Harry spends a dark night with the DARK KNIGHT
Hyperbole is my forte. I’m known for it. I love films the way a dog loves humping your leg at Thanksgiving Dinner – but I get terrified when I see critics – high and low – throwing out comparisons to GODFATHER 2 for a BATMAN movie. Or that want to say that the film isn’t “merely the best superhero film ever made,” but they also want to put it as the best crime film ever made.
Well, through circumstances beyond my control – I’m late weighing in on this here DARK KNIGHT picture show dealio. The film is, in fact, superb in every way. A vast improvement on BATMAN BEGINS – amazing what happens when you no longer have to deal with an origin story and satisfying only the merchandizing interests of the parent corporation. Instead, Nolan has decided to treat Batman as only the best Comic Writers have dared to. Adult, scary and frightening.
DARK KNIGHT is a great dark Batman movie.
Is it everything every BATMAN fan would ever want from BATMAN, THE JOKER or TWO-FACE?
Well, depends on the fan. If you like your Batman on the cutting edge of technology, that uses Wayne Industries and his persona as Bruce Wayne to do things that even Batman couldn’t do, that has a strict code that he adheres to, but is ruthlessly unethical in his pursuit of evil… well this is your Batman. He kicks ass, hurts but never kills. This Batman is an empowered mutherfucker. He will beat confessions and information out of thugs, he would break legs for information and he will kidnap whomever he sees fit… if it serves the greater good.
Now if that’s what you want – that’s what you’re going to get. But if you want a more juvenile tale, with a glimmer of light and a prayer of a happy ending… keep on trucking, cuz that ship doesn’t dock here.
That said – HOLY FUCK – what a great movie.
This is a film that’s better than any given performance in it. It is a fantastic ensemble work. All at once BATMAN is everything that you wish was out there fucking up evil on a nightly basis. But what I love about this film is this… Batman isn’t some rogue vigilante – he’s the ultimate black op operative – working in collusion with law enforcement and government to do what they can’t. He has limitless wealth – seemingly. Science and technology is at his beck and call and he piggybacks on a government’s research and development. He’s the blunt force trauma of a flaccid broken city eaten away by bad cops and several active mafias that know the established system and play it like a casino does their poker tables. Making it impossible to ever win in the long run.
Batman is an equalizer. He’s Buford Pusser with a lot more than a 2x4. He’s walking tall and kicking ass. At the same time, Bruce Wayne is using his wealth and connections – he’s getting into business with unethical sonsabitches so that his company can examine them with a fine toothed comb – to see how they work, how they shuffle the money – how they hide the corruption. To locate and know the secrets that only the corporate giants know. He is listening to everything, violating every ethical boundary to simply beat the bad guys and take his city back. And he is aware that forces outside the boundaries of his Gotham City effect and conspire to feed upon the populace of his city and he’ll target them as well.
However, just as the final conversation between Gordon and Batman in BATMAN BEGINS worried about – Escalation is happening.
The particular genius of DARK KNIGHT is it’s treatment of the JOKER – they don’t explain him. He didn’t kill Bruce’s parents. He wasn’t dropped into a vat of chemicals by Batman. In fact, he has no direct ties to the caped crusader. The Joker is a mystery. Why does he exist? What does he serve?
He’s literally the flipside of Batman. While Batman believes in the dream of civilization and the town his family helped found, the Joker believes in the inequities of civilization. He sees hypocrites everywhere. The world is full of sane citizens a push from insanity. What made him this way? I doubt seriously that we’ll ever see that story written adequately to serve the character created on screen.
