Monday, July 28, 2008

Comic book movie appeals to nerds, real people

Much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed The Dark Knight.

And even though I was expecting to be disappointed by Heath Ledger's performance, I thought it was generally excellent. (David Edelstein had said that it was a little scattershot and painful to watch. I disagree. It was a very stylized, no doubt, but I think it was actually better than Jack Nicholson's performance in the first Batman all those years ago -- which was really just a reprise of his much better role in The Shining.)

This comes with a few caveats, though:

There was one (maybe two) plot(s) too many. The Joker's final crime didn't really carry a lot of umph (it wasn't as scary as his previous acts of terrorism).

It could have lost about 20 to 30 minutes of screen time and been a lot richer for it.

Also, it struck me as pretty blatantly allegorical about the war on terror -- in a way that I'm not sure I agree with. It was in favor of a very heavy hand in terms of torturing suspects, spying on evildoers, etc. (There's a scene in which Batman beats the crap out of the Joker -- and only an utter wuss would say that the Joker didn't have that and a lot more coming to him.) Of course, when you talk about fighting terrorism, unfortunately, it must be linked to your opinion of George W. Bush and how he's prosecuted the war thus far. I couldn't help but feel a little bit the way Pauline Kael felt after watching Dirty Harry. It was no doubt a well made movie -- but I'm not sure I agree with what it's saying.

My buddy Robert George insists that this Batman was doing things that the Bush administration never would have done -- i.e., Christian Bale makes Morgan Freeman something of his overseer about the way he spies on Gotham's citizens. The administration fought tooth and nail to avoid congressional or judicial oversight on spying and torture.

(A counter argument could also be made, by the way, that this Batman was so dark that you don't come out necessarily feeling particularly good about Batman. That the compromises he makes are not worth it. But given how evil the Joker's actions are, I don't buy that.)

The schlub factor: Poor Aaron Eckhart. He turns in a performance that, in its way, is better than Ledger's, as a well meaning, slightly schlubby, DA who loses his way. But Ledger will get the Academy Award nomination because of his untimely death. Eckhart will merely get Max Gross' adulation.