Sunday, July 20, 2008

Oh wow.

This is, I feel, the most appropriate response to The Dark Knight. It's how I felt Friday at about 2:30 AM, and it's how I feel now.

This was an intense movie. There were a couple times when I forgot I was watching some constructed piece of art because I was so caught up in what was going on on-screen... and that hardly ever happens to me anymore. The movie was excellently written, acted, and directed... I think it may be flawless. It's easily the best comic-book movie of the year, maybe the best comic-book movie of all time, and maybe the best movie of the year period.

Obviously the big story here is the Joker. I will always love Mark Hamill, but Heath Ledger has just taken the title of the Joker. There has never been a better portrayal of the character, ever. Like, not even in the comics. This is a rare case where a comic-book adaptation has surpassed its source material... the best us fans can usually hope for when movies tinker is a lateral move that keeps the quality roughly the same while changing some of the details, such as V for Vendetta's updating of the book's Reagan/Thatcher politics for a Bush/Blair era. Usually, though, it seems comic fans are up for disappointment, as "updates" to a character are almost never good... movies tend to dumb things down, simplify them, and in the process remove most things that are special about a character (see: anything at all about Spider-Man 3). But what the Nolans have done here is more than an update... they have defined the Joker, case closed.

And what I love about their Joker is that he takes bits and pieces of most of the key Joker stories from comics. From Killing Joke, we get a Joker bent on showing Batman that all it takes is a little nudge to make a man go insane, and we also get the (excellent!) idea of Joker's ever-changing backstory. From Arkham Asylum we get hints that the Joker is not insane but supersane (of note: his speech to Batman in the prison that he's "a little bit ahead of the curve" when it comes to living in the modern world... this would make Grant Morrison proud). From lots of stories but primarily, I believe, Batman #1, we get the televised threats that people will die each night if Joker doesn't get what he wants, and the byzantine plans to accomplish this.

But while Dark Knight incorporates pieces of all of these, they're so subtle and well-woven into the texture of the film that one hardly notices, and thus the movie avoids re-telling any story we've seen before. Instead, it takes the best facets Joker's character has previously had to offer, combines them all into one, and then makes things better.

Joker is funny. He's sadistic. He's confused. He's genius. He's the most dangerous man in Gotham, and he's a puppy waiting to get put in its place. He's a schemer and a victim, he's right and he's wrong, he's supernatural and he's incredibly human. He's the ultimate villain for Batman but maybe he's also, kind of, a hero.

And of course, Joker is played amazingly by Heath Ledger. I can honestly say that, when he died a few months ago, I felt nothing. I had only seen a couple Ledger movies, and while 10 Things I Hate About You is a funny flick, I never had any emotional investment in him or his characters. But by the Joker's second scene in this movie, I missed him. It is a real shame that we will never see Heath portray the Joker, or any other character, again.

Finally, as a film, Dark Knight gives me hope. Sometimes I think my standards for movies are too high, because I end up really liking very few of the films I see. I find many films too obvious, too cheesy, too easy on their viewers. And yet... here is a movie that is subtle, that never says what it means, that throws up conflicting messages left and right. It makes you work for meaning. And yet, it manages to provide a feast for the eyes and the heart that would make Jerry Bruckheimer jealous. I kind of think that's what all movies should do.

Last year, I saw Transformers probably five or six times in the theater. The last time I can remember doing that was when The Lion King came out. I was so young then that I can't honestly remember how many times I saw it, but I'm willing to bet it was about the same. I think that, by the time this summer's over, a third movie will rival those numbers.

Rating: * * * * *


Anonymous said...

It's a masterpiece.

ITguy said...

**Yawn**....Wake me up when the third Fantastic Four movie comes out.