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Greetings. I am the Illusive One. For many years now I have been a huge video game player, movie viewer, and book reader. For almost as long, I have been a critic of these things and many people respect my opinions of these things and have often said I belong on G4 doing reviews on X-Play or a similar show. Sadly that is not likely to happen. So instead I shall do reviews for you, uninfluenced by other reviewers, of video games books, movies, and, occasionally, music and political actions. I hope you find this informative and helpful. Thank you for your time.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Dark Knight





          And why shouldn’t I be?  It’s the sequel to what is easily the greatest superhero film ever made with arguably the best director to emerge out of the 2000s at the helm and is the most highly anticipated film 2012.  Now granted, this does leave a lot of room for disappointment but I’m keeping myself optimistic.  Chris Nolan has yet to let us down and I seriously doubt he will on this one.  But unfortunately, we still have some time before the film comes out and, as is customary here on The Illusive One’s Reviews, I’m going to give my thoughts on the film’s predecessor, The Dark Knight.  Now, before I go any further on this post, let me just warn those who haven’t seen the film that this post will contain spoilers as this one will be more about what I took away from the film and how I feel it has aged in comparison with the other superhero films out there.  It other words, it’s probably going to be more me going on like some crazy fanboy, (I get really passionate about comic book movies.  You should all know this by now), rather than a traditional review.  If you don’t wish to read something like that, I understand.  But I promise you, you will have a really, really, bad day if you don’t….

            But before I get into the magnum opus of comic book films, I want to give a few thoughts on its predecessor, Batman Begins.  To put it simply, I didn’t really care for it.  Why is this, you may ask?  Well, as I mentioned in my Amazing Spider-Man review, there was this odd period between 2004 and 2008 when comic book movies just seemed to suck and I just wasn’t into them anymore.  And, sadly, Batman Begins was not spared from my empathy and I just wasn’t into Batman any more.  It also didn’t help that the last major things that I saw him in were Batman and Robin and pre-Unlimited Justice League Animated series where he just came off as useless and out of place to me for the most part.  When I got around to watching it the film didn’t impress me and quite frankly, it still doesn’t.  Granted I do understand why so many other people like it, but it just didn’t do for me what it did for other people.  For starters, I didn’t think Christian Bale was a very good pick for Batman, mainly because of his voice, (like everyone else).  Katie Holms was just terrible, and I mean, terrible in her role as Rachel and I just can’t help but wonder what the casters were thinking when they put her in the role.  While I thought Liam Neeson was good as Henri Ducard, type casted though he may have been, as Ra’s Al Ghul, he failed to impress me.  Not that I didn’t like how they made the character more realistic, but his performance as the big bad of the film just didn’t do it for me.  The biggest problem I had with it, however, was the story.  Mainly, the second half as it just felt rushed.  This is something that all origin superhero films suffer from but this one just seemed really hurt by it.  In short, everything in the second half seemed like it took place over three days and it just seemed too compressed and was ripe with SSBS.  The whole twist with Liam Neeson turning out to be Ra’s I saw coming a mile away, as I did with the Scarecrow’s secret benefactors.  And finally, the action scenes sucked.  Redundant to say I know, but they just sucked. 
            However, there are good things to note in this film that I have noticed as I got older and they’re good if for no other reason than how they were expanded on in the sequel.  While Bale and Neeson were miscast the rest of the actor did pretty good jobs in their roles.  Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Cain, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, and Rutger Hauer were good in their roles but couldn’t bring the film up for me.  It’s also worth noting that this is one of the few superhero films where they acknowledged that this is a real world with real problems and just beating up a bunch of criminals isn’t going to necessarily change anything, (something that most superhero films failed to do).  But in the end, it just wasn’t for me.  Maybe it was the time period it came out in.  Maybe there are more people out there who share my opinion of it and I just don’t know it.  Or I’m a complete minority on this.  Either way, this film just didn’t impress me the way it did others and remains one of “those” kinds of films for me.

