28
Jul
08

movie review: Dark Knight 1 & 2

So I saw the new Batman movies last week (how’s that for timely posting?).  For the most part, they live up to the hype, but naturally I have a few bones to pick.  My friends tell me I manage to find fault with everything, and J-rod (yes that’s a real person) thinks I get some sort of perverse pleasure out of it.  He might have a point, perhaps life would be better if my reaction to everything was “wow, that was neat!” Actually, I saw Thank You For Smoking  over the weekend (starring Dark Knight’s  Aaron Eckhart) and thought it was pretty much a perfect movie, so to my dear friends: bite me.   I’ll stop finding faults in movies when Hollywood stops copiously providing them!  Anyway, on to what I what I thought of the two new Batman movies…

[NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD!  Although I can’t imagine anyone who reads this blog hasn’t already seen it]

I have to admit, those folks at Warner Brothers are pretty clever… there I was, all psyched up to see the new Batman movie, when much to my surprise I was treated to two Batman movies!  I don’t think anyone in the theater knew we were in for a double feature – hats off to the marketing people who managed to keep it a secret (although the two hour and forty minute running time should have been a tip off).

The first film (which I’ll call Dark Knight I), centers on the Joker and is nearly without flaw.  While I’m not sure I’m ready to jump on the Oscar bandwagon for the late Heath Ledger, his performance as a serial-killing agent of chaos could be the best bit of acting in any superhero flick to date.  Following suit, many aspects of Dark Knight I elevate the genre to new heights, proving that the film makers were not just out to make a good Batman movie, but a good movie, period.

 

REITMAN’S RULE

One of the most astute observations about comedy films I’ve ever read came from Director Ivan Reitman, who said (and I am paraphrasing here), “the problem with most comedy movies is that they rely on the jokes to carry them; they ignore the importance of story and many other aspects of what makes a movie great; you should be able to strip away all the jokes from your favorite comedy and still be left with a good movie that has an intriguing story, sympathetic characters, good cinematography, music, etc.”

Certainly movies like Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day  live up to this.  You can often apply “Reitman’s Rule” to other genres and it becomes easy to spot where they’ve failed; take sci-fi, for instance.  Strip away all the robots and aliens and ray guys from Episode II and are you left with a story worth telling and characters you care about?  Probably not.  But do the same to The Empire Strikes Back and you’ve still got an entertaining movie.  “I love you, I know” would have been a classic moment in any film, let alone a Star Wars chapter.

Dark Knight I  stands up to this test in spades.  Essentially, this film is a tight, suspenseful, psychological action/thriller that just happens to star Batman.  It doesn’t even need  Batman to be a good movie, but once you add that extra-special element to the mix, it just elevates the whole thing to a new level.

When the first film draws to a close, with Gordon returning to save Batman and nab the Joker, I was ecstatic.  The movie simply could not have been better!  I was grabbing my coat and preparing to leave when suddenly, without so much as a fade to black to warn the audience, the second film started (why Warners chose not to insert an official intermission and let people know a new movie was about to start is beyond me).

 

Dark Knight II  literally picks up moments after the first film ends, with the Joker in captivity and the focus shifting to Harvey Dent/Two-Face.  The tale of the White Knight’s fall from grace is a compelling one, and so it was with great sorrow that I witnessed this movie rush through his story in little more than an hour.  To add insult to injury, I guess the Joker was so popular in the first film the producers felt they had to have him back, so a fair chuck of precious screen time in this  chapter is wasted on more of the Joker’s cockamaime schemes (why not flesh out the Two-Face story more completely?  I hope the DVD of Dark Knight II  has a lot of deleted scenes put back in, if not only to turn this hour-long film into something more satisfying).

 

BUT SERIOUSLY, FOLKS

Ok, the joke’s over.  If I’ve learned one thing from writing this blog, it’s that my tongue-in-cheek humor tends to sometimes fly over people’s heads.  So, right now, I am officially letting you know that  I do not really think these were two movies.   But they should have been.

I don’t know what it is about Christopher Nolan that makes him so eager to throw in everything all at once.  The only real complaint I had about Batman Begins was that it felt like he was trying to cram in every last bit of Batman mythos.  I guess I can’t blame him, if it turned out to be a flop, at least he got it all into one movie.  But I had no such expectation of Dark Knight,  which I think everyone knew would be the second of many more films; Nolan could breathe easy and take his time.

So why the hell did he have to shoe-horn in the entire  Two-Face story?  Thematically speaking, since Harvey Dent is the one that undergoes a change, he is the main character of the film – but if that was the plan, why the fuck did you do it in the Joker  movie?  Ok, fine, I do really like the idea that the Joker is the one who pushes Dent over the edge and creates Two-Face.  It allows the Joker, despite his technical defeat, to have the last laugh and beat Batman (without Dent to rely on, Bruce Wayne must give up his hope of hanging up the mask and having a normal life).  But we didn’t have to go into a whole Two-Face movie this  time around! 

 

A REFLECTION

I think just about everyone walking into Dark Knight  was expecting a story about the Joker and the set-up for Two-Face.  The movie would have been more than satisfying if it ended (more or less) on the scene between Joker and Two-Face in the hospital; it’s one of the best moments in the film and tells us all we need to know about what’s to come.  We didn’t have to see  Two-Face twirl his moustache and go on a murderous rampage – just knowing he had been turned to the dark side would have been an ominous enough moment to end on.

This would have given us a shorter movie (which only could have helped) and left Nolan to really focus on the Joker/Batman relationship.  Some people have argued that the character of Two-Face doesn’t have enough depth to support an entire film, but, as far as I’m concerned, Frank Miller cemented Two-Face’s potential as a physical and thematic foil for Batman on this page from The Dark Knight Returns:

 

A reflection.  This take on the Batman/Two-Face relationship is just oozing with symbolism and metaphor, making it perfect fodder for another Christopher Nolan Batman film.  But no, he had to have his cake and eat it too in this one, with a side order of doughnuts.  Come on, Nolan, do the right thing and make movie history – recall all prints of Dark Knight from theaters, re-edit it into ONE movie and save the Two-Face stuff for the third film – the way it should be.  I know, I know… ain’t never gonna happen.  That’s ok, this DVD will likely be released for the holidays, which means everyone should check the Fan Edit sites around February ;-)

Despite my gripe, Dark Knight is a terrific film and catapults the genre light years ahead of anything seen previously.  Iron Man was fun, but Marvel seems satisfied in making good comic book movies; hopefully DC will pick up the gauntlet and stay focused on just making good movies.

 

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SUPER SUMMER MOVIE FUN CLUB, GO!  MEMBERS REPORT IN:

KAY:

What astonished me about the movie is how subtle it is. The entire film is about choices, and what those choices do to you. Now, mostly choices just arise in life and people don’t think much about how those choices arrive but in this movie, it’s the Joker who’s presenting those choices; his goal, as the agent of chaos, is to Sophie’s Choice  every character in the movie.

He’s called a terrorist, but he doesn’t think of himself that way. Batman’s called a vigilante. Dent’s called a crusader for justice. The Joker (probably also called a paranoid schizophrenic, or whatever the DSM-IV would say about his psychology) is using those choices to take those roles and switch them. And Batman/Bruce Wayne is constantly changing places with the Joker and with Dent throughout the movie. He once again becomes the billionaire playboy, shining the light on Dent as the hero of Gotham. He becomes the outcast, when he’s trying to find the Joker. And then he becomes Two-Face, keeping Dent’s legacy pure, when he takes the blame for killing the cops.

The Joker and Batman fight over the soul of Gotham — in the form of Harvey Dent — through the entire movie. They split him in half and destroy him. And even though the Joker seemingly wins, it’s Batman who makes the ultimate choice (reclaiming choice from the Joker) and the ultimate sacrifice — he takes on the role of the villain. Because deep down (or maybe not so deep down), he realizes that it was his fight with the Joker that destroyed Dent. Sure, it felt like  Two-Face was a set-up to be the next villain. But that’s something an unimaginative superhero movie would do. This was much more complex, and much more interesting.

