Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Dark Knight

This Is My City

Before you continue, as a Bat-fan I can't help it but to celebrate The Dark Knight because Christopher Nolan hit the nail squarely on the head again, giving us possibly THE definitive version of a Batman movie involving The Joker, wait, make that THE definitive Batman movie to date after Batman Begins, unless he tops The Dark Knight with a follow up (Warner Brothers would be mad to hand over the mantle to somebody else at this point). So if you're looking for a standard review of the movie, go somewhere else. Otherwise, allow this fan to indulge in plenty of fawning over what went EXACTLY RIGHT, and with my MASSIVE SPOILER WARNING, do not proceed any further until you've seen the movie, and want to discuss it a bit. Here we go!

Welcome to a world where Heath Ledger rules. Believe the hype surrounding his portrayal of Gotham's clown prince of crime, where his every little gesture mesmerizes, and is simple, effective and downright scary. That's right, scary. I remembered when he was first casted there were plenty of skepticism, just like how Michael Keaton was first casted in the role of Batman. But Ledger owned this role, and made it one of a kind, surpassing every other actor that took the role before him, and would take a monumental effort for anyone who comes after to top what he did.

There are those who took to Jack Nicholson's version as the best out there, so much so as to swear they saw the last minute eye twitch, or having a body double excuse, and the cartoon version with Mark Hamill's voicing of the character as having the best voice acting. Heath tops both with giving us a Joker leaping right out of the comic books coupled with his own creative flair, where he's just plain insane, but always, despite what he says, having a plan (and a big ambitious one at that) and exhibiting that he's just as intellectually an equal to Batman when it comes to a war of the minds. But what makes him truly dangerous, is his freehand toward execution and violence, with classic throwbacks to episodes from the books stretching all the way back to Batman #1, what with his issuing of midnight deadlines, and snooking everyone including the cops and the dark knight with his killings planned way in advance. This Joker shows absolutely no remorse for anything, and there was no need to dumb down his character by having to play up on the Clown factor and have him do silly tricks or spout (un)funny lines like the version from the predecessor franchise. There is no absolute need, even to excessively give out a maniacal laughter all the time, and who would've guessed a simple pencil would prove to be one of the most memorable violent gags, and one that defined the character in a brutally efficient manner?

And the posthumous Oscar? Well, not to damper the spirits of many out there, I thought the strength of his portrayal, stemmed from the rich storyline that Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, and David Goyer too, crafted based out of the distilled essence right out of the comic books. While we've heard of how so-and-so are fans of certain comic books, and were made writers/directors of some superhero movies, what we got usually as an end result are messy movies. I don't need to name names here. It's always about the story, and the writers have to dig beneath the surface to truly provide us a story that doesn't insult the intelligence of the audience. The Dark Knight ups the ante and throws down the gauntlet to every aspiring comic-book adaptation filmmaker out there to distance themselves from mediocrity.

Nolan-Nolan-Goyer nailed plenty of stuff in this film, one of which was the symbiotic relationship on the existence of both Batman and his arch nemesis The Joker. Frankly, one doesn't exist without the other, and becomes a constant plot point that many writers out there had already covered. But watching it take a life of its own on screen, was a real treat, an indication that the filmmakers really respected and understood the characters and their motivations inside out. That actually explains the longevity of Batman as a character of more than 80 years old, because it is the quality of his villains that ensured his popularity. With a rich rogues gallery filled to the brim with psychologically disturbed characters, Nolan, to paraphrase a line in the movie, truly provided s a different class of criminals from what we had experienced from the earlier movies which were not helmed by him, criminals from the rogues gallery who do not possess sesame street kind of friendly demeanour that don't strike fear and make you think that they could really hurt you bad.

Then comes along my favourite character with Harvey Dent/Two-Face, who in Batman Forever, was reduced to a Joker wannabe buffoon, totally without his psychological problems which made this character great. He's a tragic character, and The Dark Knight played him right, coupled with some eye popping (pardon the pun) prosthetics, make up and effects to bring to life his innate alter-ego. In the earlier franchise, we don't get to see much of Gordon, and even Dent made just a cameo appearance with Billy Dee Williams, before Tommy Lee Jones took over. Here, Aaron Eckhart too made this tragic character his own, complete with the corruption in his supposedly fair and honest scarred-coin toss, and disfigured face, seeking revenge for the unfortunate events that befallen him. The gem of his character comes from the interaction with The Joker, which unlike the Penguin-Catwoman clear-cut alliance, has plenty more in depth pathos fused into that short meeting of the minds. That scene alone, is worth the price of an admission ticket, and makes you wonder who the pawn in this game truly is.