As has been said before – Heath Ledger’s JOKER is a great screen villain. One to put on the shelf of cinematic history along side: Richard Widmark’s TOMMY UDO, Malcolm McDowell’s ALEX, James Cagney’s CODY JARRETT, Anthony Hopkins’ HANNIBAL LECTER, Javier Bardem’s ANTON CHIGURH and Robert Mitchum’s MAX CADY. It is officially that quality. I won’t call him the best, just as I can’t personally rank those that I listed. These are all great unhinged villains. Amoral sonsabitches to the last. The best thing that Heath’s performance has done is to forever erase the painful memory of Jack Nicholson’s Joker. I remember back in 1989, the world went bonkers over Jack’s performance. And I was pissed. As written in Sam Hamm’s script, the character was so much better than what Nicholson transformed it into through the aid of Warren Skaaren. Here, Heath is invisible in the role, his eyes containing madness, genius, sympathy, sadism and childlike glee. The stories he tells are brilliant little mind fucks. His monologues and mannerisms seem so spontaneous, so created with a gleeful inspiration from the great deceiver himself. It is a role and a performance of a lifetime. Will he win Best Supporting Actor next year? Well – of the above brilliant performances – Only Sir Anthony & Bardem walked away with a Bald Golden Dude. It is a crime that any of those other performances were not awarded, but they each deserved it. At this point, Heath’s work as the Joker is deserving of consideration, but let’s see what else the year has in store for us, eh?
Oddly though – The Joker is not the most frightening character in the film. That goes to Harvey Dent / Two-Face. When Two-Face goes on his journey in this film, he isn’t simply a cartoon. He’s a nightmare. He’s the family pet ripping the throat out on your daughter. He’s something you loved, twisted, random and dangerous. When George Raft famously flipped the coin, there was death in his eyes. When Anton Chigurh flipped, it felt like an excuse for the character. Here – when Dent flips that coin, he literally has no idea what he’s going to do, until it lands clean or scarred – and even then – he could find a reason to flip again. His psyche was scarred far worse than his face, and until you see that nightmarish Dorian Gray/Jonah Hex visage… you’ve no idea how great this character is. Now zebra striped neon suits… No hot pink makeup. Here… it’s the shit of nightmares.
That said – Everyone in the film is rock solid. My personal favorite character of this series is Gary Oldman’s James Gordon. It’s just a supremely crafted character. A good cop in a corrupt town, trying to make it safer for us all. He’s amazing in what little he’s given in the film. And I just can not get over how I can’t see Gary Oldman in him, I only see Gordon and that makes me so fucking happy. So happy to see Gordon no longer played as a bumbling buffoon. Instead he’s somebody that puts in the long hours, doesn’t care about credit and advancement, but rather – he’s there to get the job done because everyone else could give a rat’s ass. I was genuinely shocked by the choices with this character this time out. Each beat felt true to the character – and was brought to life with the greatness of Gary Oldman.
Christian Bale, Michael Caine & Morgan Freeman are simply the best. The invention of Lucius Fox was never a character I truly loved in comic form when Len Wein created him – but as Morgan Freeman has played the character – I’ve fallen in love with him. He is absolutely the best version of an all-purpose Q character in film history. It’s played with respect and knowledge. It’s nice to see that it takes a team to make Batman as super as he is here. That there’s people behind the Bat trying to make him better than he would be on his own. Folks driving to help the legend take hold, all hoping that this crazy son of a bitch can hold it together long enough to make a difference. But they all see this as something that can’t last long. We’d only see something like the Batman for a brief amount of time. They’re there to try and give him the tools, knowledge and wisdom to make it the best use of that gifted time.
Heroes don’t last long. Not in the real world. They seem to always disappoint in the end – and where Batman goes in this film. Where he’s left at the end, is that he’s set up to be the Batman for the rest of his life. He’s locked in. He isn’t looking for excuses to put the cape up. There’s nothing left for him but the cowl and the crusade.
The franchise has taken its time to get Batman to where he is right now, they’ve built him with the utmost care and intelligence. Where he goes from here as a character is going to be the trick. It is a shame that we’ll never see Heath as the Joker again, but what I hope is that they don’t just let the character go. Instead – like Telly Savalas’ one run at Blofeld, it set the rules for the character. If anything, Heath laid down one awesome dare to any who would dare follow. I just hope someone has the sack to pick up the grease paint and knives and give it a run. Personally – I’d nominate Javier Bardem.
Enjoy this weekend and this film. This one was done note perfect.