Well, here it is, the last of the Batman movies. (Until July.)
The Dark Knight Rises has a lot to live up to.
This review will include spoilers.
Batman (Christian Bale) wants to retire and give the city of Gotham the true hero it deserves, a man who can fight injustice without a mask. That man? District attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Unfortunately, before any of that can happen, the Joker (Heath Ledger) needs to be stopped.
1. First off, this review is going to be a little less epic than I would normally like. Tomorrow, I’m flying to Seattle for six weeks, and I will have a lot less time there to snark about movies, so I’m kind of rushing this one. But never fear, dear readers. (All three of you.) I have planned out a few things ahead of time, so you will not find yourself alone in the wilderness for 42 days without my sarcastic voice to guide you on.
Now, as far as the film itself goes, it’s definitely the best live action Batman story there is. Unfortunately, it also features the worst Batman voice you could possibly imagine. Christian Bale took the “swear to me” line from Batman Begins and multiplied it by about a billion. It’s so utterly ludicrous . . . you have to wonder what the hell Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan—who signed off on this voice—were thinking. Kevin Conroy, who provides Batman’s voice in Batman: The Animated Series, talks a little about that here. He’s actually a little classy about it, I thought. I probably wouldn’t have been.
Cause the voice, it’s just . . . it’s just bad. The parodies you see from College Humor and Funny or Die? They don’t even have to exaggerate. It is just that awful. And maybe in the big picture, a superhero’s voice is a minor thing to bitch about, but honestly, it’s actually pretty distracting. Hard to take someone seriously when you can’t stop giggling at him.
2. Thankfully, we have the Joker to make things better.
Heath Ledger as the Joker . . . well, it’s a thing to behold. His performance is sinister and manic and magic. It is a complete transformation. You really forget that it’s Heath Ledger under all that makeup.
I suppose there’s little to say about Ledger that hasn’t already been said. I wish I could have seen what he would have done after this movie—he was so talented and so, so young. Hell, I’m not that far off from 28. It’s sad.
I can’t say if Mr. Ledger should have won his posthumous Oscar or not—I haven’t seen the other films and performances that were in the running—but at the very least, he definitely earned his initial nod. There have been a lot of pretty good Batman villains out there—Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is still a personal favorite—but Ledger’s version of the Joker is such a great example of chaotic evil that you can’t help but love him. From almost the second he popped up on screen, you could tell he would be Iconic, capital I. He is the perfect foil for Batman. It’s hard to imagine anyone else surpassing his mastery.
3. But again, a lot of that has been already said. The unsung hero of The Dark Knight, I believe, is Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face.
Harvey Dent/Two-Face is kind of a hard role. Playing the Golden Boy straight is not an easy thing—you can easily come off as either smarmy and insincere or gooey and freakishly earnest. Eckhart makes Harvey idealistic but likable, charming but dedicated. Hell, I’d believe in Harvey Dent . . . except, you know, I’ve seen the end of this movie.
And while Two-Face doesn’t have a lot of time to be villainous, boy, does he make that time work. His descent into bitter madness is both wonderful and awful to watch.
4. The writing in The Dark Knight is better than it was in Batman Begins. Not that Batman Begins is bad. I just think the story is a bit more complex here. Also, the themes are a little less obvious, probably because they aren’t actually repeated multiple times by various characters. (I would get more into these themes because I like them—the hero a city needs versus the hero it deserves—but again, we’re on crunch time, and I really need to finish packing.)
5. All that good stuff about writing being said, though, Rachel still pretty much fails as a character.
When I first heard that Maggie Gyllenhaal was going to take over Katie Holmes’s role from Batman Begins, I was ecstatic. Gyllenhaal is a good actress, and I figured she’d be much more suited to the part. And while it’s true that I take her a little more seriously as an assistant D.A., Rachel is still . . . bitchy, and generally bitchy without cause. At least you could (kind of) see why she was all pissy with Bruce in Batman Begins. In The Dark Knight, I’m not sure what she has to be pissy about. And yet, it always seems like people are just not living up to her standards.
Gyllenhaal also doesn’t seem to have a lot of chemistry with Aaron Eckhart, and she has absolutely none at all with Christian Bale. She only looks more natural with Bale because she’s older than Katie Holmes. Her performance isn’t horrible, it’s just . . . not great. Then again, Gyllenhaal actually has even less to work with than her predecessor did. By the time The Dark Knight comes around, Rachel isn’t even the movie’s one beacon of idealism anymore . . . she’s just The Girl, and her character is flat as hell. Her best scene is easily her death scene—which, to be fair, is pretty good. I like how she gets blown up before you have any idea what she was going to say.
