Elvira and I saw The Dark Knight on Friday and we’re both really impressed. If Batman Begins was the film that Batman’s Mythology deserved, a crystalline compilation of everything great about the character with the excess fat of seventy years of history trimmed off, then The Dark Knight continues the story, as if it was simply Act 2. In several ways, I’m not entirely sure how Christopher Nolan convinced DC/Warner to let him make such a dark series of films but good on him for pulling it off. Both films work seamlessly as a whole but his film especially takes a long hard look at where the boundaries of civilization and civilized behavior lie. Not exactly the stuff of a Summer popcorn superhero movie. And that’s a good thing. You want that, go see Iron Man. But if your looking for a really, really dark view into what makes humans want to fight and define right and wrong, this is the film for you.
As usual, some spoilers may leak out.
Firstly, everyone’s talking about Heath Ledger’s Joker, and rightly so. It’s a performance that will become one of those icons, like Brando’s Stanly Kowalski or James Dean’s Jim Stark. I know how horribly cliched it is to say that, but seriously. It’s that good a performance. While a lot of people have fond memories of Jack Nicholson’s Joker, he was just an old actor, hamming it up in a campy role. Ledger’s Joker is a stripped down psychopath. The slimmest sliver of humanity, inhabited a crazy body bent on destruction and mayhem for it’s own sake. It’s got a primal feel to it that is scary and attractive at the same time. There’s a rage and and anger and a knowingness there that makes the Joker so greta a villain, one worthy of being the Batman’s arch nemesis.
Christian Bale plays two characters. People sometimes forget that. Batman and Bruce Wayne are split personalities, without all the angst of fighting for dominance. Each recognizes the virtues and flaws of the other and they have a special kind of mutual respect for one another that comes from living in the same man’s body. Th swaggering drunk playboy and the brooding anti-hero need each other for survival, in a way that you don’t get in other performances by different actors.
Katie Holmes is such a flimsy, forgettable actress that the first time you see Maggie Gyllenhaal (remotely, on one of Batman’s video screens) you know that she’s playing Rachel Dawes. My only gripe is that there wasn’t more for her to do than be the victim-girlfriend of both the hero (Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent) and anti-hero. She’s necessary to bring those two men together in the story, but I wanted her to have more of a lived-in persona. There’s a hint of it there, but the story just doesn’t need her to be anything more than a muse, so it’s only a hint. But she makes the character real, so that when she dies, it means something more than just another pretty girl who got lost.
Aaron Eckhart does something that was long thought impossible: he makes Harvy Two-Face a real character, with a motive and an origin rooted in the psychological mythology of the story. Two-Face has never been anything more than a Dick Tracey-style gag villain, not even in the comic. He shows up, flips a coin and does the standard gangster shtick, gets both his faces punched in and is quickly ushered off to Arkham. Here, Two-Face becomes a real menace. An idealist who is broken by the cruelty of the world and the villainy he’s spent his whole career trying to take down. He’s turned into a nightmare Id Monster who has to be undone by the only man in gotham who has the power and the fortitude to do such a right and nobel yet horrible thing.
The film does feel like it runs a little long but I cant tell you where something could be trimmed. The whole story is so well crafted, with tiny moments and huge moments that to try and remove something would lessen it. The Two Ferries bit is freakin’ genius, too. A little parable that shines a Batlight on the bigger picture: society sometimes needs people like Batman, because they aren’t heros. Heros can be compromised. They can be corrupted or broken. Because sometimes, doing the right thing means looking like a villain