 

DAVE: 

“You have two films. Take one away, it doesn’t work.” 
-George Lucas to Francis Coppola after watching his five-hour long preview of The Godfather, Part II
 
My immediate reaction to The Dark Knight was, “I think I’ve seen a great movie, but I’ll have to see it again to be sure.”  After seeing it two more times since then, I have to agree with Mojo; The Dark Knight is one great movie and half of a good one.  I really wanted it to be an unqualified masterpiece, but around 100 minutes in, the film starts to collapse under the weight of its own complexity, and the tragedy of Harvey Dent’s fall from grace just doesn’t register the way it should.  Even so, I can’t stop thinking about it.  It digs around in your guts like one of the Joker’s blades and refuses to be easily dismissed.  I recommend seeing it as many times as it takes to get it out of your system.  That’s something I haven’t said about a movie in years.
.


19 Responses to “movie review: Dark Knight 1 & 2”


  1. 1 Paul
    July 28, 2008 at 1:48 am

    Rumore has it that Aaron Eckhart will be in the next movie. You know what they say about people dying in movies, right?

  2. 2 Evan
    July 28, 2008 at 7:12 am

    It would have been nice if they produced this movie knowing they were signed up for a third film like Lord of the Rings was done. This way the creative team was locked in and you’d have consistency, and Nolan could have taken his time with the Two-Face story in part three. Two-Face walking around killing dirty cops and defining his own justice while representing Batman’s failing could have been enough to fill a film.

    Dark Knight would have been the ultimate in popular film, maybe replacing Empire Strikes Back. Then again, what if Batman 3 featured the Batman equivalent of Ewoks?

    Maybe Warner Bros. wasn’t impressed with Batman Begins $ and didn’t know what they had with Dark Knight yet, so they didn’t offer Nolan a locked up deal for a 3rd film.

    At least we’re not hearing parents gripe that the movie’s too dark for kids. It’s nice to see a compelling thriller in the theater that also happens to be a Batman movie, and it’s not dumbed down for a general audience. We all know comics aren’t just for kids. This film did elevate the perception of what a comics movie CAN be.

    I hope Warner Bros. gets encouraged to make a better Superman sequel that has a story without a ridiculously wack-a-do Lex Luthor plotting silly real estate mad science and the crutch of a kryptonite shard.

    Superman deserves better writing like Batman did.

  3. July 28, 2008 at 7:35 am

    After watching the movie for a second time, I’ve got to agree with you. The could have easily kept Two-Face as the villain for the next movie using this one to set it up. This movie could then have devoted more time to the Joker. Was it me, or did it seem a little to easy for Batman to capture the Joker at the very end? I always thought the Joker would have something up his sleeve that he could use at the last minute to escape.

  4. July 28, 2008 at 8:04 am

    $300 million. In (a record) ten days. (And after outgrossing BATMAN BEGINS in a mere six, btw.) Not to mention one of the best-reviewed movies of the year.

    THE DARK KNIGHT is a certified phenomenon, in large part to it having elevated the superhero movie to the genre of (arguably Oscar-worthy) crime epic. (Personally, I’d put this movie up with THE DEPARTED or HEAT any day of the week.)

    Anyway, since you bring up Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, I can’t help but ask… by your same argument, are you saying that it too would have been better had it only featured the Joker or Two-Face, as opposed to both? I think not.

    I must respectfully assert that ending THE DARK KNIGHT where you suggest would have substantially undermined what seems to be the whole point of the movie, and been far less satisfying. The entire film – and the very title, in fact – rests on the shoulders of the ending, and what Batman has to ultimately become. That’s the (mind-boggling) set-up for the next movie, and it’s far bigger than merely setting up the next villain. It’s defining who Batman is, and has to be. (And that it’s Gordon who defines him, to his own little boy, still gives me chills.) The movie’s greatness is distilled in those final moments that everything prior has lead to, and lends tremendous weight to.

    It would be easier (and cheaper, and more obvious) to make the movie(s) you suggest, and save Two-Face for the next one. But it wouldn’t have been as great. And it would’ve been inherently incomplete, in not fully resolving the film’s theme of escalation (by taking it to the ultimate conclusion), nor Harvey’s character arc.

