Sunday, July 20, 2008

No Laughing Matter: The Dark Knight

Hair tangled and greasy, face white, eyes black, cheeks stained red in a wicked grin, Heath Ledger’s Joker in Christopher Nolan’s latest Batman flick looks like a Guy Fawkes/Black Dahlia hybrid. Or like Marcel Marceau passed out in a gutter after a long night of drinking. There’s nothing clownish about him, not even with the purple suit. Cesar Romero on TV and Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman played the Joker as a jester first, scoundrel second; having a good time always took priority over sinister specifics. But in The Dark Knight, written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, the Joker as embodied by Ledger is something darker and more demented. Here the Joker is a genuine monster, a symbol of evil as much as an agent of it.

If there’s been a more psychopathic character in a comic book adaptation, I can’t think of it. Most assuredly, I’ve never seen a more arresting performance within the genre – by a villain or otherwise – than the one Ledger provides here, and it would be an insult to the actor to only regard this portrayal so narrowly. If the merely semi-serious nature of comic book flicks makes them hard to criticize, the flipside is that we sometimes don’t take them seriously enough. Ledger’s fervent turn – as uncontainable as Ennis Del Mar was inward – rivals some of the best baddies in cinema history, from the theatrical Hannibal Lecter to any of the gritty Martin Scorsese thugs. (And, yeah, that means I’m comparing Ledger to Robert De Niro. Bring on the lightning bolts.) That there might be any level of debate about the effectiveness of Ledger’s Joker stems from the fact that The Dark Knight frequently undercuts him. That’s the film’s tragic mistake.

(Spoilers ahead in rest of review.) Within the comic book genre, and maybe outside of it, no hero and villain are as inextricably linked as Batman and the Joker. Even non-fan-boys and -girls can name that rivalry, the same as they could Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. The Penguin, the Riddler, Catwoman, oh, we know those foes of the Caped Crusader, too. But the Joker is the ultimate nemesis in Gotham City, and that’s precisely why he deserves his own spotlight. Alas, he doesn’t get it. Before The Dark Knight concludes, Two-Face joins the fray providing a subplot that feels both thin and rushed, despite a whopping 152-minute running time. The cost is twofold: 1) time spent away from the Joker is considerably less interesting, causing some of the movie’s momentum to leak; 2) the implication (though certainly unintended) is that the Joker isn’t villain enough to terrorize Gotham on his own, thus snuffing out part of the inferno Ledger works so hard to ignite.

Does it ruin the film? No. Thanks to Ledger’s twisted creation there’s a level of menace to The Dark Knight rarely seen within the genre, and he successfully resuscitates the plot after every ill-advised diversion. But it’s an opportunity missed, both in the short term (The Dark Knight would have been a more gripping picture, not to mention a more straightforward one, at a comparatively lean two hours) and in the long term (If the Joker can’t fight Batman alone, what villain can? Are we a sequel away from going back to the vapid Joel Schumacher days when the bad guys were so numerous that there needed to be a roll call before fight scenes?). By giving us more villains we ended up with a lower percentage of mesmerizing villainy. Only the Joker delivers.

Even then though, The Dark Knight dissolves as it goes rather than finding its focus. One of its most expressive scenes, and certainly its tautest, is the picture-opening bank heist – part Heat, part Point Break – that announces the Joker’s presence with authority. (If that scene doesn’t do it for ya, another one shortly following it, featuring the Joker and a pencil, will do the trick.) The longer the movie goes, the more words it relies on to underline its ethical wrestling match (almost every character gets at least one chance atop the soapbox to ponder right and wrong and Batman’s place between the two). Meanwhile, the Joker’s terrorist campaigns become bigger but not weightier. Somewhere along the way, the Nolans seem to confuse complicatedness with consequence. The only reason the Joker’s final terrorist act is at all climactic is because the movie ends soon after it. Once Two-Face is born, there’s no time to adequately build suspense.

