Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Dark Knight

It's been a few days now since I saw The Dark Knight and I still haven't been able to shake it. It's not that I'm haunted by the film's despairing events, though. No, it's just that even days later when I think of Christian Bale delivering his lines in his 'Batman Voice' I have to laugh. I had the same issue with Batman Begins but it's only been amplified in Bale's second turn as the character. With all the attention that was given in Batman Begins to showing every step that Bruce Wayne took to refine his Batman persona, I felt the one element that was shortchanged was showing how he developed that Voice. I seriously would've loved at least ten minutes on that alone. Or to have it be a thread running throughout the film. You know, his first few nights out as a crimefighter Bruce just speaks in his normal voice and he doesn't know why he isn't having an impact on the thugs he runs into - he just knows there's some piece of the puzzle missing. He isn't quite "The Batman" yet. Then it hits him - it's the voice. He's got the scary costume with the cape, the cowl, the whole nine yards, but it's the sound of his voice that's got to sell all that crap.

So for the sake of telling the whole story, Batman Begins should've included a montage of Bale's Batman recording his voice, trying to figure out just the right tone of guttural rasp. Show him trying it out on Alfred, maybe crank calling random people, then finally locking it in. Yeah, I would've been all for seeing that because leaving the theater last Friday, all I could think of (besides Heath Ledger's go-for-broke performance) were the scenes where Bale's Batman had to actually say whole sentences in that voice and it gave me the instant giggles. I'd love to know how many takes it took to successfully film some of these scenes because I can't believe the actors opposite him weren't constantly breaking up. I kept hoping for at least one character to say to Batman "Look man, I know you're dressed like a bat but if you don't talk like a normal human being I'm going to pass out laughing!"

Yes, I know that Bruce Wayne has to alter his voice so no one can associate his voice with that of The Batman. But I suspect that when Bale came up with that voice he didn't think he'd have to use it as much as he does (I think other Batmans like Michael Keaton thought ahead more on this count) - that he'd deliver the occasional threat to some low-life, not be responsible for whole dramatic passages. Now that it's established, of course, it's got to stay the same no matter how many movies they do - they can't change voices in mid-stream!

That's fine by me - there's no way I'd want that voice to be toned down. In its own demented way, I think it works because I totally believe that no one would ever think that Bruce Wayne was Batman if only for the fact that most people would assume that anyone who talked like that must get locked away in a vault until they let him out to do his thing.

As for the movie as a whole, I liked it a lot with some minor reservations. The weakest section is the last stretch of the film (I'll assume that if you're reading this you've already seen it too so there'll be major spoilers ahead). The most nagging issue is that Harvey Dent's turn into Two-Face is a hard sell, even with Aaron Eckhart giving his performance all the conviction he can. Dent's overnight switch from crusading D.A. to Gotham's latest candidate for Arkham Asylum feels rigged by the demands of the story - Harvey has to go into super-villain mode right on schedule or else there isn't a climax. The best thing you can say about this movie's Two-Face is that it makes hay of the atrocious Tommy Lee Jones Two-Face in Batman Forever (1995) but yet the '90s animated series from Bruce Timm and Paul Dini was able to pull off a much more nuanced and believable Two-Face origin where they established that Dent was afflicted with a dual personality ("Big Bad Harv") long before the scarring. In The Dark Knight, Dent is too much of a straight-arrow and a stand-up guy (although we do see that he's willing to rough up someone to gain information) to regard his change to Two-Face as anything more than a hollow vendetta rather than the emergence of a split personality.

Also in regards to Dent, too much importance is placed on his fall from grace as being the potential last straw for the people of Gotham. To worry about Dent's courtroom victories being undermined is one thing - that's something pragmatic that needs to be addressed. I wouldn't even mind some concern shown to letting Dent's reputation remain untarnished just because it's what the man deserved. But the catastrophic emotional and spiritual toll that Batman, Gordon and The Joker believe Gotham's citizens will sustain if Dent is revealed to have turned into a violent criminal ("People will lose hope!")? I don't know - on a scale of 1 to 10, I'm going to go over Batman and Gordon's heads and guess it would rate a 3, at best.

If the truth ever came out about Dent, there'd be a collective shoulder shrug and that's that. And I also wonder exactly how the alternative truth that Gordon and Batman are choosing to sell Gotham is any more comforting than what really happened (to think that a good man died senselessly and a murdering vigilante is on the loose, eluding law enforcement, seems like just as much of a spirit killer as anything else). If Batman really is willing to be whatever Gotham needs him to be, as he says, then he ought to just bite the bullet and kill The Joker. Get your hands dirty. Finish the job, man.

But overall, I give high marks to The Dark Knight. It reminds me a little too much of the sort of heavy-handed, 'grim n' gritty' comics that were in vogue twenty years ago in the wake of such industry-altering works like, well, The Dark Knight Returns and I still think that a middle ground between the real-world approach of Nolan and the stylization of the comics could result in the best Batman of them all one day. But until then, The Dark Knight will have to do. To paraphrase the movie, it's not the Batman film we need, but the one that we deserve.


Marty said...

I had a very similar reaction to Dent's "turn", and it's an issue I had with REVENGE OF THE SITH, too. Transforming a character from "good" to "evil" is a tough gig. EP3 had two movies to do it with, and I still felt the "turn" was abrupt.

I think you're right. Harvey needed to have a screw loose BEFORE the Two-Face switch. Certainly would have helped matters.

Bale's voice got to me, too. There was definitely some post-production tampering going on. They must have pitched it down and added reverb or something. At the IMAX screening, you could feel his lines shake the seat, completely taking over the sub-woofers.

Overall, super movie, though. I really enjoyed it.

Jeff Allard said...

Yeah, it's still a very good movie. Just a little more flawed than I think most reviewers are bothering to note. One of the things that killed me with Dent was that they had him donning a comic book-style split-suit at the end with one side burned and the other still intact. I just didn't see the character as established in the movie - someone who was so hellbent on exacting his revenge - bothering to go through that kind of extra effort.

Bob Ignizio said...

Good insights, as usual. I personally like the bat voice, although without a doubt it teeters dangerously close to being silly (and obviously for some goes over the edge).

As for Dent and the ending, I think it works thematically if not realistically, and in this case that was good enough for me.

I'd also argue that Harvey wasn't meant to be the same split personality villain we know from the comics. There's just one personality, unhinged and driven to vengeance, tempered only by his belief in chance as a form of justice.

I'll have to watch the flick again, but I think the suit may have been the same one Harvey was wearing when he got injured.

Jeff Allard said...

You're right about the suit, Bob. For some reason the first time I watched the movie I didn't notice the burn damage until the last scene with Dent and Gordon. So that's much easier to go along with. And I would agree that this Dent is purely revenge-driven. My complaint would still be that as horrible as his trauma was that it wouldn't automatically turn him into someone who would point a gun at a kid, for instance.

But overall, my gripes were really minor. I just wonder what kind of impact this will have on future comic book adaptations. On a commercial level it means that Hollywood will keep making comic adaptations for the next 500 years at least. But I also hope that it - along with Iron Man - will prove that it's worth doing these movies right. If you take the time and apply some intelligence - then the sky's the limit.