Friday, December 26, 2008

(DC/Warner Brothers)
The Dark Knight When: July 2008
Why: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, & David Goyer How: Christian Bale & Heath Ledger

The Story So Far...
In a city gripped by crime, the emergence of a symbol to rattle the cages of the corrupt and greedy is a welcome rallying point for citzens besieged. The Batman is the dark knight the city requires, launching himself across the Gotham skyline in an incorruptable crusade against crime.

As he prunes away at the powers-that-be, things inevitably get worse before they get better.
A new breed of criminal, and insanity, coincides with his debut, beginning with the mad psychologist, Dr. Jonathan Crane, and his associations with the far reaching clan of eco-terrorists, the League of Shadows, led by legendary Eastern figure - Ra's Al Ghul. Their attack on Gotham City using a fear enducing toxin is a baptism for Batman, whose own past is linked with that of the League.

Though Dr. Crane escapes his reach, the Batman turns his attentions to the escalating dangers that grip a Gotham City in a vital process of change.
The Police Department begins a natural process of detoxification, struggling against a vaccum of power seized by organized crime boss, Sal Maroni, in the wake of Carmine Falcone's mental collapse. In response, a new Districty Attorney, Harvey Dent, joins the cause as a brighter counterpart to Batman, acting within the confines of a justice system in repair.

There are other personalities, however, that have come to Gotham City.
Other figures analagous to the Dark Knight himself, but dedicated to something much less specific. With a flair for theatricality, and an uncanny knack for mayhem -- the Joker has ushered in a responsive new era to the unstoppable vigilante -- equally as incorruptable, if not as purposeful.
It is an ideology destined for collision course...

Tale of the Tape...
ARTWORK: Ed McGuinnessARTWORK: Doug MahnkeStrength: Batman 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Batman 5 (Professor)
Speed: Batman 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Draw 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Batman 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Batman 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Power: Batman 4 (Arsenal)

- After witnessing the street murder of his parents, the young Bruce Wayne's destiny was forever shaped to be one dedicated to an ideal. Having spent his formative years studying the various sciences, martial arts, and crime fighting techniques, Bruce is ultimately inspired to become the one-man war on the criminal element in Gotham City: Batman.

Perhaps Batman's greatest power is the millions inherited from his industrialist parents, and the various facilities that came with that. They prove crucial in the design and construction of his many weapons, which are typically non-lethal, and have a variety of uses.

Complimented by his keenly strategic mind is Batman's expertise in the martial arts. He is extensively trained in multiple fighting styles, and commonly regarded to be one of the greatest hand-to-hand fighters in the world.
He is also extremely proficient in general urban warfare.

- It has been claimed that he was the victim of one very bad day, which ended with a fall into a vat of chemicals that bleached his skin, dyed his hair, and twisted his face into a permanent grin. The truth of his name and origins remain unknown, but as the Joker, he is one of the most feared killers in Gotham City.

Joker is known to have an aptitude for creating and working with toxins and other chemicals, favouring trademark concoctions that induce uncontrolled laughter, facial distortion, and often, death. Joker is also a proficient strategist, who is said to regularly reinvent his identity as a part of his vendetta against Batman.
The Joker, though not a skilled fighter, is shown to have an inhuman capacity for pain tolerance and recovery.

Additional: The rivalry between Batman and Joker is one of the most famous feuds in comics. Beginning in Batman #1 (1940), there hasn't been a decade that didn't feature an epic confrontation of these two vivid personalities. In many instances, their collision is one of philosophy, as depicted in 2008's feature film adaptation, The Dark Knight. In the film, Heath Ledger's Joker describes their meeting as that of an "unstoppable force meeting an immovable object."

Batman's unwavering dedication to justice as an incorruptable symbol is off-set by Joker's contrasting pledge to anarchic destruction, and the a murderous bent toward all things anti-social, and anti-establishment. In most cases, Joker is rarely without a motivation, even if it remains difficult to understand, even for the legendary Dark Knight detective.

Due to his stern position on lethality and corporal punishment, Batman is often forced to remain reactionary to Joker's twisting plots and reinventions of personality. Only when clues are present can he follow to a physical confrontation, which almost always favours the well trained Batman.

Examples include; Batman #614, Detective Comics #781, Batman #663, Justice League of America #15, Dark Knight Returns #3, & Batman Ep.2.

