Movie Review: The Dark Knight
Going to the movies has become so expensive lately that I’m convinced that I’m part of an impoverished social class forced to wait for everything to come out on DVD. I’ve been wondering what all of this The Dark Knight hub-bub is about, so I dug deep down in my pockets and spent $12.50(!) to catch up with the rest of the country and tell you all about it.
I’m not a big fan of action or comic book movies, and the word “blockbuster” usually turns me off because such easy accessibility usually means that most of the plot points are obvious. There’s something about entertainment for the masses that usually clashes with my tendency to think critically at all times if you catch my drift. Likewise, everyone already knows the basic premise of any Batman story: Bruce Wayne, a billionaire trust fund baby, spends his spare time fighting crime in Gotham City, and in this installment mainly that of the totally un-funny clown The Joker. Since it’s the year 2008 I expected dazzling special effects and an updated storyline that would draw at least some of the silliness out of a concept as antiquated as a caped crusader. Director Christopher Nolan delivers on this front with a legitimate “blockbuster,” but sacrifices some good film making in the process. The special effects were mind-blowing and made me feel immersed in the world of Gotham City, and the tone of the film was seamlessly dismal and suspenseful. Nolan only misses the mark by keeping too much corny comic-book bravado, relying on flat 1950′s-style characterizations of the everyman, and under-utilizing some of his cast. Overall, he successfully updated the look and feel of familiar superheros with a new-millennium twist and was supported by a well-nuanced script.
First the fantastic: Heath Ledger‘s performance as The Joker was easily the highlight of this film. While it’s true that his premature death added a bonus layer of eeriness to every minute he spent on-screen, his depiction of a serious lunatic is what makes The Dark Knight‘s Joker the scariest superhero villain I have ever seen. Forget what you may remember about Jack Nicholson’s Joker in 1989′s Batman and think more along the lines of Nicholson’s performance in Kubrick’s The Shining. This Joker was messed-up, thrown-off, shiver-inducing, and freaky as all get out. Clowns are scary on their own, but Ledger also had everything from the facial tics to the blank maniacal stares of the truly loco nailed cold – just MAD crazy and CRAZY mad. If I were a citizen of Gotham and ran into him in a dark alley, I would rather just lay down and die than ever try to battle or run. In short, The Joker was really no joke at all, and as much as I spent most of the movie waiting for him to reappear on-screen so I could soak up such a great performance, I spent all of his time on-screen deliciously freaked out, sometimes with my eyes or ears covered. Please do not let your children see this, because unlike Thembi, they will not be sufficiently comforted by the fact that in real life The Joker is a super-cute and talented whiteboy who passed away too soon.
Christian Bale is a student of the craft of acting and more attractive than anyone has business being, which made his Bruce Wayne accurately similar to the trust fund babies at Harvard’s social clubs. Bale’s depiction of Wayne’s alter-ego, however, was only so-so. I realized early-on in the film that when Bruce Wayne dresses up as Batman something funny happens to his teeth and his voice becomes raspy, but it should still be obvious to anyone with two eyes that he’s actually Bruce Wayne in a mask. These rather silly transformations occurred for no identifiable reason and simply made me groan. Perhaps this is due to my feelings about comic books and action flicks, but I couldn’t get David Caruso and his dramatic one-liners on CSI: Miami out of my mind – and that is not a good thing. Furthermore, Bruce Wayne’s dilemma as a tortured but insanely wealthy soul only solicited a “boo hoo” from me (hey, we’re in a recession and envying the rich is on my mind, ok?). Still, if you like gadgets and special effects you’re likely to be satisfied with this Batman, as Nolan succeeded with lots of “nifty” and “neat” Batman-y stuff. Finally, and please allow me to reiterate, Christian Bale looks quite tasty with that mask off.
Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman (below), and Michael Caine, three amazingly reliable actors, each put forth great performances that seemed stunted by the whims of the director. Oldman, who has brought a unique three-dimensionality to characters ranging from Dracula to Lee Harvey Oswald in the past, is only granted the role of little more than a caricature of “The Good-Guy Cop” in The Dark Knight. Likewise, Freeman and Caine’s lack of screen-time made me want to contact the AARP and cry age discrimination. While both actors played their parts with aplomb, whenever there was a lull in the action I wanted to shout “get the old pros out here, please!” And yes, dear Morgan was the only black star in the movie, although we were treated to a rather diesel and possibly S-Curled Michael Jai White who you may remember as Spawn from the movie of the same title or Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? He also portraed Mike Tyson in a 1995 TV movie biopic. So yeah…there’s that…
Watching Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character was like getting to know Laura Bush. I have never had a problem with this actress in the past but the wardrobe and hair choices made for her were disastrous, her lack of character definition was distracting, and her mealy-mouthed line delivery was so flat that I just wished for her to go away immediately. Perhaps her character’s weakness supports The Dark Knight as a “man’s” movie with no other major female characters, but she was particulary bland for a go-getter type and respected character’s love interest. Aaron Eckhart’s chin dimple put forth a better performance (above left). Sadly, the rest of Eckhart’s body didn’t get to show it’s true mettle until the latter portion of the 2.5 hour movie, and by then I was checking my watch and ready to move on.
Overall, you simply must see this movie or else you’ll probably feel foolish in a few weeks – the plot spoilers are going to be rampant and I have the feeling that one of Ledger’s best lines, “Why So Serious?”, is destined to become a pop culture catchphrase any day now. At 2.5 hours it’s a little long, so smuggle in a beverage and some snacks to get through a masterpiece that, in spite of its misgivings, is at the very least unavoidable and at it’s best shiny, flashy, and one of the final performances of a fabulous actor.
Score: The ticket was $12.50 and what Thembi would do (if she could) is ask for only about $2.50 back (4 of 5 stars). Convinced yet? Check out this trailer and go buy a ticket online because seats for this one have been going fast.
Note: It would be wrong for me not to post the video for Prince’s “Batdance,” a certified JAM from 1989′s Batman, so enjoy.