Superhero films have gone beyond a trend now, and are probably here to stay, as (maybe you've heard) they've been extremely successful recently. But after seeing The Dark Knight twice now, I'm wondering if the genre should be retired. Walk out on a high note. Because I'm not sure it can ever get any better than what Christopher Nolan has done here.
The storyline is dense, fueled largely, of course, by good guy trying to catch bad guy. But there's so much more going on. As with any action movie, there are spectacular set pieces involving bank robberies, drug busts, kidnappings, hostage rescues, and stand-offs. But rather than provide the foundation for the story, those scenes supplement the complex impulses of an unforgettable cast of characters, each of whom is after something more than the typical motivations of hero defeating villain, villain confounding hero, power, money, love, and acceptance.
These people are pursuing loftier, more abstract goals such as order, chaos, contentment, and normalcy. (Okay, love should be thrown in there, too.) Altogether, it gives us the fully developed sort of superhero movie we say we've always wanted. And that's almost a backhanded compliment. The Dark Knight is just a great crime movie - period - whose main character happens to be wearing a mask and cape.
But a crime story wouldn't be any good without a memorable villain, someone who the protagonists have no idea how to stop and makes the audience squirm in its seat because neither has any idea what will happen next. Heath Ledger has created a nihilistic, anarchistic force of nature that can't be figured out because he doesn't want to be the town's biggest, megalomanical bully. The Joker just wants to mess with you. He can't help himself. He wants to touch your nerves and take sandpaper to them. He wants to see how far you can be pushed before you'll let go of the ideals and morals that define you. Punching him in the face or throwing him in a jail cell won't stop that.
Ledger's best scenes are when he finds his adversary's sensitivities and pokes at them. And instead of being a flamboyant clown, the Joker's playfulness comes from refusing to be ignored, persistently causing an itch that he knows has to be scratched. Yet he's also terrifying because he'll stick a knife in you just to watch you die, and won't have a bit of remorse over it.
Another fantastic aspect to this version of the Joker is how he mocks our desire to have our villains explained psychologically. What made him that way? Why does he do these things? A running gag, if you will, throughout the film has Joker telling his story to his victims just before he's about to injure or kill them. But it's a different story every time. Maybe there's some truth to each tale, but maybe he's also making fun of your attempt to understand him.
Altogether, Ledger and Nolan have created one of the great villains ever seen on screen. And maybe the posthumous Oscar talk leading up to The Dark Knight's release seemed premature, if not a bit exploitive. But if you consider the recent history of these awards, look at how memorable villains have been honored. Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for becoming Hannibal Lecter. Javier Bardem was awarded for being Anton Chigurh. Daniel Day-Lewis got the prize for giving us Daniel Plainview. Who knows what else we'll see in the next six months leading up to the Academy Awards? But will any of those performances or characters be more memorable than Ledger as the Joker?
I disagree, however, with those who say that the Joker completely overshadows Batman in this movie. Sure, he's the flashier, more interesting presence, the one you're talking about when leaving the theater. But I also think Nolan and Christian Bale (along with Nolan's screenwriting brother - let's give the writers credit) have created a more compelling Batman and Bruce Wayne than we've ever seen before.
One of the tragedies of the character that hasn't been depicted in these movies before (and not that much in the comic books, either) is that there's not going to be a happy ending for him. Batman has created an impossible task for himself. He's never going to completely rid Gotham City of crime. And even if he comes close, what he's been through will never allow him to just settle down into a normal life (even one as a millionaire playboy). But Wayne is portrayed as someone who can see the day when Batman is no longer needed. Maybe this makes him seem more selfish, and less heroic, but to me, it makes Batman far more relatable. He's just a more extreme version of ourselves, someone who wants the world to make sense, so he can find his place in it.
When he meets Harvey Dent, the kind of man who should clean up his city, who should make people feel safe because he's fighting crime lawfully, Batman yearns to build him up. Because if someone doing this the right way can get it done, that creates hope. And if there's hope, there's no more need for Batman.
Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work out that way as Dent suffers a tragic downfall, both emotionally and physically, brought on largely because he's made himself such a large target. The villain Dent becomes, Two-Face, is my favorite adversary for Batman because he remembers the person that Dent used to be and is always trying to save him. There's nothing close to that sort of empathy between Batman and Joker, and this story nails those dynamics perfectly.