History: Batman (6-0-0)
Math: Batman Ranking: Batman (#1)

What Went Down...
Foiled in his attempts to kill an incarcerated DA Harvey Dent -- the Joker collides with Batman in the streets of Gotham, only to be captured himself by Lt. James Gordon, who had been working undercover under the veil of his faked death.

Promoted to Commissioner, Gordon enters a darkened interrogation room, now forced to probe the Joker for information on the now abducted District Attorney.
Joker casts doubt on a GPD already heavily under investigation, suggesting Gordon's own people are puppets of Boss Maroni. He taunts Gordon and asks him what it feels like to be alone. The Commissioner shows him just how alone he is.

Turning the lights on, on his way out to 'get coffee', Gordon unleashes the beast.
The Joker's face collides with the metal table in front of him as Batman steps out of the darkness. He's not the bad cop. He's not part of the system. He is the shadow-self of every law abiding civil servant in Gotham, and he's unrestrained.

Joker resists the Batman's physical influence, making light of his decision to "go for the head" first. Batman obliges, bringing his fist down like a sledge hammer on the criminal's printless fingers. Joker shows incredible restraint.

Joker's counter-attack strikes deeper, turning the spotlight on Batman's will to let the cost of his war spill onto civilian casualties. It is a strategy that will pay dividends by the end of the night, but for now, is easily ignored by the focused Dark Knight, concerned only with recovering the abducted Harvey Dent.

Unwilling to concede, the Joker splashes his philosophy around the cell, rejecting the Batman's tempered retort as borrowed phrases from the "normal" world. He professes a joy - a completion - provided only by the escalation of acceptability ushered in by the Batman himself. Joker declares his torture - his disinterest in ever killing the Batman. The Dark Knight's hollow assumptions amuse him.

The clown prince of crime further indulges himself in a philosophy built on everything low and disgusting about humanity. He forecasts the downfall of Gotham's protector, putting their tall poppy syndrome down to a basic human barbarism that would have them feeding on each other, under the right conditions. Under the Joker's conditions. Batman sees fit to disagree.

With the face-to-face revealing more of the Joker to him, the Batman resumes his narrow objective -- uncover the path to Harvey Dent.

Showing further his skill in combat, Joker remains unaffected by the strong-arming of the undeniably stronger of the two. Yanked off his feet and across the desk, Joker is shaken around and pinned to a wall, by the Batman.

The Dark Knight collides physically and verbally with the Joker, professing only one rule in his approach - never kill. Not surprisingly, this becomes the key to ending their opposition. Joker reveals a forced hand - a second hostage!

As if peering behind the mask, the Joker recalls their encounter at a charity ball for Harvey Dent. A scene where he left the Batman to retrieve Rachel Dawes from the window-borne descent he tossed her two. A task Bruce Wayne took up with gusto, driven by emotions attached to his childhood sweetheart.

Endangering Rachel Dawes a second time provokes a strong response.

Batman peels the Joker from the tiled wall of the room and slams him onto the nearby table. Pushed, Batman jams the interrogation room door shut with a chair, knowing his physicality will prove distasteful to the law enforcement watching through mirrored glass. It is the difference between him and them. The chance to go further than society allows. To be one man, incorruptable.

Batman introduces Joker's head to the mirrored glass, with force.
He fills the room with the roar of his one question -- where are there?

Physically out matched, the Joker continues to take the punishment, fighting back with delight, cackling, and juvenile taunts about Rachel Dawes. Batman growls his question, as if it were a demand, between the clubbing blows of his fist.

The Joker laughs.

Mocking Batman's strength, finally Joker agrees to reveal the location of Dent and Dawes, both. Held feebily beneath Batman's gloves fists, Joker has already won, having earnt his escape through the almost unnoticable broken glass dislodged by his head earlier. There is then the matter of the addresses given...

Though legitimate in location, Batman's hasty efforts to rescue Rachel Dawes from the gallons of feul and explosives she's strapped to, will soon learn each path leaves him to play the Joker's game again. Though dedicated to rescuing the woman he loves, his dedication will be his undoing, and mark the creation of a new foe who sees things... both ways...

The Hammer...
For the purposes of satisfying the "comic book fight club," we can declare without any doubt that Batman is the physical victory in this multi-layered confrontation. As we've seen six times in the past, the Joker, though willing to engage in physicality, is a cerebral combatant, no matter his capacity for accepting harm.

