Random thoughts on most things from A. M. Craig.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Guest Post: Roger's Review: The Dark Knight

All the big bloggers have guest posts. I decided now was a perfect time to start here, with Roger having just seen The Dark Knight at an advance screening at the Universal Studios Hollywood IMAX theater last night (major portions were filmed specially for the IMAX). Ya, believe it, that happened. Lucky guy, seeing as it's sold out at almost 1000 theaters nationwide, not to mention the IMAX and Universal Studios part of this all.

People love this movie. I think Roger does too. I'll post my review as soon as I see it. For now, I'm at a family reunion.

So ladies and gentlemen, without further adieu, I give you, Roger's Review: The Dark Knight.

"I’m big on superhero movies.

I saw an advance screening of The Dark Knight yesterday, on the IMAX screen at Universal Studios in Hollywood. And the primary question, in my mind, is if there’s any way it’s not the greatest superhero movie of all time.

If the answer lies in the strength of the villain, then nothing can touch this movie. There’s been a lot of hype about Heath Ledger’s performance, including Oscar talk, and I can tell you that it’s pretty well justified.

The precedent for the Joker is Jack Nicholson’s performance from the 1989 Batman. Nicholson took a comic book character off of paper and put a comic book character on the screen. His cartoony movements and speech were wrapped in that bright purple suit, and it totally worked. Ledger’s Joker goes the other direction, however – the genius is in the subtlety, the details of the performance. What makes it extreme is not his clowny movements, but rather the fact that you can hear him lick his misshapen, scarred lips.

Heath Ledger does for the Joker what Johnny Depp did for Willy Wonka.

If the most important part is the director, then this movie delivers. Christopher Nolan directed one of my favorite movies – Memento – as well as some other shining stars, including The Prestige and, for that matter, Batman Begins. And The Dark Knight is at least as strong a directing performance as those two.

Superhero movies tend to err on the side of being too light – throw in more action, more special effects, and perhaps following the comic storyline. Nolan isn’t afraid of going beneath the surface, though. He raises legitimate, make-you-think questions about our definition of a hero, and about where we draw limits in defense of our lifestyle… and he puts those questions front and center. Usually that kind of quasi-deep thinking only comes out in reviews by self-important reviewers, like myself, but Nolan takes it head on. It adds a cerebral layer to an action movie, and it definitely works.

Now, let me be clear. Spider-Man, one of the best of the superhero genre, goes gung-ho with its moral of “with great power comes great responsibility.” But that’s a moral. The Dark Knight doesn’t have a moral. In no case does it tell you how things should be – it suggests how things are, and leaves it up to you to decide which way is right. But at the same time, there’s no quiz at the end. It’s still an action movie, and it still wraps up nicely without demanding too much of you if you don’t want to get into it.

There’s plenty of buildings blowing up, cool Bat-contraptions, and over-the-top weird-motorcycle-thing riding. But, refreshingly, there’s that extra layer.

I’ve already referenced the old Batman movie, and I’m going to make another comparison here. In the 1989 Batman, we see how the Joker becomes the Joker – he falls into a vat of chemicals. What comes out is a twisted, crazy man who wreaks havoc on Gotham. We know his origin, we know how he came to be. Nolan decidedly skips over the Joker’s origin, and that definitely adds a layer of creepy mystery to the Joker character. Here’s how.

When the Joker drops in, you don’t have any idea where he came from, or why he does what he does (or, for that matter, why he enjoys it). He’s not the mangled result of a chemical accident, he’s actually a crazed criminal wearing makeup – and even the makeup doesn’t get explained. As far as you can tell, he’s actually insane, and on a gigantic scale. He has no limits, he has resources to strike big, and he’s crazy.

He may not have super powers, but he’s still the consummate supervillain.

If you’ve seen Batman Begins, then I have no need to discuss Christian Bale here. He does a great job in this movie, as he did with the previous. Maggie Gyllenhall picks up where Katie Holmes left off as Rachel Dawes, Gary Oldman does a great Lieutenant/Commissioner Gordon when he’s not busy being Sirius Black, and I always love Morgan Freeman. The cast is great.

The last thing I want to throw in is the visual style of this movie. Nolan tried to do it with as few special effects as possible, and the end result is pretty darn special. What really stood out, at least on the giganto IMAX screen, were the city shots – huge, sweeping shots of the city from the top of a skyscraper, that pull in all the tiny details of the city and strip away the shiny, comic book glamour that we’ve become familiar with from Spider-Man and Iron Man. This is a real city – no makeup, no computers, and it feels very, very real. When the camera pointed down from the top of a 40-story building, my stomach turned with fear of heights.

The best special effect in this movie is the lack of them. Super cool.

My job here isn’t really to decide whether or not The Dark Knight is the greatest of all the superhero movies, so I won’t – but I think it deserves to be in the conversation. Batman has been done very well (Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Begins) and very poorly (Batman and Robin), and to me The Dark Knight is Best in Show. Heath Ledger will get under your skin, Christopher Nolan will enthrall you. And you’ll dig this movie, like I did."

Interesting Note: Aaron Eckhart is a BYU grad, along with his ol' college buddy, Neil LeBute.

UPDATE: Jake Black has something to add to the conversation, and you should listen. He is a comic book writer, after all.

Jake, Roger, and I were lucky enough to sit next to each other in Dr. Frank Fox's last class taught at BYU, History of American Popular Culture. We discussed comic books at length, as well as popular film (among other things). It was fascinating, and one of the finest pieces of my formal education.

1 comment:

Jake Black said...

Well said, and 100% accurate. See my thoughts on my blog. ;-) (As your local comic book writer, I think I have something to add to the conversation.