21 July 2008 ~ 2 Comments

Patrick and Patrice on The Dark Knight

Patrick Sullivan, who reviews movies and is vastly more knowledgeable than I about all things cinematic and comic book…atic, and I discuss The Dark Knight.

Note: ever tried to format something like this where both people have almost the same name? If you get lost, remember that one of us didn’t like the movie. Also, comment when you get a chance — I’d love to hear what you thought about the movie. And there are a few spoilers, but you’ve all seen it, right?

Patrice: You’re kidding, right? That was it? That’s what you were waiting for? Granted, I went in with very low expectations and a crabby attitude to boot. But seriously, that was the movie that will be Heath Ledger’s legacy?

Patrick: Yep, pretty much what I was waiting for. I would definitely put the DK in the top five comic movies ever made (though the #1 spot is taken by V for Vendetta). Ledger’s Joker was spot on for the Nolan Bros vision of Batman. Do I think he should get a posthumous award for it? No, that’s sympathy talk, but it was much better than the Nicholson version from the 90s (really, if you go back and watch Burton’s Batman, Jack is the weakest element by far). I also thought Eckhart and Oldman were very good too. I thought this was truer to the characters than HB II (which is for the most part is really good, go see it).

The other element I liked was the cinematography and palette. They really worked to make this look like a 70s cop film for the most part. Hated the horribly cliched spinning camera around two people talking spots, and while I liked them showing that Batman operates outside of Gotham, the “snatch the banker” subplot was pretty bloated and tacked on.

Patrice: Ledger was playing Nicholson. Sorry, but it’s true. Down to the twitches and the little fluttery mouth thing.

The banker subplot was definitely WTF?

The angst was over the top. I think you can have angst-ridden comics (after all, isn’t that what the entire Wolverine arc is? And then he’d get over it by busting heads), but when this one was translated it to the screen, the directors forget the cardinal rule — don’t take your comic book movie too seriously. Either you are remaking Chinatown or you are making a comic book movie, but never think you are making a comic book movie as great as Chinatown. I hated the palette, but I understood why they did it that way.

The Joker being one step ahead the whole time was so contrived and was really weak.

Good things — damn, Two-Face’s makeup was great. Too bad we only got to see it for a few minutes. I loved that they called Batman “the bat man.” I wanted more flying scenes. Christian Bale is pretty. And I laughed a few times.

The two 13 year old boys I went with loved it though. Aidan was enthralled start to finish.

Patrick: Having see the Burton Batman recently, I disagree. Their performances share the trademarks of the Joker, but are not very similar. Even the mouth flutters are different : -) Basically, Jack hammed it up as Jack, Ledger disappeared into his role. To me that’s the difference between say, Kevin Costner and Johnny Depp.

And you have touched on a soapbox topic that always sets me off, so bear with me. The idea that a “comic book” movie can’t be serious (see V, X-Men, Ghost World, American Splendor, History of Violence) has always been bogus. Even if you mean superhero movies specifically, I still don’t accept that (though the source material often has a prior history as kid’s fare). No one complained that The Matrix (the first one, please ignore the others) took itself too seriously, and that is as much a superhero movie as it is sf. That’s like saying action, horror, or sf movies can’t be (or alternately, must be) serious. Some are serious, some some aren’t. So I don’t buy the either Chinatown or superhero proposition. I would just agree that most movies are never going to make to the Chinatown big leagues, spandex or not : -) But clearly here, we have a matter of personal taste. You felt the angst drowned out the other elements of the movie, while I felt it worked in sync* with everything else.

*To me, Batman is the very definition of angst. He’s a psychopathic Bill Gates who never got over the death of his parents and has spent his entire life forging himself into a tool to assuage his perceived guilt by handing out beatdowns tarted up as a bat (he even killed criminals in his first 1939 outing, but they quickly gave him the Hero’s Code). In my eyes, the Nolans’ image of Batman is first time it has ever been done on right on screen. Burton’s was beautiful and Keeton acted well in it, but it really didn’t commit to the property. Compare this to the first Chris Reeve’s Superman. While that movie may or may not have aged well, that performance captured a consistent aspect of the character present in the source material.

