Movie Rundown: The Dark Night (And Other Batman Movies)

Note: I was supposed to write a full-blown genre criticism of The Dark Knight but I figured writing something too Film-graduate-ish is uncalled for. So here are some random thoughts about it and the other Batman movies. For what it’s worth, I saw the following movies again recently. You know, just to refresh my memory.

The Dark Knight (2008)

Genre: Action, Thriller; Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman


One of the things I hate the most is too much hype. This unsolicited noise has always spoiled fine movies such as Brokeback Mountain and Atonement for me, not appreciating them because they did not reach the high bar that the hype made me set for them. And this is precisely the reason I want to watch movies on its opening day. And yes, I saw The Dark Knight on its opening day. Haha.

The Dark Knight is the first uberhyped film ever that I could swear deserves all the noise around it. It gave me everything I expected and hoped for in a Batman movie, and then some. And with all my biases aside (being someone who worships Christian Bale and Batman himself), I can say that this is the best mainstream superhero movie ever to grace the silverscreen.

Director Christopher Nolan surprised me with Batman Begins, giving me exactly what I wanted — a realistic approach. After all, Batman has no superpowers and did not hail from some faraway planet. And like its protagonist, the film fosters a cinematic atmosphere that is believable yet alarming. A superhero movie in which every character is justified, motivated, and above all, human.

With this very credible headstart, Nolan managed to expand and intensify the story with The Dark Knight. Just when you think you’re seeing a formulaic action flick — gripping chase scenes, breathtaking fight sequences, jaw-dropping stunts— it destroys the sub-genre’s many conventions. Like in all Batman movies, the America-as-the-world-superhero idea is absent here. The superhero admits he can’t do things on his own and not for long. The superhero is willing to sacrifice his reputation for the greater good. It is indeed a superhero movie but Batman isn’t the only superhero here. We see superheroes in the political arena, in the judicial system, in law enforcement, and of course, in the people, as represented by Harvey Dent, Jimmy Gordon and Batman. All bear a potential to beat the menacing times.

The movie isn’t about Batman. It is about Gotham and how its people struggle to make their city a better place. But I couldn’t help but feel like watching a Batman movie in a “Godfather” setting. But what awes me most is that its moral subtext sneaks up on you that you’d forget that it is a superhero movie. It poses ethical dilemmas and redefines heroism through Joker, a man who has an unrelenting passion for mayhem. Joker is everything we want in a villain — opaque, heavy, and “immovable.” He shakes our definition of evil, questions our self-righteousness, and challenges our moral social decisions to a massive degree.

It has to be expected that Heath Ledger steal the show. Ledger’s Joker is so insanely awesome and genuinely frightening that I would never see clowns the same way again. If he receives an Oscar nomination for this performance, it will not be because it’s such a pity he passed away but because he earned it. And, of course, the rest of the cast are also highly commendable. Lucky for Ledger he had the most challenging role.

Oh Gawd, why am I so serious? 4.7

Batman Begins (2005)

Genre: Action, Thriller; Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Katie Holmes

Prior to The Dark Knight, I considered Batman Begins the best superhero movie ever. Actually, I thought it was a toss between this and Batman Returns (though I enjoyed Begins a bit more). I’m a writer and what I want the most when seeing a film is some emotional connection even when there is no way I could relate to the character. And there had never been a superhero movie with excellent character development until Batman Begins. Christopher Nolan dug deeper into Bruce Wayne to let the audience see what made Batman the Caped Crusader. It makes the audience understand where he’s coming from and explains what drives him. The movie is action-packed as expected but what sets it apart is that it offers a thrilling psychological tour into the mind and soul of a troubled superhero. 4.5

Batman and Robin (1997)

Genre: Action, Thriller; Directors: Joel Schumacher
Stars: George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alicia Silverstone, Uma Thurman, Chris O’Donnell

Batman and Robin is my least favourite of all the Batman movies. Why? Simply because it has an undernourished story covered with the glamor of its cast, on which it capitalizes. The plot is just sooo lame and loose. Take away Batman and it wouldn’t feel like a Batman movie.

On the good side, of all the Batman movies, this might be the one that children would enjoy best. After all, everything in it is kinda, er, what’s that word? — Immature.

