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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Dark Knight, (The)

Who didn’t grow up wanting to be a superhero? I wanted to be Wonder Woman when I was a kid, but once puberty hit I realized that running around fighting crime in a bustier and a pair of star-studded panties was going to be out of the question. I just wouldn’t trust “my girls” to stay put in the middle of a five-on-one fist fight, Amazon or not. Then I thought of Supergirl, but she was kind of lame. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Poor thing just seemed like a pale replica of her more famous cousin. Besides, she always wore this lame Paula Young-quality wig in her secret identity as Linda Lee Danvers and she was a high school student. Who the hell wanted to go to school when they weren’t being fabulous?

At the time there weren’t many female superheroes to choose from. The comics did have Batwoman once in a while, but she was kind of sketchy, in looks and raison d’être. I was too young at the time to know that she was introduced to the comics strictly to counter accusations that
Batman and his sidekick Robin were gay. Oh please, like a gay guy would be caught dead wearing that Robin outfit in public! And speaking of outfits, Batwoman’s costume was so gross it made me reconsider the Amazon panties. Batwoman wore a yellow jump suit with a red cape, mask, belt, boots and gloves. Now there's the perfect ensemble for sneaking around in the dead of night unnoticed. Eventually, the comics’ Powers That Be came to their senses and dumped this Batwoman and replaced her with a more palatable Batgirl, who dressed more like Batman, in dark clothing, and was a whole lot more of a crime-fighter and less of a glamorpuss and socialite. I wouldn’t have minded being Batgirl, but by then I was way past the “girl” stage and could only pass for a girl with the Batgirl mask on and by keeping a good hundred yards or so away from every criminal I hoped to snag.

In 2006, DC reintroduced Batwoman after an absence of 33 years. She ought to have been collecting social security by this time, but, remarkably, she looked the same and had a (slightly) more reasonable costume. Gone was the yellow, now replaced by blue, though the bright red accessories remained. Stylish, I suppose. If I was still into comics, I might have cared, but, eh? Oh
, and this Batwoman is a Lesbian, which is fine by me, but I don’t think I could have gotten into using her as a role model, even as a kid, because until I was seventeen I thought a Lesbian was a woman from Lebanon and Lebanese food makes me *ahem* fart (or as we were taught to say in St. Cecilia’s Catholic School, when someone farts, it is really just “Satan whispering”). As for being a Lesbian, let’s just say that whenever I’ve gone to a Mexican restaurant I’ve always ordered the burrito instead of the taco ~ every single time ~ if you get my meaning, and I know that you do.

All of this is to say that if you wonder why you don’t see any successful female super-heroine movies, there’s always a reason. Thank goodness we have rocking fare from the menfolk to fill our need for excitement. And if you are looking for that excitement this week, you need look no further than
The Dark Knight.

I don’t suppose I have to tell you that The Dark Knight is a fantastic movie. From the look of the business at the Essex Cinemas on Friday (and again when I was there on Sunday) I think most of the Champlain Valley was crowded into the theaters where it was playing or they were lined up waiting to get in for the next shows. I read that by Sunday evening The Dark Knight was estimated to have grossed a record-breaking 3-day total of $155,340,000 domestically. Take that Spiderman. Take that Iron Man. And Superman. I guess we all know who America’s favorite superhero really is. And, ironically, The Dark Knight, aka Batman, doesn’t even have any super powers.

Batman has been a fan favorite for 69 years, and no matter whether it has been as the fairly by-the-book detective as he was portrayed in the early comic books, as the pun-tossing camp clown he
turned into in his 1960s television incarnation, or as the intense inwardly psychologically damaged crime-fighter we see today in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, he has never lost his intrigue. Today’s Batman (Christian Bale; 3:10 to Yuma) has grown up with the current culture and become much more complex than his earlier versions. The Dark Knight is not just a vigilante seeker of justice. He is also Bruce Wayne, the tortured soul who has never been able to get past watching his parents murdered at the hands of a petty crook when he was just a lad of ten. Call it post traumatic stress disorder, but it is obviously much more. Trust me, I know a lot about PTSD and I’ve never heard of anyone with PTSD developing the need to dress up in a costume and risk their own life every night while swinging around on a rope at high altitudes from skyscraper to skyscraper in search of criminals. Well, okay, there was that one guy named Steve, but he only swung from one skyscraper and then… he didn’t.

