Saturday, July 19, 2008

What the people deserve. What the people need.

A warning. If you have not seen the film, turn back now. I could give a quick review of the movie without delving into the depths of its devlish details (how's that for some alliteration?), but to do so would leave only an empty husk of what this film is. If you're going to comment on The Batman, you need those details. Those details are what make this something more than just "another" superhero movie.

So again, if you haven't seen the film, turn back now.

And even now, about 13 hours removed from the movie, I am still in silent awe of what I've beheld. As I sit here, listening to the soundtrack, still mulling detail upon detail in my head, I'd be quite challenged to stand up and give a lecture on the film. Why? Because I don't think I absorbed everything there was to absorb. Truly, like films like Shawshank Redemption and The Godfather, The Dark Knight has such a wealth of information to feed to you that at the end of the film you feel an odd sense of complete satisfaction (like a huge steak), yet also a yearning for more.

Let's look at just a few of those details.

The Joker: Any conversation on this film has to start with Heath Ledger's interpretation of the Joker. This is not the cackling persona many of you are probably familiar with from previous films and TV shows. This isn't even the Joker you know from the Batman Animated Series (a role which Mark Hamill filled admirably). This IS the dark comic Joker. This is Arkham Asylum Joker. A sick and twisted individual who's as frightening as any horror villain you can name. I was worried the first time he gave his speech about getting his scars. Just another villain with a sad backstory, I thought. But by the third time he explains it, each story sadistically different from the last, I understood. The Joker is horrifying in his sheer inhumanity. His stories do nothing more than humor us and our need to "explain" his sadism. He is a man unmotivated by greed, unmotivated by power. He is a man that exists wholly, and purely, as the antithesis (or is that companion?) to Batman. He is less a man than a symbol, and if Batman is meant to be incorruptible, surely the Joker here is "un-virtuable."

And that's really where I was happily surprised (though I shouldn't have been). Joker is more than just "some villain," something that even Ra's Al Ghoul felt like in the first movie. In the film he utters this to Batman: "You complete me." And as creepily funny as that moment was, that is what Joker is in the comics and in this film. His initial goal is to unmask Batman, but somewhere along the line he realizes he just wants to exist alongside him. Nolan got this so right, its unnerving. It helps that Heath Ledger does a fantastic job, complete with creepy lip licking and smacking and fantastic zombie-like shuffling. Did anyone else notice that his face-paint "melts" over time so that it almost seems like his entire face is melting? In a word, fantastic.

Harvey "Two-Face": Eckhart does a good job as Harvey Dent, though not as outstanding as Ledger's Joker. One thing I loved about this iteration though, was the story of Harvey's coin. The transformation of the coin from a 100% choice, to 50% chance is so parallel to his transformation and whoever's idea it was to introduce that as Harvey's "thing" even before his scarring (if memory serves, in the comics, the coin does not initially belong to him, nor does it appear until the moment he gets scarred) needs a medal.

The pace: You know, to be honest, I wasn't digging the pace early on. The bank robbery was cute but a bit unspectacular. Likewise the scene with the duplicate Bat"men" and the Scarecrow seemed like it was included for no other reason than to show Batman in action for those who may not have seen the first movie. However, the very moment that the Joker pulls off his "pencil" trick, I was captured and from there the rest was gold. Nolan carries an unbelievable level of tension that just does not let up over 2.5 hours. The movie feels like a thriller, without being a thriller. Even if some of the plot points are a little predictable (the clowns as the captives in the high-rise scene for example), Nolan manages to spruce it up with some very unexpected stuff (Batman taking on and almost incapacitating the soldiers). The way he paints Batman as the anti-hero (or perhaps pragmatist is more apt) really is something else.

The ending: As the movie came to a close, I almost found myself disappointed that it ends with nothing more than Batman tackling Harvey. Of course, now I know that moment was nothing more than a lead up for the Jim Gordon speech, which was a DOOZY and easily my favorite moment (even amongst car chases, fist fights, flying and fanatical murders). I was at odds a few times about what the film was REALLY about, but now I think I know. Sacrifice. Doing what needs to be done. The movie ends on such a low note, and yet I couldn't imagine a better ending. The duality of what the city needs, versus what it deserves. In the middle of the film, Bruce turns to Alfred and utters these prophetic words: "I now understand what I must become, to defeat men like him." And only in the end, as the "White Knight" Harvey Dent lies broken on the ground with a gun in his hand and blood on his hands, and Batman assumes the (unjust) responsibility for the man's sins, can the audience really understand what "The Dark Knight" means. He becomes the killer that is needed to defeat the Joker, but in name only. As a man he stays true to his principles. It's such a wonderfully poetic explanation, that I was left absolutely speechless at the end. This movie begs for a sequel, not because it will sell gangbusters (because it will) and not because the audience will yearn for more (because they will), but because it demands one.

This is a story that doesn't need to be finished, bit it is one that deserves to be finished.

Now everyone, go out and get a copy of Alan Moore's "The Watchmen," one of the densest, most satisfying pieces of fiction ever made.

No comments: