Friday, July 18, 2008

My Spoiler-Free Review of "The Dark Knight"

Ok, so I just got back from the 9:30 AM showing of the most anticipated summer blockbuster in years "The Dark Knight". Yes, you read that right. 9:30 AM. I could have opted for the 9:00 AM showing or even the 12:01 AM showing, but I wanted my older boys to be able to have a good night's sleep before the big proceedings. I may be a fanboy, but I'm a sensible fanboy.

I had mentioned to Nora last night that I planned to go into the theatre with open eyes. That is, not to be clouded by all the incredible hype this film has been getting the past few weeks. It was tough to find a bad review of this film. But I know a lot of that hype was generated from people who really WANTED this film to be good. One of the things that I liked so much about the other heralded comic book film this season, "Iron Man" was that I didn't go into it with any preconceived notions. I didn't know Tony Stark's origin story. I had no connection to the comic at all. So I was able to view the film as a movie goer. I wanted the same experience with this film. I wanted to see the film as Average Joe Movie and not as someone who has been dying to see it since the Joker makeup was revealed last spring. A daunting challenge to say the least. She didn't think I was up to it. But I held my ground.

That being said, this is what In have to say about the film, from the eyes of a casual moviegoer. And let me add a caveat here: about an hour and a half into the film, the sound cut out in the theatre we were in. I lost about 10 minutes of film during the debacle, all of which I was able to see at another showing. Although nothing can really repair a movie experience being marred by something like that, I was able to piece the film together.

I thought the story was well-plotted, although Chris Nolan seems to want to pack as much into the front end as possible. It seemed a bit top-heavy to me in the first hour, trying to explain the situation Batman, Dent and Gordon and the rest of Gotham find themselves in. Lots of characters and situations to keep track of make you take your eye off the action to try to digest what's happening. I'm usually pretty good at following the action and plot, but wish I had a rewind button next to me to get some lines of dialogue that I felt ran past you too quickly.

The film was shot entirely in Chicago, and it shows. The dark landscape of Gotham and The Narrows from "Batman Begins" has been replaced with the grittiness of real-world Chicago. Which in some way, added to my issues with how serious the film was trying to take itself. This is the crux of my criticism of the film. Nolan and his team are trying so very hard to ground these characters in reality, but in the end, you still have a crazy guy running around in a rubber costume.

Don't get me wrong. I think that Nolan is able to find that balance within the film and is able to sustain it for the most part. But not without a few awkward moments to jolt you back into remembering that this is just one big graphic novel comic book.

Ok now to the elephant in the room: Heath Ledger's performance. Make no mistake, he does a very good job as The Joker. Contrary to Nicholson's Joker, Ledger's Joker literally is nuts. Nicholson's performance seems very comic-booky next to this performance. Ledger's Joker is both calculated and brutal and you can't not be riveted by his portrayal. Had he lived, it would have been the performance that would have demented er -- CEMENTED -- his place on the A List.. The Joker made me laugh and cringe. Moreso on the cringe. And it seemed like when Ledger wasn't on screen, the movie lost some of it's stamina.

Conversely, (and I know I'll take some heat for this) I felt that Christian Bale's performance was a bit wooden. And I LIKE Christian Bale! I feel he is the best Batman to don the cowl that there ever has been. But the effect they put on his voice when he is The Batman gets distracting after a while. Once again, though, put toe to toe against Burton's Keaton, this is stellar and pretty much spot on from Miller's Caped Crusader reboot of the 80's.

The supporting cast including Eric Roberts, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Maggie Gyllenhall are all in top form and enjoyable to watch. But I have to give the film a 9, only for some of the small flaws I felt that kept it from all time greatness. Is it a Best Picture? Meh, probably not. But then again, when a film like The Departed can win for Best Picture, this wouldn't be much of a surprise. Does Ledger deserve a posthumous Oscar? I feel he should be nominated for his role, it is that good. Will it happen? We'll have to wait.

One last note: this was probably the most intense film I have ever watched with my kids. It's certainly the darkest film they have ever seen. So let this be a warning. This IS NOT a film for kids. My 11 year old says he liked it, but I could tell he was disturbed by some of the Joker's antics. So please let that be a warning. If you're wondering, do yourself a favor and keep the kids at home.

And finally, Three Words: NEW WATCHMEN TRAILER. And it's looking FINE.

Bring on 3/6/09.