While this post is marked December, I'm catching up on the Holiday backlog. Tomorrow marks the Sixty-Sixth Annual Golden Globes, where, Heath Ledger is a red hot favourite to take the post-humous award for best supporting actor in a feature film. It's just one piece of a puzzle that started in July, where many people began forecasting their suspicions of an Oscar nomination.

After writing a lukewarm review of Iron Man, I'm somewhat reticent to admit my doubt over the validity of a Ledger win. I don't want to be that guy, but the more I ponder, the more honesty gets the better of me.

While I've come to believe nomination is a fitting must for the late actor, I remain unconvinced about the immortality of his portrayal. There can be no doubt that he inhabited the role quite well and probably brought a lot to the creation process, but I'm not sure if that was elaborate enough to warrant such lofty, pretentious acclaim. Let those of us of the right persuasion regard him forever as "the best Joker ever," but in the realm that has so long resisted acknowledging superheroes, caution the pretense of popularity.

To further sour my regard, I have to admit, I wasn't quite as taken as it seems much of the world was. Perhaps it was simply a matter of expectation. Batman Begins so specifically revealed the intentions of this generation of the brand that, coupled with familarity with the source material, it became a fairly predictable exercise. Predictable should not be mistaken for bad. In the realm of adaptation, predictable has long been sought after as the epitomy of accuracy. In this respect, The Dark Knight pays dividends, very specifically representing the comics at their best. To that end, I can only hope all involved can be persuaded to continue into a third instalment in a series, and maybe even more.

Regarding the representation of the comics, I have to say the unsung hero of the piece seems to be David Goyer.
[Christopher] Nolan has freely admitted the fanboy-cum-writer-cum-director has been his guide through the largely unfamiliar landscape of Bat-fiction. Coupled with the support of DC themselves, I don't doubt Goyer has been vital to ever creative triumph the films have provided, acting as a crucial facilitator throughout the process. Tales of the Goyer/Nolan garage think-tank seem to support this on many levels of the creation process, including design.

In fact, when I think The Dark Knight and Academy Awards, I'm inclined to think of Christopher Nolan. There are few examples of other films enhanced throughout by the presence of a director as Dark Knight. His familiar, obsessive restrain is felt throughout the picture, acting as almost as strong a presence as any of the actors or characters they portray. He was vital to Batman Begins, but it's in The Dark Knight that I think Nolan reached a new comfort with his vision and the ideas he was channeling. His influence was a triumph that deserves that level of acknowledgment, perhaps in ways rarely reflected by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Both Nolan and the film felt somewhat absent from, what I would regard, as the more grounded Golden Globe awards. It was here I felt it more likely to see the film recognised in Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Director formats, where the common indulgence in action might've been more likely than the Oscars.

I now hope the directorial travesty, at least, can be corrected by the Academy Awards. I also feel a Best Picture nomination might well be warranted, even if the film that defined 2008 (and set innumerable records) isn't the critical winner.

Still, in all of this would-ing and should-ing, I suppose it might be nice to communicate my feelings on the film.

If I can frame my reference through reaction, I turn to yet more common place inflections that I despise. One I've mentioned before; the misconception that making the leap from page to film is somehow conceptually restricted; jumps immediately to mind. It is in response to that that I am reluctant to refer to the Joker as a "complex" character, or a difficult character to realise on screen.

The Dark Knight presents one of the most effective versions of the character, revelling in the faith necessary to indulge the concept. It is indeed faith that this character requires, as I believe there is little to nothing that "cannot" be realised in modern cinema [something Watchmen will hopefully display to the majority].

Almost unnoticed were the changes made to this version of the Joker, the most obvious, his now definitive grin-replacing scars. Ledger physically represents little of what we know as Joker iconography. He's not especially slim, svelte, and certainly doesn't possess the exaggerated nose, chin, and grin. While some are not inclined to place weight in physical appearances, I personally feel, as is a trope of cartooning, that much of Joker's character is conveyed through those traits. That said -- we quite reasonably forego those superficial details for a depiction that captures the spirit of the Joker, as much as it innovates.

Particularly to my liking, the internal motivation of the Joker.

