Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Dark Knight (2008)


Here's how big a deal The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008) was. I was working for a big business when this movie came out, and my entire office was given the morning off to attend a special preview screening. The screening was at some ungodly hour like 8:30 AM, I guess so that we would be the only people in the theatre. In the lobby of the cineplex, they had set up a chocolate fountain and an energy drink bar. (Side note: this will be the catering arrangement for my wedding someday). We were then ushered into the theatre, where we spent the next two hours watching the baleful Bale and co. Then I went home and wrote the only multi-part fanfic I ever finished in my entire life. THAT is how big a deal The Dark Knight was.

But why? This is a deeply flawed movie. Why did it become a cultural behemoth so massive that entire offices were taking half-day field trips and lazy fanfic writers were inspired to untold literary heights? The cynic in me suspects that The Dark Knight's total cultural saturation was largely due to a morbid fascination with Heath Ledger's tragic death (remember this tacky rumour?), considered against his Oscar-winning performance as the Joker. Ledger's last film was catapulted to box-office infamy through tragic timing, like the last films of predecessors Bruce Lee and James Dean. I do think that Ledger's performance was one-of-a-kind, and his posthumous accolades largely deserved. But I don't think The Dark Knight is a best-superhero-film-of-all-time, 94%-on-Rotten-Tomatoes kind of a movie. I think it's just Pretty Good. Given the low bar set by other comic book movies, even Pretty Good is fine by me.

A screencap of the amazing Heath Ledger and some other guy.
The plot of this movie is largely irrelevant to what actually makes it decent, but here we go: the Joker comes to town, tortures Batman (Christian Bale) for a while, kills Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and a couple of other irrelevant characters, kills Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman: SPOILER, he doesn't actually kill Jim Gordon), tries to force some Gothamites to blow each other up, and gets caught. Then there's some stuff with Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart). The end.

It's really kind of shocking that this movie runs for over two hours given its lack of actual narrative content. But bloated run times are a hallmark of this trilogy, and compared to Nolan's other efforts The Dark Knight feels the shortest, largely thanks to Ledger and Eckhart's rock-solid performances as baddie-A and baddie-B. It's not at all thanks to Christian Bale, whose Bat Voice is at its most unbearable in The Dark Knight (someone give this guy a Halls already). It's cheesy, it's hard to understand what he's saying, it allows for no emotional range. Bale is such a super-intense ac-TOR that he throws temper tantrums over lighting mistakes, and this is the best he can come up with? I could cast a better Batman with my eyes closed. (And then I could cast Poison Ivy, too, just for the fun of it. Go on, tell me it wouldn't be the best Batman movie ever).

Maggie Gyllenhaal has the opposite problem -- she's a phenomenal actress, but there is literally nothing she could have done with this character, who is ostensibly a DA or something but only functions as a prize to be won by one of the film's male leads. Gyllenhaal tries, but when the Joker blows Rachel up, it's a welcome respite from the bathetic and wearying love triangle. Rachel is at least posthumously useful, since her death drives Harvey Dent to super-villainy, giving The Dark Knight the opportunity to show off some of the best film makeup I've ever seen.

I like that he's still carefully styling the hair that he has left.

Amazing, isn't it? (Bonus: you're not hungry anymore). When Two-Face wanders into a bar, downs a shot, and wipes away the tequila that trickles from his open wounds, you know Nolan's showing off, but the effects are so good that you don't care. I guess it all balances out, because Two-Face also gets one of the worst scenes in the series, hammily demanding a mirror after he wakes up minus half a face in Gotham General. Why was this scene left in? Why is this scene ever left in? I can't find it on TV Tropes, but surely "wakes up in hospital, demands mirror, laughs/cries/kills someone" is one of the most overused screen cliches of all time.

The performances range from the iconic to the moronic; the scenes and dialogue from the stellar to the bargain-basement. The Dark Knight is certainly the most uneven entry in Nolan's trilogy, but I give it a 3/5. Whether you're gaping when the Joker barrel-rolls a truck (they FLIPPED the bitch!) or scratching your head over the deeply contrived, and totally unnecessary, set-up for the sequel (Plato's noble lie retold for comic geeks), there's not much time to be bored.

Plus, The Joker.
SCENE STEALER: Who the fuck did you think?

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