Monday, July 21, 2008
#21: The Dark Knight, #22: Batman: Gotham Knight
The Dark Knight
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan (based on a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, and characters created by Bob Kane)
Released July 18, 2008
Batman: Gotham Knight
Segments directed by Yasuhiro Aoki ("In Darkness Dwells"), Futoshi Higashide ("Crossfire"), Toshiyuki Kubooka, ("Working Through Pain"), Hiroshi Morioka ("Field Test"), Jong-Sik Nam ("Deadshot"), Shoujirou Nishimi ("Have I Got a Story For You")
Segments written by Josh Olson ("Have I Got a Story For You"), Greg Rucka ("Crossfire"), Jordan Goldberg ("Field Test"), Brian Azzarello ("Working Through Pain"), Alan Burnett ("Deadshot"), David S. Goyer ("In Darkness Dwells")
Released to video/DVD July 8, 2008
Believe the hype: The Dark Knight is, indeed, the best "superhero" movie ever made, and Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker will deservedly be nominated for a Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
The unfortunate thing is that Academy voters probably won't give the film itself its due. They'll see it as a popcorn movie, a typical blockbuster, when in reality it's actually not a "superhero" movie at all, but an insanely great crime film and a darkly disturbing drama. Writer/director Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) already elevated the comic book movie format with his Batman Begins. The Dark Knight blows that movie right out of the water. Watching the 2005 Batman reboot earlier tonight, I could see firsthand how far he had taken the sequel, grounding it in a realism he had only hinted at before now.
Batman Begins was still a superhero movie at heart, and it almost had to be to tell the usual origin story that a first movie in a franchise must tell. Plus, it had more of the comic book flavors, like a Ninja cult, a nefarious and fantastical plot to destroy Gotham City with neurotoxins in the city's water supply, and as "happy" an ending as one could make amidst the rubble that remained after the big finale battle.
In The Dark Knight, there's less of everything: less gadgetry, less sunlight, less hope. To me, this is a great development. I have read reviews that have criticized the movie, saying that this kind of blockbuster movie is supposed to be escapist fun, not the kind of engrossing, morally ambivalent seriousness presented by Nolan and Company. Fuck that. You want a stupid bag of cliched tricks? Go watch the Fantastic Four movies. Batman, as created by Bob Kane, is supposed to be dark. Forget the campy Adam West TV show. More importantly, forget those horrible Joel Schumacher abominations, where each actor portraying each subsequent villain tried to out-over-act their predecessor. Christ, remember how bad Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones were? Remember Arnold as Mr. Freeze? Remember nipples on the Bat-suit? What utter garbage.
You know what? Forget the Tim Burton movies while you're at it. Show those to your kids when they ask to see this new Batman movie, because you definitely shouldn't be taking them to The Dark Knight.
It's a movie that will chill you to the bone. Ledger's take on the Joker, as a sociopathic terrorist, a self-professed "agent of chaos," is unsettling and unforgettable. From his introductory bank robbery scene to his pencil disappearing act to his work in the hospital visiting a certain disfigured character, he is completely believable and 100% frightening. He's not seeking money or revenge, like Nicholson's Joker; he simply wants to turn Gotham City upside down, and Batman inside out. He does, repeatedly.
Aaron Eckhart does great work as the doomed Harvey Dent, and Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are back in supporting roles that would barely register in the hands of lesser actors. Christian Bale tops his work in the previous film, and Maggie Gyllenhaal turns Katie Holmes' wet blanket role as Gotham D.A. Rachel Dawes into something more meaty and meaningful. I should also single out Gary Oldman, who is promoted to a bigger role here and whose impressive work as Jim Gordon is bound to be overshadowed by all the larger-than-life characters that surround him. The story itself is also much deeper and more layered, earning the 2 and 1/2 hours it takes to tell. This isn't a popcorn movie, it's a massive meal that will leave you stuffed but wishing you could have taken home a bag of leftovers.
Luckily, I stumbled upon a bag of leftovers to tide me over until my inevitable second viewing: Batman: Gotham Knight, an animated collection of 6 short stories that bridges the one year gap between the stories told in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Episodic and easy to digest (it clocks in at about 75 minutes), this may be the more ideal alternative to those nagging kids who can't understand why you won't take them to see the new Batman movie. Still, be forewarned that just because these are cartoons, they don't skimp on the violence (especially "Working Through Pain") and some harsh language. This is anime, not your typical Saturday morning cartoon.
As for how Gotham Knight fulfills its intended purpose, I am unsold. While it's great for fans to get a more adult animated "movie" to nosh on, it feels like the story is being propelled sideways rather than forward. The exception is "In Darkness Dwells," which gives more backstory on Batman Begins villain The Scarecrow. It's no surprise that this story feels more linked to the Nolan movies, as it was written by David S. Goyer, who helped write both Begins and Dark Knight.
Still, you're not missing much in the way of story development if you skip this DVD. If you're a superfan, chances are you've already decided whether you need to see Gotham Knight.
For more on The Dark Knight:
- More information at Wikipedia (warning: the entire plot is revealed there) and IMDB
- The official movie site
- I Believe in Harvey Dent
- Explore all manner of craziness at Why So Serious?
For more on Batman: Gotham Knight:
- Info at Wikipedia and IMDB
- The official site
- Check out a a 10 minute preview of the DVD
One of many Dark Knight trailers, at YouTube: