Friday, July 25, 2008

50 Random Thoughts On "The Dark Knight"

After refusing to wade into the record-breaking opening weekend crowds and being severe thunderstormed-out on two previous attempts earlier this week, I finally saw The Dark Knight last night. Multiple geekgasms. Twenty-four hours later, there are so many ideas and impressions spinning around in my head that I don't think I'd be able to write a coherent proper review. So I turn to the blogger's best friend...the big honkin' list. Most of these items are positive...but there are a few nitpicks and one or two actual complaints. (WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND...Don't read this if you haven't seen TDK and you want to be unspoiled. Fair warning.) Let's get after it:

1. A week of reading glowing reviews and talking to friends who had seen it left me wondering if The Dark Knight could live up to the hype and if it had any surprises for me left in it. Well, it blew past the hype and...yes...there were plenty of surprises.

2. It is easily the best comic book hero movie ever made (moving past, for my money, Spider-Man 2 and X2: X-Men United).

3. TDK is also one of the very best crime dramas I've ever seen. It is very densely plotted and features many lengthy procedural segments. It's nice to see The World's Greatest Detective doing some actual detective work.

4. Heath Ledger created a Joker who had audience members visibly squirming every time he got within arm's length of another onscreen character. If you thought Jack Nicholson was more clown than Clown Prince of Crime, then TDK's (and Ledger's) Joker is good for what ails you.

5. Aaron Eckhart comes close to stealing the movie as Gotham D.A. Harvey Dent. This is a Batman movie featuring Harvey which you end up rooting for him to not become Two-Face. It's a heartbreaking character arc and a terrific performance from Eckhart.

6. Director Christopher Nolan, showing off his flair for verisimilitude and realism, leaves the origin of The Joker up in the air (no vat of acid) and gives Harvey Dent pre-scarring references to his lucky coin and the nickname "Two-Face." Very well-done.

7. A recurring notion for me throughout TDK was the film's many callbacks and seeming homages to the work of legendary director John Ford. For instance, the memorial service for Harvey Dent and the covering up of his misdeeds echoed the ceremony and cover-up for Henry Fonda's Lt. Col. Owen Thursday at the end of Ford's Fort Apache. Both characters were buried as "heroes" in the interest of maintaining morale.

8. TDK's composers, Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard came up with a great recurring musical motif for The Joker. Whenever Joker goes into his "Wanna know how I got these scars?" routine, a cacophony of strings begins buzzing like an insect...growing louder and increasingly high-pitched as his tirade continues. It's evocative of Bernard Herrmann's classic work on Psycho.

9. Commissioner Fucking Gordon just rules all. Up until Nolan took over the Batman film franchise, it was infuriating to see what directors Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher had done to of the most vital and interesting characters in the Batman mythology. Gary Oldman's Gordon gets it so right...kicking ass on his own and serving as Batman's closest battlefield ally.

10. I also love Nolan and Christian Bale's fresh take on Bruce Wayne...making him a raging, narcissistic asshole. This schmuck is the last guy in Gotham you'd suspect of being Batman.

11. Lucius Fox's response to Bruce's request for a new cowl: "You want to be able to turn your head, don't you?" I know that Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and George Clooney...none of whom were able to turn their heads even an inch in their a laugh out of that line.

12. That said...I wasn't nuts about the new, helmet-style cowl. Or the new suit in general.

13. More John Ford: The debate over who was the better choice for handling lawlessness, the lawyer or the vigilante?...was also a prevalent theme in Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

14. As much as I admired Zimmer and Howard's work, I'm bugged that Nolan's films don't feature an instantly recognizable "Batman Theme." Danny Elfman's Batman theme (from the Burton films) is one of my all-time favorite pieces of movie music.

15. In the acting department, I guess Maggie Gyllenhaal is a step or two up from Katie Holmes in Batman Begins. In the looks department? Many, many steps down.

16. The Bat-Pod, while cool, was impractically designed. One of these days, Batman is going to get his cape caught in the back tire. Put a fender on that thing before your neck gets snapped, Bruce!

17. Michael Caine = Best. Alfred. Ever.

18. More John Ford: The skyscrapers of Gotham and the streets below served to frame the film's action every bit as much as the ever-present mesas and valleys in Ford's films.

19. Eric Roberts. I'm just always happy to see Eric Roberts in anything. One of the immortal hambones of modern cinema. Refer to The Pope of Greenwich Village for further proof.

20. So many reviewers have referred to TDK's ending as bleak and hopeless. The people of Gotham defied The Joker. They didn't "eat each other" when given the opportunity, as he predicted they would. That's a very hopeful ending.

21. I would've loved more Cillian Murphy...but even bringing back Scarecrow for just a cameo was a nice touch.

22. Looks like Gotham didn't rebuild that ultra mack daddy elevated train system from Batman Begins.

23. The mayor of Gotham was a total dink. Aren't all mayors in movies dinks? Who was the last heroic or even sympathetic mayor in a movie?

24. And the mayor was played by Nestor Carbonell...who played Batman knockoff "Bat Manuel" in the live-action TV version of The Tick. Ha, ha!

25. The opening bank heist reminded me of Heat.

26. Having William Fichtner on hand as the badass, shotgun-wielding, mob bank manager reminded me of Heat.

27. Batman and The Joker ending up across a table from each other reminded me of Heat.

28. I loved the film's emphasis on real-time practical special effects. (Of course, when the DVD comes out, I'll probably learn that most of it was actually CGI...)

29. More John Ford: The decision to cover-up Harvey Dent's crimes was, I thought, a callback to the famous "Print the legend" ending of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

30. I didn't think the Coleman Reese subplot was fleshed out properly. I've seen speculation online that Reese's character might become The Riddler. Ehhh...I don't see it.

31. While watching TDK, I never really thought about Ledger's death until The Joker's line to Batman near the end of the film: "I think you and I are destined to do this forever." If only...

32. I have to give credit to Ain't It Cool News Talkbacker "antonphd" for coming up with the idea originally...but, fuck yes, Aaron Eckhart for Captain America. That movie's already on the books...sign Eckhart up for it, taco pronto.

33. Batman = The Dark Knight. Harvey Dent = "Gotham's White Knight." Again...good stuff.

34. Spontaneous audience applause when Gordon turns up alive and nabs The Joker. I can't remember the last time I heard that kind of reaction in a theater.

35. Why does the Batmobile always have to get destroyed? And they totaled a Lamborghini! My inner gearhead was crying...

36. After Batman saved Rachel from falling...he didn't seem too concerned about Bruce Wayne's guests still being terrorized upstairs by The Joker and his gang, did he?

37. Memo to Christopher Nolan: Listen. No Robin. Ever. This is non-negotiable.

38. Another intriguing online discussion/controversy: Is Harvey Dent dead? Or was he shipped out to Arkham Asylum while Gotham was told he was dead? We know Commissioner Gordon has no qualms about conspiracies and cover-ups. Hell, we thought he was dead for half the movie...

39. Heath Ledger will win that posthumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Etch it in stone.

40. And I won't be surprised if Aaron Eckhart is nominated for the same award. Hell, I'll be disappointed if he isn't.

41. I can't believe Wal-Mart and Target are chockablock with TDK toys. You are nuts...NUTS...if you take a child under the age of 13 or so to this flick. This sucker is a hard PG-13.

42. "Watch me make this pencil disappear."

43. There's never been a comic book hero movie with TDK's body count. The stakes are raised every time The Joker strikes and there is a genuine feeling of helplessness at the film's end with the bomb-rigged ferryboats and the hostages in the high-rise.

44. Having a morally uncompromised character like Lucius Fox (and a universally beloved actor like Morgan Freeman), clash with Bruce/Batman over the ethics of his methodology gave that particular conflict a ton of credibility.

45. Another memo to Nolan: Don't even think of re-casting The Joker at some point. Heath Ledger retired the jersey. Maybe a decade or so down the road...if a movie adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns graphic novel is ever made...maybe then I'd accept another actor as an aged Joker.

46. I get serious Patrick Bateman/American Psycho (a movie I love, BTW) flashbacks whenever Bale goes into "asshole Bruce Wayne" mode. Fire up some Huey Lewis and The News..."Is that a raincoat you're wearing?"

47. As much as I loved TDK, I actually think the mental image I'll carry most vividly from that night at the movies is the little kid on Ben Stiller's shoulders, stabbing him repeatedly in the neck, from the Tropic Thunder trailer. That movie looks piss-yourself hilarious.

48. Nice character-establishment moment: Bruce Wayne dumping his drink off the side of the building at the Harvey Dent fundraiser. Bruce knows he could be eye-to-eye with rough trade at any time of any night. He can't be impaired.

49. One more shout-out for Aaron Eckhart before signing off. I, too, believe in Harvey Dent.

50. If you haven't seen The Dark Knight yet, do so at your earliest convenience.


movie junkie said...

i still wish Katie Holmes had stayed on board as Rachel Dawes for the Dark Knight; it was like the time spent getting familiar with her character in Batman Begins was wasted...

Mike-El said...

Thanks for stopping by. That's one provocative and extremely well-written blog you've got going there. I'll be stopping by regularly.

I definitely think there was a drop-off in emotional investment in the Rachel character brought about by switching actresses. You traded down, Dark Knight!