Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Déjà Vu: A Dark and Stormy Knight, Redux

It's not often that WB will re-run previous posts, but because it took so long for 78rpm and his son mp3 to coordinate moviegoing schedules and go see the second Batman installment that Litchik had already seen, we're doing that now. This will be an exercise in Bakhtinian dialogic movie reviewing, with Litchik's original post in blue and 78's addenda in orange.


Litchik has been waiting very eagerly for The Dark Knight. While perhaps not as rabidly devoted as the fanboys, Litchik is very much a Batman kind of gal. Superman tends to be the hero du jour for those who view the world in black and white absolutes. Batman is for those who view the world in varying shades of gray, who understand the complexities of the world we live in and know that being human is a blend of light and dark. This film totally nails that philosophy on the head. And nailed 78rpm in the head, too. What a busy script!

The thing about comic book heroes making the leap to the big screen is that they tend to mostly bring their original audience with them. Or at least that's what many directors, screenwriters and producers seem to believe: appease the fanboys and all will be well. Thankfully, the Nolan brothers apparently don't buy into this philosophy as they played with the mythos of several key characters. They also played with the idea of being polished screenwriters, but forgot to bring along editors to tighten up the story. But that's not what this film is about or what sets it apart. This movie has key components that should help propel it to several box office records and perhaps even a little gold bald guy or two. One for most inelegant and abrupt cuts in editing, and another for silliest vocal performance by a lead actor, Christian Bale?

First, the cast truly shines throughout the film. Obviously, much buzz surrounds the performance of Heath Ledger, almost to the point where it became seemingly impossible for him to meet those high expectations. Indeed, the word "overhyped" rides under the whole film like a giant subtitle. He does not disappoint, and he portrays the Joker with a terrifying chaotic glee. But it's really hard to get lost in a character while thinking, "That's Heath, and he's dead, and this is his last performance." Ledger isn't the only star who shines: Eric Roberts (Julia's brother) finally has a movie role of at least minor substance again, Gary Oldman (Jim Gordon) and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) provide a certain gravitas to the film and a moral anchor for Batman (often through the device of lengthy, sermonic moralizing speeches that slow the action a crawl), while Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (Rachel Dawes) provide strong supporting roles and help show Batman's human side. (Hey, it's that guy from the little art-house movie about cigarettes and the chick from that weird indie SM flick who wore a wedding dress and peed in it! Wow, his makeup is amazing after he gets burned—check how his fake eyeball moves in perfect sync with the real one! Wonder why Katie Holmes didn't come back as Rachel? Did Tom and the Scientologists threaten her if she left the house? Maggie sort of looks like Katie, a little, maybe. Dammit, I think I might have ADHD.)

Finally, Christain Bale's Batman is perhaps the darkest and most complex interpretation to date. Other than his voice, which sounds like an impersonation of Harvey Fierstein after smoking a carton of Camel nonfilters or the lead singer of Dethklok on Adult Swim's Metalocalypse, Bale brings out a tortured version of Batman and shows the real definition of hero. And when he's Bruce Wayne, you can see how in a few years he's going to start looking just like Pierce Brosnan. He seems a lot shorter than Aaron Eckhart and Gary Oldman, too. Isn't Batman supposed to be tall and imposing? Gary Oldman was excellent in that movie about the cop who buries money in his back yard — and Lena Olin was sooo hot as she kicked his ass. What's happened to her? How come he's still making movies and she's not? There aren't any good roles for older women unless they're Meryl Streep. Should I go see that Abba movie where Meryl sings? I need to rent Sid and Nancy tomorrow; I think it was Gary's first big role. Damned ADHD!

While the cast may be a delicious cake, the special effects and action scenes are the icing that tops it all off. The Bat Cycle will surely appear on your child's and 78rpm's Christmas list, and the fight scenes, especially any with the Joker, will leave many viewers wincing in their seats. He even does an impressive magic trick! (Unfortunately, one that gets a great laugh from the audience, even though it's supposed to be demented and sadistic.) The scenery itself has been better in earlier films, but the special effects (oh look, that truck is flipping straight into the air after Batman wraps cables around its axles! Hasn't that exact setup and payoff been done somewhere before — like maybe in Terminator 3? How blatant can they be?) are so impressive that most moviegoers (unless they're among the millions who've lived in or visited the Windy City for any length of time) won't notice that Gotham looks an awful lot like Chicago — a visual similarity that Nolan chose to leave untouched by CG alterations. And speaking of Terminator 3, what's with the teaser for Terminator: Salvation, coming in summer 2009 — and starring Christian Bale as John Connor? How in the hell are we supposed to think that Edward Furlong became Nick Stahl, who becomes Bruce Wayne? Whatever happened to Edward Furlong, anyway? And is it just a coincidence that the trailer right after the T4 teaser starred Russell Crowe, who starred with Bale in that "train to Yuma" western? An Aussie and a Welshman, in a cowboy movie about the American west. Two of these things are not like the other....

But we need to talk more about Litchik's point about Chicago. In Batman Begins, the Gotham backdrop was a digital amalgam of New York and Chicago exteriors with all kinds of CGI thrown into the mix so that viewers saw a city — indefinite article — that was slightly futuristic, slightly industrial, while also being dense and dark and teeming with movement. In the Dark Knight sequel, all of that is gone, replaced by the city — definite article — of Chicago. It's extremely distracting to be thinking: "Wayne Enterprises HQ is actually the IBM Building. Harvey's office is by the train station. Bruce's penthouse is in the Hotel 71. The gangsters are having dinner at Miller's. The flaming fire engine (ha ha, good joke, Joker) is on Wabash. The 3D fight scene is happening in the under-construction Trump Tower. (Wonder how much The Donald charged them for that?) The hospital is the Opera House. The ferry boats are leaving Navy Pier. I think I might be turning into Rain Man...."

This is Gotham.

This is not Gotham. This is Chicago.

What really sets this movie apart is the theme. This isn't the traditional good vs. evil of so many other comic book movies (or other movies, for that matter). Instead, this film lets chaos and chance play a central role, wreaking havoc on both sides of the morality fence. In all seriousness, Litchik is right: the movie definitely does give viewers a lot to think about. This also makes the latest installment the darkest Batman to date. No hopeful message or morality tale emerges in the end except for a body-slamming critique of the Bush administration's illegal wiretapping of citizens, and its willingness to shred the Constitution if that will bring in Osama Bin Laden. When Morgan Free... er, Lucius Fox tells Bruce Wayne that "it's not right to spy on 30 million people just to find one man," 78 wanted to stand and applaud... but realized that the allegory had probably just done a fly-by for most others in the theater who were busy with nachos and popcorn. In fact, this movie challenges the good-versus-evil motif by simply pointing out that none of it may matter at all. Our stand on the morality spectrum is something each of us will have to decide on our own.

Why... so... serious?
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