Thursday, July 24, 2008

I went to the movies, then I went to Wal-Mart, and then I came home and posted all this stuff

I saw The Dark Knight today, almost a full week after it’s midnight opening.

What took me so long? Well, it wasn’t that I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I had missed the critics’ screenings due to my day job, and then decided I’d just wait for a matinee and save myself a few bucks and, as it turned out, I didn’t have an afternoon off until today (Of course, the difference between a matinee ticket and a full-priced ticket is only about $3, so I guess I could have just forgone a Secret Invasion tie-in and saw an evening showing, but my brain just doesn’t work like that—movies are luxuries, whereas comics are more like food, gas and rent in my personal budgeting).

Anyway, I’m not going to bother with a formal review or anything, since you’ve all already read about 80 reviews and have probably already all seen it at least once yourselves.

I will say that I was kind of expecting to be disappointed, given all the rave reviews and even Oscar talk—Oscar talk!—the film’s been receiving. My expectations were raised to the point where if I didn’t walk out of the theater with a full head of hair I was probably going to be disappointed. And I was particularly skeptical because I thought Batman Begins wasn’t really very good. (Not a bad movie per se, but not exactly a terribly good one either).

But my expectations of being disappointed were themselves disappointed. Everything I (and you) have heard about the movie turns out to be pretty much true—it really is that good.

Some more or less random thoughts:

1.) I was particularly impressed with Heath Ledger’s Joker, in part because in the back of my head I was wondering if some of the praise he’s been getting for it had something to do with the his death. That is, when critics spoke of how good this performance was, it was with the knowledge that it was his last, and they were thus not only inclined to be a bit generous, but to conflate it with his entire career, and that man could act.

But no, Ledger’s that good too.

Me and (I think it’s safe to assume) you aren’t your average movie-goer when it comes to something like this; we see The Joker at least once a month, if not more, and have experienced about seven decades worth of different versions of him in every conceivable media, many of those different versions specifically geared at being as scary as all hell. I was pretty confident I’d seen it all when it comes to interpretations of The Joker, and that Ledger, director Christopher Nolan and his team couldn’t surprise me.

Wrong again. This Joker was like nothing I’ve seen before, save perhaps his “multiple choice” origin story from The Killing Joke, and he was by far the scariest, not so much a killer clown as a killer period.

If you would have told me a week ago that Bat-villain The Joker would be a perfect avatar for nihilistic terrorism in a superhero movie about the post-9/11 War on Terror, I wouldn’t have believed you, but they sure pulled it off, without making the character an iota less terrifying (I was actually squirming every time he stuck a knife in someone’s mouth).

Nolan and Ledger really gave us the very best kind of perfect in their version of The Joker. The kind of perfect that you don’t even realize you would think is perfect until you’ve experienced it.

2.) They could have probably gone ahead and knocked the words “The” and “Knight” right off the title and it would have more accurately described the film.

3.) How often do you see a summer superhero movie where the bad guy wins? Ever single character in the movie is forced to compromise their morals for what they believe to be the greater good, and sometimes they’re wrong. The main difference between The Joker and Batman seems to be that the former does the wrong things for wrong reasons, whereas the Batman does the wrong things for the right reasons…but then, do I know what’s right and wrong, really?

4.) I reeeaaalllly wasn’t expecting to see Batman-as-the-Bush-administration in this movie, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that.

5.) I still think Batman’s costume looks stupid. The one he switches to after his first few scenes is less stupid, but he never stops looking stupid to me. Perhaps there is no way to make it look right in a live action movie—there have been at least eight movies now and no one’s figured out how to make it look awesome yet—but Nolan’s realistic take on Gotham and its inhabitants only accentuates how goofy Batman and his goofy-ass gadgets look.

6.) Did it strike any of you as odd that The Joker didn’t get any sort of epilogue? Given how important he was to the film—Gordon and Batman are talking about him and not letting him “win” even after he’s been defeated and captured—it seemed odd that there was no scene of him in a straight jacket in a padded cell laughing or anything.

I wonder if this was because of Ledger’s death, or if they simply wanted to leave him hanging upside down at the end.

The lack of closure on the Joker’s status quo seemed especially sudden in light of the fact that the previous time he was captured it was on purpose and there was a spectacularly complex escape plan in place to get him out of it. It seems reasonable to assume he had another trick up his sleeve to escape again at the end. If we weren’t already pushing two and half hours by then, of course.

7.) Other than the Batman-related design work—the villains both looked great—the only other aspect of the film I found wanting was the action. Batman seemed to have a pretty well-choreographed fast, efficient and brutal hand-to-hand fighting style, but it sure was hard to see what he was doing and to who he was doing it.

Maybe making violence shaky and confusing was an intentional style choice Nolan made to buttress the realism, but it’s not like what I like to see when I see people fight in movies.

