Friday, July 25, 2008

Movies: So there's this Dark Knight....

Photobucket...Well, I've finally seen "The Dark Knight," which didn't open in New Zealand until this week (so basically I've spent the last week frantically trying to avoid online spoilers from everyone who saw it already in the US). I can't add too much of substance to the reams of online applause, except to say yeah, it really is pretty good, and I'm rather stunned to see it breaking box office records as it's a rather dark, long picture with little of the buoyant joy you've seen in the Spider-Man/Superman movies. It ain't for wee kids, that's for sure, and pushes the PG-13 envelope very hard.

Time will tell how it holds up (hey, I loved "Batman" 1989 when it came out, but now, it's certainly a bit creaky around the edges). "Dark Knight" is not flawless – director Christopher Nolan's plot is sometimes too twisty for its own good, and there's a few clunky transitions (what exactly was the point of having Cillian Murphy show up again? Missed opportunity there) – but overall, fantastic performances and a meaty set of themes make this a comic book movie worth chewing over. It's far more like "The Departed" or "Heat" with superhero capes than it is any other comic-book flick I've seen. It's grasping for hard truths at the core of the Batman mythos, and really treats the concept with more respect (even deification) than any of the Batman movies to date.

PhotobucketHeath Ledger, is, I'll add to the accolades, absolutely stunning as The Joker, even if the character is a bit of a leap from most of the comic-book interpretations. I loved the sheer sticky, fidgety physicality he brought to the character, and the mad-dog violence that made you believe he could actually be a physical threat for the Batman. (Unlike Jack Nicholson, who was so swaddled in latex I never found him all that scary.) It just makes you feel so damned bad that this guy's incredible talent – honestly, is this the same person who was in "Brokeback Mountain"? – never got a chance to fully mature. But what a fine epitaph this role is, sure to be nominated for an Oscar next year. Ledger captures the core of menace and mystery that has made The Joker comics' most resonant villain for 70 years now.

Ledger's getting all the ink, but wow, isn't Gary Oldman something as Commissioner James Gordon? He was very good in the first movie, too, but in this sequel he's even better – lifting the never-give-up ordinary man's point of view into the picture. I always hated the way the '90s "Batman" series wasted the blubbery Pat Hingle as Gordon, and am glad to finally see the character get a bit of respect. Oldman's spent so much time playing creeps, lunatics and vampires that it's great to see him so fundamentally decent a role.

I particularly enjoyed the movie's take on Harvey Dent/Two-Face, which captured the sheer tragedy at the heart of the character (a moment utterly lost with Tommy Lee Jones' cavorting in the godawful "Batman Forever"). While the "Two-Face" makeup was so grotesque I actually found it kind of distracting, Aaron Eckhart still managed to take Harvey Dent on a truly tragic journey throughout the course of the movie.

PhotobucketAnd Christian Bale continues to refine his restrained take on Bruce Wayne/Batman, and remains the best of the half-dozen or so actors to play the role. Bale's almost overshadowed in this movie with all the other actors, but he has a kind of calm center that makes you focus on him whenever he's on screen. (Although, yeah, the "growly Batman" voice is just this side of ridiculous.)

...Anyway, you don't need my silly blog post to tell you to go see this. I wouldn't quite call it the best comic book movie ever (sorry, I'm still too much of a Spider-Man fanboy so still say the Spider-Man 1/2 combo trumps this), but it surely is one of the best. Christopher Nolan's crafted a compelling, truly grown-up vision of Batman in these films, and I only hope it doesn't get cheapened and diluted down in the inevitable sequels, as too often happens.

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