Add to Queue #68: My parents are dead

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Media | A2Q Archives | A2Q #68 | December 9, 2008

Featured Title: The Dark Knight

The movie so good it made me mad. It upsets me that my favorite Batman movie isn’t directed by Tim Burton. It upsets me that my favorite comic-book turned movie-hero isn’t Hellboy. I feel like I’m cheating on Tim Burton, Mike Mignola, and Guillermo del Toro saying this, but The Dark Knight is by far the best comic book movie ever made — perhaps one of the best movies ever made. Ever since The Dark Knight’s release, I have been comparing every film I see to it, and none measure up.
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As the film begins, we have a Batman who longs for a normal life, if only he could complete or pass on the Sisyphean task of being Gotham City’s protector. Unfortunately for Batman, it seems that his extraordinary crime-fighting techniques have prompted normal criminals to rely even more heavily on corrupt cops and byzantine financial loopholes to protect their ill-gotten gains; punching faces alone can’t solve that sort of dilemma. His iconic status has attracted not only vigilante wannabes who put their lives in danger trying to emulate him, but a new criminal, one attracted to the sport Batman represents, one for whom chaos and anarchy aren’t a byproduct or crime or a means to an end but rather the whole point in and of itself. Batman has allies both old (honest cop Jim Gordon and Wayne’s childhood love turned DA’s office lawyer, Rachel Dawes) and new (Harvey Dent, the new DA). But this new criminal, this Joker, preys on the insecurities and foibles of the whole system. He doesn’t care about money. His “plan” seems to be to set impossible moral decisions in front of Batman and his allies and then watch as the tragedies that result from those decisions tear our heroes apart.
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Why is The Dark Knight so good? The direction is superb. The cinematography is gorgeous. The action set-pieces are thrilling and exhilarating. The actors give uniformly excellent performances, from Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman in supporting roles to the stars Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart, and above all, Heath Ledger. The plot is dense but moves swiftly. It feels more like an epic crime drama than a superhero fantasy; it has more in common with Heat than it does with Superman Returns. It is a brilliant, transformitive work — one whose reverberations will be felt for a long time to come.

Also Out This Week

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As much as I want to believe that the rumored remake of Chan-wook Park’s brilliant Oldboy starring Will Smith won’t be unwatchably bad, I have another Will Smith remake to temper those hopeful thoughts. I Am Legend is amusing enough, I suppose, but does it stack up to other adaptations of Richard Matheson’s seminal novella? As Smith himself might say, “Oh HELL naw!” A show where anything is possible, including a vampire apocalypse, is Lost. I might have something up my sleeve regarding this BD release so I won’t get into in too much depth here. Suffice it to say, if you were a fan of Lost in it’s first season, but fell off somewhere in the following two seasons, it is totally worth picking it back up and slogging through some of the slower episodes to get to Season 4. It seems that setting an end-date for the show rejuvenated it creatively, and while I still sometimes get the feeling that they are playing it by ear and haven’t had an overall story arc for the entire series in mind from the beginning, it seems that the huge risk they took with the finale of Season 3 paid off. The show recaptured the magic in Season 4, and as a fan who was drifting away, I was riveted for every episode. Season 5 can’t get here fast enough!

Thanks for reading Add to Queue, Levi’s weekly round-up of US home video release highlights. Sorry, rest of the world; region locks are the industry’s way of saying they still don’t understand the Internet. Cover art courtesy of Amazon. As I was saying, I’m a woman and can’t be taken for granted. Life’s a bitch, now so am I. . Follow me on Twitter. Add me to your PSN or XBL friends list: VsRobot. You can also e-mail me at levivsrobot [at] gmail [dot] com. Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to leave a comment!

39 thoughts on “Add to Queue #68: My parents are dead

  1. I thought I liked Batman as much as the next guy, but then Levi comes along…yeesh.

    It is a good movie, though. :D

  2. Dark Knight is “brilliant” and “transformative?” I prefer “flawed, but carried brilliantly by Heath Ledger.”

    Also, spinning establishing shots do not necessarily equal brilliant cinematography.

