Watched the Dark Knight last night. Overall, a great comic book movie. I’m not exactly sure how much it ‘transcended the genre’, as many reviewers have put it, but that’s not exactly a bad thing. The important thing to remember is that Batman as a comic never transcended the genre, even in its Frank Miller days, on which much of this particular Batman is based. Perhaps it was because of the overhype of the film – and it was plenty hyped, Jesus – but I went into the movie half-expecting the first big budget arthouse-style superhero movie. It’s not. It’s a really good superhero action movie. But yet, the critics keep insisting it be more. Why must it be?
“Batman” isn’t a comic book anymore. Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” is a haunted film that leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing tragedy. It creates characters we come to care about. That’s because of the performances, because of the direction, because of the writing, and because of the superlative technical quality of the entire production. This film, and to a lesser degree “Iron Man,” redefine the possibilities of the “comic-book movie.”
“The Dark Knight” is not a simplistic tale of good and evil. Batman is good, yes, The Joker is evil, yes. But Batman poses a more complex puzzle than usual: The citizens of Gotham City are in an uproar, calling him a vigilante and blaming him for the deaths of policemen and others. And the Joker is more than a villain. He’s a Mephistopheles whose actions are fiendishly designed to pose moral dilemmas for his enemies.
What these reviewers seem to be missing is this: many comic books are this smart. TDK is not necessarily better than its roots, and I believe that Christopher Nolan was careful not to let this happen. Let’s leave the transcending for the Watchmen movie, which is based on Alan Moore’s expansion of the comic book mythology into the world of realism.
The most striking facet of the film, that kept it firmly tethered to its pulp roots, was the dialog. From the opening scene, the bad guys spoke as bad guys and the cops spoke as cops. Well, the grunts on both sides tended to have the primary deficit in eloquence. It wasn’t quite so bad as the 60s Batman-style “Gee, Boss! What’re we gonna do now?” thang, but Nolan kept them in their place. Sometimes, though, the dialog seemed a might too stodgy. Batman, especially when in character, growled through his usual two-dimensional morality, but with a bit more depth. The Joker probably had the best dialog of all, but it was purposefully cartoony and Ledger played it artfully.
Sidenote: Ledger was very good in the role, bringing a convincing mania to the character. I dug the grimy, lip-smacking, creepy vibe he gave off, which was in direct contrast to Nicholson’s polished upper-crust parody. Still, I don’t think it is Oscar material (whatever that means anymore). He’s very good at becoming the character, but it is primarily a comical character. There simply isn’t that much depth to the character, and Nolan kept it that way. The closest we get to a motivation is a vague description of his ‘anarchic’ philosophy – which is actually not an anarchic philosophy in my opinion (for the record, anarchy and chaos are not the same thing; anarchy means literally: no ruler). But Ledger will win the Oscar. Why? Because he died. There, I said it. If there is one thing the Academy cannot resist, it is sentimentality, whether in film or in real life. I will bet 20 dollars to the first person willing to take it. Ledger will get the Best Actor Oscar. Hmmm, now that I think about it, maybe the role is Oscar material, seeing that Oscar material tends to require forces unrelated to the actual performance in the film.
I’m a huge fan of Gary Oldman in the role of Gordon. His bland, mustachioed cop that you can’t help loving is exactly what the pulp adaptation needs and he plays it to perfection. The more I see and read of Oldman, the more he strikes me as the seminal professional actor. Outlandish in roles that call for it and subdued in the roles that call for him to step into the background. He never steals a scene, but yet gives you a few moments to say, “Fuck yeah Gary Oldman!, I mean Police Chief Gordon, I mean Commissioner Gordon.”
K, to sum it all up: great performances, so-so dialog, plenty of nail-biting moments, lotsa explosions, beautiful cinematography. Definitely go see it in the theaters.