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July 20, 2008

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Josh

Wow. It's super nice to hear your comments on this film, because they parallel my own perfectly. I couldn't stand the rushed, incoherent mess that was most of this movie, and it's not for lack of trying. I guess I've been around this rodeo 5 previous times before, and I'm getting nothing new under the sun from Batman films. Iron Man remains my favorite film this year, for the simple fact that it was fun, smart, and especially a new experience that blew me away.

BTW, I also agreed with your Hellboy II movie review. I'm going to take that to mean that great minds think alike. 'Nuff said.

Mark EngblomM

Wow...another skeptical Dark Knight viewer? I thought I might be the only one!

This whole weird weekend of nonstop fauning over the movie reminds me of a great line from Jon Stewart on the Daily Show a few weeks back when, after a hushed audience response to an Obama joke, he said, "You know, you're allowed to laugh at him."

Similarly, I would say to my fellow comic book fans caught up in the frenzy of Dark Knight adulation:

You know, you're allowed to not like the film.

Paul McCall

I don't think you can get Nestor Carbonell these days without the mascara. Remember him as Batmanuel in the live action Tick TV series? Do you think Nolan was going for some kind of weird in-joke casting him as Gothams mayor? He has a recurring role in LOST and he has that tatooed eyeliner look there as well! And the actor, Keith Szarabajka, who played the cop who Joker got the better of in the interrogation room was once The Equalizer's right hand man!

Hube

First, a few nits:

1) I thought Bats had at least slowed down his descent from the party when he was rescuing Rachel. That's why he (and she) were essentially unhurt.

2) Wasn't the "I can't run over the Joker" angst-attack a staged maneuver in order to assist in nabbing the Joker? That's what I got out of it, at least.

I'd give it 3 stars out of 5 mainly 'cause Ledger was, frankly, phenomenal. His performance, coupled with how the music and slowly crescendoing "whine" sound filled your ears whilst the Joker was going off on one of his lunatic tangents ... WOW.

My DC comics-reading buddy (who I saw it with) and I laughed out loud at Bale's raspy Bats voice. We were like, "WTF? Is Batman Clint Eastwood-as-Gunnery Sargeant Tom Highway or something?" (Highway was Eastwood's character in the flick "Heartbreak Ridge," BTW.)

As for the rest, Mark, you gave me a lot to ponder, and in retrospect I agree with much of your take. I think Morgan Freeman is the best actor on the planet today and to under-utilize him is a travesty. And, I found myself asking myself (or my buddy) precisely what had happened in too many spots ... especially the ending.

Superb review, amigo. :-)

Tim Jocha

I agreed with your assessment totally. While a lot of people applauded at the end of the film, it certainly wasn't unanimous across the theater. And I freakin hate that new style of movies where they don't give any credits before the film starts. This one didn't even reveal the title. The trailer for Watchmen looked interesting.

Mark. Engblom

"1) I thought Bats had at least slowed down his descent from the party when he was rescuing Rachel. That's why he (and she) were essentially unhurt."

Yeah, there seemed to be something going on as they fell together....and I thought Bats was going to pull off some kind of gimmick-driven save...but the crash into the car was a real let-down....whether it was slowed down or not.

"2) Wasn't the "I can't run over the Joker" angst-attack a staged maneuver in order to assist in nabbing the Joker? That's what I got out of it, at least."

The notion that we have to interpret the scene is testament to Nolan's bungled staging of the scene and Batman's nebulous role in the scheme. Like I've said, others will claim Nolan respects his audience's intelligence to figure out what's happening, we don't need a roadmap, yada, yada, yada. I've seen enough truly intelligent, intricate plots communicated WELL to know this isn't the case here. Nolan seems to be out of his league with fast moving action thrillers, and literally can't track all of the disparate threads and currents into anything truly coherent. He's great at establishing a mood, but not in keeping the machinery of the story moving in a smooth, discernible fashion.

"I'd give it 3 stars out of 5 mainly 'cause Ledger was, frankly, phenomenal. His performance, coupled with how the music and slowly crescendoing "whine" sound filled your ears whilst the Joker was going off on one of his lunatic tangents ... WOW.

I agree that Ledger's performance was one of the best things about the movie, but even that was compromised by Nolan's various indulgences. The first five or six entrancing Joker monologues were gold...but the last seven to twelve? Not so much. Like the explosions, Nolan got a little drunk on the Joker monologues. We get it. He's the Anarchist God, he's a personification of Nietzsche's Abyss, he's the liberating symbol of chaos in a rigid world of order, blah, blah, blah. We get it, Chris. Now could we learn something about Bruce Wayne or what makes Harvey Dent flip out so spectacularly?

"My DC comics-reading buddy (who I saw it with) and I laughed out loud at Bale's raspy Bats voice. We were like, "WTF?"