    Sorry to come off as bitter and stuff, but the hyperbole surrounding Dark Knight is ridiculous. It makes me like this movie less than I probably should. Much less.

  3. Yeah, I’m with Kat. Honestly, I thought Iron Man was a better movie than The Dark Knight, because it accepted its pulp roots and had fun with them instead of trying to impress upon everyone its Very Immense Gravitas.

  4. More specifically nailed down potential groups include Batman’s just-plain-embarrassing growly-voice, the Two-Face makeup job was somewhat iffy, and (rather controversial point here) The Joker didn’t particularly come off as The Joker. Rather interesting random psycho with smeared makeup, sure. Memorable, sure. Reinterpreting a recognizable character into a more gritty and grounded universe than usual while keeping them intact and recognizable though? Not so much really.

  5. If you let the hype affect you negatively, that doesn’t sound like it’s the hype’s fault to me.

  6. Iron Man? Really? I found it rote, a paint-by-numbers take on the subject matter saved only by the casting of Downey, Jr. I knew every beat of that film within the first 15 minutes. Casting helps TDK, but it’s not the only thing it has going for it.

    “Spinning establishing shots” is a pretty glib way to dismiss the camera-work. If you’re not into the chase sequence, that’s fine, but it’s hard to argue against how well shot it is.

  7. I dunno… I didn’t think the action sequences were particularly well shot. I mostly found them underwhelming or confusing. In that sense at least, I consider Iron Man the clear winner between the two.

  8. Well, one thing we can hopefully all agree on: I made a kickass frickin’ header for this week’s column. Check out that drop shadow! I did that.

  9. Hmmm, I would say I preferred Dark Knight over Iron Man despite some of the mysterious, almost nonsensical leaps of logic the former forced me to accept/ignore to enjoy the film. But enjoy I did. Immensely.

  10. Iron Man was the better movie just because Robert Downey Jr didn’t swallow a pitcher full of gravel before every scene where he had a mask on.

  11. Me and my friends make fun of Batman’s voice, but I actually like how jacked up it sounds. It really bothers me in movies like say, Spiderman or Superman, where the hero talks the same way in his private life as he does when dawning a mask. How is everyone, even those closest to he hero remain none the wiser? It’s part of the attention to all the small details that this movie gets oh so right.

  12. I’ll chime in with the people who think TDK is quite a bit overrated. I like it, but it’s no revelation. And the action scenes are pretty much incomprehensible, but that’s de rigeur these days. I also think the structuring is truly horrible; it’s one of those movies that feels like it should be over long before it actually is. Harvey Dent’s transformation is transparently tacked on to the end rather than incorporated into the larger film. I think Christopher Nolan has actually said he added the Two-face material to add emotional strength, but I think it makes the whole thing unwieldy. But that’s just my opinion.

    The thing it did that was most remarkable, honestly, was pulling the whole Batman movie franchise out of the world of make believe and transplanting it into a real-looking Gotham City. Which, frankly, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. It’s certainly different.

  13. TDK was so good because it defied everyone’s expectations – Batman Begins was a highly overrated, bloated film which relied entirely on atmosphere, whereas TDK actually explored some interesting psychological themes, not to mention Ledger’s deservedly hyped performance. Which of course, blinds everyone else to the film’s flaws, namely the bland acting from Bale, the plot holes, and the unsatisfying ending.

    As for Iron Man, I gotta agree with vrsrobot – it was carried entirely by Downey Jr. Everyone hates on the Fantastic Four films, but they and Iron Man are too similar for most fanboys’ recognition. Both are quick, breezy films, carried by their respective stars (well, in the case of FF, the films were carried by the spot-on banter between the Thing and the Torch). Also, they both have ridiculously boring endings.

  14. Also: as good as Ledger was, to me, nothing will beat Nicholson’s perfect performance and Burton’s Expressionistic Gotham.

  15. “You prefer Batman & Robin, then?”

    YEAH HUR HUR HUR. Way to keep the conversation smart.

