Friday, July 25, 2008

Because absolutely no one demanded it...

The Den of Mystery Proudly Presents: Buck and Hooper's Somewhat-Delayed-and-Kind-of-Choppy-and-Awkward-Since-It-Was-Conducted-Via-E-mail Tag-Team Review of The Dark Knight!





Be warned, there be spoilers ahead!

Buck:

I guess I'll start with a general, address the elephant in the room item: Ledger. In my opinion, probably the definitive cinematic Joker, though Mark Hamill's voicework will always stand just behind him. Your thoughts on how he approached it?

Hooper:

Hamill voices an older Joker, and one more "clown" oriented. Also very straightforward. Ledger's Joker trumps any other screen attempt because of its scope. There is the criminal mastermind, the "freak" who paints his face, and the truly insane rage underneath it all - that "agent of chaos" factor. From a performance standpoint, it's terrifically unique. It more closely mirrors what I'd wager a lot of people think the Joker acts like in the comics. I can see the old Joker from The Dark Knight Returns coming from this Joker.

Oh, absolutely. The way he took those various tics and mannerisms and constructed such an amazing performance is an incredible accomplishment. As you'd mentioned in another conversation, when he's videotaping the faux-Batman...he's speaking very quietly to the man, then lets loose that booming, frightening "LOOK AT ME!" To turn on a dime like that is a real testament to his ability.

Let's move on to a two-fer (no pun intended, though it would have been a good one) and hit our other two main characters: Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent. I thought Bale was even better this time out as he showed how, through Harvey, Bruce saw a light at the end of the tunnel. Dent symbolized an end to the need for Batman, and the possibility of a normal life with Rachel. Bale played it perfectly. And Eckhart was simply great as Harvey Dent, especially when you consider that he needed to make us love Harvey Dent in a very short amount of time, considering what was around the bend.

Bale's Bruce Wayne is exactly what it should be: smarmy, knowingly rich, the stereotypical playboy - all that as public image. Privately, he's a tormented soul, to a degree, and you get every note of that sad song with Bale's performance. I know some have had a problem with his Batman voice as too rough, too much like a growl, but can't you imagine that's what Frank Miller's Batman sounds like?
I enjoyed Eckhart's Dent because it was exactly - exactly - what I'd imagined Harvey "Two-Face" Dent to be like. He'll be the unsung actor of the bunch until people get a chance to rewatch it and see how much it's his movie as equally as it's Batman's and Joker's.

An aside, I did enjoy the duality of voices between three of the four mains - Batman/Bruce Wayne, Joker and Harvey Dent/Two-Face. Each had their higher pitched, civilized voices, and then when in their darker (or true, in the Joker's sense) persona, the throaty, deep-pitched tone comes out. Only Gordon, the fourth main, doesn't have this duality, because he is balanced the best, probably the "whitest knight" in the whole story.

That leads us to Gordon, and the rest of the cast, before talking general production and then how it adapted the source material.

A quick final comment on Bale's Batman voice...I got the impression a couple of times that he was actually wearing some sort of mouthpiece, which may have impacted the voice. But it makes sense, if you think about it. Most of his body's protected, but if he takes a shot in the jaw...

Gary Oldman was great, but show me a movie where he wasn't. I was unaware until recently that he hadn't wanted to reprise his role (Conflicts with studio? Director? Fellow actor? I have no idea.), but we're so lucky he did. And should he not come back for the inevitable third installment, it will be a shame. Gordon is our true connection to Gotham, and the best case one can make to fight for that city.
As for the rest of the cast, why don't you kick us off for this one? We'll hit Caine, Freeman, Gyllenhaal, and the rest in one fell swoop.

Caine and Freeman are professionals, bringing a legitimacy to anything they're in. That being said, here they don't need to bring anything but their great characterizations of two people trying to help a friend do all he can to achieve a noble goal. Of course they show three dimensions with these characters; they aren't just personifications of Bruce Wayne's conscience. I like how Alfred was fleshed out and given a more...controversial background that better makes him able to understand what "Batman" is going through.

