(S)laughter is the Best Medicine (The Dark Knight)

July 27, 2008 at 9:00 pm | Posted in DVD, movies | 3 Comments

The Joker: If you’re good at something, never do it for free.

The Dark Knight
AMC Stony Brook – July 18
Island 16 – July 28, 2008

Summer blockbusters have officially been taken over… by superheroes! First, I am certain that in recent years the Spiderman series had a hand in fermenting the early summer as the season for comic book heroes to shine. (However, tribute must be paid to the fore fathers of the action-scifi genre, aka Independence Day and the Terminator). As a follow-up act to several other supernatural film releases, one could get the impression that not only has Hollywood embraced the fanboys of graphic novels, the genre has been taken to the next level. To Hellboy with Hancock, this is the best superhero movie made in years!

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! Proceed with Caution!

Forsaking all film renditions that came before, director Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer set out to create a brand new vision for one of the most iconic comic book characters of all time, Batman. In order to successfully reinvent the franchise, Nolan’s goal was to convey the superhero storyline in a realistic and grounded fashion. As of 2004, Batman’s origin story had never been fully addressed on film, so they started quite literally at the beginning… hence the title of the first film, Batman Begins which was released in 2005. This film dealt with the genesis of the saga: the definitive transformation of Bruce Wayne from a scared little rich orphan to Gotham’s watchful protector of the night.

Christian Bale as Batman/Bruce Wayne

It was very important to Chris Nolan to find someone who not only could don the Batsuit, but portray a convincing Bruce Wayne as well, not just someone who’s marking time til the good stuff starts. Nolan found in Christian Bale all that he was looking for. “Within his eyes, you can see the possibility of someone like him devoting his life to something this extreme. There had to be an intense brooding quality alongside an animalistic aggression in his nature. Christian insisted that every detail must contribute to this end, especially the Batsuit.” In the new film The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne addresses the need to develop an improved Batsuit because although he’s established his role in Gotham society as Batman, he continually grows and adapts based on his experience in order to best equipt himself for the task at hand.

Bruce Wayne: I need a new suit.
Lucius Fox: Yes, three buttons is a little ’90’s, Mr. Wayne.
Bruce Wayne: I’m not talking fashion, so much as function.
[hands him a diagram]
Lucius Fox: You want to be able to turn your head.
Bruce Wayne: Sure would make backing out of the driveway easier.

Said “new suit” (pictured on right) was constructed from 200 unique pieces of rubber, fiberglass, metallic mesh, and nylon (producing an impression of sophisticated technology), with elastic banding added for tightening the costume to fit Bale. The objective was to make Bruce Wayne (and by proxy Christian Bale) more comfortable and agile in his performance.

This was not the only Batman-related item to get streamlined. After an explosive tank chase scene, the Bat Mobile is catastrophically damaged. What will Batman do? Hitch a ride in the Volkswagen with the two random boys parked under a bridge, pretend shooting at air with no parent driver in sight? Of course not. All of a sudden, a few adjustments are made and… BLAM!! VRROOM!! Go go Gadget Bat-Mobile! That was pretty awesome… turning the front two wheels into a whole separate vehicle. Damn Lucius, what will you think of next?

A quick but much deserved shout-out to Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Gary Oldman for outstanding excellence throughout this film. They bring such life to the characters they portray and are greatly valued and appreciated!

However, I am a little ahead of myself here. I cannot in good faith proceed without bringing up one slightly perturbing point… Didn’t Batman catch the Scarecrow in Batman Begins? Isn’t that the ultimate point of these movies, to tie a bow (or handcuffs) around the villain at the end of each adventure? What the hell was that in the beginning? I got thoroughly confused, even after the second viewing. So allow me to explain my interpretation, which is open to corrective comments! I guess the Scarecrow’s crazy-making fear smoke wore off on him in just enough time for him to escape. Then saddled with the huge amount of fear drugs, he decides to try and sell it to the Chechen aka the guy with the BIG angry dogs.

The Chechen: [after bringing out a man under the influence of fear toxin] Look at what your drugs did to my customers.
Scarecrow: Buyer beware. I told you my compound would take you places. I never said they’d be places you wanted to go.
The Chechen: My business…repeat customers…
Scarecrow: If you don’t like what I have to offer, you can buy from someone else. Assuming Batman left anyone to buy from.

So what, he pulled a fast one? I still think I missed something somewhere. Suddenly, there are copycat Batmans everywhere beating the crap out of everyone, the real Batman gets bit and jumps on a van, then next thing you know they are all “captured” aka sitting on the ground with their hands tied up while Batman leaves???? Totally and completely gratuitous if you ask me. With superb bad guys like the Joker and Two Face, why add time to a two and an half hour movie with crap you don’t need? I mean, seriously… what was the point of that?

In The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne is challenged by a new but familiar evil to the audience, The Joker. Iconically portrayed by Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s Batman, many fans were interested in who would land this much coveted role. Robin Williams, Paul Bettany, and Adrien Brody all expressed interest before Heath Ledger was cast. When Chris Nolan was asked, “Why Heath?” he responded, “Because he’s fearless.” And boy is he ever. Christian Bale happily admits to Heath completely stealing the movie, and rightfully so. Across the board, I have heard nothing but unanimously glowing accolades for this performance, even outcries for an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. It would not only be well-deserved for a beyond brilliant execution and commitment to a completely psychotic character, I believe it would be the first Oscar win for a comic book character. Ever. And that’s saying something.

Heath Ledger as The Joker

Heath Ledger as The Joker

Recapping the plot at this point seems frivolous because by the end of the movie the Joker’s goal is clearly met. Being a man of no rules and an agent of chaos, The Joker is out to shake things up. Hell, he even says it better himself.

The Joker: Do I really look like a man with a plan, Harvey? I don’t have a plan. The mob has plans, the cops have plans. You know what I am, Harvey? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do if I caught one. I just *do* things. I’m a wrench in the gears. I *hate* plans. Yours, theirs, everyone’s. Maroni has plans. Gordon has plans. Schemers trying to control their worlds. I am not a schemer. I show schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are. […] Look what I have done to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple bullets. Nobody panics when the expected people get killed. Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plans are horrifying. If I tell the press that tomorrow a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will get blown up, nobody panics. But when I say one little old mayor will die, everyone loses their minds! Introduce a little anarchy, you upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I am an agent of chaos. And you know the thing about chaos, Harvey? It’s fair.
[with the gun in Two-Face’s hand, he places the gun to his forehead; Two-Face pauses and takes out his coin]
Two-Face: [showing the unscarred side] You live.
The Joker: Mm-hm.
Two-Face: [flipping, showing the scarred side] You die.
The Joker: Now we’re talking!

To prepare for his role as the Joker, Heath Ledger lived alone in a hotel room for a month, formulating the character’s psychology, posture and voice (the last one he found most difficult to do). He started a diary, in which he wrote the Joker’s thoughts and feelings to guide himself during his performance. He was also given Alan Moore’s comic “Batman: The Killing Joke” and “Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth” to read. According to IMDB Trivia, Christian Bale stated that during the interrogation scene, Ledger wanted him to seriously beat him as hard as he could in order to get the real feeling of what was required from the scene.

WNYC’s Podcast looks at how Music Heroes Inspire Super Ones

Ledger took inspiration from A Clockwork Orange‘s Alex, Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, as well as Sid Vicious, whose pop counterculture look inspired the costume designer Lindy Hemming on The Joker’s wardrobe. According to IMDB, she is quoted to have based his look around his personality: “someone who doesn’t care about himself at all.” This is an interesting point which contrasts Chief Gordon’s description of the Joker’s clothing as “handmade with no labels, nothing in his pockets but knives and lint…” Any serial killer who takes the time to hand-tailor a purple and green suit (or even pay to have it made special) obviously cares quite a bit about creating an exact persona, all the way down to the strategically placed lipstick lines.

There is an horrifically disturbing picture on the internet of the Joker’s face in extreme close-up. I couldn’t even bring myself to post it here, so I chose the less abrasive shot with very little make-up pictured to the left (I barely saw this image in the movie – it went by so fast). The Joker’s facial construction was composed of three pieces of stamped silicone, which took less than an hour to apply on each day of shooting. Ledger described it as “new technology which is much quicker to apply than regular prosthetics”; he felt he was not wearing any make-up at all. Heath’s visual transformation, however stunning, still played second fiddle to his amazing talent. His walk, his voice, his mannerisms, his inflection and gestural emphasis… all played a huge part in creating one of the most terrifying villains I have ever seen. So evil you can sink your teeth into it. Love it!