    I am enormously grateful (and frankly in awe) that Nolan went all in, and held nothing back with this film. It’s frankly the Batman movie I’ve dreamed of, and yearned for, for well over 20 years (probably since reading TDKR when it first came out). And seeing it in IMAX? Truly one of the most incredible filmgoing experiences I’ve ever had.

    (And dude, the frakkin’ BAT-POD!!!)

  5. 5 N3RD
    July 28, 2008 at 8:48 am

    Nice article.
    And at least thank you for not spoilering us too much (you didn´t mentioned something that was not known in the Comics before.
    But: You said you don´t worry about spoilers “because everyone reading this is such a totally nerd that he has watched it until now”.
    But you forgot something: Us. The readers from Europe and all other countrys than the USA. Not “The Dark Knight” nor “BSG Season 3” was in the movies/in free television in our countrys now.

    So a general demand to you: I love your blog so I will read it in the future. But please, PLEASE could you set Spoiler-tags? For thes article it wasn´t necessarely, but I was screaming the hell out of me when I saw the picture of Earth in your topics. I had no choice to ignore it. It was visible even without reading the article. I hope you will read my comment and maybe, maybe you will be a bit more serious aout spoilers.

    Did I said that I enjoyed reading this article?
    Greetings from Germany!

  6. 6 darthmojo
    July 28, 2008 at 11:01 am

    N3RD: I DID say there were spoilers ahead. IN CAPS AND BOLD. Read more slowly.

    ROBOGEEK: “The Dark Knight Returns” is structured differently than a movie; it was a four issue series, each part dealing with a different villain and theme. You can’t compare that to a movie which should basically be plot & subplot, with a subplot that ties to the main plot.

    The problem with DARK KNIGHT is that the Harvey Dent story *IS* the main plot, since Harvey’s fate is so closely tied to Bruce Wayne/Batman’s. Dent undergoes a change and faces the most important event in his life, which dramatically makes him the main character; the person who influences this change is the MAJOR character, and in this case it’s the Joker (kinda leaves Batman out of things in a dramatic sense). Unfortunately, this movie devotes far more time to the secondary character of the Joker than Two-Face. This is largely backwards. Nolan (and the audience) has a lot more fun with the Joker, so he gets the spotlight while the story of the main character takes a backseat until the end.

    I agree 100% that the end of the film, with Batman taking the hit for Harvey and turning himself into a true fugitive, is excellent and echoes the core of the film, but this is the proper ending for the TWO-FACE MOVIE. If Nolan wanted to make a Joker movie, he should have chosen themes and an ending relevant to the Joker.

    For DARK KNIGHT to work dramatically as one film, it either needs to save Two-Face for the next movie or substantially cut down the Joker’s role so he does not overshadow Dent. Right now the movie FEELS like the Joker’s story, but it really is Dent’s.

  7. July 28, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    Having never read the comics, I enjoyed this film a lot. I went in knowing they would set up the next movie with a villain at the end but now I’m not so sure. Honestly, I prefer not knowing who the next villain will be.

    I grew tired of the two face storyline about three quarters of the way through the movie, and it seems like the director did too. Perhaps that’s why they blew through it so quickly.

  8. 8 Ben
    July 28, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    I agree Dent’s story was rushed, but there’s always room for Bane (the black guy with the tattoos on the convict boat, I’m willing to bet it) and The Hangman, who killed out of revenge for Dent’s fate.

    Let’s also not forget that al-Ghul wasn’t the only big character from the League of Assassins.

  9. July 28, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    I have to agree that The Dark Night is certainly the best comic book movie to date and perhaps one of the best movies of the year. I also agree that it really was two movies crammed into one, though I feel the density of the material and the unorthodox compound plot only add to the quality of the film.

    What bothers me most is that a big portion of the movie is out of focus, especially Heath Ledger’s close ups. I understand why. Many of these shots are extremely close, eyebrows to chin and Ledger’s performance is quite kinetic, he moves about constantly in the frame and this makes the 1st AC’s job quite difficult as he or she tires to pull focus. But really, this is a multi-million film that spent the better part of a year in production.

