Monday, July 21, 2008

Best Movie Ever?

The phrase, "Best Movie Ever", appears thousands of times in the IMDb reviews for the new Batman thriller, The Dark Knight. Fans and critics are gushing praise for this movie, citing mainly the late Heath Ledger's performance as the iconic Joker as justification for the best movie title. However, there are a few questions I have to ask if The Dark Knight is going to be treated as Hollywood perfection.

Be forewarned, SPOILERS ahead!

Question 1: What motivates the Joker? He shows up in the first scene, robbing a mobster-controlled bank. His actions against the mob are never justified in the movie, other than that he wants Gotham to have a better class of criminals. The writer of the movie cited The Killing Joke graphical novel as motivation for this iteration of the Joker, yet I don't see any of that back story coming through.

Question 2: Where is Rachel Dawes' body? It would only make sense that Harvey Dent would want some sort of evidence of her demise before going completely against everything he ever stood for. There was mounting reason for Dent to go Two-face, but his conversation with the Joker in no way sold the flip-flop of character.

Question 3: Is Harvey Dent, aka Two-face dead? He fell a relatively short distance, which didn't seem to kill anyone else during the course of the movie. Actually, Batman specifically planned that height not to kill anyone earlier in the movie! Plus, the conversation Batman and Gordon have leans towards him being shuffled off as a hero, not a dead hero.

Question 4: The police are proven throughout the movie to be completely corrupt. Yet, once the Joker is captured at the end of movie, Batman leaves him tied up to be arrested by the possibly corrupt police force. What makes this even more asinine, is that the Joker just orchestrated an escape from the most secure police stronghold in Gotham, so why the hell is Batman not escorting the Joker off to a privately, Wayne Enterprises funded, holding facility?

Question 5: The Joker easily sends the people of Gotham into a frenzy, who in turn start trying to kill the Wayne Enterprises snitch. Yet, when those same generic citizens are put on a ferry and faced with certain death, they calmly take a vote whether they should blow up or get blown up by some convicted felons? Oh, and since when do super hero movie felons act rationally?

Question 6: Why is a completely out of place piece of technology, the cell phone sonar, added onto the end of the movie? It really ruined the movie for me, and turned a very key situation for Batman from dynamic and unpredictable, to canned and planned.

Question 7: Where did the League of Shadows disappear to from the first movie? Funny how the bad guys always put their eggs into a single, poorly planned basket. Kind of like the Joker's ill-fated ferry demonstration.

Now, don't get me wrong, I loved the movie. I thought it was a great sequel and deserves consideration as one of the better super hero movies. The performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker was phenomenal. His iteration of the Joker will be the definition of movie villain for many years to come. However, I actually think his performance slightly detracted from the movie, because it was so far above other key players.

Two-face, aka Harvey Dent, was the true villain, ironically portrayed hero, of the movie, but was completely trampled by the exceptional Joker played by Ledger. The performance by Ledger led perfectly into the Two-face transformation, but the plot was just not there to capitalize upon it. The new Rachel Dawes basically phoned in her performance, only marginally better than the flat Katie Holmes of Batman Begins. Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine were all solid, as they always are.

Overall, I think there are enough super hero movie traps that The Dark Knight falls into, that it can't be considered for the best movie of all time. The loose ends that scream sequel, the obvious writing off of characters that didn't sign on for the next movie, the use of super-advanced super-technology to save the day, and the complete lack of solid conclusions to any of the character's plot lines all spell good summer blockbuster that is worth the price of admission and a review on my blog.

The Dark Knight is not the best movie ever, not even close, but don't let that stop you from going to see it.


  1. No not best movie ever, nerds are so funny. In fact I found many ARTISTIC and script writing issues with it as well. Also batman's deeper voice almost made me laugh a few times.

    I posted a mini review on my blog. I still think Iron Man was a better SUPER HERO movie.

  2. Also too much going on at the end and it was very preachy. I wanted it to end. I was bored when the Joker wasnt on screen

  3. I agree on the bored when Joker wasn't on screen comment, and I am still a bit pissed that Ledger's performance was wasted on a very suspect plot line. The Joker is literally only there to eventually corrupt Dent, hence the amazing lack of back story for the Joker and allusions to different circumstances regarding his scars which only further muddled his potential motivations.

  4. So I guess I'll be the first to ask: What do you consider the best movie ever. Not saying I disagree with your Batman assessment (I haven't had the fortune to see it yet) but inquiring minds want to know...

  5. Anonymous2:08 PM

    Best movie ever? Well, probably not, but on the Internet, hyperbole reigns as ever. But it's probably the best superhero movie ever - I don't think Iron Man, or the first two Spider-Man movies, good as they were, even came close. And gods, it makes the Tim Burton Batman look like a big pile of crap.