Patrice: Okay, granted that there are plenty of serious comic book movies and it’s not fair to hold a superhero movie to a different standard. Storytelling is storytelling after all. So what does the story tell us in this Batman? Well, that basically we’re all either at the whim of Batman or at the whim of the Joker, and if we try our hand at self-determination (a la the copycats) well, we might as well pack it in. We can never be either and we just have to live in their world. But that’s not really true, even if there were really a bat man and a joker. People get in the way all the time of the police, they commit their own crimes, they perform their own acts of heroism, etc. So if the movie wants to be a genuinely cinematic take on the superhero comic book, a superhero Citizen Kane, it has to be realistic about the real world. And this movie is not. Case in point — all this shit is going down, and Morgan Freeman is concerned about wiretapping? Oh come on.

So let’s look at the flipside. It’s a comic book movie. So what does it tell us about comic books? That Batman just gave up. That’s it. He gave up. Dent was the white knight, he’s the dark knight, no one wants him, let’s have a fundraiser. So it doesn’t work as a comic book superhero movie either.

The movie wants to be what it can’t — a serious look at a superhero. But it made a comic book movie instead.

Patrick: But being at the whim of heroes and villains is not unique to DK, it is a pretty standard trope (“Only one man can save us…”) for epics, as seen in Star Wars, The Matrix, Dune, etc. In movies centered around a single (or small band) of above and beyond heroes, average people are nothing more than fodder to the point of set dressing (which is why so many action movies are dull). Good ones do actually flesh out the world with real people (e.g. though a terrible movie, the only remotely interesting thing about The Matrix III were the meatspace footsoldier scenes in Zion), but if you are going the route of the epic, only the heroes succeed (hopefully with deeds that inspire us).

I disagree that Wayne gave up. Batman has consistently always had one streak of optimism: that one day he would no longer be needed. Supporting Dent, who represented a legal everyman way to fight crime, was an opportunity for that to be expressed. And given my own feelings on personal liberty, I thought Lucius was right for objecting to the computer system, or more particularly, not wanting to work for fascist (but you can equally argue “too late, Mr. Fox!”).

The most real world take on a superhero is actually the sad sidestory of Dollar Bill from the Watchmen. DB is a commercial masked vigilante who works for a bank and is gunned down by robbers when his cape gets caught in a revolving door. The story of the first NightOwl is similarly sad. I would be curious to see your reaction to Alan Moore’s Watchmen, wherein he deconstructs many of the superheroic tropes. I will lend it to you if you promise to read it before Zack “I only do action as long as it is sloooooow” Snyder’s movie version comes out.

I hope I don’t sound pissy in all of this. I have enjoyed this. You bring up a lot of good points, you should critique comics more often.

Patrice: Not pissy at all! I’m enjoying this too.

I may not be cut out for reviewing comics since your account of Dollar Bill’s demise made me giggle. More seriously, I wonder if he dies that way because he’s a hired gun?

Oh I agree with your point about the role of heroes and civilians in most movies and epics. One of the offputting things about this Batman though is the utterly repellent nature of Gotham City. I wouldn’t want to live there. But in the Star Wars world (the original series only) the world was no less dangerous than Gotham but it was a helluva lot more fun (well, unless you lived on Alderaan.)

I like your take on Batman’s optimism and you have won me over. In that light, this Batman was elegiac — Dent was the last true hope and he’s gone, and Batman’s stuck with the job.

The privacy act subplot, however, was mere pandering. Since the script only required a gimmick to allow Batman to track Joker, it could have been any gimmick. The fact that it was that particular gimmick was self-indulgent on the part of the writers.

Patrick: Oh, Dollar Bill’s death is totally for giggles, but as I recall, it is slyly hidden in a tell-all bio excerpt that fills out the back pages of several Watchmen issues. Really, if you only read one superhero comic, it should be the Watchmen. What Alan Moore pulled off there 20 years ago is still legendary. It’s the reason why all good comic readers have a small Alan Moore shrine with candles and everything (we are a creepy bunch).

Whoa. As you said about the Batman-Dent thread, elegiac. This completely explains why they killed Two-Face, an act I thought was a bit wasteful at the time since he is a core BM villain.

Pandering privacy? Well, yeah, that’s at least somewhat if not entirely true. But Cory Doctorow has made a career out of that… : -)

2 Responses to “Patrick and Patrice on The Dark Knight”

  1. Maria Ragucci 31 July 2008 at 8:07 pm Permalink

    Not too violent for a 13-year old? What about an 11-year old?

  2. Patrice Sarath 1 August 2008 at 4:06 pm Permalink

    I don’t think it’s appropriate for an 11 year old, although I did see lots of kids that age and younger at the theater. I think that was a mistake though. Parents should stop thinking comic books equal children’s lit.


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