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The Dark Knight (2008)

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Wow! He does look like Leahy, and sound like him, too.

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Jeffrey Wells has linked to a couple of newer, more mixed reviews that speak negatively of the fight scenes; you might recall that the fight scenes in the previous film were widely panned, or at least quibbled with, as well. At least one of the critics Wells cites also complains that the movie is too "intense" or even "oppressive" ... and yet the Associated Press critic remarked the other day that The Dark Knight is better than Batman Begins because it is LESS "self-serious . . . Nolan has found a way to mix in some fun with his philosophizing." Who to believe, who to believe...?

Incidentally, one thing about Batman Begins that has always irked me is the way the film often cuts to unnecessary dialogue bits in the middle of its chase/action sequences -- like when the cops start yelping things during the chase scene with the tumbler, or the way that guy at the elevated-train control centre keeps yelping things while the train seems headed for certain doom in the film's climactic sequence. There's an element of gratuitous exposition to those cutaway lines that has never quite rubbed me the right way. I'll be glad if The Dark Knight avoids that sort of thing, but it's things like that which do hold me back from hoping for Too Much from the sequel. They keep my expectations realistic.

Oh, and whatever y'all do, don't read Lou Lumenick's blog. He's apparently got a major, MAJOR spoiler up there right now. I diverted my eyes before seeing too much of it, but still, I can only hope that the spoiler he reveals comes earlier in the movie rather than later. (It's a weird thing, but for some reason his blog's RSS feed gives you only the first few sentences of his blog posts, but then if he tries to "hide" anything "after the jump", the RSS feed includes that, too. So when I clicked on this particular item in Google Reader, I got a couple of sentences... a brief gap... and then a BIG FAT SPOILER... from which I quickly averted my eyes. But not quickly enough.)

Fourteen hours until I see it ... fourteen hours until I see it ...

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I need to read some negative reviews, or at least mildly positive reviews, and fast in order to get my expectations in check. Most of the reviews I've read thus far have included one or more of the following points:

1. Best comic book movie ever.

2. It transcends the comic book movie genre altogether and is more in the vein of Godfather and Untouchables.

3. Oscar for Heath Ledger (probably 8-10 reviews thus far have said this)

4. Best film of the summer and possible Best Picture candidate.

ETC. ETC. ETC.

Whew!

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2. It transcends the comic book movie genre altogether and is more in the vein of Godfather and Untouchables.

Which moves it up the totem pole one notch to "crime movie genre"! *snicker*

This is why I get weary when people over-use genre labels.

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I think at least two of the four negative reviews cited by Wells have complained that the new film deviates from Tim Burton's vision in some way (e.g., it's not a campy comedy, or it takes place in a real city and not on a soundstage like the one designed by Anton Furst). Sheesh, guys, is this sort of criticism really supposed to make me like the new movie LESS than the old movies? It wouldn't surprise me at all to find out that those critics know nothing of the comics except what got filtered through the lens of Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher. I imagine there were lots of people complaining about Burton's film who knew nothing but the 1960s TV show, too.

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It will be VERY interesting to see what sort of political hay is made of this film.

As some of us noted at the time, Batman Begins is kind of a post-9/11 parable. The villains are self-appointed moral crusaders who set out to destroy Gotham City for its wickedness. Bruce Wayne, who flirts with joining their ranks, first refuses to participate in some of their more extreme tactics -- specifically, he refuses to behead a criminal -- and then he goes on to argue that Gotham City, despite all its flaws, is still worth saving. Likewise, America is guilty of many of the moral evils that Islamists have accused it of, yet America does not merit the wholesale destruction that the Islamists would wish upon it, AND it is crucial that America not stoop to the Islamists' tactics as it fights back against both the terrorists from outside and the corruption from within.

The Dark Knight takes the analogy even further, if one is inclined to follow these sorts of lines of interpretation. In THIS film, there is debate about Batman's legitimacy and his methods; there is debate about the merits of relying upon a vigilante, yet there is also acknowledgement that the vigilante has made things better. And now many people, including Bruce Wayne, are ready to hand things over to a bright, shiny "white knight" named Harvey Dent, whose campaign motto is "Change We Can Believe In" ... er, I mean, "I Believe In Harvey Dent." But then, uh-oh, the Joker comes along and makes things worse, rather than better. And he is explicitly described as a "terrorist". And the question becomes: No matter how valid the arrival of Batman may or may not be -- no matter what role the outside-the-law vigilante may have played in ATTRACTING this "terrorist" to Gotham City in the first place -- should the city necessarily give in to the "terrorist's" demands and turn the vigilante over? Should Batman himself surrender? Or should he, as Alfred puts it, "stay the course" ... er, I mean, "endure"?