    Question 1: Nolan's talked about this. The idea was to make the Joker seem morally inhuman (see below.) I thought it worked; so mesmerizing is Ledger's performance that I didn't even care that no actual backstory was provided - all the stories the Joker tells about it he makes up on the spot, as shown by Ledger (you can see him pulling that stuff out of thin air.)

    Questions 2-5: I read it as Harvey being dead. Howewer, after thinking about it, it was probably more ambiguous than I took it. Yeah, this is a potential sequel setup, although I can't help but wonder if it wasn't sort of forced offscreen by Ledger's death. Again, though, the movie was so good I didn't really even think about it until afterward.

    I didn't much care for Rachel. And I agree that Gyllenhaal wasn't all that much better than Katie Holmes, although its as much that she's just totally overshadowed by all the other roles and actors. Friggin' Zeus had a more interesting part. At least we won't have to see this flat character in the sequel which will now certainly get made.

    The police are not shown to be thoroughly corrupt - there are shown to be honest cops as well, Gordon being the exemplar. The major point of the movie is how far people are willing to go to get what they want, and how far they are willing to go just to survive. This is set up very skillfully by placing three good men in difficult situations, with the Joker as catalyst. Batman is willing to do quite a lot but has limits, and he approaches the edge but pulls back. Harvey gets pushed over his own line. Gordon may have been tempted to cross the line, but never gets that close and thus serves as the film's moral center.

    Now, the Joker can be the catalyst because he has no limits at all. He wants not so much to hurt people (although he does plenty of that,) but to make people hurt each other, which is why he sets up the thing with the ferries, and the rat accountant, and the hostages-as-kidnappers. He wants people to turn against each other; he's an agent of chaos, just like he says. When he says he's not crazy, we wonder if maybe he's right, at least in a conventional sense. He is the plot of the movie as much as he is a character.

    Giving him a backstory, humanizing him, would have compromised that. Not only do I think that was the right thing to do in this case, I think this portrayal of the Joker was better than any other - better than Frank Miller's Joker, or Alan Moore's. In this he was more than a crazy, murderous clown, he was a terrifyingly competent anarchist, an inhuman force of nature.

    Now, I think the setup for Harvey's fall was well-played; although I would not have argued with an additional scene setting up his darker side, I don't think it was neccessary. If anything, Aaron Eckhart's part was more difficult than Ledger's; he's the character that needs to show the change the most, and I think he did so effectively. This is probably lost because of how good Ledger was, though.

    This is also why I don't think the dangling thread of whether Dent's alive or dead is really dangling at all. Well, it is, but it's a small thread; the big thread was Harvey's transformation into Two-Face; Harvey, the character we were rooting for, did die. Whether or not Two-face survived is incidental in comparison.

    Question 6: It's a bit goofy, but at least it was established earlier in the film. I didn't think it was any sillier than the magical machine that turns water instantly into vapor, but doesn't vaporize the water inside human bodies, in the first movie. And it's not like this kind of thing isn't well-established in the comics. Nevertheless, I think this is probably the biggest weakness in the movie, just like the magical machine from Begins. Unlike that, though, it wasn't really needed here.

    Question 7: Interestingly, there was very little reference to the first film. Not once are Batman's parents mentioned, for example. I don't see any reason why the League of Shadows should have been mentioned either. The movie was extremely tight, with almost no padding at all (notice I said almost - I thought it went on longer than it needed to about 'the role of Batman' and all that.)

    Good God, this reply is longer than most of my own blog posts.

  6. Anonymous2:32 PM

    A few thoughts and responses to your questions

    Question 1) The Joker is motivated by madness. He doesn't care what happens. He enjoys the cat and mouse relationship with Batman and just causing mayhem. The Killing Joke motivation was for a darker, more sinister Joker. NOT the gimmicky happy clown with squirting flower gags and hand buzzers. It is the potrayal of a Joker who is comfortable maiming and killing others just because.
    He is an equal threat to everybody in the movie. He steals and kills from mobsters and only sides with them when it fuels his own goals. He is the Joker, the "Wild Card" if you will.
    Oh, and the bit about him spouting off differing reasons for his scars... This harkens back to the comics, where Joker has been crazy for so long that he can't remember how he got his scars and is always creating new stories.
    Not knowing this before the movie, it did confuse me at first. But makes perfect sense when its explained and is a nice touch for the comic fans.

    Question 2) Why would Dent want/need to see the body? He knew she was in exactly the same situation he was, and knew she didn't make it out because batman saved him. Given the cirumstances, who would expect a body to even be left when that inferno was done?
    I agree that the one conversation with the Joker didn't sell the change. Perhaps we must take into account the stresses Dent was under at the time. Honestly though, I could've cared less about Two Face. I enjoyed Dent as a character, but his look as Two Face and his actions as a tacked on villian didn't sell me. Its only when combined with Dent did his role become worthwhile.