And where there is evil, somewhere there is good. Never more true than in Harvey Dent. Aaron Eckhart (who consistently surprises me with his body of work – in a good way of course, as does the bulk of this cast) depicts a character that you can’t really compare to previous incarnations either. We first meet Harvey Dent on the heels of a huge victory against crime in Gotham. With the Big Mob Boss Kahuna in Arkham Asylum (re: Batman Begins), Harvey has somehow managed as District Attorney to wrangle something like 500+ criminals under one charge. There is so much hope in Harvey Dent’s plight to clean up Gotham that he is deemed Gotham’s White Knight. There are allusions to Harvey’s subjectively grey areas, meaning he’s not afraid to step on some toes to get things moving. All in all, his mission is clear. His emotional balance over the course of the film is portrayed so smoothly that you can’t help but believe in Harvey Dent. (And I guess I couldn’t help going there either. Pass the cheese grader…)

Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two Face

Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two Face

Regarding the love triangle between Harvey Dent, Rachel Dawes (we’ll get to her in a minute) and Bruce Wayne, there are a lot of petty jealousy and antics on Wayne’s part, but somehow it all works to the advantage of his secret identity. For example, hijacking the entire Moscow ballet company on his private boat not only prevents Harvey and Rachel from a romantic evening of ballet, it conveniently works as a cover so that Batman can fly off to Hong Kong and hijack one of the greed mongers in cahoots with Gotham’s crime elite. Convenient plot device or brilliant superhero plan? hmmm. You decide.

Sadly, the Joker catches wind of the situation and uses the love triangle to his advantage for a clever twist but tragic end. Due to these circumstances, Harvey Dent suffers two terrible losses: the love of his life and of half his face. This catapults him into villainous terrain and he becomes his alter-ego, Two Face. (Well-done on the special effects! By comparison, the damage portrayed here was significantly worse than any other depiction I have seen before. Really, that’s a compliment!) Seeking only revenge, he goes after everyone involved in Rachel’s death and finally pays the ultimate price himself (or did he??) The sad truth is that Bruce really did believe in the good in Harvey, even in the end. Now more than ever, Batman needs all the help he can get. Haphazard plot recap aside, I felt for the duality of this character. Ahh, there is so much more to this plot, but I already feel like I’m writing a dissertation (at this rate, I probably could!)

Anthony Michael Hall. Yeah, that’s how random his cameo is.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, who replaces Katie Holmes as Bruce Wayne’s childhood lack-there-of sweetheart Rachel Dawes, had this to say about Rachel’s choice between Bruce and Harvey. [Paraphrased] “Because she loves them both for sharing her fight to make Gotham a better place, it really comes down to who is more noble in her eyes. Harvey does what he has to do to make things right, but he does not go above the law. Batman does whatever is necessary to stop crime and corruption by any and all means available to him [in addition to all the cool toys lol]. He chooses to operate outside of the system because of how corrupt it has become. Harvey, on the other hand, acknowledges the system is broken and still chooses to operate from the inside the law, despite the corruption. Therefore, she chooses Harvey because they can battle together on common ground.” Yeah, that’s true. Plus, on the ground, literally.

Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight

Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes

Rounding back to a stray, yet valid point… Rachel Dawes. Unlike most characters in the movie, Rachel Dawes does not exist in the Batman comic saga – or any other DC Comics’ series, for that matter. An ex co-worker of mine once discussed his great disdain for this “unnecessary infusion of Hollywood love/sex” and that there was a perfectly logical explanation for Batman not being capable of a romantic relationship. He argued that Bruce Wayne could never and therefore should never have a genuine love interest because he was so psychologically damaged by his parent’s murder, he couldn’t connect with anyone on that fundamental level. Except maybe Alfred as his only family, Wayne remains forever tortured and clawing for redemption through acting the part of the savior. This deepens his character, the co-worker purported, much more than trotting out some hot chickie just so he can be set up to fail. Since the company I worked for at the time specialized in making children’s toys displaying Batman and other animated characters, I considered this source to be quite knowledgeable on the subject and can see the point he made, even more in the second film.