8.) I honestly can’t imagine where Nolan could take the franchise next, in terms of villains. Catwoman and/or Robin seem like the obvious addition/s regarding the story being told in this film—how Batman was hoping to “win” his war on crime and be able to retire his Batman gig at some point to be with Rachel, and how there’s this talk of a successor and so on—but both seem unlikely to fit into this realistic Gotham. That realism seems to rule out so many of the villains too. Like, if the Joker’s just a guy with smile-shaped scars and face paint and the Scarecrow’s a guy with a bag over his head, I have a hard time imagining most of the rest of the Bat-villains.

Villains who can be given a gangster-like touch like The Riddler, The Penguin, The Vetriloquist or Black Mask seem to “fit” Nolan’s Gotham best, but they’ll also seem rather dull after The Joker and Two-Face, and, hell, the whole city seemed on the brink of destruction in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, what’s The Riddler going to do to compete with that?

Maybe a faked-death Two-Face (hey, Gordon did it) and The Reaper…?

9.) Seeing “Harvey Two-Face” in this made me think a Jonah Hex movie could look pretty damn cool after all, skin-bridge and all.

Other things—Dark Knight related and not—that don’t deserve a whole post of their own:

—Immediately after seeing The Dark Knight, I found myself in a Wal-Mart for the first time in memory, with a half-hour to kill. The only thing more dark and depressing than The Dark Knight is driving into one of Columbus’ most depressing suburbs to visit the most depressing store in the world for rather depressing reasons which I won’t get into (Because they’re so depressing).

The plus side of spending a half hour in the saddest ring of retail hell, however, was that I got to wander around Wal-Mart’s toy section, and I was pretty surprised by all the Batman stuff.

Having actually seen the movie now, the rather inappropriate nature of Batman “Battle Rolls” Fruit Roll-Ups and toy Jokers free inside your box of Lucky Charms sure is made rather clear.

The action figures I found were mostly different versions of Batman in different suits, something that used to frustrate me as a child—I already had He-Man, I didn’t want Battle-damaged He-Man, but someone else for He-Man to punch or hang out with—and none of which seemed to have anything to do with the movie (There weren’t any after the credits scenes where Sam Jackson or Robert Downey Jr. show up and Batman fights them off with big neon guns, are there?).

I only saw one Joker, and it was “Destructo-Case Joker.” No sign of “Nurse Disguise Joker,” “Body Bag Joker,” or “Pencil Disappearing Joker.”

I was quite amused to see the “Wayne Tech Combat Gauntlets” that fire plastic spikes, allowing kids to reenact the scene in which the guy wearing them shoots another guy right in the face, and the “Wayne Tech Mega Cape” which folds out into some rather awesome bat-wings, allowing kids to reenact the scene in which Batman jumps off a building.

Why in my day, we didn’t have fancy “Wayne Tech Mega Cape” toys; the dumb kids just tied towels around their necks and hurt themselves jumping off roofs and porches.

It was especially weird seeing these because Dark Knight was PG-13. If you’re old enough to see the movie without your parents, you’re too old for combat gauntlets and mega capes.

The action figures I could see guys my age buying—I mean, I combed through the Indiana Jones action figures looking for Temple of Doom figures pretty thoroughly—but if you could fit into the gauntlets and cape, you’re way too young to see a two-and-a-half-hour movie about moral compromise in the face of terrorism.

The boys toys section was at least half superhero, if not more so, but while I could get cute little Hulk and Silver Surfer toys based on the “Planet Hulk” story arc from The Incredible Hulk comics, I couldn’t find any actual comic books among the magazines nor any actual graphic novels among the books.


—Speaking of—well, linking to—Heidi MacDonald, her archenemy Dirk Deppey parsed one of NPR’s mentions of her in his Tuesday post, the one with the amusing headline.

—Wow, I just realized that Frank Miller wears a hat kinda like The Spirit's all the time now, huh? That's kinda cool. More superhero movie directors should dress more like the stars of their films. Like, Christopher Nolan should wear a cape all the time and Zak Snyder should walk around his set nude with a symbol painted on his forehead. (Link seen at and stolen from The Beat).

The Blurred Vision people have chosen some interesting blurbs: One from my review, and one from Frank Santoro’s response to Jillian Steinhauer’s review.

—Finally, the fifth issue of So Super Duper, containing a back-up story by yours truly, is now available. If you’re in San Diego, track Brian Andersen down and try to buy a copy or ten. If you’re not, check out his site for how to get a copy.


Hdefined said...

"I wonder if this was because of Ledger’s death, or if they simply wanted to leave him hanging upside down at the end."

It's called poor plotting with a script that had to rush to finish off the other dangling plotline.

Too many people are looking at too many choices in this movie as being expertly planned, when so much seemed rushed and glossed over.

Joker had so many backup contingencies throughout the whole movie - why would he suddenly be without one at the end? Because the movie had to wrap up and the writers didn't have time to address this inconsistency.

snell said...

So it's a plot hole if the Joker doesn't have infinite back-up plans?