To me, the Scary Monster voice is a symbol of everything Nolan's gotten wrong about Batman. It would be one thing to ask Bale to talk in a hushed, measured tone (the correct approach), but asking Bale to talk like (or altering his voice to sound like) a bellowing professional wrestler is just insanely off track. I think once the bloom is off the Dark Knight rose, many more fans will realize just how foolish Batman came across in so many scenes.

"As for the rest, Mark, you gave me a lot to ponder, and in retrospect I agree with much of your take. "

Thanks, Hube. That means alot coming from you. I should say, I'm not out to convince people who genuinely liked the movie to change their opinion, but at the same time, I felt like it was the classic "Emperor's New Clothes" situation where so many people seem to be pumping this thing up past its actual merit. Let me put it this way: any time there's this much agreement within comics fandom, something's a little screwy. Not being one to march in lock-step with the comics crowd, I thought I'd get my honest opinion out there, sit back, and see if any other people came to similar conclusions. Again, if the movie was your own personal Nirvanna, I'm happy for you....but let's hope people who didn't like it can also have the same right to their opinion. I've read accounts where militant Dark Knight fans are threatening negative reviewers at various newspaper websites, and that's crazy. Joker crazy.

Rachel

Oh thank goodness! People who feel the same way I do about the movie. One of my coworkers was freaking out that I wasn't practically fangasming over the film and that I dare to like the first one better because it had that need to prove itself.

You've pointed out all the things that annoyed me during the movie.

Although I rather liked Eckhart's portrayal of Two-face. I just assumed that he cared that much about Rachel that the fact that Batboy didn't save her drove him nuts.

I think you're right. In a year or two people are going to watch it again and say to themselves "WTF?" about most of this movie. And yes, Morgan Freeman and Micheal Caine need more screentime since they are both made of win.

Robby Reed

Congratulations on having the nerve to go against the crowd and state your honest opinion! I was toying with seeing this, but no more. Thank you. It sounds like everything I was dreading, and more.

Lauren

I enjoyed the movie and I give it 2.5 out 5 BatHeads. I have some non sequitors that I want to share.

Dislikes:

1st: The movie was too long. It should have ended with Harvey in the hospital. That would have been a good setup for the next film. I didn’t like Harvey's origin. I really though they were going to do the courtroom acid throwing scene. It looked like it was being set up that way.

2nd: The bat voice was way over done. Its cheeziness made me uncomfortable. That says a lot coming from a lifelong LSH fan. Batman was portrayed as Hawkeye dumb and I really didn’t like it. I like my Batman smart.

3rd: The supporting cast had almost no role in the film. That supporting cast made up for Bale's wooden acting in the first one.

4th: The action scenes didn’t flow like Batman Begins.

Likes:

1st: The Joker. My God he was truly terrifying. The constant lies about his origin really made my skin crawl. Every time he changed his story he said it like he believed it. The Joker's body movements didn’t match his emotions and that made him even more crazy looking. The home movie shots of him were frightening. Bale Batman didn’t stand a chance as an actor against Ledger.

2nd: The real face of Two Face was amazing.

3rd: The story was built around Heath Ledger's acting ability. I think this was necessary because Bale isn’t strong enough to hold the story together on his own.

4th: I liked that Gotham was corrupt to the core. It really needs to be to have a Batman character. I’m glad Batman is a hunted vigilante.

Side note: I had the oddest sensation that I was watching a Gotham City based on the Earth 2 Anti Matter Universe. Good could never win and chaos always reigned supreme. It was a strange feeling to get halfway through the film.

I enjoyed the film but not near as much as Iron Man, more than the new Hulk. The only Superhero movie that has left a bad taste in my mouth is Superman Returns. I’m usually lenient with Superhero movies.

Matt

Just a couple of notes on your thoughts, Mark:

1.) It may not have been perfectly established, but I thought that Dent's kidnapping/almost-killing of one of the Joker's deranged henchmen sort of pointed out the fact that, however good he looked on the outside, there was something dark simmering underneath and all it took were the right circumstances to bring it out. Certainly we could have gotten this a little bit more in the film, but it's not as though he's a complete goody-two-shoes up until his transformation, yeah? That said, any script deficiencies aside, it can't be argued, I don't think, that Aaron Eckhart did a fantastic job in "both" roles.

2.) I think I have to see it again to see, but I can respect your point about characters popping up with no sense of how they got there. However, I have to disagree on the example you gave, which was the scene between the Joker and the cop. That scene, I thought, was a decent cut-away, leaving us with the beginning and the end of the conflict and wondering about the middle. I think for THAT particular scene, something in the middle would have ruined it.

