Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Darkest Knight

I finally saw The Dark Knight yesterday (yes, I know about fifty million people saw it before me) and finally, here is a movie that lives up to the hype. Batman Begins left me a little underwhelmed, but this movie is epic. It's a richly detailed crime drama that just happens to be based on a comic book. The comparisons to The Godfather Part II and Heat are not far off, though the violence is understandably toned down for a PG-13 audience.
The film picks up where Begins left off - Batman's actions have led to an escalation of violence from the criminal fraternity. The opening bank robbery is a tense sequence and a neat way to introduce the Joker (though, as usual with psychotic villains, it makes one wonder why anyone would work for someone who kills all their goons).
This is soon followed by Batman in action and the brief return of the Scarecrow. It's amusing to see some Batman copycat vigilantes, clearly inspired by Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. After some slow, but not boring scenes setting up the characters, there's a subplot with Batman tracking down a crooked Chinese businessman that feels more like a James Bond movie, but in a fun way. Generally, the action scenes are an improvement over the last film, but still a little incoherent. It's funny that two much-derided gadgets from Tim Burton's Batman Returns - the bat glider and the batmissile which shoots out of the Batmobile - are reworked successfully here by Christopher Nolan.
The middle section is the strongest part of the movie, with the Joker hatching increasingly demented plots while the trio of Batman, James Gordon and new DA Harvey Dent try their best to stop the city descending into anarchy. There's a genuinely shocking resolution when the Joker traps Dent and Rachel Dawes in separate locations with explosives and Batman can only save one of them (and even that one not completely).
The last act of the film is one that some critics have had problems with, and while it's still very good, it's true that the motivation for Harvey becoming Two-Face and turning against his friends is weak. It might have been better to introduce Dent in the last film, or have saved Two-Face for the sequel so we could get more hints of his dark side. There's also a surprisingly positive resolution of another Joker dilemma when he rigs two ferries with explosives (doesn't anyone check for bombs in Gotham?) and gives each boat the power to blow up the other. The ending, on the other hand, is powerfully downbeat.
Every element of the film is finely crafted. All of the performances are good. Christian Bale remains a strong physical presence, though his Batman voice is still ridiculously gruff (one thing that Michael Keaton did better). Heath Ledger gives the definitive Joker performance, and all the talk about a posthumous Oscar is not just hype. It's clear we lost a very special talent. The character is brilliantly psychotic, and pokes fun at pop psychology when he keeps telling a different story about how he got his scars.
Gary Oldman is excellent as Gordon, who in many ways is the true hero of the film since he's just a regular guy. Maggie Gyllenhaal is an improvement over Kate Holmes, though her character is still little more than a plot device. Aaron Eckhart erases all painful memories of Tommy Lee Jones' Two-Face, though his CG-enhanced make-up is a little distracting at times.
The music is impressive and the direction and editing even more so (despite the two and a half hour length, it doesn't feel overlong). Overall, it's about as dark a comic book movie as you could possibly imagine. I still slightly prefer the characters in Batman Returns, but in all other respects this is definitely the best Batman movie. Speaking of Returns, it's amusing that sixteen years ago, that film was considered too dark by parents, but now we have a Batman movie breaking box office records despite definitely not being suitable for kids. How times change.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Hancock and Tron 2!

Finally got round to seeing Hancock. It was ok for a superhero movie with no existing mythology (I was kind of annoyed they made up a superhero when there are so many cool ones yet to be filmed). The trailers made it seem like a typical Will Smith laugh fest, but it was actually quite a complex story. In fact, it's not really a "drunk superhero" film at all, though that's how it starts. It's nice to see a hero actually taken to task for the damage they cause (unlike in most action movies).
After the amusing hijinks of the first half (watch Will Smith insert one prisoner's head up another's rectum!) the story switches gears when Hancock discovers he is actually - oh my gosh, SPOILERS - an immortal god and he has an equally powerful and ancient female counterpart who strips him of his powers when they are close. The film seems like it's about to end in a dark place but then Hancock just moves city and all is well again. The film is not entirely successful (the lack of a decent villain is a problem), but it's ambitious. The performances are good, especially Jason Bateman as the marketing guy who wants to help Hancock improve his image. Worth a viewing if you have nothing better to do.

In more exciting news, Disney have shown some footage from Tron 2 (or Tr2on). And Jeff Bridges is in it! This is the most geektastic news since . . . ever! Tron is one of my favourite movies, and a sequel utilising today's computer technology could be a thing of beauty indeed.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Took the wife to see Wall-E today and Pixar's winning streak continues (if you forget Cars, which I've tried my best to do). I was actually quite surprised by how complex the story was (for once, the trailers didn't give everything away). The first half of the film is perhaps the most charming, and has almost no dialogue. Wall-E (who has only a cockroach for company) is even more adorable than his lookalike Johnny 5 and the depiction of an abandoned Earth overstuffed with refuse is spectacular. When WALL-E meets a sleek female robot called EVE, love blossoms and it soon leads to them both being brought back to a spaceship where humans have been living for the last 700 years. Without giving too much away, this segment of the film raises plenty of big issues (such as society's increasing laziness and over-reliance on machines) while still offering plenty of action and laughs. I particularly liked MO, the little cleaner robot who freaks out when Wall-E leaves a trail of contamination behind him wherever he goes.
The animation is the best yet in a Pixar movie, and Ben Burtt brings the same class to the sound effects that he did for the Star Wars movies. There are lots of great little touches in the movie, such as the various junk items that Wall-E collects and the Mac boot sound he makes when he starts up. It's not really a kid's movie, more a thought-provoking sci-fi epic that appeals to all ages. It's probably my favourite Pixar film after Toy Story. Highly recommended.