Revisiting The Dark Knight Trilogy
For the 10th anniversary of The Dark Knight, I decided to watch the trilogy again; having been a few years since I last sat down and watched them all consecutively night-to-night. There's no doubt just how monumental the trilogy was to filmmaking & the superhero genre in particular - and I wanted to see how they all held up in the wake of the dreaded MCU and the unimaginative filmmaking that's come since.
To preface; I've never been a huge fan of the Chris Nolan trilogy. While I do think that Christopher Nolan is a great filmmaker (especially the way he's able to wrap up a story in the third act), and Christian Bale is, no doubt, a great actor - I've always preferred the Burton/Schumacher series. Not because I grew up with it (I didn't), but, I just think they're simply more entertaining. I miss the spectacle, charm, and imagination the older superhero flicks had, compared to today's dark & bleak interpretation of comics in reality. But to each their own. Although IMO film, at its core, is escapism of the darkness of our own world; I won't knock hardened realism - especially when it allows films like Goodfellas and The Dark Knight to grace our screens. Just thought I'd get that out of the way first, as so no one misunderstands my assessments.
A further note: Although I wasn't necessarily a fanboy of the Nolanverse, I did enjoy them. I mean, REALLY enjoy them. Upon last viewings of these films (3 or so years ago), I even started liking Batman Begins MORE than The Dark Knight; because of its richer color pallet, monorail-laiden Gotham City, and overall uniqueness with it's slightly more tropey and fictionalized interpretation compared to its sequels. And, in recent years, I had began disliking Ledger's preformance - mostly because of just how much it ended up perverting the character in future interpretations (like Leto's preformance, and the horrid looking Pheonix interpretation on the horizon...) A great final preformance, nevertheless; but one tainted by the faceless, tattooed, insane psychopath versions who've nearly decapitated the Nicholson, Hamill, and Romero preformances of old.
Without further ado; my reviews.
This one shocked me the most, since, if you'd asked me just a couple of years ago, I would have listed this as my favorite of the Nolan trilogy. I hated it this time. Like, really, really was disinterested. It struggled to hold my attention through it's slow paced origin spin. Honestly, now I can see why so many others hated superhero origin retellings after this film. For such an iconic character like Batman, it's inevitable that people are going to go into the theater biased. Especially since comics appeal to children; the moviegoer brings with him every previous encounter with the character into their understanding of the reboot. It's impossible to forget playing with action figures on the carpet, watching the caped crusaders escape the Riddler's minotaur maze game, or hearing the Adam West-era theme every Halloween. And, although one can try to leave their mind open for a reimagining, its impossible for them not to bring their history
with Batman into a new film. Especially when said character has had 79 years of history.
Begins seemed more connected with the superhero films of today than I had anticipated. And, while that may seem like it held up well, quite the opposite to me. I hate the MCU, despise the Snider-verse, and loath what CW calls entertainment. Batman Begins seemed to nearly fit in. The quips seemed more obvious, and the entire Rachel romance subplot was just too placid to be interesting. While the Scarecrow was better than I remember, I thought that the entire Middle-East/Asia & Ra's Al Ghul angle was so John Wick/Karate Movie cliched that it kind of distracted from the otherwise realistic interpretation. (Bring the one flower to the top of the mountian... God, it's SO Samauri Jack it hurts!)
The action, although brief, was interesting. The cg effects were fairly obvious, but didn't distract in the way that obvious cg normally does. And the music was better than I remember. Although, I'd take a real theme over ostinati and leitmotifs any day. (Another thing comatose in the modern film era.)
The color grading seemed pretty distracting to me, as the film shifts from a rich gold hue to a dull teal back and forth many times. I didn't remember it being THAT stark and differing before. However, otherwise, the film wasn't that bad (although I didn't really enjoy it). I'd give it a 3 out of 5, maybe 2.5 out of 5. I definitely preferred it years ago, and don't have as much affection now.
The Dark Knight
And here... we... go! This film needs few words. It's better than I remembered. All of the bad it ushered in is completely forgotten while watching & reflecting afterwards. Ledger's performance: I take everything I've ever said about back. It's stunning. As is everybody else in the picture. It's as if every actor is on their A-game. The movie has impeccable pacing. It moves from great scene to great scene to great scene, without a stop in between. There's a reason this film has such high ratings - it's a masterpiece of cinema, and I loved it even more now than I ever did before!
Some things to note, though:
Rewatching this film, there were many aspects I realized that people have misinterpreted since. Some of which are so painful, because they completely misunderstand and subvert the true genius of what's actually going on. I thought I'd address these one by one...
It's all part of the plan
The Joker didn't have a plan. That's the entire point of that speech. So many who parody, reference, and debate about exactly what the Joker's plan was are missing the point. He's an agent of chaos. There is, and never was, a plan. He LITERALLY says that if he announced what he was going to do, no one would be scared. But by killing just one little person, it seems random to the general populous - which creates a panic. Please stop getting this wrong; as it shows that you just didn't pay attention to what the character was actually about - which does nothing to honor Ledger's legacy.
The Joker won't kill Batman
This one's a bit more subjective, however, there's evidence that the whole "Joker wouldn't kill Batman/Needs Batman" thing is another misrepresentation. Sure, the Joker says "you complete me," however, this could easily just be him playing mind games with Batman. Reverse psychology, if you will. Later in the film, the Joker begins beating Batman senseless as he's prone on the ground being attacked by dogs. Beating him with a crowbar in a disadvantaged position could have easily killed Batman. I don't think the Joker would have done that had there been a good chance death could have resulted. What would the modern "can't kill Batman" Joker do if he killed Batman? I don't know; I just know that that's not Heath Ledger's interpretation. His motivations are more Nicholson-like than I at first thought.
