Welcome to the Waiver Wire’s EVERY BATMAN EVER MARATHON. In the weeks leading up to the release of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ I will be watching and analyzing every feature film based on the Caped Crusader. The Batman film franchise is an old one with roots stretching all the way back to film serials produced in the 40′s. The first feature film came about in 1966 and our love affair with The World’s Greatest Detective has continued on ever since. Check back every Wednesday for the newest installments and I encourage you to join in and do the marathon with me. Here’s the schedule (click on the date for past installments):
Intro: 5/23; Batman (1966): 5/30; Batman (1989): 6/6; Batman Returns (1992): 6/13; Batman Forever (1995): 6/20; Batman & Robin (1997): 6/27; Batman Begins (2005): 7/4; The Dark Knight (2008): 7/11; Recap/Rankings: 7/18; The Dark Knight Rises (2012): 7/25
The Dark Knight (2008)
[Ed. Note: I apologize for the delay in getting this review published, life got in the way but at long last it’s now here.]
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman
Plot: Since Batman’s (Bale) arrival in Gotham, things have started to change. Criminals have lost some of their hold over the city and the mob has started to get desperate. The new zealous DA, Harvey Dent (Eckhart), has been on a crusade to clean up Gotham cracking down on corruption and organized crime. The mob is approached by The Joker (Ledger), a costumed criminal who’d been robbing mob banks and organizing heists (the film opens with a particularly amazing heist sequence). The Joker offers to kill Batman to rid the mob of “the real problem.” The Joker then demands that Batman reveals his identity to Gotham lest he continue is killing spree. Batman must contend with the Joker’s escalating terrorism along with his villainous plans for Gotham’s new DA.
Production History: Following the success of Batman Begins Nolan and screenwriter David Goyer decided they wanted to revisit the Joker as a villain for the sequel. They looked to “The Long Halloween” as a major influence and originally wrote out plans for two more films during which the Joker and Harvey Dent would be introduced and, in the second films, the Joker would scar Dent, turning him into Two-Face. When Nolan decided he wanted to avoid a Joker origin story because “the Joker we meet in The Dark Knight is fully formed…To me, the Joker is an absolute. There are no shades of gray to him – maybe shades of purple. He’s unbelievably dark. He bursts in just as he did in the comics.” The plan then was to have Dent become Two-Face in the film and have more of a sympathetic arc. The resulting script featured Dent as a major part of the story and as important as Batman and the Joker.
One of Nolan’s major decisions was to shoot parts of the film in Imax. He considers the format to be the highest quality film and went on to use the large, loud cameras (which had never been used for a feature film) for four major sequences including the opening heist sequence. Because of the cameras’ noise, the scene involved heavy audio work for dialogue scenes.
The Dark Knight was a massive financial success and, in part to extra attention brought on by Heath Ledger’s death during post-production, became a cultural phenomenon breaking numerous box office records. It eventually grossed $1,001,921,825 on a budget of $185 million. It also won Heath Ledger a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and is widely credited for the Academy’s (horrible) decision to expand the number of films in the Best Picture category.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: I’ve reached “trying to be professional and write an enjoyable review but am deeply in love with this film in an unhealthy way” critical mass. I’m sure you’ve all been there before. Just typical life stuff.
I still remember seeing this film in an Imax theater at midnight and being left speechless by its epochal splendor. That feeling hasn’t really left with time and its part of the reason that I’m so amped for The Dark Knight Rises which is about 75% of the reason I’m writing this series. This film grabs you from the start with a kickass bank heist, Joker style. Nolan released it as a short film that played as a kind of extended trailer and you can see why. The combination of the stunning Imax footage and the brilliant constructed bank robbery, which has all the Joker’s henchmen conveniently off each other and culminates in Ledger’s glorious reveal, leaves the viewer in awe.
Ledger’s performance is this film’s legacy but he is only one piece of what makes this film great. Maggie Gyllenhaal brings an acting upgrade (and MAJOR looks downgrade) to the role of Rachel and her silly last name is as shocking as her death. In fact, her death scene was one ballsy act of storytelling when you really think about it. The Joker presents Batman with a classic superhero situation, save the city or save the girl. Hell, he has to make that choice in previous films in the Batman series. In these situations superheroes always find a way to save both but Nolan wasn’t having any of it. Batman makes his choice and the other person dies, in this case the Joker tricked him into making the opposite choice than the one he wanted. That’s some heavy shit. Beyond that Aaron Eckhart really nails the complicated arc of Harvey Dent and he plays the character with the right mix of idealism and danger so when he eventually becomes Two-Face it’s really impactful.