Still, The Dark Knight works even though it might have worked so much better. Christian Bale once again instills a ferociousness in Batman – sometimes too well – that makes him refreshingly different from so many other superheroes. Maggie Gyllenhaal brings some depth to the Rachel Dawes role previously played by Katie Holmes. Gary Oldman continues to be surprisingly flat (in a good way) as the plain James Gordon. Aaron Eckhart looks and talks the part as the cocky golden boy Harvey Dent. And Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman provide the grandfatherly gravitas as Alfred and Q, er, Lucius Fox, respectively.

Visually, The Dark Knight is hit-and-miss. Though it’s often obvious where special effects were required, the application of CGI is mostly seamless (an escape from a Hong Kong skyscraper would be an unfortunate exception, and I’d have preferred old-fashioned makeup for Two-Face’s gruesome half). Most important, when Batman flies through the cityscape, he appears to have weight, something the hero in the Spider-Man movies often lacked. But on the downside, several of the action sequences are confusingly staged, with the key blows happening off-screen, probably to preserve the movie’s PG-13 rating. On top of that, the sets of production designer Nathan Crowley are remarkably repetitive, with lots of large, modestly furnished spaces. But my biggest disappointment is that Gotham City has never looked so small. The Dark Knight was filmed in Chicago and it looks like it was filmed in Chicago. These exteriors contrast not just with my understanding of what Gotham City should be (at least as big as Manhattan) but also with the world created in Batman Begins. Too bad.

Yet these are quibbles, and given the dreck that we’ve suffered through of late (namely Indiana Jones and The Happening) it’s a poor time to quibble. Within its genre, The Dark Knight is a great film despite its faults. I’d appreciate it even more if only I could get past the nagging voice in my head telling me that the Nolans blew their chance at something more significant, something classic. A few hours after seeing The Dark Knight, I exchanged text messages with my brother, who contemplated what a sequel might entail. Catwoman, I predicted, noting that with Rachel out of the picture Bruce Wayne and Batman are ripe for some conflicts of the heart. “Good call,” my brother texted back. “But whatever it is, nothing can beat the Joker!” Exactly, I thought. If the Nolans had realized as much, their film might have lived up to Ledger’s awesome performance.

[Consider this a spoiler warning for the entire comments section.]


Jacob said...

See, I like this review. I mean, I disagree, but at least you attempt to make a case.

-I was very impressed by the two-face CGI. How come you didn't like this choice?

-I was absolutely terrified of the joker throughout the film, and I'm sort of surprised that you think he fizzles out. I think two-face only augmented the Joker's character, because he essentially ends up being a device and tool for the joker's madness. I don't think he detracts from his villainy at all. Meanwhile, I (quite frankly) don't think two-face would be a good enough villain for an entire movie-- he needed to be piggybacked on a better one, and this was well executed in this manner.

-Wasn't the ferry attack the most consequential? It was certainly the highest body count at stake, and if successful, would have demoralized the city.

-No comments on the films themes and philosophy? I thought they were really interesting and strengthened it.

-I agree that the PG13 might have weakened the fight scenes. It was worth it, though.

Anonymous said...

I would agree with some of your points, especially the one about using Chicago as the city of choice. In the first film the whole picture was done on a set. I just watched the making of “Batman Begins” on the Blueray disk, and I was surprised at this fact. Now, I know the budget was already huge, and trying to rebuild the set from scratch would have only make it bigger, but I felt the same way that the city was not big enough. This could be my only complaint about the whole movie.

As for Heath Ledger’s Joker, I can only say wow!!! I agree that the best part of this movie was every scene that had Ledger in it, my favorite being when he tells the story of "how I got these scars" to Gamble. When he looks at one of his henchmen on the floor and says "why so serious" I was blown away. That or the pencil scene, which I felt set the tone for the whole movie. That was when you knew you weren’t dealing with the same old Joker but something entirely new, and much more like the comic version I might add. I honestly believe he deserves all the hype and at least a nomination.