    Question 3) They intentionally left out the resolution of Two Face's fate. This isn't anything new for hero movies. There are arguments that can be made either way as to if he should be alive or dead.
    How is this a negative for the movie? You want definitive answers for every villain's fate? Isn't this almost opposite of how comics are?

    Question 4) Almost the same as the idea on question 3. Why do we need an answer here? Of course Batman isn't going to cart him away to a private prison. This is how comics work, and this is a comic movie first and foremost. To replace that would mean it is no longer Batman. Batman has always had criminals locked up in the notoriously escapable Arkham Asylum. Notice how Scarecrow was out and about again in the beginning?

    Question 5) Joker didn't make EVERY citizen crazy. He caused panic, but only those with loved ones in the hospital or that were a little looney were willing to kill for him. The people on this boat were just paniced and trying to evacuate. It does not mean they lose all senses and turn into savages. If you watched, there were a few who did want to immediately push the detonator.
    As far as the felons/convicts go....I agree on that one. You'd think it'd be a bit more of an uprising on that ship.

    Question 6) umm...yeah...out of place. I was mildly ok with it being used once in the enterprise building. But that whole city wide setup was a bit much. Though I will say that I think it added to his final fight when it malfunctioned.

    Question 7) again...this is a comic book movie. You can't forget this as it is critical to what the movie is. The source material brings both benefits and restrictions.

    Two Face as the "true villain?" I didn't see it that way, and wasn't led to believe that from the marketing I saw. It was always about the Joker. In fact, I didn't even expect Two Face to be a part of this one. I expected Dent to be developed as a character and perhaps ellude to Two Face for the next movie. Two Face felt tacked on at the end. I almost felt as if he didn't get enough screen time and consideration seeing how he is one of Batman's classic villains.
    However, I thoroughly enjoyed his role as Harvey Dent. They took a character I brushed aside in about in every other Batman story and made me care.

    I didn't notice any blatent write offs in this one. Are you speaking of the girl? Her death is crucial in the plotline and I'm not sure any other outcome would have the same effect.

    All in all, I'm sure it doesn't deserve the title of "Best Movie Ever." However, as that is the opinion of each individual viewer, not an official title being bestowed upon it, who are we to decide for them?

    When you say it fell into "super hero movie traps," are you implying that NO super hero movie can be considered for the "Best Movie Ever" title?

    P.S. my biggest gripe about the movie is Batman's HORRIBLE voice. Why was he unable to close his mouth when wearing that suit? His upperlip was hanging open all the time like he was half vampire. It sounded so bad that I would have rather had Mike Tyson doing the voice over for him or had him hold up signs a-la Wylie Coyote. Ok, perhaps I'm going a bit far there, but it seriously was distracting from what he was saying and I pray they fix that in the next movie.

  7. I must be insane, because I in no way so the Joker as some irrational madman or crazy man. He never fell into what I most people are calling him. The Joker, to me, was smart evil, but we NEVER found out why! And to me, that did an injustice to the performance given.

    Super hero movies are defined by the source material they came from, and to me that is never going to translate perfectly onto film. Thus, they can never hope to be the best film ever.

    What do I think the best film ever is? I don't know, because I sure the hell haven't seen one that I would consider for the title. Maybe the Godfather or Saving Private Ryan, but I saw both so long after they released that I don't know if I can get the same effect as those that saw it on day one.

    I have some favorite movies: A Knights Tale, The Postman, Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, The Empire Strikes Back. I don't see any of them as the best movie ever, none of them close.

    I keep using that term "close" without an example, but I am perfectly content to admit that there is no best movie ever to be crowned at the moment.

    But if you wanted an answer, the almost best movie ever to me would be Saving Private Ryan due to the lengths to which the men behind it went to get the details right. SPR was just a near-perfect blend of cinematography, story, and acting.

  8. Anonymous5:05 PM

    I thought the Joker's motivations were practically spoon-fed.

    Alfred: Some men aren't looking for anything logical. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

    Seem rather straight-forward to me.

  9. Straight forward is a good term, but it all has to come from somewhere and "the best movie ever" would indulge us that interest.

  10. Anonymous11:53 AM

    Yea I thought the motivation behind the Joker was rather clear. He was chaos, with the goal to disrupt society as much as he could, at times seeming to act at random.

    That's why he is such a great villain for Batman, because Batman likes to leverage things against his enemies, but with the Joker, you can't do that, and as Batman won't actually kill him, it's a never-ending cycle of chaos/order.


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