Friday, July 18, 2008

Review: The Dark Knight

In what was perhaps one of my bigger asshole moments, I wrote snidely on a friend's Facebook wall that when it came to The Dark Knight, "-spoiler alert- Batman will win in the end". I wrote that remark approximately a week ago from when TDK premiered on the 16th of July. At that point I was completely and absolutely tired with everything Batman related.;the jokerized everything on ONTD, the never ending viral marketing, the discussion regarding Heath Ledger's unfortunate death and how that may or may not be affected by his portrayal of the Joker, the obnoxious fan parade - like I mentioned before, all that insane hype and build up was ironically detracting from the movie's appeal. At that point I just wanted to get it over and done with so the madness would stop.

Perhaps a little backstory is necessary. I have never been a fan of Batman. This is rather ironic given that of all the Marvel/DC superheroes, I am most familiar with the history of Batman, ie his various incarnations in popular culture and how it's shifted over mediums and time. But really, to me, Batman is effectively a rich guy with too much money to spend and an overwhelming sense of self-importance. Blah blah blah, "but Karen he's so honorable cause he's like avenging the death of his parents!", I can hear the fanboys cry out. Well, there is honour in being a lawyer too is all I have to say. But then I suppose the story of a super lawyer would be better fitted to a John Grisham novel than a comic book. Anyway to reiterate, me no likey Batman. Not very much at all.

Alright, so we fast forward to Monday, 14th July 2008 and suddenly I'm realizing that my feelings about Batman isn't integral to my movie-watching experience. The fact that the entire cast reads like a modern wish list of the greatest cinema geek was more than enough reason to get my arse to the cinemas and watch The Dark Knight. Besides, it was Christopher Nolan's film. There could be nothing short of epicness when that name is attached to a project. So on Thursday morning of the 17th of July, my movie watching bud and I took the day off work and went down to our local cinema to catch the 10.30 am screening. Seems a bit over the top, but mind you, that cinema hall was half-packed.

So what is my opinion of the film now that I've watched it? Well for starters, it is very, very good. It is also very dark and violent as NY Mag is so quick to point out. But it is a necessary darkness that Nolan delves into for within it then only can I finally understand the appeal behind Batman and why the Dark Knight has endured the superficial misgivings I have been so quick to label him with. The Dark Knight is essentially a philosophical study in where the lines are drawn in morality, corruptibility and ethics. Batman as we know, represents the paragon of goodness that the Joker doesn't. Heath Ledger plays the Joker without any of the camp aesthetic Jack Nicholson brought to the role, thus making his villain a very scary one - anarchistic and evil, yet very clever. It lends credence to Batman, gives his villain-fighting a greater sense and purpose that goes far beyond the excuse of avenging his parents.

But I'm getting a head of myself. We were talking about morality, corruptibility and ethics. There is no better character study of said issues than in the character of Harvey Dent (played by the woefully overlooked Aaron Eckhart in the wake of the Ledger posthumous-praise). Dent starts out as one of the few good guys in Gotham city, working hard as District Attorney to clean up the streets of Gotham City. He and Batman are essentially the same person but on two sides of a coin. Dent is a city hero, catching the crooks, showing himself to be incorruptible when dealing with criminals, wanting the affections of Rachel Dawes. The people love and adore him giving him the title of 'the White Knight of Gotham'. Batman on the other hand, shares many similarities but is on the flip side. Labeled a vigilante, an outcast, he is the Dark Knight - as the title indicates. In an alternate universe, Wayne probably would have ended up the same route as Dent, fighting injustice through reasonable means - being a lawyer. Watching the turn both men takes as the movie progresses is absolutely riveting. It certainly teaches us that chance and choice begets very different results.

As mentioned before, the cast is phenomenal. Each individual by themselves are terrific performers, but together they band together to create a story so moving, so absorbing, that for 2 and a half hours, there is no other reality than what you observe on screen. A lot has been said and written about Ledger's Joker and I don't feel the need to add to that. Heath Ledger's death was very tragic, and the fact that his last role was so disturbing will probably fan the fire of conspiracy theorists for a long time. All I have to say is, of course he was fantastic. Has Brokeback Mountain taught you nothing?! Let's not forget the rest of the cast though. Christian Bale is brilliant at switching between the gravitas needed for the role of the Caped Crusader and the frivolous playboy alter ego Bruce Wayne. Aaron Eckhart's descent into madness and into Two-Face was approached with great subtlety and nuance. But I clap the hardest for Gary Oldman's Lt./Commissioner James 'Jim' Gordon. It's a hard task playing the straightest of straight guys, but Oldman imbues his character with the commitment and strong will that is needed to believe that he believes in good and will never be persuaded by the dark side. The final act in particular and Jim Gordon's speech enforces my new appreciation of Batman.

So yeah, I was a massive wanker for taking such a condescending tone with Batman in that early Facebook wall post I left. And I have since apologize to said friend for being an asshole. Because the truth is, Batman's 'win', if you want to call it that wasn't as cut and dry as I made it out to be. This is no Spiderman 2. Under Christopher Nolan's direction, every success came with a heavy loss. It adds unparalleled depth to the case for Batman and in this light do I finally accept his 'superhero' status. It is only in The Dark Knight that Bruce Wayne's life choices has finally earned him the title of superhero in my books.


Nick said...

Who else is a superhero in your books?

-k said...

I don't really have a definition per se, but I guess I would classify a superhero as someone who rises up to the challenge and goes far and beyond what is expected of him to do what is right. The key words are 'far and beyond'. A hero might simply rise to the challenge.

In a conventional sense, Spiderman is my favourite superhero. Probably because he's so damn relatable.