So, there it is. I’m kicking off the very first Too Little, Too Late Movie Review with a curveball. I said I would be reviewing the dismal The Grey, starring Liam Neeson; but I am instead going to review The Dark Knight, almost starring Liam Neeson.
I think it’s only fair to start off this review with a bit of full disclosure: I am a huge comic book fan. Especially when it comes to Batman. So yes, I am bias. But I promise not to let my bias blind me.
BUT THIS MOVIE FUCKING ROCKS!!!!!
OK, I’m sorry, that was uncalled for. Let me try to be at least a little bit professional. For those of you who haven’t seen The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to the strangely titled Batman Begins, then you’re also probably not reading this blog. Just in case, though, the story concerns an angry clown that just wants to show the greedy, incompetent criminals of Gotham City that money is the root of all evil. So he starts stealing it from them. Then he offers to kill Batman for them, if they give him half of all of their money. With me? I know you are, because for a movie where the hero dresses up as a bat (at least that’s what he says, I ain’t never seen no bat looks like that) the plot is very grounded in reality.
Batman/Bruce Wayne meanwhile is struggling with his decision to beat up on the bad guys when moderate hottie Maggie Gyllenhaal (with ALL of her clothes on!) moves on with the hunky Harvey Dent. Any one who reads the comic books or watches Saturday morning cartoons or dates a nerd knows what lies down the road for poor Harvey, so it’s kind of fun to see such a hunky actor as Aaron Eckhart in the role (plus that guy can ACT!). Our hero is banking on the handsome District Attorney to take the reins from Batman, to clean up the streets in a much more legal fashion. But then there’s that fucking clown…
The Joker, played masterfully by Heath Ledger, seems to be after one thing only: chaos. He even says as much in one of the most memorable scenes, dressed as a lady-nurse. Look, when they announced that Heath Ledger, pretty boy extraordinaire, was going to be playing the greatest villain in comic book history, I was appalled. Apparently Christopher Nolan had lost his mind! But then I saw the first trailer and I remembered that Nolan is a genius. He is a dangerous man in this movie, he kills a man with a pencil! He calls it a magic trick, but I know homicide when I see it. He oozes danger and insanity in a way that makes him impossible to turn away from.
I’m sorry, I got distracted. So the Joker is causing chaos. Batman is trying to figure him out. Alfred (Michael Caine) explains the things to Bruce Wayne that he can’t figure out on his own. It has all the trappings of a great comic book movie. The thing that makes this movie great, however, is that this is not a typical comic book movie. It’s not really about superheroism. It’s really much more of a mob movie. I loved this movie from the word go, but I couldn’t think of a way to describe exactly why. Then I watched it again recently by accident (it was on TV during my work break), and I realized what it was I treasured about this movie: Closeness.
The Dark Knight gets right in close. Physically, yes. You get right in Batman’s face. You get right in Joker’s face, a little too close for some folks’ comfort. There’s no shying away from Harvey Dent’s scars. You’re right there, the movie is dark, but nothing is truly hidden from you. But it’s more than that. Everything is on the surface, emotionally. The trailers tease that something tragic happens to one of the main cast. Of course, it has to, Harvey Dent is among them. He has to become Two-Face. He has to be scarred horribly for our entertainment.
But you’ve seen the movie by now. You know that’s not what happens. It’s Rachel! The Joker blows Rachel up into little tiny pieces, and he does it because he sees how Batman is protective of her. The emotional fallout of this act is humongous. In the hands of a lessor director it could have been truly ham-fisted, but Nolan handled it with care. Christian Bale (Batman) moves from boiling/palpable rage to a deep, silent grief. Cut to Dent slowly waking up in a hospital room, half his face bandaged. On his bedside table is a talisman of his relationship with Rachel, something she had carried with her, now as scarred and ruined as him. A single note plays over is reaction, there is no other sound. The sight alone of his soul’s torment is enough to tell the audience what we need to know. Harvey Dent is dead, long live Two-Face.
It’s scenes like these that make Christopher Nolan the oddest and perfect choice to direct a film like The Dark Knight. To take a subject which could easily dive into the absurd (and still be infinitely watchable), and raise it up to something that could otherwise win an Oscar (a guy can dream, can’t he?). The Dark Knight is the pinnacle of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, by a long shot. It is the bar by which all future projects at DC should be measured.
They did lose me a little with the climax, involving the the two boats and Batman making his way through that really hard video game stage. I think I get what Nolan was doing with the sonar. He’s always trying to find ways to throw in rewards for the comic book fans, and Batman never looked more like his comic book counterpart than when the sonar lenses were down, but it just felt a little…Schumacher to me. Throw in the narration by Fox (Morgan Freeman) and it started to take on an XBox feel. That is something I’ve noticed, though, Nolan seems to have 3rd act problems with his Batman movies. I’ll talk about that more when I talk about those movies, suffice it to say for now, they all feel a little rushed.
And now, a gripe: I have a real hard time understanding Gary Oldman (Gordon) a good amount of the time. The other times he’s slipping back into his native British accent.