Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Dark Knight: The Imax Experience

Dir. Christopher Nolan

Viewed: From the Balcony

Is it all downhill from here? That's the question I was wondering after The Dark Night, an especially relevant take on the meaning and role of heroes and villains play in society. While the Watchmen movie, the trailer of which is attached to Dark Knight, may prove to make a stronger point with its ruminations on the hero theme when it comes out next spring, I somehow doubt that it will connect with audiences and resonate quite the way The Dark Knight does. This is despite the fact that Watchmen has a better story to tell -- it's simply that you're going to be hard pressed to find a better set of people telling the story than the ones who have given us The Dark Knight.

The acting and directing are all probably better than we deserve. Heath Ledger has given the most singular and hypnotic bad guy to grace a movie screen since Anthony Hopkins fey, erudite Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. (A character who's fire he quickly extinguished in the ridiculous Hannibal.) And I think the Academy will remember Hopkins' Oscar for that role and realize Ledger was just as good, if not better in his performance as The Joker. Will he win? It's only July, man. Will he get nominated? Most definitely. Christian Bale is a better actor than required for the role but he actually does have his moments when in Bruce Wayne mode. It's something that goes unnoticed when you're leaving the theater, brain buzzing from Ledger's performance and the last scenes of the film, but there is great fun in watching him show off a playboy swagger and inspire a conflicting jealous contempt in his would-be girlfriend played by Maggie Gyllenhaal -- another in this movie's long list of secret weapon actors who elevate this movie beyond its seeming genre limitations. Aaron Eckhart plays Maggie's current beau, Gotham DA, and plot lynchpin Harvey Dent. Anyone with a passing knowledge of Batman's rouge's gallery knows things won't be turning out well for him and Echhart plays the arc well even if you're wondering if he was chosen for the role more on his looks. Michael Cane is again re-defining Alfred as more than the wry butler-in-the-know that it once was into more of a surrogate stepfather role; a man with some experience who has to walk the fine line between offering advice while making sure any buttons don't get pushed that might set off an already somewhat unstable guy. Gary Oldman has been on my shortlist of actors that have my unflagging attention ever since Romeo is Bleeding (a wildly imperfect movie, I'm aware) and to see him as Commissioner Gordon simply brings me joy. A joy much richer than seeing him the Potter movies, as here he is actually given some dark material to work with -- the kind of material he knows best. Morgan Freeman? Well, he certainly suits the role... I mean, the movie is already 2 1/2 hours long... Anyway, he's a welcome addition to the line-up even if he isn't given much to do.

So what does this add up to? The plot is simple enough: a mad man (a terrorist?) comes to town -- a town with a well known masked vigilante crusader -- to wreak havoc. Anarchy. Chaos. What comes of this scenario? He (the bad guy or the hero?) probably has a death wish (which is different than suicidal) so that threat doesn't work in any of the confrontational situations. The ying/yang of The Joker and The Batman is the meat and potatoes of this movie. It works well and propels all the action sequences. There's a confrontation between these two characters in a police interrogation room that is pretty damn fantastic. On one hand it's uncomfortable to see The Batman pretty much neutered while having the bad guy completely at his disposal, and on the other it's completely fascinating to watch this "agent of chaos" at work even while, especially while, being pummeled. People have been prophesying this performance since Ledger's death, and in some ways it would be nice to be able to say that this is another Crow case (though the shittiness of that movie didn't stop anyone from dressing like a tool) but this is the real deal. I do see the connection to Alex from Clockwork Orange and I can understand the unfortunate consequences that are going to be happening as a result of this brilliant anti-hero creation. If I were 13 right now I'd probably be headed right back to the next showing of this movie.

Oh, and that next showing you're headed to should be the IMAX showing. I'm actually pretty happy with myself for holding out for the IMAX showing. Not only do you get a building tall projection of the film but the sound is so booming that it's rattling your ass for the majority of the show time, in a good way. And the few scenes that are shot with the IMAX camera are in fact stunning and completely worth the extra bucks. If you've seen it already at your local cineplex (or if you're some fucker stealing the movie) -- I would actually say that indubitably, Yes, it is worth checking it out again at you nearest IMAX theater. Some of the stuff they shot with the IMAX camera is absolutely worth witnessing. They can be a bit obvious but that doesn't stop it from being iconic. There's a ground level shot of the Joker walking in his own peculiar way from the hospital that is absolutely an image to cherish and will undoubtedly go down as a keeper in the cinema history books.

If you're looking for some flaws -- every movie has a couple, right? -- I would criticize Nolan's lack of grace in filming a fight scene. This might be some sort of tactic of his, to make the scenes of hand-to-hand combat look rudimentary by shooting them in a rudimentary fashion. And I may be more critical of this having just seen Hellboy 2 where these scenes were handled in an enjoyable dynamic fashion. Anyway, it would be nice if Nolan were to complete a Batman trilogy that he take a step back and contemplate staging a cool bout of fisticuffs that isn't just a blur of elbows and knees. And this is coming from a guy that likes the Bourne movies.

I'm curious to know what you think of this one, Paddy. I know you're a big Nolan supporter and despite your claims to the contrary I do remember you stepping out of Nolan's first Batman being quite enthusiastic. Send your thoughts if you can will yourself to take in some commercial film making.

1 comment:

Padraic said...

But the retrospective of overlooked films from 1940s British cinema is coming to town soon...

Great review. Maybe I'll get to this, but no IMAX here and mainstream films are pretty expensive. I imagine you'd probably never talk to me again if I tried to watch it online....