Sunday, August 10, 2008
I finally saw The Dark Knight--and Heath Ledger tore it up.
If someone led me blindfolded to the theater, and then let me suffer through the trailers and the DC and Legendary films logos, and just let me open my eyes on the first scenes of this movie--I'd have been hating from the jump. Heights. Clowns. There are some things I am not comfortable with--and heights and clowns are but two. I also am uncomfortable with gross deformation--and I knew Harvey Dent was a main character.
This movie eclipses my phobias. This movie actually exceeded my expectations, which were pretty high. See, I expect certain things from superhero movies, or just summer action blockbusters in general--
Satisfaction. The kind where you see a resolution, and you take it--fuck that.
Yes, pardon my language, but this movie does a lot more than just offer up explosions and action, violence and the old good v. evil line. This movie delves into what people fear most--sheer unpredictable anarchic chaos, and what heroism, symbolic and real, really mean. This movie returns to where Batman Begins left off, but make no mistake, this is as much the Joker's movie as it is Batman's.
Maybe more so.
The 1989 Batman featured Jack Nicholson as the Joker. He was almost polished but decidedly brutal and crazy but there was something almost suave in that characterizaton. You could imagine him smelling of greasepaint and maybe the carnation in his lapel. Heath Ledger's Joker smells of greasepaint, all right, and sweat and maybe the stink of his and your desperation combined, and a little bit of the pants-shitting smell of his last victim. He makes a pencil disappear in some guy's head. He has greasy hair and not any polish--just chaos and drive and that slap and suck in his speech that remind you of his scars. Which he explains--differently. A few times.
This is no pretty villian. What this movie created was a real monster--a scary psycopath that did what he did for no other reason than liking the effects. And he gives you enough of his rap that you know he's wrong--but you cannot help but watch the effects, and he makes you wonder why you watch.
The cops are corrupt in Gotham, and Lieutenant Gordon is doing all he can, and maybe up-and-coming DA Harvey Dent has some plans about how to put away their city's real malefactors. But really, it's always up to Batman--the guy who does the things regular people can't, or won't. Christian Bale's Batman is the protagonist, but he too, is cast as questionable--
Is he a law-breaking vigilante?
Does he overstep when he uses technology to spy on the whole city?
What rule, if any, does he live by?
And we find out. Morgan Freedman as Lucius Fox provides the wonderful toys to Bruce Wayne that he uses as Batman, but it's never exactly spelled out that he acknowledges that his employer is the Batman. He is ready to quit over the issue of privacy when asked to oversee a use of a sonar-like program using cellphones to spy on Gotham residents--but he understands the present danger.
Batman's steadfast rule is he won't kill--but Joker is a compelling argument for killing--a man unafraid to die, even daring him to kill him. And so long as he is alive, he promises more terror. Batman is ready to break many rules--but the Joker is outside of all rules. Bruce Wayne is tired, and torn--he loves Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal) but she loves Harvey Dent. And Dent promises to clean up Gotham--and Wayne believes in him. A lot. And if Dent cleans up Gotham, there will be no need for Batman, and maybe Wayne can live a normal life. But what about what Rachel wants?
The drawback, and I would say, the only one, to all this is Rachel--I don't mean to put down Maggie Gyllenhaal, but she isn't Katie Holmes. Her performance lacked some of the "girl-next-door" quality Holmes exudes in bunches, and was more mature--that she loved Dent better is clear--but maybe too clear. Bruce's hope that he has a future with her in a post-Batman world never really seems secure. I only think I noticed the differences between the actresses and how the part worked because I watched Batman Begins the night before.
But make no mistake--this is largely the Joker's movie. He drives the action, and Heath Ledger has created a villian, an unpredictable nutjob, a psycho, for the ages. There is a scene where Joker visits and taunts a recently-maimed and bereaved Harvey Dent, which fascinates as it repulses. It is dark--but compelling. (Oh, and the Two-Face make-up is awesome. realistic--scary.)
I can not recommend this movie highly enough. It makes me profoundly sad, though, that Ledger is gone. He tore this movie up. He killed as the Joker. He embodied one mad bad dangerous son of a bitch, and it was a joy to watch. A strange one--but then, "that which does not kill you--makes you stranger."