Saturday, July 19, 2008

"You Either Die a Hero or You Live Long Enough to See Yourself Become The Villain."

Hype is a curious thing. The fan boys fall for it and are guilty of it every time a new comic book movie comes out. But there are only a few films that generate a certain type of hype. This type of hype can never be lived up to. Whatever it is that is being hyped without the hype could become the most surprising thing of the year, but with the hype it will often hurt it's credibility and be looked at far more critically. In the past, this wasn't always true; Star Wars: A New Hope(1977) was extremely hyped, but was also nominated for Best Picture. Considering that it is odd to think of how hype has changed. Yes, both are generally made by fan boys but the films of 2007 to get major hype were Spiderman 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End which came with mixed to awful reviews. This didn't stop them from making record breaking amounts of money, but there will be no legacy behind these films. To get to the point, The Dark Knight is the most hyped and buzzed about film to come out all year. It has been called a masterpiece in film making by many and has been compared to such classics as Citizen Kane(1941), Godfather 2(1974) and The Empire Strikes Back(1980). Is Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight truly the first comic book film to transcend its source material and become something that will have a lasting legacy?

It is easy to sit back and either fall for the hype or totally reject it. It would be easy as a critic for me to sit back and say, "But there are flaw's so this film IS bad." And the thought did cross my mind, but the film isn't bad, in fact it is nothing short of outstanding!

Would the plot details make a difference? Anyone and everyone knows it has The Joker(the late Heath Ledger), Batman(Christian Bale), and Two-Face/Harvey Dent(Aaron Eckhart). Anymore description would simply be mind numbing as there is so much plot here. It is impossible to really know where to start or where to end.

Here in lies one of the major problems with the film; too much plot. Nolan did a wonderful job directing but this is a problem that he could have easily fixed. I am not going to lie, I was completely compelled the entire time, but sometimes it felt like parts were repeating themselves. Although I love Ledger in this and his performance is remarkable, we didn't need every Joker scene. It's hard to realize this while watching the film because Ledger is so watchable, the audience does not want to take their eyes off of him. I simply think Nolan knew what he had with Ledger and did not know which part's to cut because individually they are all amazing scenes.

Speaking of Ledger, with all the buzz surrounding his part in The Dark Knight another actor who was surprising and excellent, Aaron Eckhart, seemed to be overlooked. This isn't to say that Ledger's hype is not earned. It is totally earned and with all the Internet hype surrounding his performance and certain awards, while I don't think it'll happen I wouldn't be upset if it did. He has an interesting Anton Chigurh or Hannibal Lector quality in his performance that is impossible to ignore. To get back to Eckhart though, he is magnificent as Harvey Dent. It was easy to imagine him as the charismatic, justice loving DA because he is a charismatic guy and all he had to do was play himself, but when things start changing he changes his performance so perfectly that I simply am appalled at how underrated he is in this film. You really can get a grasp on his character and all that surrounds him because he is the center of the film. As his character changes the other's do. His character arc seems to be the basis of all the rest of the characters and it really ties everything together.

Christopher Nolan didn't cease to really pack the film with a punch. There are some truly devastating scenes here. This is one of the most heartbreaking blockbusters I have ever seen and that is to the films advantage. The story lends itself to that kind of feeling, but most directors would have opted out and glossed over many of the details.

The Dark Knight is transcendent in many ways. If you took out the bat suit and batman mythos and made him a regular vigilante then this could easily be a gritty hard hitting crime drama in the vein of Heat(1995). Every character that is established seems to serve some purpose that isn't explicitly shown but ultimately realized. Batman films work best when he isn't the main character, because the villains in Gotham City are always more fully realized and imaginative than our hero. The same goes for this one, but I would have to say that Nolan really made Batman more empathetic than ever before and his vulnerability really brings a new dimension to the character that hasn't really been developed on screen before.

The films other flaws are few and far between. Harvey Dent's transformation is a bit rushed, and probably would have worked better to cut out 20-30 minutes throughout and set his character up for the next film. Although some really fun things Nolan did was as the film went on and Two-Face's time grew closer and closer, Eckhart's face is shown half in shadow and half in light, kind of showing or predicting the future for us.

Social commentary isn't a stranger to comic book films. It seems to show up a lot in The Dark Knight as well. It is often asked how they should deal with the Joker because he is a terrorist with nothing to lose. Much like the situation faced with our country today. Batman is outcast because while trying to do good for the city good people die on his watch. The parallels can be easily seen there as well, but it isn't sure if Nolan wanted that in there to be a comment on our current times or if he thought it fit the story. I find that it is to Nolan's credit that it isn't apparent that he is making any type of commentary, but it simply comes out of the characters and they don't focus on it.

The Dark Knight delivers on so many levels that it really is hard to focus on any flaws it does have. Setting the hype aside though and viewing it unbiased I feel that the film stands on its own and surpass' the usual summer fare. There will be those who over-hype and there will be those who want to be different, ignore both sides and just enjoy the film for being superb.