Mags G. does what she needs to make us forget Katie Holmes. Not a bad thing. Her take on Rachel Dawes is more of a Chicagoan - or Gothamite - than Holmes, someone that grew up in a city beset by corruption as opposed to the almost-bratty Holmesian Dawes who you expect to stomp her foot when something doesn't go her way. Gyllenhaal is an adult in an adult role.

Always nice to see Nestor Carbonell getting work.

Can't really add anything to what you've said, other than to say that Batmanuel as the mayor of Gotham is inspired casting.

On to the story. For a 2.5 hour film, it doesn't really feel fat. I know I mentioned the Hong Kong sequence could have been trimmed, but there's nothing inherently wrong with it. The film on the whole is very well constructed and plotted, taking lots of inspirations from classic Batman stories. I saw some references to The Killing Joke, and what may have been elements taken from the very first Joker story from all the way back in 1940. The Two-Face set-up was also well-done. The backstory for why Harvey has the coin wasn't nearly as ham-fisted as it could have been.

The Hong Kong sequence just showed what Batman could do. It wasn't superfluous, could've been handled differently, but I thought it effective.

As much of the story deals with the Two-Face origin, it stays close to the "crusading DA with a dark side" stories that have been told about Dent since his first appearance. Thinking back to Batman: The Animated Series, while the agent of change is different, the end result isn't. And to preserve the coin - like you say, not a goofy gimmick, but a clever bit of character, later twisted.

Killing Joke, Year One and The Dark Knight Returns (for some Joker characterization) are used. I enjoyed the Gordon crisis at the end, as it mirrored the last issue of Year One, probably the best written origin/early days-story of Batman. I don't know if Year Two was drawn from, or what other story beats were referenced. I haven't read enough of the comics.

Having listened to it a half-dozen times through since I purchased it, I can say the soundtrack is on par with any I've heard in recent memory. I don't know what rules govern nominating a sequel's score, but hopefully they can be tiptoed around, because this is deserving recognition. I'm not a fan of atypical instrumentation, preferring regular orchestra, but whatever they're doing - synthesizers, razors on violins, guitar pedal effects applied to a string section - it's terrific.

How do you feel Nolan's grown, as both writer and director?

As writer, he continues to improve, honing his A-game. I loved the interrogation room scene between Batman and the Joker. ("You complete me!") Direction-wise, I think he's moving into another level (the prisoner transfer chase sequence was incredible), and he'll be there once he can get those fight scenes down pat. Better than in Batman Begins, but still a little sloppy to my eyes. I'd love to see Paul Greengrass film a Batman film given the fight scenes in the Bourne films (even though I know you don't care for that sort of fight choreography).

I'll have to check out the soundtrack. I really enjoyed Batman's musical cue in this one.

Over the last few nights, I re-watched Batman Begins, and I have to say the fights look better than they did originally. I also wasn't opposed to what we saw in The Dark Knight, though there were too many quick cuts that diluted some of the effect.

It may be the quick cutting that I have a problem with. Which makes me sound somewhat hypocritical given my adoration for the last two Bourne films (which feature lots of quick-cutting in their fights), but I think I follow the editing in those films better than in the Batman films.

Another note on the score: There are stretches that might as well be called "hopeful swells" and it seems that with little exception they end without a full "major chord" release, letting either a melancholy theme bleed in or else something related to the Joker's theme. The music then matches the narrative, of every good deed, all hope, coming under fire from something operating beyond the spheres of regular logic.

Nolan has evolved his action framing, and directs a car chase the likes of which we haven't seen in thirty + years. But we don't want to talk about just the action. What about everything else? I'd say he shows the realized potential seen in Memento.

While not made as an "award-bait" film, The Dark Knight is a miracle of summer movie-going: great from the ground up, invigorating and entertaining without talking the audience for granted at any step in the process. Despite the bleak prospects and tragic character arcs, I couldn't help but feel refreshed after leaving the theatre. I'd seen the next step in comic book adaptation, in "mainstream" movie-making. This is a fusion film, like Star Wars or Indiana Jones, taking raw, pulpy, genre source material and forming something greater than its origins, while at the same time without condescending to those same tomes that birthed the characters, concepts and dynamic stories.

