Thursday, February 4, 2010

“The Dark Knight” – Once is not enough.

I think the box office returns after four weeks pretty much sums up how great this movie is. Well, maybe not, considering that “Wanted” pulled in $132 million (I am not making this up). For “The Dark Night,” the people got it right for a change. After a month, it’s pulled in close to $450 million and is still going strong. If you haven’t seen this movie, you need to go see it because it’s friggin’ awesome.

Nearly everything about this movie was flawless (I’ll get to the one thing that wasn’t a little later). The special effects were spectacular, the plot was fantastic, the music was perfect and the acting was amazing, with the exception of one person (the one flaw). What made this movie better than its predecessor, “Batman Begins,” was Heath Ledger. When I saw the previews a year ago, I knew he was going to be the best part of the film. Unlike some of the idiots in Hollywood, I thought he deserved the best supporting actor nominations based on the preview alone, rather than touting this posthumous nonsense. He was so good that some people didn’t even want to see the movie because he was so disturbing in his role as the Joker.

I always appreciate a good plot and this one was about the best you could ask for. It was simple, but complex and never loses the audience. The Joker wants to kill Batman, Bruce Wayne wants to pass the crime fighting torch on to Harvey Dent, and Harvey wants to end all crime in Gotham City. The complexity comes in with the way the Joker manipulates everyone. The best example is when he saves the mob’s money and is rewarded with half of it. He stacks it all up in a warehouse and sets it on fire in front of the mob guy, saying he can do what he wants with it. His entire motivation in life is to fuck with people in increasingly demented ways. Case in point, he tells the story of his face several times, each time different and more disturbing than the last.

As I mentioned earlier, this movie was nearly flawless. The reason it wasn’t was because of Maggie Gyllenhaal. For one thing, she is the oldest thirty year-old on the planet. Seriously, I think she’s really Jake’s mom, not sister. She’s also a terrible actress. I’m not sure why Katie Holmes wasn’t reprising her role as Rachel Dawes (Tom wouldn’t let her out of the basement?), but wasn’t there anyone out there besides Maggie? I can’t tell you how glad I was when she was killed off. Plus, it was a smart move to kill off Dawes, so they wouldn’t be tempted to fall into the same trap as “Spiderman 3.”

Enough of the negativity; this movie was too good for that. Obviously, the Joker was the main focus of the film, but there were many other great things as well. Aaron Eckhart played district attorney Harvey Dent, who eventually becomes Two-Face. He did a very good job in the role, but what made it great was when he becomes Two-Face. This happens when he and Rachel are kidnapped by the Joker and placed in two buildings, each filled with explosives. Batman must choose which one to save and goes after Rachel, while sending Gordon after Harvey. Since the Joker is constantly screwing with everybody’s heads, it is no surprise that he switched the addresses on Batman. Batman finds himself rescuing Harvey instead and barely escapes the building with Harvey in tow. Harvey’s face had been doused in fuel and catches fire, severely burning him. The effects, coupled with the transformation of Harvey’s personality create an unforgettable character. We are treated to several scenes where half of Harvey’s face is missing and you can see his teeth, facial muscles and tendons all moving in exquisite detail. Not only was it gruesome and awesome to the eye, it was so well done that I would have no trouble believing they actually burned his face to get the effects right.

Not to be outdone was Heath Ledger. I can’t stress how fantastic he was as the Joker. Remember how good Jack Nicholson was in 1989’s “Batman” and how everyone said it could never be topped? Well, they were wrong. Nicholson’s portrayal will always be remembered, but his Joker was almost a different character. Nicholson had a lot of humor and wackiness written into his character, where Ledger had almost no humor. Please remember that this was intentional for both characters. Nicholson’s director, Tim Burton, wanted a villain who was almost likable, which was actually a large part of the plot. Ledger’s director, Christopher Nolan, wanted a villain who was the counterpart of Batman, but not an opposite. He wanted a character who was equally as unstable as Batman (yes, unstable; watch “Batman Begins” again and you’ll see) and equally as frightening to his foes. In addition, Nolan wanted the Joker to be frightening in a way that Nicholson’s Joker was missing and that is what puts Ledger on top of Nicholson. They both did everything they could to make their character perfect, but Ledger was just given a deeper character to work with. The facial expressions, the delivery of his dialogue, and even the little quirks of his speaking were accomplished perfectly. In one scene, the Joker sneaks into Harvey’s hospital disguised as a nurse; a female nurse, complete with dress and heels. It was both hysterical and creepy to watch him as he’s walking away from the hospital in a strange sort of non-knee bending walk. The only way to truly grasp the performance is to go watch it.

I also enjoyed the way the story ended. If you didn’t pick up on it, there was a lot of homage paid to Burton’s two Batman films. One example was the Batmobile shedding much of its body to become a slimmed-down version. Granted, this version was so much cooler than Burton’s. The best though was that the Joker was nearly killed the same way; by being dropped off of a building. However, Batman saves the Joker from dieing this time. Whoever was responsible for this is a genius. Not only did they save Batman’s arch-nemesis, but they did it in a way to pay respect to Burton. Plus, killing the Joker is a bad idea anyway. Batman must always have the Joker, much like Superman must always have Lex Luther. The other stroke of genius was Gordon destroying the spotlight with the bat symbol while Batman runs off into the night. This sustains the vigilante piece of Batman while finally getting rid of the stupidest tradition of Batman.

If I sound like I’m gushing over this film, it’s because I am. It was that good. Hats off to Ledger, Christian Bale, Eckhart and the rest of the crew. This was one of the best movies of the last twenty years (at least). Oh and a special bravo to Nolan, for killing off Gyllenhaal. She deserved it.

Rating: Fantastic. Try not to make eye contact with the theater manager on the way out because you know you should have paid more.

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