Sunday, July 20, 2008

Why So Serious?: "The Dark Knight" Review

I willingly admit that I am a movie marketer’s dream as I am easily seduced by the flash and glamour of movie trailers and well-orchestrated hype. I am addicted to the anticipation and the wonder that goes with seeing a movie. “The Dark Knight” had the perfect storm of hype from fans who loved the sinister and intelligent revamp of the Batman franchise with Chris Nolan’s “Batman Begins;” glowing acclaim from critics and fans alike that centered mostly on Heath Ledger’s Joker and the tragedy of Ledger’s untimely death. Therefore, it wasn’t hard for me to decide to go to see the 12:01 a.m. screening of “The Dark Knight.” Yes, partially because of the snowballing Oscar-buzz surrounding the late Ledger’s portrayal of the The Joker, but also because Batman is my favorite superhero (sorry, Spiderman), Christian Bale is my favorite Batman (sorry, Clooney, Keaton and Kilmer), and finally “Batman Begins” only scratched the complicated, gritty surface of the superhero’s gritty mythology.

After seven commercials and five trailers, "The Dark Knight" started and ended with raucous applause, because it defies all odds (and some laws of physics in those action sequences) and actually lives up to the hype and buzz. It plays like a true-life legal drama in which Gotham City is smothered by crime and the brave few—Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and the new pretty-boy D.A. Harvey Dent—fight to cure the city of its malignancies. Batman is simultaneously hated as a careless vigilante and emulated by crazy followers in hockey pads. While his heroic efforts have made progress, the crime bosses stubbornly try to maintain control in the most gruesome of ways. And they are even frightened by the new painted face on the Gotham crime circuit, a menacal villain who moves like a marionette and speaks like Lucifer.

The Joker is Batman's nemesis— as unpredictable as Batman is methodical—and arguably the best villain I've ever seen on screen as his motive is not based in the age-old money or power. It's mayhem and anarchy. He lives for pandemonium the way a terrorist might, and feeds off the soul-shattering terror of others.

I did feel that the inescapable coverage of the film made me much more aware of Ledger’s performance, and consequently I scrutinized every frame of the Joker's scenes. It's hard to believe that such a psychopath was created by the soft-voiced Aussie, who once confessed to wanting to dance like Gene Kelly. I promise this review will be spoiler free, but I can say this: yes, this film belong to the Joker; yes, Ledger underwent an almost impossible sinister and complete transformation: the eyes, the movements, the smooth, creepy voice. Do I think this is the role that drove Ledger to his untimely death? No. The Joker is a sick, twisted mass murderer, but he is also jester; at the heart of this character is a love of practical jokes, and he gets more laughs than Batman and Alfred combined. Ledger looks as if he is having a ball onscreen and while we can celebrate that performance, it makes me sad that it will be his last. It makes me sick to think that with the next movie, they may have to recast the Joker. The movie is predicted to open with an astounding $155 million take (and replace “Spiderman 3 as the highest grossing opening weekend ever), so that is a real possibly.

Nolan realizes what a lot of moviemakers have not: while CGI is a money-saving solution to pump up the action, moviegoers see it as a cop out and it’s uninteresting to watch a pixilated superhero fight off pixilated bad guys. The movie does use CGI in a very inventive, but sparing ways. Most of the stunts were done the old-fashioned way with cables, ingenuity, explosives and crazy stuntmen. The writing and acting are just as spectacular as the action sequences. Bale and Ledger have extended scenes together, and are equals in both the characters they play and the amazing actors they are.

The only criticism I can possibly dredge up (besides Bale’s super-rasy, over-the-top Batman voice) is that I felt that Maggie Gyllenhaal, an Oscar-nominated actress, was terribly unused as Rachel Dawes, Harvey Dent’s current girlfriend, and Bruce Wayne’s/Batman’s love. Gyllenhaal is a talented actress and while she was a vibrant improvement to Katie Holmes’ sleepy, uninspired turn at the same A.D.A., I wish she had more scenes with Bruce Wayne and Batman to further solidify their relationship and the push-pull of the dramatic love triangle between Bruce, Rachel and the coin-flipping Harvey Dent, (who suffers his own tragic transformation).

“The Dark Knight” is an excellent, realistic film that feels more like a true-life thriller than a fantastical tale about a superhero. It is tragic that the movie will forever be shrouded in grief due to the untimely passing of an extremely talented actor in Ledger, who gives the performance of his life.

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