Sunday, July 20, 2008

Batman as Crime Fiction: A Dark Knight Movie Review

What to say that hasn’t already been said. Easily the best Batman movie. Period. End of story. It ranks as one of the two best superhero stories ever (Spider-man 2 still is a fantastic piece of filmmaking). But Dark Knight wins in my own list merely because Batman is, and has always been, my favorite hero. Whereas I have a comic book box full of random DC titles, I have boxes full of Batman stuff.

Enough about my credentials as a Bat-geek. The film will literally knock your socks off. Some observations about the filmgoers on a Friday afternoon. Every type of person seemed to be represented: couples, youngsters (too young in my honest opinion), teenagers of both genders, geek boys (like me). Heck, there were even a couple of women, not young, coming to see the film. And, yes, it’s probably because Heath Ledger died earlier this year. But still: this is a superhero movie and everyone is coming to see it.

But this film is more than a superhero film. It’s a crime saga with a costumed hero and villain. In leading up to the film, I read very few reviews because I didn’t want to get influenced by anyone. I wanted my thoughts and experiences as pure as could be. Afterward, I read all the sites I regularly visit. The geek sites were ecstatic. The mainstream media was ecstatic. I was ecstatic. My wife loved the film and uttered the words I certainly wanted to hear: “I want to see it again.”

Many sources have linked TDK with the Michael Mann movie, “Heat.” I watched it for the second time in my life the day after I saw TDK. I see why the two movies are mentioned in the same breath. But the scope of TDK is bigger, broader. Heat is really about two men and their immediate groups. TDK is about a city and, ultimately, about us in 2008. TDK could not have been written or filmed pre-9/11. It’s post-9/11 is its outlook and soul. Joker finally gets a nom de guerre that truly represents what he is: a terrorist.

In the mad rush to compare the incomparable TDK, movies like “Heat” and “The Departed” are mentioned. But Devin Faraci, over at CHUD.com, hit the nail on the head when he compared TDK with HBO’s “The Wire.” Just like The Wire is a story about Baltimore, TDK is a story about Gotham City. GC came alive in this film. It lived, breathed, got beaten, knocked down, got up, and kept walking.

The reason that the Spider-man movies and Batman Begins work so well is that they are films about Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne. These two characters are interesting. You just want to keep digging into their psyche. There’s an everyman quality to these movies (even though Wayne is a billionaire) that gets to the hearts of the viewers. And it’s regular citizens stood up and shone, too. As much as Batman and the Joker occupy the center of this film, Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent provide the everyman soul for this movie. It was the scenes that did not contain explosions that I relished just as much as when the two costumed foes faced off against one another. In the review over at Christianity Today, the author has some questions to ponder including the nature of evil and how good, normal people—folks without capes, cowls, and gadgets (or guns?)—cope when faced with evil. TDK answered those questions. Some will endure. Some will fall. We’re just lucky enough if we never have to find out what we really are at those times.

This is the first Batman movie where you honestly see Bruce Wayne being the famous detective he is. He is constantly behind the curve in this film, reacting instead of acting. Bruce finally takes an action that gets him more up-to-speed but then a character, having learned what Bruce did, asks a fundamental post-9/11 question: at what cost?

One of the best things about Batman’s villains is their scale. Most of them want to rule Gotham or rob banks or screw with the police or Batman’s mind. Sure, there are times when Batman travels abroad or has a villain (Ra’s al Ghul) with some global scheme but the bulk of Batman’s foes just want to keep it local. That’s what was great about Batman Begins and the same applies here for TDK. Joker doesn’t want to rule the world, he just wants to destroy Gotham. You see crime bosses at odds with each other, double-dealing, scheming. It’s what links TDK with The Wire. One of the things I’d love to see is a TV version of Gotham Central, the series of comics that focuses on the GCPD. But, to do that, filmmakers would have to top The Wire and that’s a tall order.

Speaking of topping things, I have to admit something: there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to see a third Batman film from Christopher Nolan. This film, for its flaws, is so near-perfect that to top it, Nolan may have to make choices he’d rather not make (Spider-Man 3 anyone?). However, come 2011, you know a third film will likely be here merely for the fact of how TDK ends. But how do you top Heath Ledger’s Joker? Simply put, you can’t and they shouldn’t even try. It was sublime, funny, poignant, scary, over-the-top, sadistic, unforgettable. I think a nomination is a lock.

But I have faith. Back a few years ago, when the news that Nolan cast Ledger, I was skeptical. However, knowing what Nolan did with Batman Begins, I deferred to him. Perhaps he saw something in Ledger that I didn’t. Boy did he ever. So I’ll trust Nolan to make his third film and make it like he wants to. And now that TDK has joined The Empire Strikes Back, Spider-Man 2, Star Trek II, and Godfather II in the ranks of superb sequels, I now lay down the mantle of third film flops (Return of the Jedi, Godfather III, Spider-Man 3, Superman 3, Star Trek 3, etc.) at his feet. If anyone can make a third film fantastic, I leave it to Christopher Nolan.

But, really, Chris, you don’t have to. You got it all right with this film. You said all that really needs to be said about Batman and Bruce Wayne. You and Ledger brought us the ultimate Joker. You brought us the ultimate crime drama with superheroes. It’s all been said and done. There’s nothing more to say.

Is there?

1 comment:

eejut said...

I'm skipping over the review because i haven't seen the film yet.

It comes out over here this week (got my IMAX tickets booked...woohoo)

I was planning to get my blog back up and running with a review, so it'll be interesting to compare notes afterwards.