    But really, like people have mentioned above, TDK is well-made but hardly deep, because the script never allows it to be deep. And the action scenes are an incomprehensible mess, which is a shame because Batman Begins had much better action editing. And the movie should have saved the Two-Face subplot for the next film, because it drags the run time out needlessly. (Note to Chris Nolan and Sam Raimi: just because you have a big rogue’s gallery to play with doesn’t mean you need to put them all in the same movie.) Overall, I feel like TDK is Quantum of Solace to Batman Begins’ Casino Royale: bigger, darker, messier on both the macro and micro levels… but not better.

  16. I like Aaron Eckhart, but his character’s downfall isn’t even remotely psychologically believable; it deserves to be given tragic weight, but it isn’t. And it does indeed feel extremely tacked on. We have Heath Ledger chewing up the scenery, and then all of a sudden: huh. So you’re evil too. And…you have a gimmicky way of killing people. Great. Can we get back to the main story?

  17. Oh, a comic book movie is welcome to have depth. Aspirations are great. But I appreciated Iron Man because it was simple, unpretentious fun, while TDK was a sprawling mess in dire need of editing that literally had a character hopping around saying, “Look! I’m so crazy and evil! I’m so symbolic! Craaaazyyyy!” Heath Ledger did an admirable job of making a pretty stupid character cool and interesting, but it doesn’t change the fact that the goddamn Batman needed a goddamn rewrite.

  18. If Iron Man was a game, it’d be an Ubisoft game, recycling old ideas for the nth time, but with a compelling lead character and a cool mechanic.

  19. Gotta agree with GeoX. Eckhart played Harvey Dent extremely well, the Batman-Dent-Gordon dynamic was made interesting at least, but Two Face was boring, and did indeed feel tacked on.

    And after all, the Joker really did win in the end. And it falls to Batman to cover it up. It’s a challenging ending, sure, but it sure did feel unsatisfying, especially for a big bloated summer action flick.

  20. I don’t need a happy ending to enjoy a movie. I don’t find Double Indemnity unsatisfying because of its ending. I enjoy big, epic tragedies. Maybe that is why I love Chan Park-Wook’s vengeance trilogy so much? Anyway, that might be a key to understanding why I love TDK so much more than you guys.

  21. I love open and/or dark endings. Double Indemnity is a great movie, and that’s a great example of an open ending, but it’s not just the ending that works; it’s the whole movie. I don’t have a problem with the state of things at the end of TDK; it’s just that I think most of the half hour or so that precedes it is a complete slog. That, and I coudn’t tell what was going on during the action scenes (though you know, maybe it was the IMAX’s fault).

    Also, what’s with the batcycle (or “batpod,” as we must learn to call it) on all the promotional material? Was my theater’s copy of the film missing like 30 minutes of batpod action or something?

  22. TDK’s action editing was WORSE than Begins? I have a hard time agreeing with that. Every single fight was a mishmash of quick cuts and poor lighting designed to hinder comprehension.

  23. I am completely with Adrenaline. The fight with Ras on the train in Begins was incomprehensible. I thought the editing in TDK was far superior. Also, TDK wasn’t saddled with having to tell an origin story. We get, Batman, your parents are dead. Sheesh.

  24. Man am I late to this thread.

    Neither of the Batman movies were had particularly well-done action scenes. Both, for whatever reason, decided to take the shaky-cam = immersive aesthetic that’s been making the rounds in cinema lately and jack it up about 5 notches. This does not immerse me, it makes me want to throw up. One of the best shots in TDK is the one of Bats flying around in the sky, and that’s mainly because it’s one of the few scenes the camera doesn’t go wild.

    As others have pointed out both in Talking Time and in comments above, Ledger’s portrayal of an archetype (not a character!) was basically the sole thing carrying the film forward. I don’t say that to reflect poorly on Ledger’s performance, since he turned what could have been a cheesy exposition-heavy grimdark clown into a pretty memorable villain; it merely highlights on repeat viewings all the other deficiences present in TDK in my opinion, those of plot, Batman, shoehorned political allegory, etc…

  25. Every battle scene in TDK is impenetrable. Especially the road chase sequence, which is basically a bunch of half-second clips thrown into a blender and put on “frappe.”

