Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Dark Knight (2008) ****

PG-13, 152 min.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer, Bob Kane (characters)
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Ekhardt, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Chin Han, Nestor Cabronell, Eric Roberts

…And so we get the Joker, but how different than anyone could’ve expected.

I haven’t seen “The Dark Knight” since it was released in theaters. Revisiting it was like watching a movie I’d never seen before. I think that speaks toward the film’s strengths. Most comic book adaptations are pretty much variations on the same. Even if you haven’t seen a movie in four years, you still pretty much know how it goes. Not the case with “The Dark Knight”. It was a like a brand new movie to me this time out.

It’s also not a sensational movie, as most comic book movies are. It casually moves from scene to scene. There are very few flourishes of behavior or overtly flamboyant action. That’s kind of surprising in a movie that gives us a character that is traditionally one of the most flamboyant villains in comic book history.

Heath Ledger’s Joker is, of course, what everybody talked about upon the theatrical release. It is still the most talked about element of this movie, but it is not the Joker of Batman tradition. He is subtle despite his scars and clown make up. He moves under the radar, not cackling and shooting off his guns every two seconds. He is still most definitely the Joker, but he’s tapped into the hidden core of the character. He’s evil.

Even though “Batman Begins” started filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s transformation of the comic book adaptation into a legitimate dramatic thriller, it wasn’t entirely without its comic book earmarks. Ra’s Al Ghul’s plot to send Gotham City into a mass of crazed citizens that would undoubtedly destroy themselves smacked of comic book origin. “The Dark Knight” on the other hand, has no signatures of the comic superhero story, except for the costumed hero. It could be Batman at the center of events here; it could be Jason Bourne. It couldn’t have been James Bond, because he’s too much his own subgenre. It could be almost any action hero in the middle of the events in “The Dark Knight”. At least in the way the story is executed.

Yet, like Ledger’s Joker, all of it is still so inherently embedded in the philosophy behind the Batman mythology. In my review of “The Amazing Spider-Man” I spoke of the error made by the filmmakers in changing the details so they were no longer specific to Spider-Man. I think I’d like to back peddle on that thinking a bit. Nolan and his co-writer and brother Jonathan change many of the Batman details in both this movie and the first one (and I’m sure in the new one), but they have a deep understanding of what makes a Batman story a Batman story. Because this understanding fuels the story they tell, they are free to tell their story in anyway possible. To tell it as if it were possible is their stroke of genius. Can you tell I can’t wait for Friday?

Read my original review here.

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