One point I would have to disagree with you on was the adding of the Two-Face character. Maybe you missed the point of what the Joker was trying to prove, which I highly doubt, but having Dent turn into Two-Face and commit those crimes was one of the cornerstones of his plans. His whole need was to prove that even the most "white" knight will become evil -- that we are all inherently evil. That is why he laughs when he thinks Batman is going to let him fall to his death, tries to convince Harvey to kill him, and states that he does not want to kill Batman because that wouldn’t prove his point. When he sets up the two bombs on a boat escapade and Batman tries to tell him that his experiment has failed, he laughs at him. He knows he has won. Later, Batman and Gordon realize this as well, and that’s why Batman had Gordon call the deaths in under the assumption that Batman killed those people. If the truth came out Joker wins and Gotham would be even worse of then it was.

Now, I am not arguing that it gets a little long, but I think that to reach the final point of the Joker all of these things are necessary. If Dent had not become Two-Face and killed then you would have had your typical Hollywood ending where the city backs what the hero is doing and good overcomes evil (see “Spider-Man 1” and “2”). We didn’t get this here. The Joker wins in the end and proves his point. The most sacred person in the movie can be pushed over the edge. Nobody is above the need to satisfy their evil urges when they are pushed to far.

Best movie I have seen this year by far, best villain I have seen ever, which is hard to say being such a hardcore “Star Wars” fan. I will say that I don't necessarily think it is the best comic book adaptation though -- I still enjoyed “Batman Begins” a little better.

Jason Bellamy said...

I’m tempted to let a longer string of “What’s wrong with you?” comments build up before responding, but what the heck.

Jacob & T-Mouse: Thanks for your thoughts. Dissenting arguments are always welcome here at The Cooler. Some replies:

-- My complaint about the Two-Face CGI approach is more of a quibble. Was it well done? Sure. But in a way that calls attention to the specific effect rather than the overall effect. In other words, my eye is drawn to all the exposed bones and muscles and tendons, and that means I lose the character. Makeup would have called less attention to itself. (FYI: It’s the same reason I’m irked by long tracking shots that seem to exist primarily to make us go, “Oh, look! It’s a long, technically difficult tracking shot!”)

-- The Joker himself doesn’t fizzle. Ledger makes sure of that. But the setup at the end where he’s in the building framework doesn't really have anything to do with his larger mission to blow up one of the two ferries and send Gotham into chaos. Why did he need hostages? Why did he have to be in that building? What reason would he have for thinking he’d be found? Once the ferries are wired to blow, his job is essentially done. He’s in the building because the plot needs someplace for Batman to confront him.

-- Was the ferry attack the most consequential? I agree that it has the most potential victims, but one of the ferries is filled with prisoners (me thinks Gotham wouldn’t have mourned them much). But let me put it to you this way: Did you feel more tension over the ferry sequence or in the moment where the Joker holds a knife to Rachel’s face? I hate to sound cold, but we don’t really care about the people on the ferries. So more victims, yes. More dramatic tension? I say no.

-- The film’s themes and philosophy are fine, but I didn’t need them drilled into me (see my soapbox comment in the review). Likewise, for all of Bruce’s hemming and hawing, I didn’t necessarily feel his emotions were all too deeply explored. I’m fine with that. As far as I’m concerned, in a Batman movie the villains should be the stars. Batman is the straight man. I think the film’s themes could have been dealt with more successfully if they’d found a way to SHOW Gotham’s emotional state, rather than having people TELL us what it is over and over.

-- I certainly get the Joker’s “ace in the hole” plot with corrupting Dent, and the scene at the hospital between them is terrific. But other than knowing that Harvey Dent must become Two-Face, I didn’t buy this transformation. It was too fast. A few times Two-Face whines about having to talk to his loved one and tell her everything will be OK when he knows it won’t be. Well, fine, but how long was that conversation? Ninety seconds? Even that? Think of the death of Vesper in “Casino Royale.” That had gravity to it. You could imagine someone being haunted by that (as I’m sure James Bond will be in the new flick). Rachel’s death didn’t carry the same weight.

Besides, once we accept – to whatever degree that we do – that Dent is Two-Face, then he’s a monster capable of killing. Period. The transformation is done. Thus, how dramatically interesting is it when he has the long confrontation with Gordon? If Two-Face works for you, that’s great. But, at any point, wouldn’t you have rather been with the Joker? That’s what I’m saying. Which brings me to …

-- “I (quite frankly) don't think two-face would be a good enough villain for an entire movie-- he needed to be piggybacked on a better one.” Exactly! But the Joker was a good enough villain for an entire movie, so why water him down? Pair Two-Face with The Riddler, fine. Next to the Joker, he’s dead weight.

