges each ship to blow up the other to save themselves. What follows is a series of moral discussions among the passengers that pull the tension so tight the viewer is cringing at the idea of it snapping. All this while Batman and a SWAT team strike the Joker's hideout.

The madman brings a city to its knees and kills dozens in the process, and even when he's thwarted it doesn't matter. It's just part of the joke.

So yeah. It's the best take on the characters put to film I've ever seen. If I have one complaint that isn't just niggling over details, it's the fact that I have no idea how they can top themselves. By the time the movie ends, it really feels like Nolan has said everything he can possibly say about the character. I honestly don't know where they'd go from here.

Of course, all this talk of Oscars and greatness means the Fanboy Hater Train has officially left the station *toot!toot!*. The major criticisms seem to come from those who prefer their Batman as a superhero, shark repellent and all [as opposed to guys like me who prefer him as a badass with a cool suit], and resent when a director like Nolan tries to root the character in reality. A 'reality' where a henchman gets a cell-phone bomb in his gut and a group of criminals lay enough C4 to safely implode a hospital and no one notices, but there you have it. I for one would like to believe that Nolan's smart enough to take his 'comic book liberties' on those suspensions of disbelief rather than, I don't know, giving him a sweet ass plane! [insert douchebag hand gesture]. The guy did do Memento, for God's sake.

I can acknowledge why some of the old timers would be upset at this take on the characters [though it's not much different from Morrison's current writing of the Joker, anyway], for fans of my generation, this is the greatest movie we could ever hope for, and you will never convince us otherwise. When I was 12 years old, after seeing Burton's Batman and falling in love with Nicholson's Joker, I got a copy of The Killing Joke [a fan mag about the movie had mentioned it], and it blew my little prepubescent mind. From that day on, a chubby 50-year-old wouldn't cut it for me. I wanted my Joker insane, I wanted him repellent, I needed him free. And I don't know if it's a testament to Ledger as an actor or Nolan as a director, but that's what I got with The Dark Knight, and I'm thankful to both of them.

I will gladly hand them my money for a second viewing.


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