That brings me back to my original point, which is that there will likely never be a better Batman movie than this. For one thing, any villain will absolutely wither in comparison to the Joker. Even Two-Face. But in terms of story, I'm not sure where else this can be taken. As Joker says at one point, "we're destined to do this forever." These two characters have a symbiotic relationship, in which one begats the other, something Joker comprehends far better than Batman. Another version of this story could be told, but should it be done? I don't mean that literally, in regards to re-casting Ledger's role. (Good luck trying that, by the way.) I'm talking creatively.
Of course, there will be another Batman movie, whether or not Nolan chooses to do it. And the ending of The Dark Knight almost demands a more satisfying conclusion. It's reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back, in which the bad guys appear to have won (if you haven't seen the movie yet, I don't think that's a spoiler), leaving the heroes to deal with the aftermath. When I saw Empire as a kid, I hated that sort of ending. Because the good guys are supposed to win. And there's supposed to be resolution.
Yet maybe that's the point Nolan is trying to make here. This isn't the sort of story that can end, but it doesn't have to keep being told. But if he figures out a fulfilling way to solve that dilemma, I sure as hell want to see it.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Monday, July 28, 2008
UPDATE: If you tried the video, and it wasn't available, I found another embed that hasn't been taken down.
Saturday Night Live skit or new Oliver Stone film? You make the call.
I'm still curious about this one, but maybe in that gawking at a train wreck or "so bad it's good" (especially when I see Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice) fashion.
Pierce Brosnan truly - deeply - cannot sing. Meryl Streep can, and at least looked like she had a good time. Stellan Skarsgard must have lost a bet when he agreed to be in this. 106 minutes of screaming women, whining men, and Abba songs made my testicles shrivel, and has had me on a testosterone IV drip ever since, but I am the greatest son in the world for taking my mother to see this movie (and she had a great time, which is really all that matters).
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
I was ready to sit down and write a Four-Sentence Movie Review for The Dark Knight (though you can surely guess what I thought of it), but I really want to see it again and plan to do so tomorrow. There's so much going on in the film that I almost found it overwhelming, though I'm sure geek palpitations were what really kept me from focusing for the first 10 minutes or so.
In the meantime, check out this illustration by Tom Whalen which is the cover of this month's Load magazine.
Really, the only thing missing is the character who might be the most important to the story, Harvey Dent/Two-Face. But I'll save those thoughts for when I write about the movie. (I don't think I can keep it to four sentences, either.)
Live television: Ain't nothin' like it!
Would it have been worse if they'd shown Two-Face? Well, obviously - because of the spoilers!
I can understand if someone in the MSNBC production booth had some serious Batman on the mind. I mean, who hasn't over the past couple of weeks? Am I right? Or maybe someone was having some fun. Of course, it could've been an honest mistake too, but where's the fun in that?
Friday, July 18, 2008
So I have a feeling I'll go to the movies this weekend to check out the new Batman flick.
No, I wasn't one of the midnight moviegoers. That might be yet another sign of age coming on. In past years, I'd have been all over that. I'm sure that was a good time at the theater last night. A movie like The Dark Knight with a crowd is surely an experience. But the need to see something first isn't what it used to be. Uncle Ian prefers his theaters quiet nowadays, and with a little room for stretching out.
Considering I spent a portion of the evening doctoring photos of myself with Facebook's "Joker Graffiti" application, however, I don't know how much of a claim I can make on being too old for anything.
What do you think? That picture of me doesn't look quite so glum anymore.
Monday, July 14, 2008
The Stanley Cup is the greatest trophy in sports. Even my father, who wasn't a hockey fan, was awed by this glorious chalice when he glimpsed it with his own eyes at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. So it's not really something you let your kid take a $#!+ in, Kris Draper. Yet that's exactly what happened last month while the Cup was in his possession.
Red Wings forward Kris Draper revealed during the weekend that his diaperless baby, Kamryn, did a number on the Cup last month. A number two, to be exact.
"A week after we won it, I had my newborn daughter in there, and she pooped in the Cup," Draper said. "That was something. We had a pretty good laugh.
"I still drank out of it that night, so no worries."