    Maybe my technical background just makes me over picky. I enjoyed the film quite a bit but really, am I asking too much?

  10. July 28, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    I hear what you’re saying, but I guess I felt that the movie held together as one complete piece of work for me. Like a lot of people, I guess I didn’t know how much of the film was going to be Two-Face and I thought that story-wise it worked very well. The Joker moves through the narrative as a force of nature more than anything and the film is never “about” him the way it’s about Batman and/or Harvey Two-Face. Thinking about this, the plot never seems to go for any sort of three-way/THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY type showdown the way, say, BATMAN RETURNS did (not that this is a bad thing, just an observation). But agreed, for the most part it works pretty damn well as a film, as opposed to comic-book film. I think the coldness which is ingrained in Nolan’s basic style is maybe what keeps me from flat-out loving it but that aside I actually don’t have too many major issues. It’s not one of the greatest movies ever made like some people seem to think, but I do think it’s very, very good.

  11. July 29, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    I actually agree with all of your criticisms… except that though following the Two-Face saga through “completion” SURPRISED me it didn’t hurt my appreciation for the movie at all. I don’t really feel that Harvey got shafted, I think they developed his character very well through the first half, but it’s true Two-Face, IF really dead (the funeral was convincing!), is a wasted opportunity for a great villain. It certainly is kinda like putting in one of your best hitters to pinch-hit for a pitcher in the 6th inning and giving him one good at-bat… instead of starting him or saving him for the ninth! But Nolan’s proven he doesn’t mind going in unexpected directions and I’ll applaud that in most every case.

  12. 12 darthmojo
    July 31, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    From my pal, AH: I agree to an extent. I actually think you went a little easy on the movie.

    There are definitely things I like about it… BUT — I think there are serious issues with the script.

    As great as some of the Joker/Batman stuff is, I feel like the movie never really tonally gets it right.

    On the one hand it goes for hyper realism, but on the other it relies on the same ridiculous comic book stand bys that Schumacher would have used — guys tied to gas cans, clowns dressed as cops, etc.

    In my mind it’s like Nolan tried to have it both ways and wound up having it neither way.

    And on top of all of that, from a simple dramatic point of view, ending a movie with your villain simply WAITING for other, secondary, characters (the people on the boats) to act is not a dramatically engaging finish.

  13. 13 Boris
    August 1, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    A Batman movie should be as realistic as possible, but not at the expense of the Batman mythology and certain fairy-tale aspects to the story. I liked the previous movie better because it did most of the things a Batman movie should – investigate Bruce Wayne’s psychological problems, touch base with the mythological elements (how can you do a Batman origin movie and not reinterpret for the umpteenth time The Murder of the Parents, The Discovery of the Cave, The Martial Arts Training, and all the other beats the hardcore fan expects to see?) It was about Ra’s al Ghul and his very personal relationship to The Batman, with The Scarecrow as a proper guest star, since he is a comparatively minor villain.

    Here we have both Two-Face and The Joker, two of the top villains, and you just don’t make The Joker a guest star. Rachel’s role isn’t prominent enough here for her death to be much of a personal hit, and you can forget about making any room for Two-Face in a movie starring The Joker. The focus should’ve been on his relationship to The Batman, the neverending battle between the two that was briefly mentioned in the dialogue, while Two-Face should’ve been left for the next movie, since he wasn’t the villain announced in “Batman Begins”.

    For the next movie, I’d appreciate it if Nolan went back to character-driven writing and picked one villain to cover appropriately, always bearing in mind that in the end, it’s all about The Batman.

  14. 14 Snafu
    August 15, 2008 at 6:03 am

    “N3RD: I DID say there were spoilers ahead. IN CAPS AND BOLD. Read more slowly.”

    Er… the problem is, that Harvey Dent Two-Face pic was the biggest spoiler already (I wanted to be surprised watching how that would look like in the movie). Visiting your web and finding that there was a terrible ARRRGH! moment.

