Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Tag: two-face

Not long ago, I went to a Philly bar called Eulogy with my best friend. This bar is a Belgian sort of pub one feature of which is a private room with a table like a coffin, and this best friend is a guy earning his master’s in literature but who also moonlights as a keyboardist in one band and a lead guitarist in another, which I hope will intimate the overall atmosphere. If only because my buddy and I have the conversation where we discuss Derrida but totally admit to neither ever reading or understanding the guy.

Over the course of (several) fine Belgian beers (Rochefort 10 ftw!), we started talking about Heath Ledger and The Dark Knight. Now, what you have to know, straight off, is that while we’re good buddies, he and I rarely agree on anything related to either music or movies. We both like music in general and good music in particular, but we have very different definitions as to what that exactly means.

So, Heath Ledger. The Dark Knight.
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Just got back from an afternoon IMAX showing of The Dark Knight.

I have very, very mixed feelings about the experience as a whole, not to mention about the movie in particular. Warning: here be spoilers.

First, IMAX is awesome, but you’ve got to sit toward the back of the theater or it’s just too big. I mean, huge. Ginormous. I saw The Matrix: Reloaded in IMAX, and I think it’s one of the reasons I enjoyed it on first viewing.

Second, what is it with long-ass sequels? Seriously, first movie performs well and suddenly people think it justifies three frickin’ hours? It’s like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Spider-Man 3; you cram too much shit into them and they just bloat. I saw Pirates 2 at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood and was restless for at least the final third of the movie.

This movie was at least better in that regard, but it was still a solid twenty minutes too damned long, while during the final ten or so I felt completely bludgeoned over the head by the “message” it was trying to send me home with: blahblahblah hero blahblahblah survivor blahblahblah what we need more than what we want blahblah.

The tone was sporadic: at times dark and intense, at times tedious to the point of boring. I mean, come on, Batman wears a giant layer of body armor he modifies, in the first ten minutes of the movie, to be both faster and lighter, and then, when it comes down to it, when he finally fights the two characters who become the major villains of the movie,

he fuckin’ talks at them!

(and that’s not even mentioning that apparently the Batsuit gives Bruce Wayne a tracheotomy every damned time he puts it on. Batman speaks in some weirdo gravelly mumble like he’s both smoked too many cigarettes and is just about to hurl)

And let’s talk about those villains.

About midway through (so: at the seven-hour mark), Aaron Eckhardt’s Harvey Dent gets half-blowed up and becomes Two-Face. Who has a gruesome make-up job (that comes off on his hospital pillow, by the way), as well as a big ole’ eyeball he can’t lube because he no longer has eyelids, but which never actually seems to bother him. Dent may well be the best character in the movie and certainly has more dimensions (which isn’t difficult, considering most of the others seem to have one); Eckhardt plays him at first heroically and then later tragically.

The other villain is the Joker, as played by Heath Ledger in borrowed vaudeville clothes and make-up he stole from James O’Barr; somewhere, Brandon Lee spins in his grave. Except: Lee actually has motivation in the story, and while Alfred has a nice speech that some guys just like to watch the world burn… well, meh. I’ve heard some talk of posthumous Oscars. I ended that sentence because I didn’t want to mention Ledger in the same one. It’s not a bad performance, exactly; in fact, it’s fun, in parts, and creepy in a few, but overall it’s not even nearly as good as Depp’s in the first Pirates movie.

And I mention that role for a specific reason: two vaguely trickster-y characters in two summer blockbusters lauded for the roles. But Depp’s Jack Sparrow is not just more nuanced but even more consistent than Ledger’s Joker. There’s quite ado that the Joker is just chaos and has no rules, which is all well and good, but ultimately, there’s no motivation for him, so ultimately he doesn’t really want anything Batman can stop him from getting, besides chaos, and that’s just boring.

Ultimately, it’s a bit sad, because Batman, more than most superheroes, is defined by his villains. The Joker is his ultimate nemesis, and I give Nolan kudos for not killing him in the end. I think that was one of the major flaws of Burton’s Batman movies; it should be a rule that you’re not allowed to kill the villain in a superhero movie, because the point of villains in comic books is that they always come back. The Spider-Man movies keep killing characters that have been around in the comics for half a century; the Joker’s been around since even before then, I think.

It’s the one thing Superman Returns got right; you don’t kill Lex Luthor. Superman’s allowed to beat him (that’s why he’s the titular character), but you can’t kill him.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I like the tone Nolan went for, for the most part. It’s like superhero noir–Batman noir–which was cool. And suitably dark, in places. And the characters seem to wrestle with their roles even if it’s not exactly clear what they’re really wrestling with. Wayne seems vexed–very, very vexed–over his cowl, but yet keeps right on donning it. He seems to want to give up the cape racket altogether at some points, but yet he builds some weirdo sonar doohickey that makes for some half-assed special effects in the final act we all saw in the eighties and didn’t really work much better then.

Oh, and I don’t care how strong your body armor is: you don’t jump out of a penthouse apartment in Gotham City, catch a girl on the way down, plunge onto a car you dent, and survive with nary a scratch. Last time I saw somebody jump off anything of great height (in the rad In Bruges), Brendan Gleason literally lost his arm.

But no, Batman and the girl manage to quip between them.

There are nice touches here and there. And I mostly enjoyed the experience. It ain’t a bad movie, or anything.

Still, I had more fun at Ironman, and enjoyed it way more as a movie. There was a superhero movie that knew what it was doing.

This one?

Not so much.