Jason Bellamy said...

One more thing, though let me acknowledge that this goes into nitpicky territory: I’m not sure I agree with Batman’s conclusion. Here’s the arithmetic as I see it: Dent loses the love of his life, has half his face burned off and goes into a rage and kills people. Disheartening? Sure. A tragedy? Yes. Would it put Gotham into chaos? I don’t see why.

I understand the power of martyrs, but is it really a great strategy to get Gotham pissed at the one hero who is still around to help them? It makes for an interesting concept for the next film, I give you that. But while the argument can still be made that the Joker wins by corrupting Dent, how does Gotham win by, in their view, losing two heroes? Dent to death. Batman to evil.

Anonymous said...

“But while the argument can still be made that the Joker wins by corrupting Dent, how does Gotham win by, in their view, losing two heroes? Dent to death. Batman to evil.”

Gotham does not in essence lose two heroes. That's the point. By blaming Batman, Dent can still be seen as a hero. How many people are still seen as heroes and still have a great influence long after their death? If it were to be known that Dent killed and had been corrupted, it would ruin this image and hurt the city even more.

Batman isn’t supposed to be seen as a hero to the people of Gotham. He is supposed to be seen as a protector. He will do what others will not to protect those people. Most people of Gotham view him as a necessary evil, or more as a punisher of evil, than a soldier for good.

Richard Bellamy said...

I agree with Jason about Two-Face's bad side. I loved the obvious, comic-bookish metaphor - but I found the exaggerated make-up fake and distracting. Oh, he's got a hole in his cheek, so then why isn't the sound of his voice altered? Why not just a big black burn mark?

As for Gotham City - I felt it was pretty expansive and dark - there's that great extreme long shot of the ferries pulling away from the line of skyscrapers. A lot of the sequences occurred in long tunnels or underground - but that claustrophobia increased the tension. And, certainly, Joker's showdown with Batman in the street (loved the sort of Western showdown allusion!), seems to take place in the heart of a vast city.

As for the length of the film - I had expected it to end after the showdown in the street - but then it went on to more tension, more climaxes - but I was ultimately satisfied with that because it was all "part of the plan." For me, what makes this Joker the greatest villain in any superhero movie is that he doesn't care about money or power (or building some sort of new continent like Luthor in Superman Returns). The Joker wants to cause anarchy. He wants to see things burn and fall apart.

And I agree with everyone about Ledger. He made the film. He creates a magnificent character; he unsettles us with his equivocation about the origin of his scars; like a combination of Daniel Plainview and Chigurh, he instills the entire film with inexorable dread and leaves us with lasting satisfaction.

Fox said...

I wish I could jump in here but I've yet to see TDK.

I'll just say for now that I love your description of Ledger's Joker:

"looks like a Guy Fawkes/Black Dahlia hybrid. Or like Marcel Marceau passed out in a gutter after a long night of drinking. There’s nothing clownish about him, not even with the purple suit."


Jason Bellamy said...

(Quick reminder to folks that we’re working with spoilers here – though if you’ve gotten this far, you’ve read past several warnings already.)

T-Mouse: I know the movie TELLS us that Gotham would be hurt more by Dent’s death than by making Batman into the “villain” (quoting the man in black himself). Certainly Batman seems to think so. But what evidence do we have of it? Just their words. Batman/Bruce Wayne repeatedly calls Dent the savoir (“white knight”) of Gotham, but why?

The answer is that Dent has a reputation for cleaning up Gotham as the DA, right? His big victory in the movie is locking up “half of Gotham’s criminals,” or however it’s put. So riddle me this: If Dent has made such a profound impact, and if so many criminals have been taken off the streets at the same time that the Joker arrives, how is it that things have “never been this bad” in Gotham, which is what a reporter claims (and Dent agrees with) during that press conference to announce Batman’s identity? See, the two don’t line up: Either Dent is the vehicle for the cleaning up of Gotham and he makes everyone feel all warm and fuzzy inside, or he’s not and Gotham won’t go to pieces over his revenge campaign in which he kills crooked cops and mobsters.