  26. I gotta say- and I know full well who came up with the idea first, and how far ingrained it is in a pop culture history that predates Cormac McCarthy by a long stretch- the main thing I thought of when I saw Two-Face first do his post-villain-origin coin flip was “pfft, Chigurh would eat this chump for breakfast.” A two-villain movie works best if one villain doesn’t completely and totally subsume the other.

    I think Dark Knight‘s good — but it’s RoboCop good, not The Godfather good.

  27. Late to the game as usual, but oh well.

    I’m just going to say TDK was awesome. It changed the franchise, gave us something deep (or at least deeply entertaining), and didn’t make a mockery of the audience.

    Yeah, it was lengthy. Does every movie have to be 90 mins?

    Sure, the ending left things open – do people know there’s going to be another one?

    I also don’t remember ever thinking the action scenes were ultra-shaky cam. They were good sequences, I thought.

    Still haven’t seen Iron Man, but I will soon enough.

    PEACE on earth, goodwill toward men.

  28. The thing with TDK’s runtime is it didn’t feel like a long movie. I found it to move at a brisk pace.

  29. All things considered, I do believe TDK is a fine movie, but I’d rather watch iron Man again. I like my movies better when they don’t beat me senseless with their sense of importance. Iron Man and Hellboy respected their roots enough to have some fun, and maybe that’s a good thing.

  30. Some Bullet points:

    Batman’s “Scary” Voice
    Whenever Bruce Wayne is wearing the mask, speaks in this gruff, gravely voice that is meant to inspire fear in criminals. Unfortunately it sounds like a middle-schooler trying to sound like a WWE wrestler. It’s hilariously bad, especially since he doesn’t only use this voice when he’s trying to intimidate lowlifes, he also uses it when talking one-on-one with Commissioner Gordon.

    Maggie Gyllenhaal
    It was a weird bit of stunt casting to have a woman play the role of Clayface, but then she never transforms into anything. It’s not like they didn’t have the budget. A wasted opportunity.

    The Speeches
    Every character in this movie is prone to spontaneously lecturing the audience on the dynamic between the Joker and Batman, or between Batman and the city, or Harvey Dent and the city. This happens several times throughout the movie, and every major character gets a turn. It is especially hilarious when Batman does it, since he uses his scary voice to deliver comically bad and obvious dialogue.

    Poor Fight Scenes
    In this film, Batman chooses to trade some of his invulnerability for increased mobility. Unfortunately he still moves like Robocop. Every punch and kick is shot in close up, so that you only see the fist connect, and another thug falls. Batman also uses a lot less psychological warfare this time around. Many times, the camera will pull back from a bad guy and Batman will be behind him. When henchmen are able to see him, they line up to march into his fist.

    Brokeback Batman
    No, Bane is not in this movie. I am referring to the way Heath Ledger was inspired by his own performance in that cowboy movie, and draws on that experience for his role as the Joker. He all but tells Batman “I wish I could quit you”

    Too Long
    At around 150 minutes, this movie is way too long. It feels like this movie should have deleted scenes, but they were all left in. Some of the scenes go on way too long. It is possible they were reluctant to cut any of Ledgers scenes, but the Joker is given too much time to explicitly tell everyone in earshot his motivations. This works against the character. Basically, he likes to ruin people’s day, usually with explosions. That is it. Unfortunately we are told this repeatedly with several poorly written monologues, and it really lessens any impact that the character has.

    Overall, I’d say it is the fifth best Batman movie. Does Mask of the Phantasm count? Make that sixth. The movie looked good, and it tried to be serious, even in it’s most overwrought moments. The Joker didn’t deface artwork while jamming to Prince on a boom box, so there’s that. Oh, and the bit with the pencil was cool. I could take or leave the Joker’s Truman Capote voice.

  31. One more thing. Robocop is way better than Dark Night. And Kurtwood Smith gave a better performance than Heath Ledger. You really get the feeling that Clarence Boddicker enjoys life.

  32. Am I late for the party? Well, all I can say about TDK’s runtime is: Batman in China. Why? What was the point of that? I mean, it was cool and all, but it could have very easily been edited out without detracting anything from the overall movie. The rest of it was great, and by “the rest of it” I mean the parts where the Joker is running around blowing shit up.

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