This all makes me a bit nervous for Catwoman in the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises . . . but hopefully, the fact that she’s a villain (or, at least, a quasi-antagonist) will make it easier for Christopher Nolan to create a compelling character for her.
6. You know who is awesome? William Fichtner.
He might be a four minute cameo, but come on. He is the most badass banker you ever saw.
Also, we get Nicky Katt as a funny SWAT guy and an awesome Scarecrow cameo! YES! I love me a good cameo. Let’s keep that tradition going.
7. Now, I don’t drive, but I know that sometimes the choice is between hitting a deer and crashing your car into a ditch. If you can help hitting the deer, you should, not only because that makes you a good person, but because running over a deer can seriously fuck up your car. That being said, if you can’t avoid hitting the deer without going into a ditch and probably killing yourself . . . kill Bambi.
The same basic rule applies for villains who are trying to kill you.
If you don’t have it in you to run someone down, seriously. Figure that out before you total your ride avoiding him.
8. I’m happy that, unlike in Tim Burton’s Batman, we don’t find anything out about the Joker. We don’t know his true name, where he comes from, how he really got those scars on his face. (I love the scar stories.) Sometimes, I want to know more about my villains, but I think it’s great that we never learn anything about him, that the Joker remains this madman that just came from out of nowhere.
9. Also, here’s a scene that’s always bothered me—after The Joker drops Rachel out of a window and Batman flies down and rescues her, they just chill there for a second and then the movie cuts away to another scene. Er, isn’t the Joker still up there? What, he just decided to leave? Maybe we should have shown him leaving because, as far as we know, the Joker is just slaughtering the rich people of Gotham left and right while Batman and Rachel are busy making eyes at each other.
I was gratified to find that I was not the only one who had problems with this.
And seriously. How awesome would it have been if Batman had hit the Joker with his motorcycle? Hee.
10. Finally, here are some quotes:
Alfred: “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”
Detective Wuertz: “Dent. Jesus, I thought you were dead.”
Harvey Dent: “Any psychotic ex-boyfriends I should know about?”
Alfred: “Oh, you have no idea.”
The Joker: “You see madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little push.”
Lucius Fox: “Let me get this straight. You think that your client, one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world, is secretly a vigilante who spends his nights beating criminals to a pulp with his bare hands . . . and your plan is to blackmail this person? Good luck.”
Gambol: “You think you can steal from us and just walk away?”
The Joker: “Yeah.”
Batman: “He must have friends.”
Maroni: “Friends? Have you met this guy?”
The Joker: “What’s the time?”
Jim Gordon: “What difference does that make?”
The Joker: “Well, depending on the time, he may be in one spot, or several.”
Batman: “Let her go!
The Joker: “Very poor choice of words.”
The Joker: “You complete me.”
The most well-written, intelligent, and darkest Batman film yet with a villain who I’m not sure is ever going to be topped. Rachel remains a problematic character, but you know what? She’s dead! So we don’t have to deal with her in the sequel! Hallelujah!
Be the bigger person. Sure, you’ve stopped some psychotic villains and saved a bunch of lives, but that’s not enough. If you’re really a good guy, you’ll also pretend you did a bunch of horrible shit to protect one dead guy’s reputation. If you’re not willing to do that, well. Go be a superhero somewhere else.
8 thoughts on ““You Either Die a Hero, or Live Long Enough to See Yourself Become the Villain.””
His descent into bitter madness is both wonderful and awful to watch.
Did you find Two-Face’s descent into madness made any sense at all? Because I was completely flummoxed. Here’s the person directly responsible for the death of your fiancee and you’ve got your gun pointed straight at him and now, for the first time ever, you are going to let the blackened side of your two-headed coin no longer count as a head? Seriously???
Descent into madness? That suggests a gradual lowering to me, but Two-Face jumps head-first into madness. One minute sane, the next mad. And somehow the Joker could predict that! Doesn’t make a lick of sense.
In The Dark Knight, I’m not sure what she has to be pissy about. And yet, it always seems like people are just not living up to her standards.
Bruce is using his cash to show off and is all-of-a-sudden trying to get her to dump her fiance and you’re not sure what she has to be “pissy” about? She doesn’t owe Bruce a thing and she’s doing him a big favour by not turning him in. Unlike anyone else, she can see what a ridiculous pantomime he is putting on and she knows that while there might be Batman duties behind the “playboy” facade of kidnapping (so to speak) the ballet troupe, there was also a spiteful attempt to undermine her significant other. In the last movie she was fed up with Bruce because she thought he was being a fool and a waster, whereas in this movie she’s fed up with Bruce because she knows his seemingly extravagant actions actually have rather more calculated and personal significance.