I would like to comment briefly on the final scene before my wrap-up. The choice that Batman makes, to take the fall for the wrongs Harvey commits after his accident, is exactly the right one. Gordon's little speech to his son sums it up perfectly: "Because he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now...and so we'll hunt him, because he can take it. Because he's not a hero. He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector...a dark knight." Batman should be respected by the people he protects, but he doesn't want their love or adoration. One thing that still bothers me about Spider-Man 3 is that he becomes a celebrity to the people of New York. That never sat right with me, because it didn't feel like Spider-Man. Likewise, Batman being fawned over by the public wouldn't feel like Batman. Let him take the heat for what Harvey did, because the people still need to believe in Harvey Dent. They need to believe in what he stood for.

More than just a great comic book movie, The Dark Knight is a great movie period. Nolan & Co. have taken material that used to only appeal to a small portion of the viewing public and craft something truly wonderful. Of the first X-Men film, Bryan Singer said something to the effect of, "I didn't make an action movie. I made a character-based movie that has action in it." The Dark Knight isn't a comic book movie. It's a serious crime drama that happens to feature characters from comic books. Simply put, it's a damn good film.


4 comments:

Leslie "Rocky" Davis said...

Like Ledger with his improv acting when Gordon is promoted to commish:

*claps*

Great review, guys. You've made great points on nearly every aspect of the movie. I have to admit, although Bale is still not my favorite Batman, I liked him more in The Dark Knight than in Batman Begins. I still don't think his Bruce Wayne is accurate, at least when he showboats. (I mean, the Bruce Wayne from The Animated Series was never excessively smug, nor, to my knowledge, was he in the comic. For example, in TDK, when he gets off the helicopter with three super models, plus, the beginning of his speech about Harvey aferwards.) I do believe he plays the private Bruce Wayne well, although a little too naive and insecure. ---I'm ranting. Most assuredly though, to make one last, random and extrinsic point to my Bale point, Ledger's performance of the Joker is and will always be the standard. (And I don't consider Nicholson's performance to be the old standard at all.)

Finn said...

Ledger was the reason I was most excited for this film. When I first saw the trailer I couldnt' believe the guy playing the joker on screen was Heath Ledger. I didn't know Mark Hamill did a voice over and I couldn't believe Ledger could do a joker voice like that. I'm curious as the whether or not Hamill was originally intented to do a voice over. I bet Ledger had a pretty creepy joker voice but never got the chance to record audio in a studio before he died. I guess maybe we'll see in the dvd's special features. I'm also curious about the end. Maybe we just assumed he would die because of the first movie or maybe they did change it after all. In my opinion they could have killed him in 2 ways. One, Batman throws him off the building like he did but without saving him. This would give even more reason to blame harvey's stuff on him and I don't think he'd feel to bad considering it was self defense. The second way would have been the better way to kill the joker. Have Harvey shoot him when he's given the chance. It appeared this is what the joker wanted in the movie, he didn't put the gun to his own head thinking harvery wouldn't do it. He knew that would be the ultimate way of corrupting harvey. I'm not complaining I'm just curious about the matter. I think the way they ended it was really good I'm just hoping they leave the joker out of any future sequels. Just because he lived doesn't mean they have to keep him. Especially since it just won't be the same without Ledger.

The Den of Mystery said...

Finn,

Mark Hamill did not provide the voice for the Joker in this film--that was all Ledger.

Hamill provided the voice of the Joker for Batman: the Animated Series and several other animated series (Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Justice League Unlimited, etc.) from 1992 until just a year or two ago.

That's what we were referring to. Sorry if there was any confusion.

-Buck

Finn said...

I didn't think it was possible but I'm even more impressed with Ledger. Wow I can't believe that was all him. Thanks for the info.