18 July 2008

Late Night, Dark Knight

Right. Like you didn't know that I would write today, since it's already apparent that Batman motivates me to action. Or at least passionate grandstanding. And sure I'm a little tired this morning; midnight shows will do that to you of course, particularly when they are nearly three hours long. But really how could I NOT write today? Really.

Before I delve into that though, this film gave me a bonus treat that I didn't expect. I sat in a darkened theater, surrounded by hundreds of die-hard, cut-throat batman freaks anxious for their first glimpse of this long expected film. I include myself in this group, squarely and appropriately attired in my "I Killed Jason Todd and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt" shirt, hurling insults like "douche bag" across my father and at a random guy in front of us who just wouldn't shut up. I'm bad in normal movies, having no qualms about displaying my irritation for other people's inconsiderate or just blatantly rude conduct. Seriously, the next cell phone I see being pulled out in a theater is gonna get smashed Get Smart style. Imagine, then, how rabid I am at the premiere of The Dark Knight. I know, it makes you never want to see a movie with me. Alas.

Anyway, the moment the Harry Potter teaser (if it even counts as that) was over, the next trailer appeared and immediately struck me. Dear god, this is Watchmen, I realized as a man is incinerated by radiation. And let me tell you, I got so excited for that film as I watched the trailer. I sincerely hope that Zack Snyder knows what he is doing with this incredible piece of work, though if the trailer is anything to go by, it certainly appears so. I'm very excited.

Which brings me to Dark Knight. Don't worry, I'm not going to spoil plot points or anything, since not everyone has seen it yet. But I will give you my impressions of what I witnessed. And let me start by saying, in an era of hack directors, even once-revered ones returning to the chair from a hiatus, and in the midst of a money-machine hollywood who can't scrape a new idea off the bottom of their shoe, it is refreshing, yes even rewarding, to see someone like Christopher Nolan make not just a first, but now a second film that captures the essence of the the source material. He did it not just successfully, which is what I'd call something like Iron Man but overwhelming and brilliantly. Nolan has managed to more than satisfy any joe off the street looking for a good film, and rabid Batman fans like myself.

From the get-go, I had faith in his directing ability. I was more nervous with Begins because while I like Nolan, I didn't know what he'd bring to the franchise. It turned out he brought a lot of innovation, faithfulness and a keen understanding of what makes these characters so intriguing and worth the seventy or so years of stories based on them. People I spoke to about the sequel were concerned it would suck, after giving us a great first film. I disagreed, even though the Heath Ledger announcement surprised me. But I had faith that it would be a great venture, and by gods, it was.

Heath Ledger was absolutely incredible as the Joker. It has been mentioned that he based his character off of the Joker in an Alan Moore (writer of Watchmen graphic novel) comic, and it is true. His performance had Killing Joke written all over it, which I assume Nolan intended since there are some very similar lines and even situations in this film to those of the book. I also noted a bit of Dark Knight Returns in the exploration of the the Batman/Joker dichotomy. All in all, Ledger has managed to put Nicholson to so much shame in his portrayal. As my father put it, "I've never seen someone play a crazy person so well. He was awful and in a strange way you liked him." It is true. My screenwriting class has often discussed character writing and props to both the script and Ledger - there isn't a minute of screen time in that the Joker doesn't occupy where you don't feel constantly on edge. They've created an incredibly frightening and unsafe character.

Alright, enough geekdom. How was the movie?

Fantastic. More than fantastic. I absolutely and unabashedly loved it and it's nice not to feel like I need to justify that. See the movie and tell me if you don't enjoy it. It is gritty; it is well crafted; it is disturbing; it is smart and it is a ride from start to finish. Even at three in the morning.

I particularly loved how dark it was - not the Tim Burton Penguin dark, but Batman dark. They played the escalation aspect, as well as the cause and reaction of the Joker and Batman rather brilliantly. The psychology of Batman, of Harvey Dent, of the Joker was there. It is an incredible thing to watch and be able to pinpoint subtle but pivotal character moments which change everyone, for better or worse. This movie gives you that; it gives you the very thing Matt Leavitt and I once discussed one mission night: grey in a world that desperately wants black and white. Nolan has created an intelligent piece that understands maddness and order, who understands the strain of undertaking the mantle of "good" in a world against you, and not simply in an over-the-top super hero sort of way.

My one concern - the revival of Rachel Dawes' character with a new actress (which is to say the Maggie Gyllenhaal is a million times better than ol' side-o-the-mouth-talking-anorexic-scientologist-katie; but I hate recurring characters who are played by different actors) - was completely taken care of. The necessity of her character returning made a lot of sense, so that eased my mind. Plus Gyllenhaal was great.

And then there's Harvey Dent.. but look, I can't explain that without going further than I should in this particular blog. Maybe a bit later. Suffice it to say, Aaron Eckhart did a great job with some moments that truly spoke to me. Really, there wasn't a weak performance in the cast (although as Will pointed out, the mayor should tone down the eyeliner). And as for Batman, in his new suit and gadgets? Well our hero has learned a lot from the last film, grows darker even during this one and frankly is just a bad ass. Just you wait and see.

Bottom line: It was incredible. Better than Batman Begins which I never expected. Way better, and since the first was really good... just go see it already.

"All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy."
-The Killing Joke, Alan Moore