THE BAT: Bale loses control of the bat voice in one or two scenes but I still think it’s a big part of why his Batman works. Batman’s fighting is as awesome as ever and Nolan actually explored his role as a detective more in this film. He collects evidences and and we get to see how his methods have evolved. We also get an idea of how great he’s gotten at being Batman. In Begins we watched him go through some rough patches while learning and in The Dark Knight he’s grown to the point where he can extract money launders from Hong Kong with a daring mid air escape. The sequence is one of the film’s several fantastic set pieces.
THE BRUCE: All of the character development is out of the way after the first film and it gives the film some time to explore Bruce Wayne’s psyche. He’s beginning to realize that he can’t live this life forever and sees Dent as an opportunity to start to resume normalcy and be with Rachel. His sorrow of Rachel’s death is palpable and the movie begs the question, just how much does Wayne need Batman?
THE SUIT: At long last we’ve reached perfection! The best elements of the Begins costume remain but the clunky neck has been replaced with a sleeker upgrade (which is actually explained in the plot) and makes Batman look even more badass. This, ladies and gentleman, is the batsuit.
THE CAR: The Tumbler’s back and it’s better than ever! Actually it’s exactly the same. But it does also reveal itself to have a nifty little motorcycle tucked inside it. Still badass, and it still comes in black.
THE ROGUES’ GALLERY: The Joker is iconic for a reason. Heath Ledger delivers an astounding performance and it’s so good that I routinely forgot that Heath Ledger was the person on screen. He completely commits to the role and disappears into the character. His smudged, decaying makeup, mysterious scars (with an ever changing back story) and his tiny mannerisms all enhance the completeness of the character. From the tiny lip licking to the nervous twitches, to the pitch perfect voice and laugh, Ledger owns the role. He’s the perfect counterpoint to Batman. Bruce created Batman as a way to gain control over the nihilistic crime that was destroying Gotham and killed his parents. He couldn’t control the death of his parents so he tried to create a larger than life symbol which could institute control. The Joker’s sole goal is to demolish control and order and the illusion of rules. He claims to be someone without a plan but he clearly is capable of orchestrating masterful plans which create more and more chaos. This contradiction between not having plans and actually having them is part of his fun mystery. Ledger’s real life death only serves to add weight to the performance and his line “I think you and I are destined to do this forever” is eerily haunting considering the real life circumstances.
Dent is a great villain to throw into the mix because he is sympathetic and complicated. His sorrowful rage after Rachel’s death is made all the better by the stunning makeup and CGI effects that went into crafting his look as Two-Face. He provides a nice variation from the Joker by being a real person rather than an a larger than life villainous force.
THE SIDEKICK(S): Gary Oldman is a real family man in this one. He fakes his own death and lets his wife and children believe he was murdered so he and Batman can take the Joker down. It’s a great reveal when you realize Gordon’s survived but upon rewatching I’m kind of struck by how unnecessary his faked death was. All he does is show up behind the Joker with a gun during a fight with Batman. It’s not really clear why another cop couldn’t do that without Gordon permanently scarring his wife and kids.
Morgan Freeman continues his powerhouse portrayal of Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine works as a great emotional grounding for Bruce. We even get a little bit about his past during a story he tells about a jewel thief in Burma. Fortunately, Robin is nowhere to be found.
As a I mentioned Maggie Gyllenhaal is an improvement as Rachel Dawes but she continues to be a middle of the road character. She fits in better as a motivator to the more interesting characters than as a fully realized character.
THE VERDICT: If you’ve been reading this series because you love Batman and you’re excited for The Dark Knight Rises then you definitely don’t need me to tell you this movie rocks. The Verdict is that I find this film guilty of being a superhero masterpiece and some genuinely fine filmmaking. Check it out and enjoy.
Next Up: Recap/Rankings: 7/18