Based on what we actually see in the film, the Dent worship comes almost solely from Batman, which means it’s perhaps more revealing about his desire to quit crime fighting (his desperation to pass on the mantle) than it is indicative of Dent’s symbolic status among the citizenry of Gotham. That said, OK, I still see why Gotham could benefit from ignorance over Dent’s fall from grace. Which brings me to this …

Why does Batman have to be the cop killer? The Joker has supposedly made things worse than ever (despite Dent’s crackdown on other criminals) with his campaign of anarchy. And he’s killed handfuls along the way. So why in the world can’t the murders be pinned on him? I understand that Gotham doesn’t go gaga for Batman like the folks in Metropolis go for Superman. But getting Gotham to rally behind a hunt for Batman rather than a hunt against criminals? How does that help?

Further thoughts on this movie to come in another post later this week. But let’s keep the conversation going here as people catch up with this movie, which despite its faults is well worthy of the second viewing I gave it last night.

Jacob said...

Jason, I thought the idea was that Dent had to be the martyr, and Batman the villain, because it doesn't help, or work, the other way around. We see what happens when Batman's the hero: a couple of fat guys go out in Batman suits, and it's not particularly helpful, or good. Like they say at one point in the movie, what Gotham needs is more people like Dent, who make change through the system, not against it. Otherwise, where does it end? Cell phone sonar surveillance? We don't know.

And yes, it gets very bad while Dent is DA, but that's explicitly because of Batman, and not because of Dent. At least, that's how everyone perceives it.

I saw the "noble lie" part of this picture as working very well.

Richard Bellamy said...

I agree as well that the "noble lie" works well in the film. It prevents the Joker from that round of the game, and it ends the film with a beautifully ominous and gripping image - Batman on the run, pursued by dogs.

Anonymous said...

Jason: Your two points are hard to argue. I agree that it has gotten worse since Dent took over. That being said he was given the reins to a city that was almost past the point of saving. I think the people of Gotham would view him as a white knight because of the steps he is taking to turn it around and the fact that he's willing to put himself in harm's way to get it done.

Why not just blame the Joker? I have no great answer. Batman won't defend himself. That's the only real answer I can give.

One other note. About our other problem with the city: I don't think so much that it was the size of the this movie's Gotham that bothers me so much as the fact that some of the central points from the first movie were left out, like the Narrows and the monorail system. I know this is nitpicking, but it still bothers me.

Jason Bellamy said...

Jacob: I agree it’s a noble lie. I get it. I just don’t think it’s all that necessary of a lie.

Again, Batman tells us that Gotham will crumble if people learn Dent had a meltdown, but I don’t think we SEE any evidence of that. And that brings me back to the point about whether Gotham really gets worse or better under Dent. Despite the Joker, despite the Batman copycats, it seems to me that Gotham gets better under Dent. I mean, isn’t that why they love him? Maybe this is my Chicago beef coming out again, but this Gotham is actually a pretty sparkling place to live. (Tonally it was a poor choice to stage the Dent ‘world’s gone to hell’ press conference in a well lit room on a beautiful sunny afternoon.) It certainly seems like a better Gotham than we saw in “Batman Begins.” And Dent locks up half of Gotham’s criminals in one swoop. Again: If Dent hasn’t made Gotham better, well, then is he really that revered by Gotham’s citizens?

Feel free to keep the rebuttals coming, but I’ll rest my case on this issue here. I see room for the other interpretations mentioned. But the bottom line for me is that it would have been to the film’s benefit to illustrate Dent’s impact on Joe Citizen beyond the comments of Batman, the mayor, etc. Show me. Don’t tell me.

Anonymous said...

“Maybe this is my Chicago beef coming out again, but this Gotham is actually a pretty sparkling place to live. (Tonally it was a poor choice to stage the Dent ‘world’s gone to hell’ press conference in a well lit room on a beautiful sunny afternoon.) It certainly seems like a better Gotham than we saw in “Batman Begins.”

