The Dark Naught

So I've finally seen the latest installment in the Christian Bale-Christopher Nolan Bat-Wayne franchise. I enjoyed BATMAN BEGINS quite a lot, and have heard nothing but praise for this newest ep, and like everyone, I was fully prepared to sit back in awestruck admiration of Heath Ledger's mortal genius, so I expected to enjoy it quite a lot.

And, as it unfolded on the screen... I kept waiting to.

And kept waiting to.

SPOILERS after the jump. Don't say I didn't warn you.

It... I... well... um... gee, that LOOKED pretty cool, right there, when he was punching that one guy...

Look, THE DARK KNIGHT just never came into any kind of focus for me. There was no there there. If pressed to say exactly what it was that failed the most for me, I guess I'd have to point to the gaping abyss that was the Joker. As in, who is this guy? Where did he come from? Why is he here? What is he trying to accomplish?

Or, to put it another way, WTF, dude?

Unlike the actual character from the actual comics, his skin isn't actually white and his lips aren't actually ruby red and for all I know his hair isn't actually bright toxic green, either. No, he's wearing hastily smeared on clown makeup, and his hair is a mess and he's got some nasty looking scars running up from either side of his mouth. He explains how he got these scars (and, presumably, what it was that turned his mind into a pretzel dog) over and over again throughout the course of the movie, and every explanation is different, and, usually, poorly worded and not particularly anything. His explanations don't move me in any way. Which is okay, I guess, as most likely none of them are true.

What he does kind of say, without actually coming out and saying it, is that he's a freak, just like Batman; if there had never been a Batman, there would never be a Joker. Which is all well and good, but, honestly, as an emotional subtext to hang an entire arch-adversarial relationship on, is kind of lame, all by itself. And that's all we ever get.

It troubles me greatly that the Joker is not, in fact, even the first colorful masked supervillain in this reimagined Batman franchise -- that honor goes to the Scarecrow, and in all honesty, the closest this movie ever came to working for me was in the opening ten minutes, when Scarecrow is the bad guy.

Now HERE's a guy who has an interesting and emotional background with Batman; HERE's a guy who has a palpable emotional connection to him. And it's one that was manufactured entirely out of Scarecrow's previous crimes and Batman's successful thwarting of his previous criminal goals, which pretty much proves that you really DON'T need to make every villain in a superhero franchise either (a) the long lost mentor of the hero, whom the hero deeply admires But Now He Must Battle Him To The Death Oh The Angst The Angst, or, (b) The Hated Man Who Killed The Hero's Parental Figure. I was happy to see some superhero movie somewhere demonstrate the truth of this proposition, and only wish they had then used the same technique to establish a deep mutual loathing between the Joker and the Batman.

And I'm sure they tried, but it just never worked for me, and the reason it never worked for me is that, well, there was nothing to the Joker. He's up, he's down, he's all around -- oooooooh, look at him, he's CRAAAAAAAAZY!!!! But that's all we got, and, at least for me, it wasn't enough.

As any fanboy would, I enjoyed the various different visual outtakes from Miller and Mazzuchelli's BATMAN: YEAR ONE -- although they made me mournful, too, as I continue to wonder what might have happened if some screenwriter somewhere had decided to actually make a movie out of that fabulous story, instead of making up something entirely different and occasionally throwing in visual references to that story as a sop to those of us who have actually read some of the main character's source material.

I also enjoyed the disparate references to other crucial comics storylines, like the copy-Bat vigilantes (from DARK KNIGHT RETURNS) and the massive sonar/cell phone surveillance machine (reminiscent of Batman's Brother Eye satellite from the build up to INFINITE CRISIS).

Aaron Eckhart as Dent/Two Face didn't do a thing for me as he never put anything real into either performance -- I had no credible feeling for his Dent, who always struck me as rather soulless and insincere, and without having any real sense of Dent's validity as a 'white knight', didn't really feel the impact of his transformation to hideously deformed and murderous psycho. Maggie Gyllenhaal emoted up a storm as Rachel Dawes but I didn't give a shit; it was vaguely sad when she croaked, but not as sad as when the original Lois Lane died in an issue of INFINITE CRISIS.

The final denouement, with Batman taking the rap for all of Two Face's murders so that Gotham could continue to believe in their fallen white knight, struck me as outrageous bullshit; it's not like you need to hang a few bodies on the Batman to make him a scary outsider. But then, I never believed the previous plot twist either, when Harvey Dent claimed to be the Batman in order to lure the Joker out of hiding; anyone who would really believe that Dent was the Batman had clearly never seen a photograph of either of them, since their jawlines are absolutely nothing alike.

Which is admittedly a quibble; had this movie any of the emotional validity of the first one, I wouldn't have been troubled by such trivia (maybe the Batman has never allowed anyone to take a photograph of him) any more than I was overmuch bothered by the tank-like Batmobile in the first film vaulting from one downtown Gotham City rooftop to another, when you had to assume that none of those roofs had ever been built to suddenly withstand the impact of a flying armored vehicle that had to weigh at least ten tons.

Throughout the film, I kept waiting for Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne/Batman to display any of the rich, warm human feelings he'd so clearly had, even in the depth of his obsessions, for Rachel, Alfred, Lucius Fox, Jim Gordon, and that movie's central villain, Ras al Ghul. I never felt any of it; the only time I got a shred of a sense of connection between Batman and anyone, it was when he was exhorting the Scarecrow towards the start of the film. The rest of the time both Bruce and Bats simply didn't seem to care about anyone around them; even when Bruce and Rachel had their obligatory clinch about halfway through this movie's seemingly interminable 150 minute run time, I didn't get the impression either of them really gave a shit. It was just something they had to do.

Overall, this film struck me as a long empty mess. Which makes me sad.

On the other hand, it's pretty clear to me that whoever edited together that WATCHMEN trailer new their target audience pretty well, as pretty much every image in it is derived entirely from the source material. I have little doubt that when I see the finished movie, I will discover that its central plot and story bears little to no resemblance to what Moore wrote in the original graphic novel, but the bits and pieces they've shown to us so far are finely calculated to provide an entirely different impression.

Popular Posts