Tuesday afteroon I saw the latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight, at a local theater. Pre-movie, I scoped out the trailer to Christian Bale's next no-doubt-blockbuster, the fourth Terminator movie (which means now there'll be two too many). I also sat awkwardly through the trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation of Alan Moore's Watchmen, directed by Zack Synder, who also directed the adaptation of Frank Miller's 300. While it does seem like it might make interesting watching, I still think some comic stories are best left on page. Watchmen deconstructed the superhero comic genre, the movie isn't going to do anything so bold. I can see it going over people's heads, that is, even if they do it justice. But hell, who am I kidding? I'll go see it. Sorry, Mr. Moore. Really, I am.
Now, let's get to movie itself. Christian Bale returns as our caped crusader (I thought it was pretty amusing when Bruce Wayne's Russian date actually said "caped crusader" in the movie), though he's almost a non-entity in a movie about Batman. The weird growling he does while Batman is still irritating. Bale is a great actor, and does Bruce Wayne real well, but it seems like his Batman is forced at times. The Batman suit has been improved since last time, and they even worked the change into the storyline. If he's doing the fight stunts, I'm impressed, because he really looks like he's kicking ass.
Now, of course the big draw of this movie is the late Heath Ledger's turn as Batman's greatest nemesis The Joker. Now, the Joker has been played by a few actors over the year. Cesar Romero played him in the campy 60s television series. Jack Nicholson did a superb job playing up Joker's ego in Tim Burton's '89 Batman movie (which I still maintain is as good as either of these Nolan films). Mark Hamill voiced the Joker in the DCAU, starting in Batman: The Animated Series, and really brought a twisted charm to him. Nolan's Joker- that is, the Joker that Heath Ledger plays- is a totally different interpretation than the other ones. He is a pure "agent of chaos", as he says. He even submits gleefully to his own philosophy, with disregard to his own life as to compared to his goals. He's definitely somewhat different than the Joker of the comics, who tends to be more ego-driven, not leaving things to chance as much, and fond of himself enough not to risk his life when he doesn't have to. Still, this Joker, I almost prefer, because he really is pure in his practices, and yet still disturbingly amusing to watch at work (or is it play?). Ledger did a great job. Is it Oscar material? No, of course not. Don't be silly. But it's great.
Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, now that's award-winning material. His Harvey Dent was believable. Whenever he expressed an emotion, it really felt genuine, especially his anger and grief later on in the film. It was palpable. He more than made up for the piss-poor job of characterizing Two-Face in Batman Forever. My only complaint with this Two-Face is that he wasn't around long enough to be truly enjoyed. I understood that it was a Joker dominated movie, as it should have been, but I would have preferred saving Two-Face for the next movie. I had a real issue with the end of the movie, actually, which I'll get into.
Some of the little things in the movie really made it for me. For instance, Scarecrow's painfully short cameo in the beginning of the movie, the burning fire engine, and Joker putting on the antibacterial gel in the hospital after visiting Harvey. The little things really make this movie as good as it is. One of the greatest scenes is when that guy in accounting approaches Lucius Fox about the Tumbler, and tries to blackmail him and Bruce, and Fox questions his sanity to try to go after "one of the most powerful men in the world" who also "beats gansters to a pulp with his bare hands". The accountant backs down for a while, but then later goes on television to reveal Batman's identity, only to be targeted by Gothamites after the Joker threatens to do horrible things if he isn't killed (Joker doesn't want to know who Batman is), but Bruce Wayne saves him and he finally gets the message. In another scene, Joker asks a policemen how many of his friends he killed. The officer replies, "Six." The Joker mouths, "Ten." This sort of thing really elevates the movie above a lot of other superhero movies.
It's not a perfect movie, so let me get my complaints out of the way. First, Scarecrow was underutilized. Like I said before, this was a Joker-dominated movie, as it was meant to be, and it was good that Scarecrow's apperance was just like another day in the life of Batman, but Cillian Murphy is so superb in that role, it seems almost a waste to have so little of him. So, I was sort of torn by that part. Another thing is the lack of Batman in a Batman movie. It's almost as though the movie was completely about Joker and Harvey Dent. Isn't it a Batman movie? It didn't really develop him all that much. Then there's that whole Bruce-Rachel-Harvey love triangle which didn't do it for me. Then there was the ending, which was pretty awful and contradictory, considering that Batman refuses to kill Joker but pushes Harvey to his (un)certain death and then takes the blame for his crimes. I don't mean to make Batman sound like a jerk, but Batman in the comics wouldn't normally take the wrap for a criminal. He's say, "Hey, Harvey made his choices, the people of Gotham are just going to have to get over it." And how is Gordon supposed to justify shifting the blame onto Batman, who never uses guns, for murders that clearly used guns. Maroni, if he survived that car crash, would easily testify it was Harvey Dent who shot his driver. There's no way Gordon can keep this under wraps. And I don't like the idea of Batman being wanted for murders, because he would want to clear his name, not the opposite.
Now, you may ask, "Well, didn't you like this movie? What's with all the complaints?" Don't get me wrong. I loved the movie. I came out of the theater having immersed myself completely in that world. It was a shock to the system getting back into routine. Is it the greatest Batman movie? I have to mull it over for a while. At first glance, it isn't. It's a great movie, but I'd still put it on the level of Burton's original, which is still slightly behind Mask of the Phantasm. I might need to see it again, but I won't be seeing it in the theater. I've spent a lot of money on movies this summer and I still need to see X-Files: I Want To Believe, which is out soon.
My suggestion for the next movie? Black Mask, Bane, and Firefly. Roman Sionis doesn't become Black Mask until the final scene. In the meantime he bonds with Garfield Lynns over fire as Firefly cleans up the mob's messes by burning down evidence and Bane comes to town looking for the processing plant for his Venom drug, but stays for the challenge of going after Batman. Something in that vein. Yeah, Black Mask is sort of a lame villian, but if you establish his story well, he'll be fine for the movie afterwards.
So, that's my Bat-take. Later.