July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight

Director Christopher Nolan has avoided the dreaded Sequel-itis with his second Batman movie.
The Dark Knight is an ambitious, epic length (but not tedious) battle for the soul of Gotham. As the movie begins, a fragile power triangle forms between Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman), D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and Batman. Their goal: crush the Mob in Gotham City. Meanwhile, The Joker uses the Mob to tear the city apart. In a romantic subplot, Bruce Wayne imagines a life after Batman, while his would-be girlfriend A.D.A. Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is stuck in a triangle between Wayne and Dent. From the moment Rachel was introduced in Batman Begins, I thought that a romantic subplot was a poor idea, but it appears Nolan (who also co-wrote the movie) had important plans for her character all along.
Just like Batman Begins, The Dark Knight explores the psychological motivation of the heroes and villains of the Batman comic books with an exciting postmodern, 21st century perspective. The classic comic book relationship between the Batman and the Joker, the relationship which makes these characters worth watching, is faithfully depicted, and the Joker is shown as the demented and sadistic yet playful terrorist that he is. Instead of killing people with his killer laughing gas, he tends to use a knife, gun, or a bomb. He doesn't care about money or power- he's determined to show Gotham the true face of human nature, and have some fun doing it.
Heath Ledger does a great job as the Joker- he doesn't let out the oversized laughter too much. He speaks with a nasal twang, with his pauses in all the wrong places, while he plays with his greasy hair and his knives, and licks his distorted face like a wormy maladjusted pervert. The hair and makeup contributed a lot to the overall effect. I think all the Oscar talk is a little overblown, but he still did a sufficiently creepy job.
I thought Aaron Eckhart did a good job introducing a complex character. I don't want to say too much about his part, but he's perfect as a big talking politician, slightly less believable as a honest and crusading attorney, and powerfully scary when he crosses the line between passion and madness. Boy that sounds dumb but I don't want to say too much!
I was worried that the Batman would become a supporting player in his own movie, but he has plenty to do in this sequel- that's one of the reasons the movie is 2 hours, 32 minutes long. He has several very satisfying adventures, including one trip overseas. He does some actual detective work, a side of the Batman which isn't explored enough. His unlimited wealth is good for more than weapons and vehicles, he also uses his R&D resources to improve his detecting ability.
The plot details are a little overcomplicated, but the pacing is brisk so I didn't ruminate about it too much. The Joker's mayhem and murderous plots are all sufficiently sick and funny, but all his puzzle pieces fall into place a little too perfectly. His traps and practical jokes are too implausibly synchronized. However, the nature of his plots and mayhem were perfect- they captured the nature of the Joker well, and I really appreciated how Gordon and the GCPD are so easily predictable. Near the end of the movie, Gordon is taking one of the Joker's schemes at face value, and Batman has to step in to say "with the Joker, it's never that simple", which is a classic Batman comic book scene. Later, Batman braces the Joker and yells "where are the detonators!", a pure comic book moment which gave me chills.
Strongly recommended. The movie has a lot of beatings, shootings, and several buildings get blown up. The Joker is fond of knives, but the movie is more suggestive of gruesomeness than explicitly gruesome.

ALSO by Gary Oldman on STUB HUBBY:Batman & Stub Hubby