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9x9x9: The Dark Knight–If you’re good at something, never do it for free.

The first two times I saw this movie, I had a high level of disdain for it (chronicled here and here).

But the last dozen times I’ve seen it in toto or in pieces, I’ve come to realize that I was kind of dead wrong on all accounts except for the first half of my first review.

Because what I failed to realize then is something that I touched on in my Billy Madison article: it’s a genre film and it only has to deliver along genre lines to be good. That is, it’s an super hero/action film so it really only has to deliver shit blowing up and our hero saving the day to be any good.

But this film enters the echelon of great–and I realize, now, that it is great–because it does everything necessary to make it good with perfection. And then it lays on that “shallow philosophizing,” to paraphrase myself from two years ago, and does that to perfection as well.

Before, I was holding it to the standards of being, like, an emotion heavy film that comments on life with shit blowing up. But that’s backwards.

This movie’s standards are blow shit up then comment on life. Shoot first, ask questions later, etcetera.

So I was wrong on that part.

The one part that has remained great, though, are the action sequences and the overall photographic mood of the film. Every scene is lit and captured perfectly. There is an emotional timbre throughout the film, and it’s rationed out at just the right pace for viewer-ennui to never set in.

This took me nine times and a bottle of Jack to realize.[1]

It’s been said many times over that this film is basically a remake of Heat with superheroes. It makes sense. Both have ambiguous heroes and villains that cause just as much destruction to society as to themselves and their closest companions.

That’s great for a giant-ass summer picture like this.

The other thing that really helped me like this movie was seeing X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which was completely antithetical to this film.

Wolverine realized it was a genre movie and that it only had to deliver so much in order to be successful.[2] This might’ve been 20th Century Fox’s fault. I’ve heard that they like to deliver as little as possible to get as much money as possible. This is why I’m afraid of what’ll happen to the Aronofsky helmed sequel to Origins.

But, so, okay. Wolverine was made and released because people wanted more scenes of Wolverine fucking shit up. So they delivered that.

With Batman as a character though, his cinema ties are a lot deeper and we’ve been watching him fuck shit up for years. The difference, now, is that we’ve already explored an entire universe for the Batman superhero. We’ve experienced the camp and the kook. With Nolan at the helm, it seems like he wanted to turn all that on its ear beginning with Batman Begins, just to see what would happen.

As opposed to the 60’s Batman and the late-90’s Batman, our hero isn’t making jokes and he doesn’t have Robin there as comic relief (Chris O’Donnell should never be allowed on set of any future Batman movies. Just saying). The Dark Knight offers no relief—and it does this because the movie is a reflection of its setting. Right now, with the Joker making a mess of both above- and underground society, there is no relief to living in any part of the city. So the movie doesn’t back down from handling the material in such a way that everything clicks. It makes sense that it’s dark because everything in Gotham has gone dark. So, then, you begin to connect with residents of Gotham and what the authorities have to deal with.

The other major thing that I failed to realize was this: when was the last time a major motion picture killed off its main love interest that was a well established character? That whole sequence came as a total shock to me because movies with budgets this big are trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator. And the LCD usually doesn’t like it when people you’ve liked since the first movie die. So it was really brave of them to pull that card as well as making Bruce Wayne choose between the good of himself and the good of society by choosing Harvey Dent. It’s like that age old question of “Would you rather get killed or have 1,000 people killed instead.”

Christopher Nolan (right) working with Gary Oldman and Heath Ledger

Batman makes the tough choice, and ostensibly the right one.

Until that right choice loses his own faith in humanity and turns into the problem. Oh shit. Now what.

So this movie is on a totally different emotional plane than most other movies in its genre for that very reason. Most just build a character and kill it off to make you care about the lily-white protagonist. This movie builds and kills off just to ask more questions and make the viewer panic even more and have them ask, “when is this going to end?’

At the point you begin to ask that question is the exact moment where you’ve made the emotional connection with Batman—fucking Batman. Holy rusted metal Batman. You made an emotional connection with his psychoemotional struggles.

Let’s see Wolverine do that.

In conclusion: I was wrong two years ago and I finally have a stage to retract my comments. I was wrong. This movie’s awesome. It makes you feel something which is more than you could ever ask from a movie where a semi truck goes ass over tea kettle, which is awesome enough in its own right.

[1] More like watching it while drinking beer mixed with tequila and lime juice. I call it the Optimus Prime. It’s delicious.

[2] I’ll be the first to admit that using this film is a strange antithesis just because they tried the same strategy of bringing in an indie-film darling to direct a major motion picture (Gavin Hood, who did Tsotsi).

The Dark Knight

Spoilers ahead, save you the time and analysis: see it, I think… My wariness is discussed later.

After seeing this film, I can see what all the critics are praising it for.

