July 18th, 2008

THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) *** ½

Well, everybody has been spewing hyperbole over this movie for what seems like forever now and everyone keeps going on about how wonderful Heath Ledger’s Joker is and how it’s a shame he’s dead and yada, yada, yada. Yes, The Dark Knight is finally upon us and I got to tell you, I was just a TAD disappointed with it.  I mean people have been saying how this is the Godfather 2 of Superhero Movies, but the truth is it’s the Friday the 13th Part IV:  The Final Chapter of Superhero Movies.  It’s not perfect, but the characters and plot are slightly more believable than the others in the franchise and the villain fucks shit up pretty good. 


The plot has The Joker committing an unprecedented crime spree in Gotham City, taking over where the Mob and other thugs left off, but spicing things up with his own brand of anarchy.  It’s up to Batman (Christian Bale), who is shacking up in a Bat Condo while his Batcave is being renovated, to stop him.  Meanwhile, Batman sees a ray of hope in the new D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) who cleans up Gotham’s streets.  Joker gets tired of Bats, Dent and Commission Gordon (Gary Oldman) going around doing good, so he concocts a Machiavellian scheme to bring not only them, but the entire city to their knees.  In the process, he severely fucks up Dent’s face, turning him into the vengeance seeking Two Face who flips a coin to decide his victim’s fate.


Everything you’ve read about Ledger’s performance is true.  He’s awesome and while his portrayal isn’t the DEFINITIVE version of the Joker, it comes the closest to evoking the essence of the character than we’re likely ever to see.  He’s electrifying in every scene he’s in (especially when he demonstrates “his magic trick”) and is a shoo in for a posthumous Oscar. 


The problem is even though the Joker’s scheme is intricately plotted, he (pardon the pun) plays all his cards too soon, and the film severely bogs down during the final 45 minutes.  That’s not a criticism on the character's plan itself, but on the screenwriters'.  Also, the Joker seem less like the Clown Prince of Crime and more like Jigsaw from the Saw movies as he endlessly puts his victims do or die/kill or be killed situations. Take for instance the scene towards the end of the movie where Joker plants bombs on two ferries (one filled with criminals, the other with ordinary citizens).  This sequence is sound in theory (Joker wants the citizens of Gotham to become murderers just like him) but it brings the film to a screeching halt and is poorly edited to boot.


Another problem I had with the film is the total Venomification of Two Face (who looks like a CGI version of the Griffin Dunne zombie from American Werewolf in London).  Like Venom in Spider-Man 3, Dent’s character arc is given a terrific build-up, but when he finally becomes Two Face he becomes severely underutilized and the fact that he’s killed off way too easily kinda sucked too.  If the film had just ended with the birth of Two Face, it would’ve been a flawless movie.  Sadly, the last third of the picture is kind of a mess.  There’s an unintentionally hilarious moment after Dent’s death when Batman gives a heartfelt speech on his behalf using his patented growl.  Sure his scratchy voice is perfect for yelling stuff like "Where is he!” at criminals, but when it comes to thoughtful eulogies, it’s funny as all get out.  (Dude, use some Sucrets!)  The flick also featured one too many hostage rescue scenes and chest thumping political speeches for my liking, but oh well.


When the characters get off of their soapboxes though, the flick really cooks.  The action sequences are well executed and are better than the ones found in the previous film.  The Batmobile chases and fistfights are great, but it’s the interrogation scenes that are the best.  As great as the beatdown that Bats gives Joker in his jail cell is, the part where Batman interrogates a mobster (Eric Roberts from DOA) is a classic.  It’s probably the purest Batman scene ever filmed and will have you cheering (and wincing).


Christopher Nolan’s direction once again is outstanding, and although he kinda lets things slip away from him near the end, delivers another top notch production.  The acting is also uniformly excellent.  All the returning actors give wonderful performances and add extra subtle layers upon the groundwork they established in Batman Begins, but they are outshined by the new kids on the block Eckhart and Ledger.  Again, it’s probably impossible to separate this movie from the death of Ledger, but even if the dude didn’t take 1,000 sleeping pills and wind up Marilyn Monroed face down on a massage table, we’d STILL be talking about how great his performance is. 


He also gets the best line of the movie too:  “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stranger!”


The Dark Knight shoots up to Number 8 on The Video Vacuum Top Ten, right behind Doomsday and just above The Forbidden Kingdom.