A Brilliant Way To Shoot Oneself In The Foot

Movie Review: The Dark Knight

Unless you’ve been living in an internet-less cave (i.e. using Qwest) for the last month, you’re sure to have heard the glowing reviews of The Dark Knight that permeate every newspaper, blog and review site across teh int3rw3bs. Particular praise is being heaped upon the late Heath Ledger’s performance as the Batman’s trademark villian, the Joker. All this hype can be a bit dizzying… but is it all true? For the most part, yes.

The Dark Knight is a great film. It has everything… top-notch action sequences, great special effects, good cinematography, and excellent acting (with the exception of Maggie Gyllenhaal playing Rachel Dawes, whose performance is middling). The movie takes the time to tell an intricate and complex story, holds the viewer’s interest and never loses its pacing. Although the story may seem confusing in places, a little thought should clear most of the confusion (or, if that fails, a second viewing is sure to do the trick.) Overall, it is a very complex and enjoyable movie.

But what about Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker, which has the critics rabidly dispensing accolades? Is it really the Oscar-worthy master performance that everyone says it is? I don’t think so. For the first half of the film, Ledger’s Joker was interesting and even a bit engaging… but it grew old quickly. After multiple scenes focusing on the Joker, Ledger’s performance becomes grating, as he basically retreads the same material over and over and over. Every time the Joker shows up, you can expect to hear some half-cocked speech about morality and chaos, plus another ‘how I got these scars’ origin story. Frankly, about three-quarders of the way through the movie, I found myself wishing they’d stop showing the Joker and go back to Batman or Two-Face.

That brings me to what I think was The Dark Knight’s most underrated performance: Aaron Eckhart as Two Face. Eckhard made a good Harvey Dent, but when he was transformed into Two-Face, the actor’s performance really began to shine… which is no great feat, considering half of his face was covered by prothetics and CGI. When Two-Face first appeared onscreen, I found myself mesmerized by the mutilated vigilante. His twisted fatalistic outlook on life, as well as his brutality, were perfectly captured by Eckhart’s performance. I found Two-Face far more interesting than the Joker, which is a pity considering that the former’s screen time is relativly short.  Out of all the Batman characters portrayed in Christopher Nolan’s film series so far, Two-Face’s portrayal is the closest to the original comics, and is in my opinion, the best character in the entire film series.

That ends my objective review. Despite the minor Joker flaw, the Dark Knight is a great film and definitely worth watching, possibly more than once. I give it 9 out of 10 Xore points. Now, it’s time for a rant.

As I said, The Dark Knight is a great film. So why the ‘shoot oneself in the foot’ quote? Well, the ending of The Dark Knight is clearly intended to set up a sequel… but what will that sequel be about? Christopher Nolan has taken great pains to make sure that his Batman universe is ultra-realistic; for example, he stripped Ra’s Al Ghul of his mystic powers, and made the Batman somewhat ineffectual at reducing crime (as depicted at the beginning of Knight). All this has made for two great movies… but where does he go from here? The Joker obviously can’t return because of Ledger’s death, and I doubt audiences would have a high tolerance for another movie full of the Joker’s nihilistic ramblings. A Two-Face movie? Perhaps, but I doubt there’s enough mileage in the villian for a whole film. A friend of mine suggested a ‘police chasing Batman’ movie, but both he and I agreed that would be pretty boring.

So, how about a new villian? The problem is, most of Batman’s villians don’t fit too well with the tone Nolan has set for his films. Any superpowered villian, such as Clayface or Bane, wouldn’t fit well with Nolan’s ultra-realism. Catwoman is too playful and sexy for Nolan’s dark, brooding tone. Perhaps the Riddler? His focus on elaborate and often ridiculous traps makes that unlikely. Two-bit villians like Mr. Freeze, the Clock King and Calendar Man are just too cheesy. In other words, Nolan lacks a good villian for the next film.

Of course, you can completely forget about bringing Robin or Batgirl into the fold. Both of those characters are too peppy and perky to exist in Nolan’s universe. After all, if Bats had a sidekick, that would seriously cut into his brooding time. The same goes for a World’s Finest (i.e. Superman/Batman) crossover. Watch Superman Returns and The Dark Knight back to back, and you’ll discover they have incompatible pacing and tones. In other words, Bats has to stay a loner if Nolan wants to make more films with the same tone as The Dark Knight.

I would love to see a Batman movie with the Riddler, Clayface or Catwoman. However, I don’t believe that such a movie can be made in the current film series. Nolan’s Batman universe is too dark, gritty and realistic to portray these villians. Sure, the first two movies were great… but do we really need another one? Wouldn’t we be better off with a reboot with a lighter tone, similar to Spider-man or Iron Man? I think so. Nolan has made two enjoyable movies, but I don’t think his franchise should continue. He should quit while he’s ahead, and hand the reins of the franchise to a new director before we’re forced to sit through a mediocre ‘police chasing Batman’ movie. I suggest starting off the new franchise with Clayface… a unique villian that could be portrayed as a tragic character (ala Doc Ock), as well as present the opportunity for some awesome action sequences and special effects. As for the future of Nolan’s franchise, that’s up to the studio.

My rant is finished. Please feel free to disagree with me in the comment thread. Coming up next: we’ll see what’s been hiding in that brown box. 😉


2 Responses to “A Brilliant Way To Shoot Oneself In The Foot”

  1. 1 kc2
    August 4, 2008 at 1:22 am

    Well, I think you’re not alone in the contiplating of “what now??”
    I totally agree that characters like Freeze and Bane would be very inappropriate for this series. But, I think the series is set for strong female characters. Rachel was a very bad character, not because of the actresses, but because it didn’t make sense for her to exist. Now the story is open for a new love interest along with a new villian. Just as Ledger re-tooled what we think of as the Joker (ie no longer playful, just pro-anarchy), its possible that a female could re-do Catwoman to be realistic and dark. Poison Ivy could be made more realistically (and would work perfectly in this ‘going green’ world). Or even an onslaught of females all to take out the Batman (this is a sequel after all). possibles – Nyssa Raatko & Harley Quinn.

    ~ kc22.wordpress.com

  2. 2 xore
    August 6, 2008 at 1:28 am

    Poison Ivy would be interesting, provided they steer clear of the ‘ultra-sexy seductress’ portrayal that made ‘Batman and Robin’ so horrible. If they introduced an ecoterrorist Poison Ivy, who creates some sort of ecological catastrophe in Gotham, that might fit Nolan’s style… but he would still have to allow supernatural elements (such as genetically-engineered killer plants or mind-controlling spores) in order to make Poison Ivy a real threat.

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