Not for nothing, I am all for strong female characters and this film featured practically no super female heros or villains. It only seems right to have at least one woman to round out the cast. But not if she’s just gonna chose Harvey then die… How does that help develop Batman’s character? Dangling the carrot of a relationship the whole time, forcing ultimatums such as “don’t make me your one chance for a normal life” and worst of all, Alfred continuing to let Bruce believe that he ever had a chance with and burning the letter??? Ugh, maddening! Almost makes it not worth it. Sometimes, its not better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. But at the end of the day, this is Hollywood we are talking about… can’t not have a love interest, right?

According to IMDB, Rachel Dawes was created by Goyer and Nolan, who wrote in the character with Katie Holmes in mind. No other actresses were in serious consideration; the role was hers to lose. And clearly, it was. In The Dark Knight trivia, it states that although she was offered double what she presumably made for Batman Begins (a mere 2 million) Katie still refused to reprise the role, citing “scheduling conflicts”. I wonder what could have topped working on the latest kick-ass Batman? In the review for Mad Money, I already discussed my feelings on the subject of Katie Holmes. And if we have to have a love interest at all, I’d have to agree with Richard Roeper (of Ebert&Roeper) that Maggie Gyllenhaal is definitely an upgrade. Gyllenhaal claims she sought Holmes’ approval before accepting the role, but then turned around and approached the character in a completely new direction. “I just thought of Rachel as a whole new woman. I don’t think it would’ve served anyone for me to try and imitate Katie. You can’t do that as an actress; I have to feel open to do my own thing. It was important to me that she be smart, feisty and real – not just the girl in the action movie whose only job is to act scared.” It is rumored that Christian Bale first won the role of Batman over Maggie’s brother Jake Gyllenhaal, which if things had turned out differently, may have made things very interesting (a Brokeback lovers’ quarrel perhaps? and an incestuous… eww, let’s not go there.)

Both Christian Bale and Maggie Gyllenhaal spoke very highly regarding Nolan’s collaborative directing style. They appreciated the creative freedom to incorporate their ideas for their respective characters. “Chris Nolan insisted that we all play everything for truth… so much so that at times, it didn’t even feel like a comic book movie. As if including Batman was incidental to the crime drama we were filming. A lot of times in big movies, the truth gets overlooked or just doesn’t matter,” said Gyllenhaal, waving her arms to indicate the “truth” being metaphorically pushed aside. “Even though the situations were often larger than life and based in fantasy, he wanted us to play all of those moments with as much emotional honesty as we could find in them.” The movie was successful in that regard. The fast-paced action balanced with the engaging plot makes this one of the better action films and will gladly join my DVD collection.

Christian Bale also revealed in a Reel Talk interview that if there will be a third movie, it will be entirely up to Christopher Nolan to continue his vision. Extremely protective of his portrayal, Bale firmly states that he would not want anyone else to reprise his role, but also expressed concern based on the precedent of trilogies in cinema. “Sequels very often exceed the original, such as Empire Strikes Back and the Godfather II. Rarely does a third film exceed the others.” (Christian Bale on Reel Talk TV) I sincerely hope they do continue the saga. Wouldn’t it be great for this to turn into the next Friday the 13th or Halloween? Just continually releasing new kick-ass adventures! Not that it wouldn’t make money… I think box office is up to 400 million now? Rock on!

Phew, that’s a long one. And I could go on! But I won’t. Suffice to say that I was blown away by all the elements of the film: the cast, the effects, the action, the plot… I want to see it again, right now!

RATING: *****/5
Recommendation: See it 5 more times in the theaters! Let’s kick Titanic’s ass! Yay! lol

P.S. I loved all the movie posters for this film that I’m going to break tradition and post all four of them!
P.P.S. See, it is possible to get through a Dark Knight review without mentioning Heath’s death. Damnit, almost made it… 🙂

RIP Heath, you will be missed. Great job!

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3 Comments »

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  1. This movie is amazing. Ive seen it twice already and am thinking of going again pretty soon.

    FangoChris

  2. […] as Tori Amos proves not only topical (i.e. the comic uprising in Hollywood covered in the latest Dark Knight review), but inspirational as […]

  3. i still wish Katie Holmes had stayed on board as Rachel Dawes for the Dark Knight; it was as though all that time spent getting familiar with her character in Batman Begins was wasted…


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