This, too, has been misunderstood from the film. Many see the Joker as an in-it-for-himself terrorist, who's messing with the order (both cops and mobsters) just to create chaos. But while we've already established that the Joker doesn't have a plan; that doesn't mean he's a freelance terrorist. To the FBI, probably - but not to us within the confines of the story. Him sending in his tapes to the media news, and "calling in" to put a hit on Reese are actually just modernizations of the original 1939 mobster Joker character - who'd pre-announce his crimes over the radio, and still commit them anyway. That Joker, too, didn't have bias to police or crooks; but rather screwed with all equally. And he wasn't insane. He knew what he was doing. That's what made THAT Joker scary. That's what made Nicholson scary. That's what makes Ledger's Joker scary.
Also, Gordon, part-way through, mention's the Joker's "mob lawyers" - implying that the Joker, indeed, is a mobster. Not a terrorist. A one-man crime syndicate, perhaps. But one nevertheless. I mean, how else did he get his henchemen in the begining of the film? And what does he do with the henchmen he acquires throughout the rest of the film? - He's not pulling a gang out of his a**, I can tell you that! There's more going on here; and had Ledger not unfortunately passed away, I bet we would have been given more of this aspect of his character. Perhaps in another dimension...
Some other things I noticed, that were misunderstandings on my part:
A lot more people die in this film than I remember
But it is a long movie.
The Aspect-Ratio changes are a bit distracting
I always remembered the screen size shifting between the 2.35:1 film footage and full-frame imax footage (both of which are beautifully shot, btw). But this time, it just seemed a bit too obvious to me. And, I thought only the Dark Knight Rises had that problem.
Not all is as it seems
Before, I was certain that the gun The Joker hands to Two-Face was loaded, and the detanators on the two ships actually blew up the other ship, and Batman & Gordon, while lying, did the right thing in keeping the symbol of Harvey Dent alive. But boy was I mistaken! Had the gun the Joker gave to Two-Face NOT been loaded - it just makes the Joker's manipulative nature all the more apparent and evil! What if the detonators actually destroyed their own ship! - Now, that's a twist - and a real Joker experiment! And, Gordon just watched Dent nearly kill his family. Then, he has to go around, standing in front of giant pictures of this man, and go out and pretend he was a good man. WOWZA that's so much darker than I realized it was. To stare into that face every year, and pretend he was good. Lie, for the greater good. Wow... just wow.
The Dark Knight Rises
Going into this one, I was worried I was going to cry during it's climax. The Dark Knight Rises was the first Batman film (maybe even first superhero flick) I saw in theaters. While I remember the posters & commercials & toys & anticipation for the Dark Knight as well (very foldly, might I add... Dominoes Gotham City Pizza, anyone?), I especially remembered such things for The Dark Knight Rises. It was the first time I followed movie news online in anticipation. It was the first time I saw behind-the-scenes on set pictures before going to the theater. It was the last time I enjoyed myself at a new superhero flick in theaters... And, while I was surprised to dislike Batman Begins upon rewatching, and ended up loving The Dark Knight even more than I had originally, I was anxious to see Rises again. As if so much was at stake in this conclusion to the trilogy. (And it IS such a polarizing film, after all.)
While The Dark Knight seemed to go from great scene to great scene to great scene, The Dark Knight Rises falters in a few places - which is where I think it gets a lot of its detractors. The Dark Knight is such a hard act to follow, and, because of Heath Ledger's death, I feel that Chris Nolan didn't even try to top it. Rises seems to go in a completely different direction than the series was headed - and seems to rely on flashbacks in both plot and presentation to Begins for a lot of the story; Essentially bookending the trilogy exactly where it started. While some might not appreciate this, I kind of like this notion.
As for the film, I think it still holds up. And I still really enjoyed it. While perhaps not to the same level of The Dark Knight, I do think Rises tops Begins. There are simply too many great scenes, great preformances, and excellent storytelling moments for me to dislike this movie. I find Bane both hilarious and frightening - perhaps riding the line of camp at times (as is the rest of this film), but, never taking itself too seriously - even in the face of the dark and realistic tone. I admit, it's a fine line to ride, but IMO Rises did it. BTW, I think that Hathaway's preformance as Catwoman is probably the most comic accurate one yet. Pfeiffer's interpretation, while also hauntingly brilliant, isn't really a cat burgalar. Her story revolves more around revenge. Hathaway's Catwoman is a jewel thief looking for a way out - brilliant.
Plus, the music on this one is perhaps my favorite. Nothing against James Newton Howard (who composed the music to my favorite film, Atlantis: The Lost Empire), but, Zimmer really shines on his own here. Catwoman's theme, especially, is something of a cross between a classic Femme Fatale motif and the sound of a cat wondering over a piano. Beautiful, slow, and creeping. Bane's Deshi Basara, too, has a great backbone beat, and the chants, while not to the same operatic majesty as something like Duel of the Fates, is still breathtaking. I'd love to hear these films in surround sound!
I'd rank them: Dark Knight, Dark Knight Rises, Batman Begins on a scale of best to worst. As for stars, I'd say The Dark Knight gets a solid 9 if not 10 stars, while Dark Knight Rises is about an 8/8.5 and Begins would get a 4 or 5. Regardless, I'm glad to have gotten such a rich cinematic trilogy, and while I'm not exactly thrilled with how this changed Hollywood, I do appreciate the films for what they are, love to reflect on their legacy, and enjoy remembering the nostalgia for the times of their releases. (I still remember the toy commercials, Gotham City pizza from Dominoes, and giant Ledger movie poster hanging at the checkout of my local Blockbuster).
Can't wait to revisit them all again in 2022 for the Dark Knight Rises anniversary!