Matt

Also, I think that the praise that's being lobbied at Heath Ledger's performance certainly has something to do with his untimely passing, but I think it has more to do with the fact that there is a literal, honest-to-goodness transformation occurring on-screen. With Jack Nicholson you could still tell that it was Jack Nicholson. With Ledger, you still KNOW that it's him, but you have to look pretty damn hard to SEE that, yeah, it's Heath under there. Ledger isn't just acting, he's channeling, and I think everyone can agree that if the movie does one thing right, it's that.

-M

Dean

I been a long time visitor to your site. Great stuff.

I'm not quite as critical of the movie as you are, but there were two big things I didn't like, which are somewhat related to each other:

1. The movie is too long with too much going on. I forget where I saw it, but George Lucas has said that movies shouldn't be over 2 hours long, regardless. He cut a few scenes out of his Star Wars movies he really liked due to this self imposed rule; I think it's one more Hollywood folks should follow. It would have prevented:
1. The whole first Batman scene. Did we need the Screcrow and imitation Batman thing? Did we need to set up the fact that Batman can't fight dogs?
2. As you mention, the whole China thing was a waste.
3. Did we need two scene with the Joker sticking razors into people's mouths? I realize the two different stories he tells drives home the "we just don't know what his real story is" fact, but I felt it was redundant.
4. This will be continued in my second point - The Harvey Dent story. Him missing from the hospital would have been a fine note to end on.

Basically, Batman vs. Joker was a very strong story with some great "comicbooky" moments I enjoyed, but they crammed too much in. I felt exactly the same way with the Sandman, Venom, and New Goblin all being smashed into Spiderman 3 - it's just too much.


2. Secondly, Twoface. I too had difficulty connecting "promising young DA" to "psychopath" because he had his face burned off. Admittedly, I had a problem with it in the comic books too, until I read an excellent Batman Annual story (I forget the number), which detailed his abusive home and how he developed the split personality. In adition to that, I felt the whole Two Face ending just didn't make sense. Why was he going after Gordon's family exactly? And why was it so boring? It's kind of a letdown after the Joker battle. Plus, I now feel like the character was half (pardon the pun) used. He didn't really do much in this movie, but he probably did enough to not make him a villain in a sequel. So what are we left with? A half developed, rushed story.

Dez

Wow, read your personal opinion and couldn't disagree more and for the butt kisser "Great minds think alike."Ha hA ha. I don't think so, this movie has grabbed so much money and critical acclaim any of our points are really moot at this point. As for it being rushed and having a bad story and being rushed please i've seen rushed craptacular stories(spiderman 3) and this is as far as you could get from one of those. Not to mention no developement for two face?!?!?! One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when harvey dent kidnaps Jokers little lackey and you see his bad side start to peek out. If your gonna crap on this greatest of superhero movies what do think of the rest what is your favorite?!?!?!

Mark. Engblom

"Ledger isn't just acting, he's channeling, and I think everyone can agree that if the movie does one thing right, it's that."

As I mentioned, I did indeed think Ledger did a fantastic job, though I wouldn't say he was channeling. I think the performance will deservedly be counted among many of the other memorable villains and psychos from movies past....but I don't see it as any more than that. He really *did* disappear into the role, but then again, anyone with that much makeup on tends to disappear under it. The difference it that Ledger took it to a more challenging level. Too bad none of the other actors were up to the challenge.

For example, what's the most lasting, impactful moment of Christian Bale's performance? Does anything instantly come to mind, or do you have to search a bit? How about any of the others? See, it's all "Joker", and (to me) that's not enough to declare it a classic for the ages. Watch it again in a year and see if you feel the same way. I certainly didn't with Superman Returns (I thought it was great at first, but it really lost me over the long haul).

"Did we need two scene with the Joker sticking razors into people's mouths? I realize the two different stories he tells drives home the "we just don't know what his real story is" fact, but I felt it was redundant."

See, this is the aspect I hesitated to write about. Those scenes, and the level of repeated & meticulous sadism taking place, seems to be tapping into something out there that's not very pretty. I don't want to project too big of a spiritual/sociological hoobaloo onto it, but the movie's obviously connected with or channeled some pretty dark sub-currents running through our little society, regardless of the movie's actual merits. Really...how else would you explain people literally getting mad at me for saying I didn't like the movie? I didn't go out of my way (like I did in the above review) to put it down...I simply said I didn't like it, and a friend of mine acted as if I'd kicked his dog...or denigrated his religion....which, now that I think about it, may be the frequency alot of the swooning and evangelical fervor is coming from.

"If your gonna crap on this greatest of superhero movies what do think of the rest what is your favorite?!?!?!"

Why, thanks for asking, Dez! At this moment in time, I'd have to say Iron-Man is my favorite superhero movie.

Is that okay?

Mark. Engblom

Oh, something else:

Apparently, other message boards have been posting my review, with great commentary like this following it:

"Sounds like Joker needs to pay this critic a visit. Put a smile on his face, or something."