            But then came along The Dark Knight.  Where do I even begin?  In a nutshell, this film is just great all around.  As I’m sure we all know, the story revolves around Batman as he, along with Lieutenant Gordon, and the new D.A. Harvey Dent as they try to take down the remaining mafia organizations in Gotham.  In retaliation, the mob hires The Joker, a freelance bank robber and psychopath to kill Batman and return the city to the status quo.  Little do any of them know, his plans are much bigger and darker in nature. 
            Now the first thing that this film got right was the acting, casting, and dialog.  To put it simply, nearly every cast member in this film deserved an Oscar Nomination and is a quantum leap from what they had before.  While Christian Bale is still kind of sketchy as Batman, (more on that in a later), his dialog with people who were on to his secret was spot on and well performed.  While I felt that Michael Cain, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman were just ok in Batman Begins, in this film they get a lot more screen time, an update with their dialog and brought their A Game to their performances and, in my opinion, each deserved an Oscar nomination for the performances they gave.  The same can be said for Aaron Eckhart’s extremely underrated performance as Harvey Dent/Two-Face who was fantastic as both the charismatic D.A. and broken vigilante and in my opinion is the best version of the character ever brought to film, television, or videogames.
I have to say, Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel was a huge upgrade from Katie Holmes in terms of acting abilities.  It is true that she isn’t as attractive as Holmes, (shame on you people who thinks that automatically makes Holmes better), but she was a lot more believable in the role.  In short, she actually looked and acted like a lawyer and unlike her character in Batman Begins, actually serves a purpose in the film other then to be Batman’s love interest.  Many of the minor cast members were also great in their parts, giving it their all and are all still somehow memorable with limited amount of screen time, such as the characters of Stephens and Ramirez just leave a big impression despite having so few lines and screen time.  Easily the most un-appreciated actor in this whole film was Eric Roberts as the slimy, confident, cocky mob head Maroni and it just shocks me that this guy is still doing B movies after that performance.  Easily one of the most underrated comic book movie performances ever.

The guy who stole the show, however, and the one everyone remembers is Heath Ledger as The Joker.  What can I honestly say about him that hasn’t already been said?  The writing is for him is great, (I’ll go more into that later).  The performance is great.  The way his scenes are directed are great.  It’s just a great part.  The only thing that I can really do in this regard is bring up what some of the other fans already have and the inherent criticism that comes with the popularity of the portrayal.  The most common complaint that I’ve heard against it is that he’s not funny and that he should have been more like The Joker from Arkham Asylum and that’s the way the character should be.  But let’s really think about this for a second.  For starters, like a lot of other long running comic book characters, the character has changed so much over the decades it’s really impossible to say what the Joker is “suppose” to be like.  So saying how the Joker is “suppose” to be is a very loose statement at best.  Second, this portrayal, despite what some of the more hardcore fanboys say, does keep the essence of what the Joker is but at the same time does something new with the character.  For one thing, this Joker is funny.  The humor is darker and a bit more subtle but is their all the same and it’s all designed to make you crap your pants in fear.  And he is a psychopath who does deranged things often just for the sake of doing them.  The main difference between this version and others is that he actually has a major plan for Gotham and this is what ultimately makes this version of the character better but still a bit questionable among the more hardcore fans.
         But my opinion of this whole debate is just stupid.  All of the Joker’s are good in their own way.  However, I personally believe that this one has the best writing, as it trades in all kiddish jokes and ridiculous antics for a serious plan that was for Gotham’s sole, demented jokes that were scary as well as funny and an all-around shit you pants scary portrayal.  And that’s why so many people like this version.  It’s a very disturbing performance that gets under your skin.  The Jack Nicholson and Mark Hamill versions are funny and enjoyable, but they never reached the same level of memorabilia, depth and intensity.  As far as Heath Ledger’s death is concerned, I really think that critics of the portrayal have blown that whole thing out of proportions.  It does account for a lot of added interest in the film prior to release and for its initial finical success but they did not blow his portrayal out of the water and it deserved all the praise it got.  

But what is good acting and good characters without a good plot?  Well, as The Avengers proved, a billion dollar grossing movie!  Ha, ha, ha, ha! (Seriously, though it was a good summer blockbuster and deserved its financial success).  But in all seriousness, the story of The Dark Knight is easily the best of any superhero movie and among the best I have seen for any film, rich with complexities, dark tones, and serious themes that hit you like a ton of bricks with layers of realism that had yet to be seen in any superhero film and still hasn’t been seen sense.  And quite frankly, it’s is a little difficult to talk about.  It expands on everything that was established in the first film and takes it to new heights.  For starters, the realism factor has been upped.  Batman doesn’t just beat the criminals up and leave then for the police to find or deals with everything on his own.  He actually coordinates with Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent and shares relevant information with them that will help take down the mob in a court of law.  It establishes that just doing the usual hero thing like beating up criminals doesn’t really solve anything and that it takes real people in power like cops and D.A.s to bring criminal to justice.  This is something that you NEVER see in other superhero films and gave it a very neo noir feel to it that perfectly blended with the Batman story line.
It also happens to be the only superhero film where the world they are trying to protect feels like a living, breathing entity on its own.  In other words, it was something that you were fully invested in and most superhero films just fail to do this effectively.  In this film they establish that this is a city in trouble and needs help.  It isn’t just some random alien invasion, or a CEO who wants control over people.  This is a city that has problems, with people in despair, where criminals run wild and is truly in need of saving and by the time the film comes to its end you are fully invested in said city’s fate and how things will work out.  Again, it is something that no other superhero film has done effectively before or sense. 

And then we have Batman’s battle with the Joker and everything about this was just fantastic.  Now, I give superhero films like The Avengers a lot of crap because their villains have very simple motives, be it just trying to get rich, take over the world, or just simple revenge.  The Joker’s motive for doing what he does and how he does it is a lot more complex and, again, are more realistic.  His motive is to spread anarchy and chaos, to prove to Gotham and Batman that deep down everyone is just as insane as he is and if pushed to a certain extent they will become just like him and how he actually does this is just brilliant in every aspect of the word, using what he knows about certain people to his advantage.  Essentially, it was a much grander and better thought out version of his plan in The Killing Joke.  And all of these things mentioned before moves the story along at a great pace ensuring that every plot device and line of dialog has some kind of use in the long term and never drags.   There really isn’t any other word to describe it other than say it’s the plot of The Dark Knight.
And of course we have all the themes that are intertwined with the film and are what really push the film into what I call “Dark Knight” comic book movie territory as opposed to just being “Good”, “Bad” or “Great”.  Now, other then maybe the Spider-Man films, the Bryan Singer X-Men films, and Watchmen, most superhero films don’t even try to have complex themes and thought provoking questions.  And even these films don’t quite hit you the same way as this one does as it take them to a whole new level.  Now all of the aforementioned things, (the living city and actual use of a legal system), make the film great but it’s the themes that solidify it.  The first is Batman’s no kill rule.  Again, this is something that most superhero films don’t address.  Sure there are superhero films where the hero never kills anyone intentionally, but they never really establish that it’s bad for the hero to kill off the villains.  This in turn, leads to the big themes of the film; escalation and how far one can go for justice and what is acceptable?  Like the animated series of the 90s it does address the possibility that Batman maybe doing more harm than good as The Joker was unleashed by the mob directly due to his actions and again is something that is rarely addressed in other comic book films.  The justice part was addressed in the first film but ultimately came off as a little preachy to me.  In this film, however, it was a very well addressed issue.  How far can and should one go for justice?  Are the prices you pay ultimately worth it?  Should one lie or kill in order to obtain that end?  In fact, by the time the film ends, you really don’t have any clear answers to these questions.  While what they ultimately do does resolve the problems the city faces it leave the audience free to interpret whether or not it was all worth it.  Was that what Chris Nolan intended?  I honestly don’t know but that’s the way I interpreted it.  

From the technical side of things, this film is easily one of the best I have ever seen.  In an age full of overused cartoonish CGI effects, The Dark Knight manages to have special effects that look completely realistic throughout the entire length of the film.  Unlike other films this one uses actual shots of cities, miniatures, and real explosions instead of computer generating everything and this resulted in me believing everything that I saw on screen which is an incredibly rare feat for any film to do.  The sound effects were likewise great and it’s probably the first time that I noticed just how different sound effects like gun shots and car crashes are from the spoken dialog in a film.  The action scenes are a vast improvement over those of the first film and are nail bitingly intense and keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time.  While they aren’t the best action scenes in the world, (Chris Nolan has been steadily improving on them but they still leave something to be wanted), compared to all the overblown, tensionless action sequences that most films have nowadays, The Dark Knight manages to pack a lot more emotion and tension into these scenes which is something worth noting.

            Despite all the good things that this film have, there are some legitimate faults with the film that I need to address and snuff out things that overanalyzes have tried to use to downplay the film.  Now, before I start bashing the over analyzers and bringing up said faults, there are some things that, as a Batman fan, annoyed me.  There are a number of little things that annoyed me and at times I wish that they called one character “this” instead of “that” but the big one for me was Two-Face.  Now as I mentioned before, this was easily the best version Harvey Dent/Two-Face to ever come to any adaptation and as a big fan of the character I couldn’t have been happier about how he turned out.  So, as you can imagine, it really ticked me off that they killed him off in the last ten minutes of the film.  Granted I understand why he had to die from a narrative point of view but it’s still irritating to see one of my favorite villains get killed off right after they get the character right after so many attempts.  But that’s just a personal issue I have with it and it’s not a real flaw with the film.

As far as legitimate faults go, however, this film has little to none and most of the so called “faults” don’t really amount to much more then overanalyzing.  Normally this is something that I don’t bother myself with as people who look at things like this usually tend to be idiots who need to get a life and stop being contrarians looking for attention.  But given the fact that a certain blogger has told me that he’ll bring this stuff up in a future post, I have to give my take and counter arguments to these opinions.  Now, unfortunately there are people out there who don’t know the difference between a legitimate problem with the plot and overanalyzing, so allow me to explain the difference.  Take The Avengers for example.  Bringing up the fact that Bruce Banner was suddenly able to control his transformation into the Hulk during the climax, when on that very same day he was completely out of control during the act on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying aircraft carrier is a legitimate plot hole.  Bringing up the fact that Black Widow and Hawkeye should have been killed during the final battle because they don’t have any superpowers is overanalyzing.  Bringing up the fact that Thor’s return to Earth doesn’t amount to much more then “It’s magic bitch” is a legitimate fault with the film.  Bringing up the fact that half of the impacts Tony Stark takes throughout the film should have broken every single bone in his body is overanalyzing. 
So, where am I going with this?  Well, it’s about the most common overanalyzing complaint against the film.  The most common one and the only one that I’m going to address here is that some people say that the Joker’s plan was to complex and should have failed much sooner than it did; especially considering the fact that most of his men consisted of mentally disturbed thugs.  The overanalyzing in this case is a little more complex in this case as I’ve heard people bring up the fact that Navy SEALS couldn’t pull this off to questioning how the Joker would know people would act the way they did.  And quite frankly this is the kind of overanalyzing that give film critics and film buffs a bad name and it just disgusts me that people still do this.
But, because I’m me, I have to make some kind of overanalyzing counter argument to this and quite frankly, these arguments have some very simple explanations to them, as is usually the case.  It can all be summed up by simply saying that the Joker is a genius and just knows how people will more the likely act in certain situations.  Batman going after Rachel?  He saw the way he leaped after him earlier in the film.  Placing the bomb in the schizophrenic’s stomach?  Just needed a guy crazy and desperate enough to do it.  How did he know he could provoke the cop into a fight?  He killed like a dozen cops!  And cops are not known for their fair treatment of cop killers!  As far as the plan itself goes, a good deal of it was probably improvised as much as planned out due to the ever changing circumstances.  While he probably did know to a certain extent where he wanted to go with his plan he probably didn’t know how he would pull it off up until the later parts of the film.        
There is, however, a much more simple explanation to this and is the one that I personally prefer; IT’S JUST A FUCKING MOVIE!  AND A COMIC BOOK MOVIE AT THAT!  I mean seriously, if people can suspend their disbelief long enough to believe that a billionaire dressed up like a bat fights crime with the help of his butler and CEO are you really going to tell me that the Joker’s plan for forever tainting Gotham’s soul is too much and overly complex?  That is what made the movie so damn good!  Seriously people!  Stop the overanalyzing!  It’s pointless and there are much better things to do with your time!

Ok, now that I got that out of the way, there are some things that I do consider to be legitimate faults with the film.  While these aren’t things that cripple the film, they do keep it from obtaining a perfect score on my rating system.  The first major problem is Christian Bale as Batman.  Not that he’s terrible but when compared to the other people who have played him in the past like Kevin Conroy and Michael Keaton, his performance doesn’t really hold up.  The main problem is him trying to blend in normal society as Bruce Wayne the drunken Billionaire.  As people have pointed out, he comes off as someone who is looking for attention or as someone with something to hide.  In other words, if someone told me that this guy was Batman, you would probably believe it.  When in the Batsuit he uses that infamous voice and it gets old very fast.  When he has conversations with Alfred and Fox when not in his Batman outfit it does work but still doesn’t make up for the rest
Another gripe I had with it is hand to hand combat action scenes.  While they were a lot better than the ones in Batman Begins, they just seemed really staged.  A perfect example of this is Batman’s opening fight with the Scarecrow’s men.  It just looked like they were lining up to get their asses kicked or something.  Hopefully this is something that Nolan has stepped up his game on for The Dark Knight Rises but in this one it was sub-par.

And that’s really all I have to say about the film itself but to be honest, I don’t think I’ve done it justice in this post, as it’s really one of those films like Jaws, Star Wars, or The Godfather that’s beyond review and you just have to watch it and get your own opinion of it.  As it stands, this film is almost universally considered to be the greatest comic book film of all time, and maintains the highest approval rating and average score of the genera on Rotten Tomatoes, and the highest rated of the genera on IMDB and Metascore.  It also happens to be the only superhero film to win and be nominated for widespread Academy Awards and was the major cause for the criticism the Academy faced that year for its failure to give the film a Best Picture Nomination.  While there are some people who argue against this, you won’t get away with saying that films like The Avengers, Iron Man, or Watchmen are better films.  You may argue that they’re more faithful to the source material and that as adaptations they’re better or that you enjoy them more, (which I have no problem with), but as films standing on their own you simply won’t.  This was a film that showed that superhero and comic book films don’t have to be crowd pleasing shitty summer block busters and that they can be intelligent with thought provoking themes and complex storylines and characters and it really depresses me that more films of the genera haven’t followed this one’s example.
But anyway, as you can tell I love this film and not only consider it the greatest comic book film of all time but one of my personal favorites.  Nearly everything about it I just love from the casting, to the characters, to the dialog, to the story, to the special effects, to the direction.  It was fantastic all around and created the filmmakers created a movie that can only be described with one word: Masterpiece.

All Around

Comic Book
Movie Rating
Dark Knight Level

            So now that I’m done praising this movie up the ass, what are my expectations of The Dark Knight Rises.  Well, as anyone who have read my posts or talked to me when I first heard that they were going to do a sequel for sure I was indifferent.  This was just a film that I didn’t think needed a sequel as the ending to this one more or less wrapped everything up.  But when I saw that Bane was the main villain, Ann Hathaway was cast as Catwoman, the initial teaser trailer, and heard the Deshi Basara chant, I was as hyped as everyone else and my anticipation has only continued to build due to the insanely good advertising campaign.
As you can imagine, there are a number of things that I’m expecting from this film.  First, I’m expecting a great version of Bane, (one of my favorite Batman villains who has sadly been fucked up the ass sense the Knightfall Story Arc), action sequences that blow the first two out of the water and for it to be better than Batman Begins and The Avengers.  What I am not expecting, however, is for it to be better than The Dark Knight, (although I am hoping).  I just don’t think that THAT can be done.  The biggest fear that I have for it is that it’s going to borrow to much from its predecessor, (although given its 164 minute run time I don’t see that being likely), or that it will regress from the summer blockbuster Oscar bait tones The Dark Knight has and go for more shitty summer blockbuster tones and based on what I’ve seen in some of the later commercials, it looks as if it could go in that direction.  Still, I’m keeping my mind open and hoping for the best.  At the very least I could rant on about this The Dark Knight and am finally able to use this meme. 

            Did that make any sense?  Only if this one proves to be what we all hope for it to be.  So until next time, this is The Illusive One saying….


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