It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say that Gotham became a better place just because of the visuals. The Gotham of BATMAN BEGINS based itself on the Narrows area to portray the poor aspect of the city – that was absent in THE DARK KNIGHT. After all, in this one, the consistent placement was in downtown of Gotham (played by Chicago), which never was that different to the portrayal of the first film.

However, I do believe Nolan and crew made the decision to exclude the Narrows and instead focus on the nicer spots with some purpose. One is being to create a true sense of disruption with The Joker’s anarchism, which would have otherwise lost effect under a bleak, dark city; the other with Nolan’s thematic use of Gotham as a pretentious town – or hiding its true nature if you will, as every other person or character. Those with all the corporate metropolis buildings, criminality and corruption contribute to a dualism to the city as much as the main character with Wayne and Batman. Surely Gotham is not the first city to look nice and have problematic issues with criminal and mob affairs.

But again, I refer to the first point as to why it might have looked better from the last film: – no focus on the Narrows, just the main central area in the film.

“And Dent locks up half of Gotham’s criminals in one swoop. Again: If Dent hasn’t made Gotham better, well, then is he really that revered by Gotham’s citizens?”

Well, we need to place at what point Dent locks up half of Gotham’s criminals and at what point the comment of the city’s status is made. The events didn’t come one after the other: Dent locked up half of the city’s criminals, and THEN The Joker’s slaughter began when he killed an important judge, the police commissioner, a breakout in Wayne’s apartment, a close attack was attempted at the Mayor, and when that failed the death of famous Lt. Gordon.

Dent contributed to a big improvement to promote justice and, as it is said in the film, give the people hope. But the comment originated because of a recent attack toward important Gotham figures, not due to a failure from Dent’s inability to hunt criminals. The Joker’s lone but powerful recent antics aside, he did make a considerable and successful crusade for Gotham’s improvement, when catching just about everyone except the clown.

“But the bottom line for me is that it would have been to the film’s benefit to illustrate Dent’s impact on Joe Citizen beyond the comments of Batman, the mayor, etc. Show me. Don’t tell me.”

Well, I thought the first scene of his at the courthouse when people cheered for him, the dinner table discussion, fundraiser in Wayne’s place and then another moment in the courthouse when he had people against Maroni and his men were enough for me to buy It along with Gordon’s and the Mayor’s talk. You have a good variety in those examples, from regular unimportant characters to, well, major ones.

There were other little bits like the shot at the press-conference in Bruce’s monitors and some people applauding when Dent was tied up, but I thought that with what I mentioned above was enough for me to get the idea.

As for Batman’s reasoning to avoid a public demise for Dent, inspiration is a recurrent matter in both BATMAN BEGINS and in THE DARK KNIGHT. From Thomas Wayne’s death as a martyr and the reaction he created, to his son’s own inspiration created as Batman, and then what Dent seemed to create, his calculation to expect that Gotham would be divested as a reaction to the fall of Dent seemed to be fitting. That perhaps, he could end just like Thomas Wayne’s situation where as a social crusader he never fully succeeds, but after his death he did when he shocked some men into action.(The parallel to be seen between the Wayne’s murder and Gordon’s family is particularly well done)

So, since they succeed in establishing Dent as an inspiring hero, that the citizens of Gotham tended to react heavily to important figures, and that significant people who usually don’t trust any regular face also believed in him (i.e. Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne), I thought the finale was justified.

Unknown said...

I had a second viewing last night. And my initial reaction was bolstered even further: as cynical as I was going in, Heath Ledger was friggin' amazing and deserves Oscar consideration. Indeed, you almost forget it's him under there. Made me want to see him acting without the makeup, to appreciate it even further.

And while the Two-Face stuff threw me a little the first time, I naturally followed the story even better this time, and didn't get bogged down as much. Two viewings in the space of eight days is a lot to ask, but the movie held up in my mind. I was entertained, again.

Richard Bellamy said...

I also enjoyed a second viewing of TDK with my wife, who had not seen it yet.