1minutefilmreview said...

Clever write-up Shawn. Thanks for stopping by our blog and the comments. It's great to have you on board.

Be back. :)

Shubhajit said...

Its really one of the best blockbusters of recent times; hell, ever. Even though Heath Ledger has become bigger than the film itself, its completely justified.

Marcy said...

Excellent review, Shawn.

Because of all the hype surrounding the film and my anticipation for the film for the past seven or eight months, I don't think I could bring myself to hate the movie even if it sucked.

Luckily, I honestly loved the movie. The story is not as perfect as I imagined it to be, but I've come to terms with the fact that my expectations were impossibly high.

The quality to the film amazed me, though. The cinematography, the special effects, the thrilling score...WOW.

Like you, I loved Aaron Eckhart's performance. Harvey Dent/Two-Face isn't a show-stealing character like The Joker was, but Eckhart made Harvey's transformation believable. Ledger got to play the same character all the way through wonderfully, but Eckhart just nailed both sides of one character.

As much as I enjoyed Ledger's performance, I feel like many of the other great supporting performances in the film are getting overlooked by critics and audiences. This is an ensemble piece, through and through.

I completely agree with you about The Dark Knight being one of the most heartbreaking blockbusters. My heart broke several times throughout the film.

The Dark Knight has been compared to Heat and The Departed. Personally, I think it triumphs both those movies by a mile because Nolan--unlike Mann and Scorsese--isn't afraid to make his film emotionally compelling.

Okay. I talk too much. I'll stop now. :)

Fletch said...

I gotta disagree with you, Marcy. The film may have enough actors with enough lines to qualify as an ensemble, but this is the Joker's/Ledger pic - he was undoubtedly the star, and he owned the screen whenever he popped up.

Like you, Shawn, I feel like they should have trimmed much of Dent's storyline and set him up for the third film. That's not to take anything away from this movie, but with the length where it's at, it certainly would have been an option, and perhaps a better one.

Dead Pan said...

I have to disagree with Marcy as well, not exactly on the ensemble piece comment though. I kind of agree that it is sort of an ensemble piece, yes Joker rules this film, but he gets just as much screen time as everyone else.

My disagreement lies in saying that neither Scorsese or Mann make their films emotionally compelling. I believe they both do, if you are talking about in Heat and The Departed, than I can kind of see, but still I was emotionally attached to both of those films as well. Especially The Departed, whenever a character dies, it killed me. I was destroyed by that movie, heh, especially when...

martin sheen died.

I completely agree with the rest of your comments though.

Dead Pan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marcy said...

Shawn, I was specifically speaking of Heat and The Departed, so sorry if I wasn't clear.

I've never liked Heat that much and I think the bank robbery scene in The Dark Knight totally beats the bank robbery scene in Heat. I guess a little inspiration goes a long way.

Mann's The Insider was amazing, though. I consider it the best film of 1999.

Scorsese is a great director and can be emotionally compelling, but I was extremely disappointed in The Departed. Making a movie like The Departed is easy for Scorsese, especially considering he already made a far more superior one: GoodFellas.

When Martin Sheen's character died, I was disappointed to see him go, but it didn't make a big impact on me.

I was glad to see Scrosese finally win that Best Director Oscar, but I didn't think he deserved it for that film or even that particular year.

Fletch and Shawn, just wondering: Has it been confirmed that Two-Face is going to be in the third film? Because

The film doesn't explicitly say if he's dead or alive. I'm assuming he's alive.

Fletch said...

There was a short discussion about Two Face's fate amongst the people I saw the film with. At first, some thought he was alive, but they clearly show Gordon at a podium in front of a large picture of Dent. There is no indication that he's alive, and I'd be shocked if he were. Besides, if there really anything left for his storyline as it pertains to this franchise?

Marcy said...

Fletch, I think Two-Face's storyline should be finished with, but if the film leaves Two-Face's fate up in the air, there must be something up. During Gordon's speech, there was no casket... Maybe he's locked in Arkham?

I won't be looking forward to seeing Two-Face as the central villain of the next film if this is indeed all part of the plan. He dominates TDK enough to be considered a "main" villain. We don't need to see more of him. So you're right on the money, Flech. Dead or alive, he's out of the picture.

Dead Pan said...

Marcy---I understand your plight with The Departed. I did really enjoy the film, but definitely do not think it was Best Picture or Best Director worthy. Scorsese's much classic films (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas) all were beaten in the same category this lesser film won in, which is sad.

In regards to Harvey Dent, I am of the belief that he did die, however odd that is. But there is alot of possibility that he is still alive. They may have had the funeral and just locked him up so the city didn't lose hope. I think there is alot they can still do with his character and would like to see him in the third installment. I wouldn't be disappointed though if he were truly just dead.

Also, in regards to the spoiler alert type of thing, I am not sure how to go about it. You guys can warn for spoilers in whichever way you please.=) I am glad you guys are doing it as well though. I hate having films ruined for me by little things I read online.