Saturday, July 26, 2008

Movie Review: Batman - The Dark Knight

My God, where does the time go? Seems like I turn my back for two seconds and a whole month goes by. July's been pretty crazy for me, so much so that I ended up skipping the usual "season premiere" review that I usually do (to recap, it's currently "Middleman", "Weeds" and "Burn Notice"). But things'll get quieter after Monday, so I expect to be back with some frequency then.

In the meantime: "The Dark Knight". The quick verdict is that I liked it a lot, but I didn't love it. I'm not going to review it at any great length because it's being swarmed and picked at like a roast beef at an Oprah Winfrey picnic, but here are some of the good points and flaws I picked up:

* It's been an unfortunate tradition that whenever you get the Supervillain Team-Up in comic book films, it never quite works on a thematic level. Going all the way back to "Batman Returns", the Penguin and Catwoman were equally captivating, but they're both targeting very different aspects of Batman: he goes after the mask, she wants the man behind the mask. I'll skip over the Schumaker films (for obvious reasons), but "Batman Begins" had the same problem: the Scarecrow and Ra's al Ghul had little to no common ground. Venom and Sandman in "Spider-Man 3"? Nope. Phoenix and Magneto in "X-Men 3"? They try, but Phoenix is written as so aloof and detached from what's actually going on that any link is utterly meaningless. This is the first film I can recall where the bad guys are broadly dealing with the same themes and issues, and it's a nice touch.

* Much has been made of Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker, and to be fair, he certainly does offer an interesting interpretation of the character. A bit too serious for my tastes, to be honest - this Joker doesn't tell too many jokes - but disturbing? Absolutely. It helps that unlike Burton's version, we don't know anything about the character's history: he walks into the opening scene fully-formed, ready to make his move, and to paraphrase the infamous Alan Moore story "The Killing Joke", if he has a past, it's multiple-choice (of course, in Moore's story, we pretty much do have a clear, reliable telling of the Joker's origin, which sort of undoes the point - perhaps one reason why Moore is so critical of that particular work). I do, however, appreciate the emphasis on the Joker's strategic capabilities: his schemes reminded me of Timothy Zahn's character Grand Admiral Thrawn, from the "Star Wars" novels - a mastermind whose actions are like circles within circles, and the heroes are constantly being blindsided. It's quite entertaining to watch that sort of multi-tiered plan unfold. At the same time, he's not infallible, and the moment he hinges his plan on a random factor, it all collapses.

* I think the reason I didn't enjoy this movie as much as I could have is because it felt very, very fast. The pace is just a touch too accelerated, despite the fact that the film clocks in at around two and a half hours. I kept wanting the plot to slow down for a moment just so the viewers (and the characters) could catch up, because what I noticed was that most of the secondary characters really don't have room to grow: Alfred's presence is minimal, Lucius Fox has some entertaining moments but is left mostly where he's at, Rachel... well, Rachel's problematic for reasons I'd rather not discuss in case someone's reading this who hasn't seem the film. And while an attempt is made to give Bruce a real ethical dilemma, not enough screen time is devoted to his possible options and their consequences - so when it looks like he's going to make this huge, dramatic gesture, there's not enough gravitas attached to really draw us in.

So that's about it, more or less. A solid, entertaining film, but I hesitate to heap the sort of praise and adoration on it that others have.