The Dark Knight

I finally found the right intersection of baby sitter, wife and work that allowed me to see The Dark Knight. And I was pleased to find that the hype was for real. The movie is very good. I’m not a huge fan of comic book or superhero movies. I liked but didn’t love the Spiderman and X-Men movies. I wasn’t terribly impressed by Supeman Returns. But I really liked Batman Begins and really liked this one.

Before I get into the specifics (which I’ll put below the fold to avoid spoilers), I must say that this has been the best summer movie season I can recall in some time. WALL-E, Ironman and Dark Knight are all great. Indy 4, for all its silliness, was good. I’m still interested in catching, on DVD, Get Smart, Prince Caspian and Hellboy II.

Compare this to recent years:

2007 – The summer of the brain-dead third parts. None were awful, but the third installments of Spidey, Shrek and Pirates weren’t terribly good. The best movie of the summer was either Ratatouille, one of Pixar’s lesser efforts, Simpsons, which I enjoyed because I’m a fan, or Transformers, which wasn’t really that good.

2006 – More brain-dead sequels. MI3, X3, Pirates 2. I wasn’t that impressed by Superman Returns. The only good movie was Casino Royale.

2005 – Sith and Batman Begins were great. Everything else — Kong, Potter 4, Narina was saved until winter.

2004 – Shrek 2, Spidey 2, the latter being very over-rated. But Potter 3 was good.

And so on. This is the first summer I can remember which produced at least three movies, and probably four, that I want on DVD. Every year, I predict that the movies will be better. This time, I was finally right.

Oh, and I saw the trailer for Quantum of Solace before. Man, am I looking forward to that. It will give me something to do after what will no doubt be a depressing election.

So here are a few scattered thoughts on the Bat-movie. Spoiler warning.

  • I loved that they never explained the joker. When he told the story about this dad, I was worried that they were going down the pop psych route. But when he changed the story, I loved it. The joker shouldn’t be explained. He’s a force of nature.
  • Heath Ledger was amazing. It’s impossible to look at him and see Brokeback Mountain. A truly great acting performance is when someone disappears into the role. I didn’t see Ledger. I saw the Joker. And the Joker was one of the most frightening movie villains in a long long time. Batman’s decision at the end of the movie had me saying, “No, Bruce. Let him drop.”
  • I loved that they didn’t see the need to explain everything. As an example, when Joker gets the drop on the cop in the interrogation room. They don’t show it. They trust the audience to figure out what happened.
  • It’s amazing to watch a movie make so much money that is so wonderfully complex and grown-up. The plot is intricate, the dilemmas real, the ending unhappy. And this movie is making trainloads of money. The comparison I would make, which is hardly original, is to The Lord of the Rings, which also trusted its audience to pay attention.
  • Chris Nolan has yet to make a bad movie. I haven’t seen The Following, but this movie is a classic, Batman Begins and Memento are great, Insomnia and The Prestige are good. It helps that he works with great actors — Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Michael Caine, Guy Pearce, etc. But great actors only translate to a great movie if the writer and director know what to do with them. Nolan — and his brother — do.
  • Aaron Echkart is very under-rated. He was wonderful in Thank You For Smoking. I hope this gets him more attention. His transition was heart-breaking and utterly believable.
  • The ending, complete with Oldman’s wonderful voice-over, is one of the best movie endings I’ve seen in recent years. It makes me crave a sequel. And that’s rare for me in a movie that doesn’t end in “Wars”, “Rings” or “Spank Inferno”.
  • The thing that surprises me, looking back, is that, for a movie that had enough tension, drama and emotion to match an Oscar winner, The Dark Knight is amazingly action-packed. But whereas most movies will have one long endless action scene, this was broken up into smaller, more visceral incidents. And it’s so wonderful to see a director who knows how to shoot an action scene. Batman Forever was the first time I remember seeing this “shake the camera a lot and edit like you’re having a seizure” style of action-movie shooting that drives me nucking futs. In many action movies, I can’t tell what the hell is going on.

    George Lucas is, in my opinion, the best at dancing on the blade — finding the right mix of fast editing and long shots that makes action exciting but coherent. Peter Jackson goes a little bit over to incoherence at times but is very good. Nolan is somewhere in between. The most confusing fight was in the building at the end and I still knew what was going on.

  • The ferry business was so perfectly done, I didn’t see the resolution coming. And I love that Joker gets to see that he’s lost before Batman finishes him. Just imagine how someone like Michael Bay would have done this scene. The drama would have been overwrought, the villain would have been impaled on a spike and you just know he wouldn’t have gotten out it without a huge explosion.