In short, Bruce Wayne (i.e. Batman) is a bit of a douche in this film and she’s right to be pissed with him for it.
Oddly I thought she had good chemistry with Eckhart to start with, but I disliked her death scene.
Now, I don’t drive, but I know that sometimes the choice is between hitting a deer and crashing your car into a ditch. If you can help hitting the deer, you should, not only because that makes you a good person, but because running over a deer can seriously fuck up your car.
Actually, as we know from “Planet Terror”, the best option is speed up to take the deer out. If you could brake and stop the car before the deer that’d be great, but the situation being dealt with here is where the deer has appeared quickly out of nowhere and the last thing you want to do is swerve.
And of course, where the analogy seriously breaks down is you don’t normally find yourself tempted to swerve from the deer after having (i) seen the deer from a distance and (ii) screamed a loud battle cry before (iii) driving directly at it as fast as you can.
Absolutely agree that the Joker works better as a complete enigma with no origin story. On the other hand, I like Batman’s voice. The alternative used in the past was to have him sound exactly like Val Kilmer (or whoever). In Superman you can use the “he’s an alien with ‘magic’ powers” excuse when no one recognises him, but you can’t do that with Batman. Since Nolan is trying to make a more realistic Batman series, he can’t leave these issues unaddressed like previous films did.
“Did you find Two-Face’s descent into madness made any sense at all? Because I was completely flummoxed.”
I think it makes perfect sense. There is literally no way of knowing how the mind will react to the set of circumstances that Dent awoke to. The fact that Rachel is dead, half his face is zombified for life, and the notion that he played a role (along with Bruce and Gordon) in making it all happen hit him at nearly the exact same time. This is what you call a psychotic break. In the mind of a person suffering from that, logic takes on a whole new set of definitions and absolutely none of it will make any sense to a sane person. No gradual decent was required faced with those circumstances. The break would be swift. It’s simply too much to handle.
I’m with you on the Batman voice, though. What should he do? He’s playing Bruce as a real human being. Bruce isn’t said to be a master a disguising his voice or anything…so the natural reaction is to add serious gravel tones to it, which is the *easiest* thing to do. That amount of warping may sound silly…but it is a far more effective vocal disguise than anything else the average person could come up with.
Fair points. Still not sure if I find it convincing, but I think Two-Face was always going to be hard to make convincing. Still, I think I’d be able to accept Dent’s sudden psychotic break a lot easier if The Joker didn’t find it so easy to predict.
I can’t believe you guys are okay with Batman’s voice. It’s so, so awful. I’m sorry, there are times that the realism excuse doesn’t cut it. When it’s interfering with the story—like I’m too busy openly laughing at it to pay attention to what he’s actually saying—then it’s a problem.
I do like that Nolan’s movies try to make everything more realistic, but there are ways to throw your voice that don’t sound like gravel in a blender, and if Bruce can travel around the world and train to be a ninja and go on about theatricality and deception being powerful weapons, he can learn how to change his voice. I’m not saying it wouldn’t take work, but Bruce learned about criminals by becoming one of them and hanging out in horrible prisons, and he carried that pretty little blue flower up that gigantic, awful hill and trained to fight under the influence of hallucinogenics. Clearly, he’s not afraid of work. I think Batman can do better than this.
Welcome to Seattle! I guarantee you rain.
I can’t believe you guys are okay with Batman’s voice. It’s so, so awful.
I’m not. I wonder why Batman even has that part uncovered by a mask when he’d need protection there but also he could incorporate some kind of voice changer or something or at least go with the old “muffled voice” thing other heroes like Spider-Man rely on.
Even if the ridiculous costume wouldn’t make me laugh at him anyway the voice sure would.
If Bruce isn’t worried about being recognized based on that exposed part of his face, it seems unlikely he’d have to worry about the voice. Especially not in the DC universe where Superman just takes off a pair of glasses and pulls down that little curl in his hair and is completely unrecognizable (what does he do about his bodybuilder physique?)
I wonder about the face too, I mean really it wouldn’t take that long to figure out who Batman was – or at least easily narrow it down to a handful of possible suspects – and seeing half his face makes it a lot easy especially in the days of all these fancy facial recognition computer programs all the cop shows are using.
Btw, Harvey was wrong about Caesar. Depending on your point of view he was always a villain (if you weren’t Roman), or became one when he defied Roman law (but was forgiven when he won), but when they killed him we don’t know if he meant to decalre himself Emperor or what – he never told anyone or wrote anything down. I guess Harvey studied something other than history before he went to law school. Thing is, since I didn’t study, say, physics I don’t go around schooling people on physics, Harv.