Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Essay: The Dark Knight Pet Peeves on the Commentary

Every Wednesday, I have an essay on any topic that catches my fancy!

When I saw Iron Man a few months ago, I thought that this was one of the best comic adaptation movies ever. And then comes along The Dark Knight, arguably living up to the hype surrounding it. I'm a reactionary kind of guy so what I want to talk about are the comments and reviews on the film.

The first thing that bleeps in my annoyance meter is the line "for a superhero movie..." or "for a comic movie..." that "it wasn't one". As a comic book fan, I merely sigh at this mass ignorance. This reminds me of the plight of the Trekkie: it's only several decades down the line that the public acknowledge something Star Trek fans know--that William Shatner is funny and can actually act. Moving on to the various reviews and blog entries that make the claim that The Dark Knight isn't a superhero or comic book movie, anyone reading comics knows that the medium has done lots of wonderful stuff, even when restricted to the superhero sub-genre. Recent movies like Road to Perdition or V is for Vendetta have proven that comics (and comic book adaptations) have depth.

The problem I think is that the public equates superhero movies with action movies (and The Dark Knight isn't lacking in action sequences). They expect action and special effects to outshine every other element (that's not to say action movies don't have other elements such as drama, mystery, comedy, etc.) when that needn't be the case. Sure, comics might have titles like Art Spiegelman's Maus but when the characters in spandex appears, people start lowering their expectations. But superhero comics in recent years have strayed from the Adam West wham! bam! slam! formula and drifted into territory that's not four-color. Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns are hallmarks of the 80's but more recent titles I'd want to mention is Kurt Busiek's Astro City and Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis, both of which relies more on drama and characterization than the physical confrontation with their antagonists.

It also hasn't helped that we've had some horrible comic book movies over the past few decades. There are lots of parodies of the superhero genre but we have little that attempt to take the genre into new territory, which is precisely what The Dark Knight (or even Ang Lee's The Hulk, albeit less successfully) did. Whether this is due to an edict from Hollywood or simply a lack of eagerness to stray from formula I don't know. But ask any comic fan and I don't think they'll say that The Dark Knight wasn't a superhero movie. Rather, it was the movie we weren't expecting but felt we deserved all along.

My other pet peeve is how little praise Aaron Eckhart gets (there are a couple of other actors in the movie who similarly deserves credit such as Gary Oldman). Don't get me wrong, Heath Ledger was terrific in his role as the Joker (and easily beats Jack Nicholson or Mark Hamil--who have been the Jokers in my mind for the past decade). The problem with Joker however is that he's two-dimensional and while Ledger brought out the qualities that make us fear him (and there was even a forum post on how Joker can be this Lovecraftian agent of chaos), we don't manage to glimpse anything else. Now this isn't the fault of Ledger but the nature of the script. The actor worked with the cards dealt to him and he passed with flying colors. Eckhart as Harvey Dent, on the other hand, gives us a wider range of characterization. We get to see him at his highest as well as his lowest. In many ways, Eckhart carries the movie because it is his character that undergoes the most change. He is, in many ways, Job with Joker playing the role of the Devil (or God, depending on how you look at it).

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