The other scene which scored, was the formation of the trinity of hope, between Gordon, Dent and Batman. Drawing inspiration from countless of comic book material, this is a MUST have, considering the amount of potential the story had decided to go along with, and delivered perfectly. Whoever Gordon captures, gets charged by Dent, and if fallen through the cracks, then Batman will be there to mop it up. Dent is the daytime crimefighter who's out in the open, and true to the books, Batman always feels remorseful for who Dent will become, having to thrust him into the limelight and suffer consequences, for clearly he is the true hero without the need to hide behind a mask to protect his identity. While this alliance proved to be highly effective, just as in The Long Halloween storyline, having to see them fall from grace is one of the key plot points that makes this movie memorable. They won the battle, but lost the war, having one of their own fall into the clutches and entrapment of the villain. And by the time the end credits roll, this couldn't be more true as a sense of bereavement started to overwhelm.

Plenty of other moments as well continue to plough onto the plus list of The Dark Knight. Things like the relationship and trust between Gordon and Batman taking a huge leap forward from where we left off in Begins, and how rooftop interrogation remained a staple method by the Batman. Christian Bale continues his playboy antics with the Bruce Wayne character, although as in the Year One book, he does risk it a little by having to intervene in daylight, complete with motorcycle and crash helmet which I thought was a nod to Year One's direction. Jim Gordon too got a larger role here, and again Nolan understood that Gordon's a chief ally and can never ever be accorded the woeful characterization as played by Pat Hingle ever again.

Christopher Nolan clearly took some action-directing classes after feedback from audiences and listening to fans everywhere that we can't really see a thing in Batman Begins' fight sequences, and here, we get something more decent, and watchable when Bats gets into fisticuffs with thugs. While the action sequences make for great excitement and entertainment, Nolan too decided not to forget about the Detective in Dark Knight Detective, giving Bruce Wayne some ample opportunity to do some investigative sleuthing while in and out of costume. While I really disliked the Bat-pod from scenes from trailers, seeing it in action make me take back my words. Taking a leaf out of the Bat-missile from Batman Returns, here we get another sleek vehicle as a by-product of the main one, and put to good use here, especially with a specific stunt, and with the Joker forever taunting Bats to break his one golden rule about the taking of lives. Detractors of the Batmobile will rejoice as well, as it is likely we may look at another different design in future episodes, just like how in the comic books, this vehicle continue to evolve all the time.

Oh, and flying the Singapore flag sky high, is actor Ng Chin Han (credited as Chin Han here). The last time I remembered vividly where a prominent Singaporean actor who got a role in a big Hollywood blockbuster with lines, was Ivan Heng in Luc Besson's 5th Element, coincidentally, he was exchanging dialogue opposite Gary Oldman. Despite the mentioning of Singapore in Batman Begin being a transit point for Wayne's shipments, the movie decided to base Batman's cinematic excursion out of Gotham to Hong Kong instead, where there were some unhappiness amongst the residents with the cast and crew's presence in the territory and the plan for Batman to jump into the famed harbour was aborted due to pollution. Well, I'm pretty sure there'll be no such issues with him jumping into the Singapore River, and that our film industry here will likely welcome everyone with open arms, but then again, the character of a villainous businessman with triad links might have been a little unbelievable here given our reputation for being squeaky clean. Anyway, when in Hong Kong, Edison Chen's involvement drew some big hoo-har, but too bad, it's a blink and you miss role, probably cut to distant the film from his shameful scandals. But Chin Han on the other hand, had substantial dialogue, action, and played opposite every major character in the movie.

The Dark Knight is a brilliant film. Everything was done right, stemming from a totally rich and in depth story that never failed to deliver its punches where it mattered, and frankly speaking, caught me off guard a number of times with its superb sleight of hand technique. Every one of the A-list cast lived up to their potential, and evergreens from the previous movie like Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, have a lot more to do this time round. I enjoyed every bit of Lucius Fox's involvement in the plot, seeing how he took over from Gordon in the climax, while Alfred, well, seemed to be on the receiving end of one particular witty jibe from Bruce, which is indeed rare.

This is hands down THE movie of the year for me to date, and it'll really take a lot to knock it off its perch. I suggest you rush out of the door right now, get yourself tickets and watch it. I'm going to do so again. I believe in Christopher Nolan, and Bat-fans around the world would have followed suit too.

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