This time around I saw the whole Two-Face conflict as a necessary thematic thread which is key to the plot and would make for a lesser film if cut. The fact that the Joker is able to corrupt Dent increases the doom that the Joker has brought upon Gotham City.

And, once again, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Ledger's masterful performance. I really enjoyed his final speech, dangling from the rope. He says how Batman is truly incorruptible; now, that doesn't sound like Batman is Bush!

My wife provided the following sharp insights regarding the very long column of comments above this one:

a. It is necessary to preserve Den't identity as the White Knight. Batman is a super-hero. People aren't surprised when he does heroic deeds. The people - beset by all the mayhem the Joker has exacted - need a hero who is "one of us" - a hero who is a Common Man.

b. She doesn't see a Bush allegory. Batman does what is necessary - but he can't kill the Joker; and the Joker himself calls him incorruptible. Does Batman use Bushian tactics once in a while? Yes, she saw that; I saw that too, this time around. But he will not go on using those tactics as a policy.

c. It's "never been this bad..." Yes! Dent has apprehended all those bad guys - but all of them don't amount to the Joker's evil - and the Joker is going around killing the judge, etc. We agreed that things have never been this bad.

On second viewing, I was also struck by how much the Joker succeeds - killing those officials, corrupting Dent, escaping from jail, blowing up the hospital. Thus, Gotham City sure needs all the heroes it can get.

I was also struck by how much we could talk about this movie; it's been a while since we've seen something worthy of further discussion.

(Loophole? Dent doesn't shoot the gangster; he shoots the driver. Crash! The gangster dies but Dent doesn't?)

Jason Bellamy said...

Thanks for the Wife of Hokahey analysis. Some responses …

* No loophole. Dent puts on his seatbelt before shooting the driver. The gangster isn’t wearing one.

* I can agree that thematically the corruption of Dent is the masterstroke of the Joker’s plan. But in the spirit of what I’ve said before, I’ll say this: Were you more compelled by Dent’s sudden and rather unconvincing transformation or by the Joker doing anything? The momentum of the film leaks when Two-Face begins to dominate. (And as some justification of this, I noticed on my second viewing that it was roundabout then that people started breaking out their cell phones and checking the time.)

* Let’s look at parts ‘A’ and ‘B’ together. I certainly see the value in Dent being seen as a hero (I just disagree with Batman that Gotham would go to crap if they found out their white knight had a mental breakdown after his girlfriend was killed and half his face melted away; I think they’d give that temporary insanity a pass.) So, you don’t see the Bush parallels? OK. How about this then: How did you feel about being lied to about Jessica Lynch or Pat Tillman or any of the other number of things where the current administration felt it was in our best interest to believe something other than the ugly truth?

How can you say that Batman won’t keep using these Bushian tactics as policy? He uses them until the Joker is defeated. What makes you think he won’t use them again? Bush & Co are using these tactics now while they fight their enemy. What makes you think the policy won’t stop when the villains are vanquished? To quote that WSJ piece that I referenced in the comments section of the Bush debate post: “Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.”

That was my point in that post. I’m not here to say that the Nolans are part of some pro-Bush agenda. What I am pointing out is that the country has for the most part given up on Bush and his justifications, BUT they celebrate Batman who uses some of the same tactics with the same justifications. I find that interesting. What’s the quote in the movie about being a hero long enough that you become the villain? In essence, that’s what’s happened to Bush.

So, ask yourself: Why do you forgive Batman his breaking of the rules? I presume your answers would be that he just breaks a few of them (well, the movie is only 2.5 hours long; how many could he break?), and that he wins in the end. But the bottom line is that you KNOW that Batman is a hero. Bush’s heroism is in question. If he were able to win what I personally believe is an unwinnable war against “terror,” would you forgive him and his cohorts their ethical breaches? As Bush likes to point out, Lincoln broke the rules. But he won. In America, maybe that bottom line is the only thing we care about.

* As for “C,” OK: So it’s never been this bad. But, just to point out, several of the things you listed as evidence happen AFTER the journalist tells us how dire things are.

* Indeed, it’s a movie worth discussing. And the discussion doesn’t have to end here.

Anonymous said...