There's a lot more that one could say, but I'll leave it at that for now.

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I'm looking forward to Armond White's inevitable pan. If there's a political angle, you can count on White finding (and exploiting) it.

Edited by Nathaniel

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I'm looking forward to Armond White's inevitable pan. If there's a political angle, you can count on White finding (and exploiting) it.

Props to Nate! You called it.

And wow, wow, could he possibly BE any more wrong. :blink:

(And yet, half a prop taken away from somebody, Nate or White, for White's puzzling failure to exploit the political angle per se, as opposed to the general zeitgeist.)

Edited by SDG

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If you fell for the evil-versus-evil antagonism of There Will Be Blood, then The Dark Knight should be the movie of your wretched dreams.

For White, this constitutes a political angle! He's been waging war against the dark heart of pop culture for years now. Doesn't that count?

Edited by Nathaniel

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This is completely inarticulate, but here's the e-mail I just sent to a few Batman-crazed friends:

The wife and I just got back from The Dark Knight. It's over 2 and a half hours long, and neither of us were read for it to end.

You've probably read the reviews, which have been ridiculous. Your expectations might even be somewhere in the stratosphere. Don't worry-- you won't be disappointed. To say that it's the best comic book ever is true, but hardly does it justice. The Dark Knight is singular in its achievement: Yes, the action scenes are breathtaking, and yes, there are some funny parts, and yes, and yes, Heath Ledger will probably get an Oscar nomination, which will be well-deserved; his performance here is iconic, every bit as good as Daniel Day-Lewis' seminal performance in There Will Be Blood last year. But even ignoring that for a minute: This is a powerful powerful film, an affecting work of art that gives us what might be the most harrowing portrayal of evil we've ever seen on the big screen. (Well, at least in a summer blockbuster!) It's a movie about corruption and decay, and its pregnant with spiritual and political implications. And at times, it's disturbing.

It's a landmark film. The audience I saw it with held their breath from the first frame to the last, and when it was over erupted in rapturous applause.

Holyfreakingcrapitsamazing.

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From the "Double O Section" 'blog:

His Name is Wayne, Bruce Wayne

There’s a long association of Batman and spies, especially in the caped crusader comics drawn by Paul Gulacy. Christopher Nolan seems to share that viewpoint; he’s said as much in countless interviews, and it certainly shows in his films. I felt his Batman Begins owed a lot to the Roger Moore Bond movies (in scope, not tone), and Nolan turned Wayne Enterprises CEO Lucius Fox into Batman’s Q. (Clearly, he felt a need to answer Jack Nicholson’s famous rhetorical question, "Where does he get those wonderful toys?")

Nolan’s latest Bat opus, The Dark Knight, continues this trend.

Last time I watched Batman Begins, I commented to the person with me that Batman--in Nolan's film, anyway--is essentially the "James Bond" of the major superheroes--no "powers," just gadgets, and now with a gadget-master. Begins even has a demonstrate-the-car chase scene like in Goldfinger, The Living Daylights or Tomorrow Never Dies. I'm interested to see in what ways the parallel is expanded upon when I see The Dark Knight on Friday.

Edited by NBooth

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Gosh, this movie is long. Really long.

Which I think contributes to the fact that, as so many critics are pointing out (Ebert, Travers, etc.), it really feels more like an epic than a comic book movie. It's more Godfather than Spider-man, I'm tempted to say (although I remember the third Spider-man being slightly long-ish as well-- but maybe just because it was really boring.)

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I was exhausted by it, Josh. It's very good in many ways, but it's exhausting. By the 90-minute mark, I was basically done with it. And it still had more than 30 minutes left.

I noted some shifting/restlessness in the seats around me -- a woman two seats down kept leaning forward, resting her chin on her hand, while she perched her elbow on one of her thighs.