How about, the Joker had shot his last best bolt. At that point, he either corrupted Dent or not, the people on the boat blew each other up or not, and had the police turn on Batman. Either way, he had nothing left to prove this round, and no interest in remaining free merely to skulk in hiding.

It's interesting the standards people are using to judge this. In the comic, the Joker has "many backup contingencies" in each story, so geez, how can Batman ever catch him?? I never heard anyone make that complaint about The Killing Joke or The Laughing Fish or you name your story...but Batman outlasts the Joker and beats him in the movie and that's a plot flaw?

Patrick C said...

I've seen this mentioned in a couple other reviews too, but isn't "Arkham Asylum" the story that gave Joker the multiple choice origins? I thought Killing Joke was pretty much just the shitty comedian with the dead wife.

Baal said...

I work in the Toy Dept at a Wal*Mart and have to ask if you saw the Ronin figure? It's part of a Marvel 2 pack and hilarious! You can swap the masked head for either a Clint or Maya head. I couldn't even begin to explain to coworkers why I thought it was so funny!

Bryce said...

Apparently, the Batman-Bush comparison trips a lot of people up:

Wild Goose said...

I heard a wild rumor there's about 30 minutes of unused Heath Ledger footage from the TDK. Supposedly Nolan will incorporate this into Batman 3 in order to tie up the dangling threads from the Joker's story.

There's many reasons why this rumor is probably total bunk, but it's still fun to think about.

Hdefined said...

"How about, the Joker had shot his last best bolt."

There's no reason to believe that. It's inconsistent with how he was portrayed.

"Either way, he had nothing left to prove this round"

He had nothing to prove at any point in the movie. His motive was "chaos," despite being meticulously well organized.

"In the comic, the Joker has "many backup contingencies" in each story, so geez, how can Batman ever catch him??"

You're comparing escape plans with hostage situations and bomb threats. Doesn't work.

Caleb said...

I work in the Toy Dept at a Wal*Mart and have to ask if you saw the Ronin figure?

No, the only Marvel stuff I saw was Hulk movie related and some of those weird toys with the big hands and feet and heads and smiley faces...I think they were just called Marvel Super Heroes? They make Indiana Jones and Star Wars ones too?

I'm surprised they even have an action figure as comics-specefic as Ronin though.

Baal said...

Then I guess you saw either Elektra, Ms Marvel, and White Queen done cutesy-cute style. I had to buy the Ms M set just to have that on display whenever I buy a book that has Horn's soft core porn rendition of the same costume.

Unknown said...

"4.) I reeeaaalllly wasn’t expecting to see Batman-as-the-Bush-administration in this movie, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that."

Don't feel anything. There was nothing in the movie to suggest Batman as a metaphor for the wrong-headed and misguided torture tactics of the Bush regime. Batman is a hero (anti-hero). Bush is a criminal. If anything, the Joker could stand in for Bush.

5.) I still think Batman’s costume looks stupid. The one he switches to after his first few scenes is less stupid, but he never stops looking stupid to me.

Agree. I couldn't move past that in the film. Also, Harvey Dent's ridiculous make-up took me out of the film completely. I know it's only a comic book movie, it was presented in a realistic manner and peddled that way in interviews with Nolan. Burn victims die after receiving burns that bad.

Patrick C said...

Well, he did die. It just had more to do with gravity than it did with burns.

Hdefined said...

"Harvey Dent's ridiculous make-up took me out of the film completely."

Same here. At first I thought, "Wow, they recreated his look ala Tim Sale perfectly." Then he started talking and only half of his face would move, and I thought it looked terrible.

Evie said...

My vote for next villain: Bane. Seems to make the most sense in the Dark Knight movie universe. Everyone else is too silly.

Also, as you were saying with the costume and gadgets, the fact that Nolan took so many pains to make the setting and circumstances ultra-realistic ended up hurting an otherwise awesome movie--not because the realism itself was a problem, but because it was a problem when the Joker got away with crap that he absolutely never would have. Suspension of disbelief was insufficient.

Unknown said...

Re: Costume

I thought it would be a definite improvement when they said they were going to make it so his neck could move, but it only looked marginally better. Maybe my memory is hazy, but for some reason I alway thought Val Kilmer looked the best as the Batman. All in all, a terrific movie even with the somewhat downer ending. As you said this should just be called "Dark". My wife said it was "riveting! I never use that word!!" It reminded me of a couple of my favorite movies Heat and Aliens

I agree with whoever said Bane should be the next villain. Unless they bring back Ra's A Ghul, he would probably be a good fit in the Nolan's "Dark" universe. Or perhaps the KGBeast.

Evie said...

Oh, Aaron was inspired by you to write this post

Unknown said...

Why in my day, we didn’t have fancy “Wayne Tech Mega Cape” toys; the dumb kids just tied towels around their necks and hurt themselves jumping off roofs and porches.

Best. Blog. Paragraph. Ever. ;)