    I see what you mean by this “movie and a half” thing, but ultimately I think it works better as it is, even if in a flawed way (Dent’s going so crazy so quickly feels forced, even if it’s hinted that he’s capable of it): I got out of the cinema in awe of how stakes were getting bigger and bigger and then even bigger so unrelentingly, with solid consequences (but I thing Nolan chickened there: one of the ferries ought to have exploded so vindicating the Joker’s thesis. That would have been bold). What I like most is how the Joker keeps himself not being quite that larger than life: he’s more of a catalyst letting the good guys and the whole city nearly destroy themselves. Not letting the movie get to such extremes would have made it more conventional and a little flaccid, no matter how smoothly directed.

    And Two-Face doesn’t seem to be a character capable of sustaining a whole third movie. It’s funny that Schumacher’s Two-Face was utterly so unable to do so, too, as silly as the comparison is. The way he’s handled here, the whole White Knight construction he lets himself be built as, how it is a bit perverted thing from the get-go and how it ends up as a complete lie, is an integral movie-length theme, the best way to use the character, and something difficult to spare and turn into a third movie without a bland “the Joker has escaped from Arkham” around.

  15. 15 Chris
    August 15, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    Actually, I think the movie falls apart if you remove the Two-Face element. The Joker is an agent of Chaos, Batman (& Gordon) represent Order, and caught in the middle is the average citizen of Gotham City, personified in Harvey Dent. The whole point of the movie was to be careful how you go about effecting justice, because you may end up causing an escalation that has results you didn’t intend. That unintended result is the destruction of what was seen as the best Gotham had to offer, the shining white knight known as Harvey Dent. Without weaving his tragedy into the battle between Order and Chaos, what have you got? The Joker blowing stuff up and robbing banks? Batman saying “hey, stop that”? Heath Ledger’s performance is indeed great, but for me it was Aaron Eckhart that raised the film up into classic status.

  16. August 24, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    right on bro. I was ready put my trousers back on and leave the theatre after the joker was taken into custody by Gordon.

    It was so satisfying. A nice conclusion.

    But then I kept on watching and waiting for the origin of Two-face. Explosion. hospital.. Ok, nice… with the Harvey Dent lead-in for the next film…and i needed a potty break. But it would not end!!

    when i was a kid, they made me sit thru 4 hours of “Ghandi”…i felt just like that during the Dark Knight…how can film directors and editors think people want to sit thru all that ?

    Dark Knight was an excellent movie, but less stellar experience because Nolan would not end it at the right time. My bladder nearly exploded. I am bringing an empty bottle with me next time.

  17. October 1, 2008 at 9:09 am

    Two hints for seeing “The Dark Knight” – don’t order a Coke, and go with someone who has seen the movie and can tell you when it’s safe to go take a leak (I went twice).

    I agree that the movie spent too much time on the Joker (Ledger is excellent but not Oscar-worthy).Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent was much more compelling. But I’m not quite sure what I would have cut. That either means the film is a house of cards, or perfectly-crafted.

    @Snafu – I think letting the ferries survive was the bolder move. The main thrust of the Joker’s thesis is undermined, and it underpins the incorruptible nature of Batman. To have one explode simply caves to cynicism that the Joker embodies.

    The weakest parts of the film are actually the secondary characters in Batman’s entourage – Alfred and Lucius never come to life enough that I forget I’m watching Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman.

  18. December 27, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    I am happy to know I’m not the only person in the world disappointed by the Dark Knight.

  19. 19 GT
    February 18, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    Bit late, but eh, the last guy commented a couple of months following the preceding guy so fuck it.

    I think that the movie worked fine the way it was, and had it followed the structure you suggested wouldn’t have the same impact. The brilliant thing about the movie is that it manages to move away from the serialised and ongoing nature of comic book movies, and becomes a great film in it own right. It doesn’t depend on a sequel any more than a film like the godfather, but if it did, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be great(like the godfather 2). If it relied on a cliffhanger, it would be weakened as a movie, and would be a failure in following is themes to their dramatic conclusions. It would stand as an example as to why ‘comic book movies’ are rarely compared to and treated in the same way as other movies.


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