Still, I expect the film's deficiencies to be overwhelmed by an emphasis on its better aspects, at least in the short term. It's definitely got a lot going on -- a lot of good stuff, but not all good stuff.

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BTW, reviews of the film are running today -- the Washington Post ran Stephen Hunter's review in this morning's paper -- so it's OK to talk about it.

I'm curious if anyone else had issues with the sound mix of this movie. I doubt this a problem inherent to the film -- it's probably a theater-by-theater thing -- but the Uptown theater in D.C. had the sound up pretty loud. That wouldn't bother me so much, but the mix during the loud stretches was terrible! Dialogue was drowned out by the sound of vehicles, explosions and other craziness. It doesn't help that Bale's Batman speaks in a lower voice, although it's amplified somehow. Nevertheless, certain dialogue by other characters was difficult to make out during intense stretches of the film. I'm not sure how crucial that dialogue might have been.

Edited by Christian

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I don't disagree that it's exhausting, but I don't think that means it can't be compelling. There's a lot of darkness, a lot of suspense, and a lot of intensity, which takes its toll both emotionally and physically, but I found it to be moving, affecting, even cathartic rather than simply wearisome. I still cared about it even as it moved past the two hour mark, and I left the theater feeling haunted by it, not tired of it. As for the people around me, I really didn't notice much, except that several scenes garnered applause, the end credits were met with a standing ovation, and, as we left the theater and the publicist asked for any responses, the crowd's consensus seemed to be that they weren't ready for it to end.

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Josh, I just realized that the earlier e-mail you quoted was one you sent, rather than, as I'd thought earlier, one you'd received. I didn't realize I was sharing my thoughts with such an enthusiast. :)

It's an impressive film in many ways, and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I was bracing myself for an ultra-violent spectacle -- I've grown very wary of those in recent years. But although it pushes the PG-13 envelope (for some reason I thought going into the film that it was rated R), it does pull its punches on the violence in a way that I found admirable. (It's very, very sad, however, that a movie that features a

villain pointing a loaded gun at a child's head and threatening to shoot him

can get a PG-13, whereas if the Joker had lit up a cigarette during that scene, the film would've required an R rating!) My gripe isn't with the violence, but the feeling that the film just went on and on. Too long.

I'm forgiving of the "too long" charge when it comes to dramas. There are far worse cinematic sins, in my book. But with action films, I just get overwhelmed and start to shut down if the film continues past a certain point. That said, I'm not sure my reaction is based mainly on my own limitations, or reflects a limitation in the film itself. Hunter's review, for instance, while positive, says that film works best only when the Joker is on screen, and suffers greatly from the Harvey Dent storyline.

I liked that storyline as I was watching the film, but in reflection, Hunter may be on to something. Maybe there was one too many characters in this story. No offense to Aaron Eckhart, who I thought was good (Hunter didn't care for his performance), but when I think about why the film felt long, it may not be that the film has too many big action sequences, or feels like it has two or three finales. It may be that it just has too many dang characters.

Edited by Christian

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Actually, I thought the film juggled its characters better than it did in the last film-- partially because, here, many of the minor characters are utilized not merely as plot devices, but as reflections of the film's central themes of corruption and decay. Morgan Freeman's character is a good example, and, to a lesser extent, Alfred. Jim Gordan plays a slightly larger role, and his relationship with Batman is fleshed out in some powerful ways. And as for Dent... well, I think his character is crucial for the contrast it creates not just with Batman, but with Joker as well, and, again, it adds depth to the film's themes.

But the most pleasant surprise of all-- for me-- was Rachel Dawes, who was the weakest part of the first film but has a lot more personality and, y'know, CHARACTER here-- which I think is partially because of the new actress who plays her, but largely due to better writing.

I guess what I'm really trying to say is that the film's long running length is precisely the reason why its large cast of characters works so well-- it fleshes them out in broad, thematic ways that makes the movie feel like a mythology, something grand and dramatic, rather than the comparatively small-scale Spider-man or Iron Man.

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Best serious superhero movie for grownups ever.

Oldman: He's the heart of the series. Man I love this guy. He's the most human, and the most appealing, admirable presence. He's Nolan's secret weapon.

Eckhart: Gives Harvey Dent more gravitas and heart than anyone had a right to expect.