Thank God George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Alicia Silverstone and Uma Thurman are SOOO HOT. They made all the points here. 2.0

Batman Forever (1995)

Genre: Comedy, Action, Thriller; Director: Joel Schumacher
Stars: Val Kilmer, Chris O’Donnell, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman

Batman Forever is pretty enjoyable and makes more sense than Batman and Robin. But this Schumacher movie pales in comparison to its predecessor Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. I have a number of issues with it.

1. Tommy Lee Jones’s Two Face is very much like Jack Nicholson’s Joker. It shouldn’t be the case. Two Face is one heck of a conflicted character whose past is well-known to the public (the public in the movie and the public in the real world). I would have loved it had I felt for Two Face even just a little in this film. But sadly, na-uh. He’s an empty character. Or seems like it.

2. The Riddler and Two Face look like twins. Nuff said.

3. Bruce Wayne’s trauma wasn’t given much attention. It should’ve been explored and exploited. It’s a good dramatic mechanism that could’ve driven the entire plot.

But because Nicole Kidman is in it, I still enjoyed it a lot. Haha. 2.5

Batman Returns (1992)

Genre: Comedy, Action, Thriller; Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Michael Keaton, Michell Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito

The bat, the cat and the penguin. Batman Returns is one heck of an effective comedy that I almost forgot it was a Batman movie. Haha. It’s just sooo hilarious. But aside from its entertainment value, there are two things that I love, love, love about this Batman movie — the cast and the subtext.

1. The Cast. Michael Keaton was my fave Batman until my Christian Bale tried the batsuit on. I just love his jaw and lips. Haha. I also fell in love with Michelle Pfeiffer as the Catwoman. Feisty much. And Danny De Vito is just fantastic as the Penguin. Very, very convincing.

2. The Subtext. Batman Returns is “semiologically” rich and politically loaded. It’s full of signs and representations. The bat. The cat. The Penguin. The penguins. The circus. The sewer. Each character seems to represent a social group struggling to work their way to the top of the food chain. Uh, power. Meow. 4.5

Batman (1989)

Genre: Comedy, Action; Directors: Tim Burton
Stars: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger

Review to follow. Haha. I would love to write it now but I need to have dinner right now or I’ll perish. Will leave you with a grade. 2.5

Comments

  1. peyborit ko pa rin ang batman returns. tama ka. comedy. dark comedy.

    catwoman: “how could you! i’m a woman!” pagkatapos syang sipain ni batman.

    catwoman: “be gentle, it’s my first time”.

    meow.

    • Andaming quotable quotes ni Catwoman sa Batman Returns.

      “Well, that was very brief. Just like all the men in my life. ?

      “Honey, I’m home. Oh, I forgot. I’m not married.

  2. with the exception of batman and robin, the franchise has been dishing out excellent adaptations of the comic book series.

    this is how i’d rate the films…

    the dark knight
    batman returns
    batman begins
    batman
    batman forever
    batman & robin

  3. i can see nolan’s intentions but dark knight was a bit uneven for me. the beginning was a little slow, then it started getting really fantastic and then it ended with the “listen to me, I’m making a STATEMENT” ending that almost ruined it for me. i still liked it but i wouldn’t give it a 5/5.

    batman returns!!!!!!

    catwoman: life’s a bitch, now so am I!

    meow.

    • yeah, there are several flaws. lalo na sa kakaibang narrative structure. i felt like “this is the climax” at one point tas “no, THIS is the climax.” Haha. Pero 5/5 pa rin for me. If not, I would have to change my WANTED mark. Haha.

      At totoo, the ending kinda spoiled it. It could’ve made a statement subtly like Batman Returns did. Pero okay lang, still 5/5. Haha.

  4. i was planning to make a review but you said it all. loved the movie! panalo si heath dito. 😉 same with wanted, you said it all. james mcavoy always suprises me. =)

  5. Oh man, as a lifelong Batman fan (comic book version) I was so glad they remade the Joker in the Dark Knight. Jack did an awesome job, but he just wasn’t scary. A lot of people forget that the Joker is a terrifying character. Forget a dark alley, people are scared to run into in the middle of the day at a police station! Ledger was spot on with his performance. The dark creepy persona, the lunatic with a quest for anarchy. This is the REAL Joker.

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