C'mon! No! No, no, no! He let his baby take a dump in the Stanley Cup? Where's your respect, Kris Draper? Hopefully, he took some rubbing alcohol, bleach, or Purell (or maybe just soap and water) to it afterwards.
I have a picture somewhere of my dad kissing the Cup. What's funny is that he thought he was getting away with it, behind the security guard's back. I was later told that you could kiss it, but couldn't hug it or try to pick it up. I'm just glad he planted his lips on the Cup before Draper's kid sat in it without a diaper. What do you think about this, Hayden Panettiere?
Friday, July 11, 2008
Here at FRT, we received a surprising amount of traffic today from Google searches for "little Hellboy." That brought them to this post, and I'm not sure that's what they were looking for. So I'm going to presume I know what these people wanted, and I'm going to give it to them.
I know - totally #@$%ing adorable, right? I almost bought one of these on a keychain today, but talked myself out of it. It was a long talk, however.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to console my ego after getting a lot of clicks on a day where I didn't write anything.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Sometimes, I feel like I'm a pretty simple man who doesn't ask for much from this life, and giving me a movie with Angelina Jolie firing a lot of big guns, beating the crap out of anyone who gets in her way, and somehow managing to be haltingly seductive while doing it (I don't think she has to try too hard with that) fulfills many of those simple needs.
Beginning with the part where Jolie walks up to James McAvoy's hen-pecked, walked-over, beaten-down, miserable office drone of a character and tells him to come with her (raise your hand if you wouldn't do that), Wanted is almost two hours of total male fantasy that amazingly doesn't include pornography - unless you consider sensationalized, computer-generated depictions of elegantly crafted bullets spearing through foreheads while trailing blood and brain matter behind them kind of sexy (and we don't like to judge here).
Watching this movie, with its balletically staged action sequences and physics-defying violence (yet still with nothing as ridiculous as the car launching into the helicopter in Live Free or Die Hard) kind of gives you the same feeling after eating a tub of popcorn at the theater, when what your body really needed was an actual meal with protein and vegetables instead of carbohydrates soaked in something resembling butter.
Of course, that popcorn also tastes really good, especially when you're in the mood for something salty, and outside of the Wachowski brothers, I'm not sure anyone creates reality-bending special effects and action like Timur Bekmambetov (check out Night Watch and Day Watch if you're in the mood for some fun sci-fi/fantasy stuff), but after you've shoveled it all down your gullet, do you really feel that good about yourself?
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Leading up to the summer, I thought the surplus of superhero movies would make Hancock kind of a flop, but I obviously (stupidly?) underestimated the power of Will Smith and the appetite for these kinds of movies, not to mention that no one's seen Big Willie Style play one of the guys in a tight leather outfit with abilities far beyond those of mortal men.
"What if Superman was an asshole?" seems to be the guiding premise of this film, and it starts out with such promise, addressing the millions of dollars in damage that's caused by these extraordinary displays of strength and power, and shaking up typical superhero story equations such as the hero being summoned to fight the bad guys, leaving said bad guys captured in precarious positions for the police, and invoking the awe and adoration of the general public.
I just wish Peter Berg (whose work I've really enjoyed, especially The Rundown) and his screenwriters would've dug deeper and pushed the idea even further, asking questions like why someone with superhuman abilities automatically decides to help people and be a hero, instead of using those powers to do whatever the hell he or she wants, and with Jason Bateman's publicist character trying to improve Hancock's approval amongst the masses, the opportunity was there to explore that territory.
One reassuring aspect of the movie is that an actress of Charlize Theron's talent (and I mean that sincerely) isn't given as useless a role as the marketing would lead you to believe, and actually has something meaningful to bring to the story (though her ultimate role seemed like a bit of a stretch that came out of nowhere, as entertaining as it was for a few scenes).
Thursday, July 03, 2008
I know I'm long overdue to write something (especially about Malaysia), but for now, here's a funny ad for Hellboy II, if you haven't seen it yet.
I'm not sure whether to shake my head at James Lipton's willingness to sell out or to appreciate that he doesn't take himself so seriously. Anyway, this could've been good for at least five minutes. What, no Hellboy answering the ten questions originated by Bernard Pivot? Or taking questions from Actors Studio students? Opportunity missed.
Hellboy's also hanging out with Chuck: