Sunday, July 20, 2008

Dark Knight Review

I must say that Heath Ledger’s passing left a void in the art of villainy that will not be filled for a long time. His masterful portrayal of Joker, the arch-nemesis of Batman, surpasses the good work done by Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s Batman, I dare say. While Jack Nicholson’s Joker is more campy (which is untypical of Tim Burton’s movie), Heath Ledger’s Joker is the pure, psychotic and maniacal force that can stand by its own in the movie.

I think the director’s understanding of the Joker is immense and accurate. The Joker works not for money but understands the usefulness of it. His purpose and reason for crime is to ‘play’ with Batman, to challenge him. As a parody of Jerry Maquire’s famous (perhaps infamous) line, “You complete me”, the Joker acts as the star-crossed lover of Batman. Joker’s ‘love’ of Batman is the hatred of him, yet Joker will not kill Batman because without the challenge that Batman poses to him, he will have nothing to live for. At the same time, no matter how much hatred Batman had for Joker, he will not kill Joker because otherwise all that Batman fought for will be for nought. A love-hate relationship thus plays out nicely in the movie. Another thing worth mentioning is the social experiments that Joker tries out in the movie. A true student of game theory by John Nash, he plays out big scale human experiment, pushing the frontier of experimentation beyond ethical limits. The Joker had such a masterful understanding of the human psyche that he manipulates and twists to create another villain in the same movie.

A pity that Heath Ledger will not return to play the Joker again – perhaps it’s for the best, for he left at the peak of his performance and all shall remember him for this last superb portrayal of Batman’s greatest enemy. I really love the body language he poured into the characterization of Joker, especially the scene after he bombed the hospitals and was walking out in a nurse’s uniform. His awkward, slightly stooped, almost resigned manner speaks much more than words can do.

The movie also plays on this major theme of Batman – his fear that what he does every night will turn him into the very people that he fought for in the first place. For the first time since watching Batman movies, I saw consequences in Batman’s nightly adventure in the streets of Gotham city. Self serving vigilantes appear, bearing the mask of Batman but without his philosophy. My girlfriend asked me how do I know which is the real Batman and I replied – Batman do not use firearms. His parents are killed by firearms and he will not use it to fight crime, hence his preference for fist fights and ninja-like weapons. The movie also plays out the Batman as the dark lonely fighter, who can never be the same again after donning the suit. What kind of person can lead dual lives – acting as a rich businessman in the day and a dark vigilante in the night? Perhaps only a psychopath can. Batman is driven by revenge for his parents but at what cost? This a good theme to explore in future Batman movies.

Someone mentioned that this Batman movie lacks weaponry. I do agree. Batman’s greatest weapon– his superb detective mind – is not portrayed in the movie. What I see here is his internal conflict of breaking the law to catch criminals who broke the law. There can be much more time allocated to showcase Batman’s Shylock Holmes-like mind in solving crime, rather than fighting crime. I really love Batman because he is about the only superhero whose superpowers are not superhuman. His superpowers is his very human but excellent mind (ahem, though his status as a billionaire and thus the moo lah acts as the icing to the cake).

My girlfriend commented that the show is a little boring in the first half and gets better towards the end. I disagree. How would the siege of Helm’s deep by Saruman’s Uruk-hai be without the events and circumstances that lead to it? In my opinion, the control of the pacing and tension are done nicely by the director.

Watch this movie. If not for Batman, at least for Joker.

Ps: As a side note, I half expected Peter Parker to leap out to punch Bruce Wayne/Harvey Dent for stealing his ‘Mary Jane’ :)


Sgbluechip said...

Hi there, excellent review on the Dark Knight. I especially like the Joker as well, together with the pace of the show. I'm not a Batman fan, but this really changed my perception of the Batman series.

I have got a question though, do you happen to know how Joker got his face scars? He lied a couple of times in the show...

la papillion said...

Hi sgbluechip,

Well, there are many theories on Joker, depending on the version. Most versions involve him falling into a waste chemical vat which changed his face like that. The version in the movie is somewhat new to me though - in fact, I've never heard that version before.

Glad you liked the batman series :) It's one of my favourite superheroes :)

Anonymous said...

I like your commentary. I like how you think deep. I was shocked when I first saw 'Batman' using the firearms at the beginning of the show because it didn't sit right into my image of Batman. Glad he was a fake!

By the way, were you an art student?

la papillion said...

Hi little,

Thks for your encouragement!

Haha, what's your impression of an arts student? Why do you think I'm an arts student? :)

I'm not :) I'm a full science student from secondary school. Even my university major - engineering - is far from the arts.

Anonymous said...

yes, great review. I really loved the Joker as well. my theory on the scars is that the story was left out because the Joker was portrayed as a chaotic force of nature, like a hurricane. and chaos has no beginning, it is simply a part of nature. so the Joker has no story, he simply is, and we will never know how he came to be. I think he just changed his story to suit whoever he was tormenting at the time. I'm curious to know what he would have told Batman at the end, whenever he asked if Batman wanted to know how he got the scars...probably something about his parents.