The Dark Knight

>> Monday, July 21, 2008

That was spectacular.

If you have an IMAX theater nearby that's showing The Dark Knight, it's absolutely worth it. Director Chris Nolan shot several crucial sequences of the movie using an IMAX camera; there's something uniquely stunning about seeing a tractor-trailer rig flip end-over-end on a screen that's seven stories tall. Discovery Place, the local venue where I saw The Dark Knight this evening, is an OMNIMAX venue with the curved-dome screen: shots of the Chicago and Hong Kong skylines (two of the locations used in the film) enfold and encircle the viewer, offering the illusion of 3D.

Even if you don't have the chance to see the movie in IMAX, it's worth seeing on a normal screen. As Nolan did in Batman Begins, the material is treated seriously but not too. There's a subtle, wry humor that's not condescending; at the same time the movie often feels as sober as Dog Day Afternoon or Zodiac.

There's actually not a lot I want to say about this movie: it was pleasantly surprising in places, and I don't want to spoil any of those pleasures or jolts. Genre pictures in general and superhero movies in particular have their tropes, and The Dark Knight sticks to many of them. But Nolan gets credit for taking several of the rules and breaking them over his knee--no, I'm not going to tell you which ones. I will say that Heath Ledger really is just as good as everyone says he is, and may have offered a definitive Joker for some years to come*; I'll also add that Ledger isn't the only member of the cast to give a damn fine performance and it's a credit to both Ledger and everyone else that Ledger's Joker doesn't steal the film (alright, I'll throw in one more thing on the subject: Gary Oldman gives us another redemptive performance as Jim Gordon after years of lazy, scenery-chewing performances--Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are fine reminders of just how good Oldman can be, kudos).

I'll also mention that there were moments in Knight that disturbed me and moments that scared me and moments that made me sad. And in a movie way, a good way and not just a superhero-movie-ish sort of way. There were moments that made me laugh, and in a generally-good way, but you expect funny moments in a superhero movie. It's the rare superhero movie that can affect you (Spider-Man 2 is one of the few that comes to mind--the scene in the el train is genuinely moving, and Knight laps it). Knight managed to get me worrying about characters' souls. And there are moments in the movie that are genuinely unpleasant in the best possible way, scenes that remind you of how provocative the art of film can be.

On that note I'll point out one very last thing: Knight is also possibly the only superhero movie I can think of offhand that bothers its pretty little head with consequences. Every superhero movie has things exploding, things knocked ass-over-end, broken glass and wrecked cars. It's practically a given that epic battles cause epic damage in superhero movies, but The Dark Knight is the only one I can think of that offers up a running death toll over the course of the film. There are people in those cars, and inside those buildings, people with friends and loved ones who will have to clean up the messes left in the wake of destruction. Knight manages to make it clear that people are playing for high stakes (and sometimes losing), and escalation and the repercussions of escalation become a major theme of the movie before the credits roll. It's not perfectly done--there's a lot of joy in blowing things up in a summer action movie--but it's done well enough for those explosions and crashes to leave a smoldering bad taste in your mouth when characters in a subsequent scene discuss how many of their friends died today.

And that's it, that's all I'll say about it for now. It's good, it's very, very good. I think it's good in a "good movie" way and not just a "good superhero movie" way. (Iron Man and Hellboy II were good superhero movies; The Dark Knight is on a different level entirely.) And you should go see it and you shouldn't wait for it to come out on video, and you should see it on the biggest screen you can if you have a chance.

*Until now, the definitive Joker was... Mark Hamill.

No, I'm not kidding. Nearly everyone raves about Jack Nicholson's terrible performance in the Tim Burton Batman, in which Nicholson bizarrely plays The Joker as somebody doing a Jack Nicholson impersonation: Jack Nicholson as The Joker as Rich Little as Jack Nicholson. I'm sorry, it's horrible. Hamill, on the other hand, did incredible voice work on the animated TV series. Nicholson's performance bleeds into every other "Jack Nicholson is a loud crazy person" role--he might as well shout "Here's Johnny!" as snarl something about dancing with the Devil; Hamill's chortling, mocking delivery ("Baaaats, don't leeeeave me!") sticks with you.

For that matter, I'll take Caesar Romero's Joker (he of the greasepainted-over moustache) over Nicholson's any day of the year....


Matt Warnock Tuesday, July 22, 2008 at 8:56:00 AM EDT  

Awww man, I can't wait to see it. Either this weekend or next, it's hard to get out to movies with a little one. Plus, I'm also dying to see Hellboy II and I'm worried that might not be in the theatre as long.

And I totally agree with you on the Jack Nicholson/Mark Hamil Joker thing. Nicholson got a rediculous amount of money for Batman because of who he is, and his performance wasn't that Jokerish. Hamil's voice over can be pretty erie at times and has the right amount of craziness.

Janiece Murphy Tuesday, July 22, 2008 at 9:14:00 AM EDT  

I feel the same way about this series of Batman movies. Saw it Saturday, loved, loved, loved.

Batman was a tortured character - lightening him up for the benefit of the masses is kind of a betrayal of his creator.

And the Joker? Yikes. The definition of "issues."

Jeri Tuesday, July 22, 2008 at 9:00:00 PM EDT  

We saw it this weekend too (non-Imax) and while I thought the movie was good, I didn't think it was great - it was twenty lazy editing minutes too long to be great. :P

Bryan (the hub) wrote a review of it on our site.

I agree that the characterization was exceptionally strong in this one - super well done.

Random Michelle K Sunday, August 3, 2008 at 9:39:00 AM EDT  

I finally saw Batman yesterday, so I finally got around to reading your post. (I don't like knowing much of anything before I watch a movie.)

I did feel the movie was a little too long--which make me prefer Batman Begins. Batman Begins left me wanting more. When I walked out of The Dark Knight it just felt too long, but I wasn't sure why.

However, what I wanted to say was that I couldn't agree with you more about the Joker. I've not watched the animated series, but Heath Ledger was amazing and frightening. When he had his knife out and was in the faces of those he was threatening I could hardly watch the screen because I *knew* he was dangerous.

And I don't understand what people see in Jack Nicholson. He always plays himself. I don't want to watch him, I want to watch the characters.

I think he almost ruined The Departed (which I loved) because he wasn't the character, he was himself. Yuck.

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