Friday, July 25, 2008
review: the dark knight
I'm in agreement with everyone who claims The Dark Knight to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but I disagree with the imdb.com voters who made The Dark Knight bigger than The Godfather (which is bigger than Jesus). The special effects were amazing, the locations were well chosen/created, and the acting was top-notch for all of the actors. But enough about the generics; here're the reasons that I think The Dark Knight is brilliant:
1. There were a lot of allegorical thematic metaphors throughout the film, and I think that this film is one of (director, writer) Christopher Nolan's best scripts. Much better than The Prestige, which didn't hold any surprises or character depth to me. Take the film's title, for instance. The Dark Knight certainly refers to Batman, a knight who comes out only at night. But it also refers to Bruce Wayne, the masked vigilante who must hide his true self in the shadows. More interestingly, it also refers to Harvey Dent, Gotham's district attorney savior who battles inner morality conflicts. As Bruce Wayne and Lt. Gordon mention, he is the real hero, a hero with a face. So it's inspired writing to have the face of a hero literally burned off and scarred. His two-face represents his newfound ambivalence of fate (not caring who lives or who dies) that matches the two sides of his coin, but it also represents the good and bad sides of being a hero. Of taking justice into his hands. Which brings me to...
2. The Harvey-Bruce/Two Face-Batman dichotomies. Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent storyline far surpasses Bruce Wayne's. It's remarkable to think that Batman really wasn't at the center of this film. The two bad guys are, and he's actually the third wheel. So Harvey and Bruce should be enemies because of Rachel Dawes, but they believe in each other's roles in society -- Harvey believes in the idea of Batman, and Bruce believes that the people of Gotham need a hero they can trust and visualize. Harvey is the one Gotham needed, and Batman is the one Gotham doesn't deserve. Even though I found the ending monologue to be a bit trite and unnecessary (normally these speeches come at the beginning of films), I did like the blatant metaphor of Batman turning Two-Face's face back to the good side after his death. It's an obvious visual text for the audience to see, but more than that, it shows that Batman still believes in the idea of Harvey Dent, which means he'll never fully accept himself as the man he wants to be. He only accepts his role as the guy who will be whatever Gotham needs him to be, the good guy or the bad guy.
3. I really loved the development of Harvey's character. I think Eckhart is vastly overlooked in most of his films (he was fantastic in Conversations with Other Women). I like that chance was not a game to Two-Face, that he was pessimistic about fate, that he found the world to be cruel and unforgiving. Compare Eckhart to Tommy Lee Jones's portrayal in Batman Forever, a film that was so over-the-top bad it's amazing that people liked it when it came out. Eckhart's Two-Face doesn't have a maniacal laugh. He never turned his face in "now I'm good, now I'm bad, no, now I'm good" kind of way. He was broken-hearted and burned, and he was never evil. I don't think anyone in any audience said, "What a great bad guy." No, we empathized with him. We understood and followed him. Lt. Gordon had rats on his team and when Two-Face went to punish them, we wanted them punished too. Also, Two-Face represents the evil version of a hero, something that Batman could easily become, especially in The Dark Knight. Had Two-Face not arrived, Batman certainly would have sulked and packed up his suit for good. He could have been bitter, but without the goodness of Harvey Dent, he knew he had a role to play. It would have been so easy for Nolan to make Two-Face a bad guy, and he didn't. Harvey Dent has wonderful character development, and he serves as the foundation for the film. Batman revolves around him. The Joker revolves him. Gotham and Lt. Gordon revolves around him.
P.S. There was a memorial service for Harvey Dent, but not Two-Face. Does this mean Two-Face is still alive? I hope not. I want Nolan's Batman franchise to continue reinventing the way we understand superhero movies, and I don't like the idea of rehashing or reusing old bad guys. Like what was the point of the Scarecrow cameo? Using old villains, even in a cameo spot, is like a remake. Plus, I think Harvey Dent's storyline was wonderfully executed and there's nothing more to say about him.
4. Ah, yes, the Joker. First of all, I don't talk about Ledger's death. It hit me harder than I was expecting, which is ridiculous considering I didn't know him. I just knew of his work, and now I can only think of being deprived of his future characters. So I don't talk about it. It's unbearably sad. Second, do I think Ledger deserves an Oscar for this performance? I most certainly do. And not some posthumous Oscar. An honestly deserved Oscar. I loved his crooked shoulder line, his lop-sided walk, the tongue flipping, the yellow teeth, how his eyes rolled when he spoke, the makeup smeared on his fingers (an inspired close-up that I think most people missed). The bacterial soap scene was funny (not to mention the dress and wig), but it was also layered. Why does such an amoral character need to wash himself clean of his evil-doing? I particularly loved the scene where his detonator didn't go off. See, villains are human! Things don't always go the way they plan. But he's so demented that he keeps pushing the detonator until it goes off. That scene didn't need to be in the movie, but it showed us more of the Joker that we wouldn't have seen otherwise.
5. I like that the Joker's madness was logical. I hate crazy villains who are evil for the sake of being evil. Because they're misanthropes. Because school bullies picked on them when they were little. Because they're ugly. (Let's face it, villains are ugly; it's how we know they're evil.) I loved that he believed the worst in people and that he pitted two boats to kill one another, and neither of them did. He was truly shocked when there weren't any "fireworks." His distraught face was separated from his body, and he couldn't believe that the humans didn't kill each other. And this social experiment actually surprised me. I did think that one of the ships was going to blow up, but I didn't know which one. I was excited when neither blew up the other. I also love the dialogue between the Joker and Batman. Joker explains that as long as Batman exists, he will exist. There is also a yin and a yang, juxtaposition and binaries. He is a counter to Batman, so it doesn't matter that we never find out why he has that wicked scar (I love that we never know) and it doesn't matter about his origins of evil. The Joker purely exists to show that evil is always out there fighting good.
6. The script was really, really great (minus the closing voiceover). It showed the hero having his doubts (always important, because being good is a struggle, a la Thomas Hobbes). It showed Lucius Fox, a trusted friend, questioning our hero's limits. It had the development and, in a way, origin story of Harvey Two-Face Dent. It showed Rachel Dawes as not a woman in distress. She was intelligent and strong without being overly sexual. (Can you imagine Katie Holmes back in the role with Aaron Eckhart again? It would be a total sequel to Thank You For Smoking. Even the characters would be similar.) This Rachel Dawes never needed help (except when she was thrown out of the penthouse), and, she held her own. This is unprecedented in a superhero movie. And no, I didn't particularly care for Pepper Potts. She had a smart tongue, but she didn't really do anything. And don't get me started on the ridiculousness of Mary Jane in Spiderman.
And that is why I think The Dark Knight is brilliant.