Why not pin the murders on the Joker? Because the Joker might be able to prove he was somewhere else when they were carried out?
Does anyone else besides Batman see Harvey Dent as a hero? Rachel loves him and ultimately chooses him over Batman - and don't forget that Rachel was the moral centre of the first film (whatever you think of Katie Holmes' performance) and helped to save Bruce Wayne from becoming a mindless vigilante. That said, Harvey in the film does have a problem - given that everyone knows what will happen to him (and the fact that Eckhart is routinely cast as a good-looking phony) it is a bit difficult to accept him as an authentic hero earlier on.

Why so serious said...

Dear Jacob Bellamy why is the ferry scene the most consequential of the movie because the joker wanted to demonstrate that the two ferry were filled with prisoners and that people are selfish and self centered. And they actually were because they even tried to explode but something deep inside kept them from doing that. And you by my view hate blockbusters because many real film critics not like you and your crappy blog contrariate most of your view points. Sorry

Jason Bellamy said...

Um, you're getting Jacob confused with Jason Bellamy. Jacob, a commenter, doesn't like "The Dark Knight." Jason, the guy with the crappy blog, does like "The Dark Knight."

Uh-oh. That might not speak well for your taste.

Why so serious, indeed.

Jacob said...

Jacob, a commenter, doesn't like "The Dark Knight."

Wha? No, I've definitely been defending it.

Jason Bellamy said...

Good grief, now even I'm confused. Sorry, Jacob. I was going to reply to "Why so serious?" by noting that I don't even hate THIS blockbuster, never mind all blockbusters. (Because I think "The Dark Knight" has faults, I hate an entire genre? I don't even hate the film.)

But then I saw your comment top of the list, and my eye jumped to the part about the ferry attack being the "most consequential," and I skimmed too fast and thought it read like a challenge.

My bad. So, to recap: Jason and Jacob are two different people. Jason likes "The Dark Knight," with significant criticisms/questions. Jacob likes "The Dark Knight" even more, with fewer criticisms. And because it's taken me so long to figure this out, the blog is indeed "crappy."

(Long time no hear, Jacob. Good to have you back.)

Jacob said...

Haha, I don't think I watch enough current cinema to become a more quotidian commenter. I just get notifications when this thread gets comments.

Anonymous said...

You know I'm a huge Bat-fan Jason, so my objectivity is likely to be clouded. But I'm also a big fan of your cinematic perspectives and you raise several good points about Dark Knight.

This could have been a Joker solo to solidify the character's status as Batman's No. 1 nemesis. Ledger's interpretation of the Joker was right on: pure, psychopathic evil. The actor will be missed.

Two Face is a criminal titan, too, but Harvey Dent could have been introduced as Gotham's new district attorney (as Gordon was a detective in Batman Begins). Rushing that story line slowed the movie's momentum created by Ledger's Joker. Plus, was it just me or did it seem as if not a single character flinched the first time they saw Dent's distorted face? I'd vomit if I saw that face.

There were moments you almost felt sorry for the Joker: while he told differing tales as to how he acquired his own face; as he stood his ground in the middle of a street, urging a cycle-speeding Batman to hit him; as Gotham's finest, from behind two-way glass, watch Batman pummel the Joker in the interrogation room.

That scene, I thought, was so important to defining the two characters, how close at times the line between good and evil can be crossed. And Christian Bale adds that next element to the character as he struggles not to sink too deep into the darkness he fights. We needed to see that conflict for Batman.

What new introductions can we expect to see in the next installment? Sure, Catwoman is obvious to fill the Rachel Dawes void, but don't forget the world of Gotham is more than just criminals. How does a Dark Knight find balance? Is it to early for the red-breasted bird?

Anonymous said...

I saw this movie on a one screen drive-in theater in the middle of some woods, there were actual bats flying around over the moonlight, it was too cool. I only saw it once, I would hate to think this is a movie anyone would look to deep into past just being a solid well made movie with many great performances. I thought the Joker was not in the movie enough and there was no need for Two Face. What is up with standard action thrillers not having standard endings these days (No Country), drop the pose, not as deep and arty as you think you are there Good movie, I might see it again one day.