And it’s definitely not the dialog track that can be as muddled as a Scottish film because of Batman’s gruff voice which, on close-ups, looks like is helped out by some sort of tongue suppressor.

I’m not gonna get into the bullshit about the story because you all know it at this point.

So instead I’m going to focus on some things I never expected to discuss during a review for a superhero film.

Spoilers beware, by the way.

Anywho, now that everyone’s left who doesn’t want the movie completely destroyed for them, we can now discuss, hopefully in depth, the art of this film as well as its follies.

I think that what is most interesting about this film is the discussion it sparked afterward. I never expected to be bringing up Magnolia and its way of holding sad and depressing material in such a way that the viewer doesn’t become disillusioned and turned off. That’s just how it is with humans: there is a certain breaking point where we can only take so much that’s fucked up until we shut off and start laughing.

And the Dark Knight has to deal with the same thing. As this movie goes on, the material doesn’t go from bad to worse to better to conclusion, it goes from bad to worse to worst to a conclusion so open it makes you wonder how far they can take the next film.

So, as a result, The Dark Knight must toe that same line that Magnolia did. Meaning that all this darkness has to get leveled out by something else throughout the 150 minute runtime. What PT Anderson did with Magnolia was musical, in some scenes he scuffed the emotion with music from a jukebox (the scene sticking out the most in my mind was one with William H. Macy in a bar finding out that things are turning to shit while happy “punched my wife in the face” country played in the background).

Here, co-writer and director Christopher Nolan has the liberty of relieving some of the pressure with explosions that, although they’re part and parcel of Heath Ledger’s destruction throughout the film, take the viewer’s mind off things for a second because viewers love things that blow up. Just watch a Michael Bay film. The way that it’s used, however, is to relieve the viewer of the tension and decimation going on throughout the city–throughout the souls and minds of most people in the film.

Things in this film twist and convulse throughout the plot. We have Gary Oldman faking his death to get the Joker into jail which is what turns out to be the Joker’s plan all along. A big black man (to quote a friend, “He looked like the guy in the Green Mile.” I added jokingly, “But with a lazy eye… He’s the Thom Yorke of Green Mile lookin’ motherfuckers.”) is used to play against your prejudices when, instead of doing what you think he’s going to do, he takes it the completely other way.

So, yea, all of this is good and fun but this movie isn’t without its follies. To start, you can only get so nihilistic with this source material. With its past as a series centered around Burton and Schumaker’s kookieness, you can’t completely forget that Batman was also once kissed by a rose (and Michelle Pfeiffer) as sung by Seal.

To go along with that, this is fucking Batman. How philosophical can you get? According to the same friend, “It was like Saw with a superhero.” And this is definitely true. Not only because of the moral choices, but also the drab colors of Gotham.

But, seriously, how far can you push this? In further reflection, as I was trying to write that beginning sentence for you to go see this film, I couldn’t help but stutter concerning my recommendation.

They can get philosophical, sure, questioning morality as we all do at points in our lives, but, because it’s such a pedestrian philosophical matter, the discussion often comes off as trite.

Though, what doesn’t come off as trite is the fact that good never seems to prevail. That was a nice change of pace in that sense, but it doesn’t seem to save it from being shallow, not pushing the philosophy farther than it could’ve been. They take the shallowest question of good and evil and run it to its lengths but never giving it any play with the beauty of the under questions of “why?” Why is there a good and why is there an evil? It could’ve easily pulled into the idea of Batman as God since he exemplifies goodness, but they never do. And that sucks because that would’ve been a fun thing to follow. They call the Joker the devil but it’s something only touched upon, not something pushed.

If they would’ve shown the Batman as God aspect, they could’ve shown the effect that a fall-from-grace has. But it just stayed in the shallow with its hand on the handicapped bar while things got blown up. It leans towards nihilism and chaos but it never quite goes there.

Which I suppose is because, at the end of the day, it’s still a 180-million-dollar summer film. You can’t push it as far as you could with Memento or a small film released quietly in the Fall or the Winter.

So at least they tried, and they blew shit up, so everyone was happy.

but, to me the biggest problem was, as stated, the dialog becomes muddled at times to the point where you can’t understand what they’re saying. And, to be nitpicky, there was one scene that killed me: Eckhart and Oldman are speaking for the first time in the film, a conversation where Oldman is defending his utilizing of Batman against Eckhart who just winds up agreeing with him. But all of Oldman’s lines are rushed, forced out there–and not a nervous way, either, because Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon doesn’t get nervous. His lines are rushed in a poor choice on the editor’s part.

But that’s minor. The dialog should have been worked on, though. It was just too low at points.

But I suppose that’s also nitpicky.

So I’m willing to concede that, overall, this is a severely nihilistic summer film covered in the filth of morality and the dirge of Heath Ledger’s death.