Anyway, The Dark Knight is indeed a remarkably well-crafted tale, much more than a sequel to Batman Begins. If anything, I’d say this is a much better film because it avoids the need for the protracted tale of Batman’s origin and jumps right in to the action. At the end of the last film, Lt. Police Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) presented The Batman with a new criminal in town’s calling card , a Joker, fueling the fire of fans’ anticipation across the world who have always considered the Joker Batman’s most formidable enemy. For those who were disappointed the Joker wasn’t the villain in Batman Begins, this tease was like a telling a bunch of fourteen year old boys that when their older brothers went off to college in a year or two they’d be getting their porn collections. Fanboys were beside themselves waiting for the big day.

In the meantime, the casting of Heath Ledger as the Joker seemed an inspired if unlikely choice. I personally was deeply upset when he did not win the Academy Award in 2005 as Best Actor for his role as Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain. His final scene in that film is still one of the finest and most touching moments ever captured in cinema, and Ledger was acting without a net throughout this entire role. But the Joker? From heartbroken Ennis to heartless Joker is an amazing stretch, but if anyone could manage it Ledger could, and he has.

Tragically, as everyone knows, this was to be Heath’s final completed project before his death (he was working on another movie for Terry Gilliam, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, but the status of Ledger’s footage in that movie is still up in the air). Many are predicting a rare posthumous Oscar nomination for Ledger’s performance as the Joker, which is certainly warranted, but it comes, to me, with a really sad and bittersweet taste because he could well win this time, out of respect to his memory, which doesn’t do him any good. I’d have rather had him win when he was still with us and could have savored the feelings of appreciation by his peers for his work, and for acknowledging his genius at such a young age (he was 25 when he filmed Brokeback Mountain), although I will concede that his work as the Joker, at 28, is far superior to what a more seasoned pro might have done with the opportunity (*ahem* Mr. Nicholson *ahem*). This Joker, unlike previous versions, is not exactly the clowning around type of guy. Instead of being full of laughs, he finds his chuckles in pure anarchy and sheer chaos. He blows up hospitals and kills indiscriminately for no reason. It’s what a shattered mind does.

This is a really grim and unhappy movie, so if you are thinking of bringing the kids you might want to reconsider. A main character dies a gruesome death (I’m not saying who), and the body count
would require sitting in the theater with a calculator since they pile up so quickly. There’s also the matter of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart; No Reservations), Gotham City’s well known District Attorney. Pretty much every comics fan knows his fate, and it plays out here in a grisly on-screen way as half of his mug is fried by acid and the resulting insanity (from his pain and personal loss) drives him to become the notorious Two-Face. I’m telling you now, I haven’t seen anything as unappetizing as his burned up face since Britney first went commando and let her panty hamster out of hiding so the paparazzi could all get a snatch, er, I mean snap. There is some nauseating effects at work with the usually handsome Eckhart, and just looking at him will make you want to hurl.

Who needs to hint at the plot? You’ve got the Joker, Two-Face, Batman, and all the important players from the first movie: Rachel Dawes (now played by Maggie Gyllenhaal; Stranger Than Fiction), Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman; Wanted), and Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine; The Prestige). There’s even a brief return by Batman Begins’ evil Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy; Sunshine). Mayhem, murder and misery abound. There’s more property damage than FEMA could fix in ten years. What am I saying? Make that FIFTY years! You know how slow those fools are working since Hurricane Katrina. The only thing missing in this adventure is Batwoman, and you know what? Who cares?

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