Nice, huh? See, that's what I mean. Obviously 95% of the people who liked the movie won't be sending veiled threats to its critics....but man, they're out there.

Lauren

I enjoyed the movie but I'm not a zealot. But I also agree with some of your points too.
The Internet is too often used as a blunt instrument to squash descent under the guise of "personal" opinion.

Stick to your guns Mark.

Thomas

I liked the movie more than you did and I'd even give it 4 stars. My main disagreements are:

- I *love* Gary Oldman as Lieutenant Gordon. I think he was made for the role and I disagree that he was a "passive onlooker".

- I liked the character of Rachel Dawes and thought it worked perfectly in both Batman Begins and here. While she's no Silver St. Cloud, she reminds me of Andrea Beaumont from Mask of the Phantasm. And while I preferred Katie Holmes in the role, I thought Maggie Gyllenhaal did a fine job.

- I don't think I'd refer to Alfred or Lucius as "inconsequential" characters! If anything, I thought Lucius's role was too "consequential" (more on that when I get to the bad points).

- I liked the Batman imitator thing. It helped start the movie with one of its common themes -- that Batman wasn't entirely having the positive effects on Gotham that he desired. It was also a perfect way to set the Joker up to get Batman's attention by killing them. The fact that it wasn't used after that didn't bother me, because, let's face it, at that point both Batman and Gotham had bigger problems than idiots running around in Bat-costumes.

- You didn't mention them one way or the other but I did enjoy a couple of the little Bat-fan touches thrown into the script. Commissioner Loeb. And Lucius's comment that the new batsuit would "stop a cat". The first made me grin. The second almost made me fall out of my seat!

Those differences aside, however, I agree that this movie left a lot to be desired. My main problem, which I think is what you are getting at with many of your complaints too, is that it just didn't feel like a Batman film. You could have put James Bond or John McLane in that plot and wouldn't have been able to tell the difference. It was a typical Hollywood blockbuster action film that focused more on blowing things up then on Batman. And, getting back to Lucius Fox, it bothered me that through most of the movie he seemed to be playing the role of Bond's Q rather than the business whiz that runs Wayne Enterprises. And, yeah, what happens to the Joker and his gang up in Bruce's penthouse nagged me throughout the film as well.

It was not as good as Batman Begins, which remains my favorite live-action Batman movie. But after the Joel Schumacher films, this is still a breath of fresh air.

Mask of the Phantasm remains the best Batman movie period.

Kyle

I felt similarly disappointed in DK. Way too long, too convoluted and complicated. Overly ponderous. Too focused on slick film-making over effective story telling.

A minor example - the Batpod sequence. Batman junks the Batmobile for his sporty new Batpod, but is way behind the slaughter convoy. How does he make up time? He saves himself precious seconds by blowing up a row of PARKED CARS and racing through a busy underground pedestrian mall. What a great chance to shoot out a bunch of pesky glass doors!! Boom! Crash! I am Batman!!

Where is the guile and smarts and the strategy of the world's greatest detective? That nonsense is nowhere to be found in this smash epic.

Batman is barely more than minor character in DK. He's a passenger on the Joker's Wild Ride, constantly overwhelmed and under-prepared. Seriously. Batman rigs a hokey sonar system that covers the whole city, but doesn't carry any Wayne tech dog repellent?

Maybe it's Christian Bale's blank Bruce Wayne or the ridiculous Bat-growl, but this version of the character just doesn't work for me. He shouldn't use guns. He shouldn't contemplate hanging it up for a lady. He shouldn't be such a drag. He should be Batman, not Arnold in Commando.

Al Bigley

Thanks for voicing my opinions on this mess.

Let me add-this was also way too long..certain interesting storylines (Batman now wanted by the law, is he as bad as the Joker, the ferry boat dilemma) were introduced, then dropped or rushed, when any ONE woulda been great for examination in a film alone. But it goes on and on with twist and impossible turn...

And Batman now sounds like Cookie Monster.

Best,

Al Bigley

Mark. Engblom

"Where is the guile and smarts and the strategy of the world's greatest detective? That nonsense is nowhere to be found in this smash epic."

LOL! Good point, Kyle...one that I hadn't considered. So often in these movies, Batman is a blunt instrument when he should be a figure of scalpel-like precision. Not bludgeoning guys with his elbow pads or blasting full bore through a crowded mall, but fighting, moving, and thinking two steps ahead of the bad guys. Yeah, granted, this is still early in his career as Batman, but come on....the perplexed, reactive Batman gets old pretty quick. I had hoped they'd gotten all their "rookie jitters" stuff out of the way with the previous movie, but apparently not.

"And Batman now sounds like Cookie Monster."

THAT'S where I'd heard that voice before, Al! LOL! Good call!

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