Bale: For me, the weak link in the film. His journey is the least interesting, and the other actors leave stronger impressions.

Freeman: Has a priceless, priceless moment of condescending glee.

Caine: Making this Alfred so much more vital and interesting. "How did you catch the thief in Birnam forest?" Great moment.

Gyllenhaal: Makes you wish they could digitally insert her in Batman Begins.

And Ledger. Sweet honey in the rock... he's as good as the hype promised. He's not just better than Nicholson's Joker: his best scenes are better than any villain-scenes Nicholson's ever done. And there's a moment with a faulty detonator that I can't wait to watch again. (I can't go so far as Josh to say it's "every bit as good as Daniel Day-Lewis' seminal performance in There Will Be Blood" simply because Day-Lewis was in every scene of that movie, and Ledger wasn't on-camera nearly as much. Still, the impression he makes is so strong that he haunts every scene.) I too won't begrudge him an Oscar, although it would be a shame to have psycho killers win Best Supporting Actor two years in a row.

And speaking of Javier Bardem... isn't it odd that another film exploring such similar questions as No Country would make such a big deal about death-by-coin-toss?

One obvious allusion to Apocalypse Now was well-deserved. And the comparisons to Heat are more than appropriate. The last 20 minutes that have earned so many complaints are absolutely necessary: Any other conclusion would have felt like a cheap set-up for a sequel, or would have cut short the story arcs of a two or three vital characters.

The subtle ways in which Batman and the Joker are compared/contrasted are fascinating, from the way both characters take champagne glasses and empty them before pretending to drink, to the way

And the film contains the spectacular ruination of a line made famous in an earlier film by Tom Cruise. The line made me laugh out loud in surprise. (It was such a shock, I wondered if it was included as a cheap shot at Cruise. Did Cruise have anything to do with Katie Holmes not being in this film? If so, I wonder if this was a punishment. If not, it's a very strange choice. Anybody else here know what I'm talking about?)

The film contains at least three exhilarating action scenes that had the crowd cheering. Batman's motorcycle is wicked cool. And the term "Sky Hook" will no longer be associated with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

I couldn't disagree more with Christian. Surely a comic book movie can handle three main characters and two supporting characters, and two of Batman's helpers. And this takes Bruce, Harvey, Joker, Gordon, Rachel, Alfred, and Freeman and develops ALL of them impressively. I was exhausted by the action, but not by the story. It's an incredibly ambitious, thoughtful, complex exploration of the question "How do we responsibly deal with the problem of evil without becoming monsters ourselves?" It wrestles with the question every bit as thoughtfully as No Country for Old Men (although I'm not sure it offers any more hope). And while the allusions to how America has responded to national and international threats post-9/11 are painfully obvious, they are important parts of the story and never too preachy. They are timely and relevant, and pushed just hard enough.

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Jeffrey, I think I might have missed the Tom Cruise line you're mentioning-- can you remind me of it?

As for Ledger and Day-Lewis... I'm not sure how fruitful it really is to compare the two, but, for what its worth, I think the fact that Ledger has so much less screen time and still creates a character that's every bit as memorable, leaves just as strong an impression, speaks to how good he really is. And I think his Joker is more mutli-dimensional and real than Daniel Plainview, who was intentionally one-dimensional in some regards, as he was essentially a horror movie monster. But this is a quality of the writing, not the performances, so please don't take that as a dig at Day-Lewis.

It's interesting also that a few critics have compared Joker with Bardem's character in No Country. The comparison occurred to me, too, but, in many ways, they're polar opposites; the coldness and cruelty of Anton lies in the fact that he is so rigidly principled and plays by a strict set of self-made rules, while Joker is terrifying because of his complete LACK of rules.

By the way, this film is full of little touches here and there that I just loved, but my favorite was the fact that

when Joker appears to Harvey wearing the nurse's uniform, he is also wearing a Dent political sticker.

Priceless!

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:spoilers:

This line:

Show hidden text
"You... complete... me." It's the romantic culmination of Jerry Mcguire.
Edited by Overstreet

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Oh. Right. I guess I think of that line as being sort of a sappy-romantic cliche, not specifically associated with that film. But yeah, I guess I can see what you're saying.

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