To go back to the common misconceptions of the unwashed (fanboy) masses, I turn my scowling brow to the use "random" in contemporary language. This is both a disagreement of semantics and philosophy, because there are indeed those who believe the Joker should act almost without motivation, but I disagree. As in The Dark Knight, I feel the Joker is at his best when he is quite specifically grounded in intentions. Intentions that, more often than not, are indeed influence by reaction, or his own thought processes.

Throughout the film the Joker exists as a reactionary force to Batman, to law, to crime, and to organization of most kinds. Continuing explorations from the comics, the film Joker is almost super-sane, more than he is crazy.
As a writer and fan, I believe Joker should never be without reasons, even if they aren't necessarily obvious to you, or I, or the characters within a story.

Bale, Oldman, and Freeman were back to do more of what they did very well in the first film. Michael Caine still isn't my ideal Alfred, which probably made his reduction to over-sized cameo all the more palatable.

Harvey Dent's role in the film surprised me, somewhat.
Aaron Eckhart (and Maggie Gyllenhall as replacement Rachel Dawes) played quite well in the film, but I was surprised to see Two-Face eventuate so abruptly. I couldn't really complain, except to say that it felt a little abbreviated by the end, undercutting the more traditional climactic conclusion of the Joker/SWAT fight.
Also, I'm not sure if I would've burnt away quite as much flesh as they did in the CG make-up process. That said, artistic choice aside, it was quite good! Eckhart and the script certainly more than made up for '95's Tommy Lee Jones-Schumacher directed farce, but let's not go there.

Keeping me from this review was the necessary meditation to reach a comfortable opinion of the film. I've watched the DVD several times since Christmas to give it as much chance as Batman Begins had to grow on me.
Ultimately, while The Dark Knight sent a message to the world of what a superhero film can be, I still see imperfections. Conceptually and functionally the film is rock-solid, but like Iron Man, it lacked a little bit of oomph to make it unforgettable. Additionally, there were moments that just felt downright beneath the film, like robotic attempts by Nolan to engage the common man (American) that felt clunky and unnecessary. The biggest, the cell phone sonar, which felt a bit overblown for my tastes, like a god awful time-based obstacle in a video game tie-in [which, incidentally, has been allegedly delayed for quality assurance, assuming it will actually happen].

Of course, for every nit-picking negative, there's a multitude of glorious nuggets of joyous subtlty. Among my favourites, Joker's burning fire engine roadblock, and graffiti "slaughter" is the best medicine. In truth, there's just so much to discuss about this film, we couldn't possibly touch upon it all in any coherrent fashion. That is why I by no means consider my score an insult, but acknowledge there's still so much more to come from superhero films - and Batman - on the screen.

Oh, and to voice one more arrogant frustration: the people who told me, before I'd seen it, that the film was close-ended with no clue to a sequel: Damn your peasant eyes! A giant playing card might not have flashed across the screen, but Jim Gordon's closing monologue and the Dark Knight's self-sacrifice more than frame a film with a spine of Batman versus the Cops action-drama.

In particular, I think of scenes from popular inspiration materials, Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, which both pit Batman in exciting struggles with the police. If those Catwoman rumors are anything to go by, maybe we'll get to see the animal-lover in Batman two-fold, as a second driving plot with Selina Kyle, and as a portion of the 'Hunt the Dark Knight' drama, in the form of punching an armored gunman through a brick wall for trying to shoot a cat.

Bloody hell! If that run-on sentence wasn't clue enough, I could just be here all day talking about the Batman films! I didn't even remember to mention that I chose this interrogation scene - of all the fist fights in the movie - because I felt it encompassed so much of what we know from the comics. It was delightful, but also leaves plenty to discuss in the future. Now shut up, I have to go. Hehahaha!

The Fight: 5.5 The Film: 6.5

"The Dark Knight" set all manner of feature film records with it's cinematic release, and continues to redefine the boundaries on home video. If for some reason you don't already have the DVD, then you simply must purchase immediately through the Amazon links provided. It is also available in a two-disc Special Edition which includes thoroughly enjoyable "Gotham Tonight" episodes with Anthony Michael Hall reprising his role from the film. Admittedly, the extras leave a bit to be desired, but do yourself a favour, and just buy one of them. Heck, you'll be doing me a favour as well, by using the purchase links provided! Yummm, themes of corruption!

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