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A Batfan speaks!

07.24.2008

"A BATFAN SPEAKS!"
-- written by Andre Manseau, regular contributor to Arrow in the Head

When I was a young boy around the age of 8, my father took me to see Batman, featuring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. Until that time, the only Batman movie I knew was the campy one with Adam West. 

I was a huge Batman fan though, because my father had given me his old Batman comic books and I read them from cover to cover. This is a decision he regrets because had he given them to me now, they’d be worth a lot of money, but I cannot imagine who I’d be now if he hadn’t given them to me.

I’d worn those comics out, carrying them around in a milk crate and when not reading them, I’d rest my feet on top of them. This is all to say that I attended that Batman premiere on opening night dressed as Batman himself, and introduced everyone to ‘my’ movie when I got inside the theatre. I got my picture in the paper, and this officially cemented my status as a lifelong Batman fan.

I would soon get the VHS tape for Christmas and it remains one of my most prized and watched possessions and the first Batman film is undoubtedly my favorite film of all time. It represents so much to me that I got Keaton’s symbol tattooed on the back of my neck.

As we all know, the series began to take a decline after Burton’s second effort, Batman Returns. Joel Schumacher took over the franchise and brought it to neon-inspired heights, more reminiscent of a kids film than anything else. I enjoyed Batman Forever and I don’t mention the one that came after it. Nothing would ever top my favorite film though.

Soon, I heard rumblings after a few years that Chris Nolan had signed on to bring Batman back to the big screen, and properly too. Back to serious roots the franchise would go, with a capable Christian Bale under the cowl and a fantastic supporting cast, Batman Begins was a tremendous reboot and easily the second best Batman film ever made, in my eyes.

The end of that film signaled what would be a 3 year anticipatory period, because Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon brought forth a Joker’s card, which implied the Joker would be in the next film. This would be the movie I’d been waiting almost twenty years to see. Could it live up to the hype?

After seemingly endless months of fantastic viral marketing, the movie finally came to release last Friday. I’d of course had my tickets for well over a month and had only been hearing the best things. In the beginning I was skeptical of Heath Ledger’s Joker, but the more I saw, the more convinced I became. Perhaps this film could be the biggest film of my life. As I’d mentioned to my other die-hard friends, it didn’t matter what the movie was about; it was two and a half hours long and featured Batman vs. the Joker. Luckily for me, The Dark Knight was so, so much more than I expected.

This film is an exercise in filmmaking excellence, and although I’m sure you’ve read a ton of professional reviews, I don’t think you could read one that would be more heartfelt than my own. As I sat in the theatre, from the opening scene, I was captivated and could not look away. The Joker character was done so well that there were times that I was almost emotional. Heath Ledger disappeared into this role, leaving only the maniacal character that he created. You don’t see someone else in the makeup, you see someone truly representing a role that they made their own.

Without Heath, this film could not be what it is. The character is truly portrayed as an agent of chaos, one who does not fear death and cannot be followed in a logical pattern. The stories about the scars, the licking of the lips and the maniacal cackling are all things that add a ton of credibility to the character. There is a certain brilliance exuded by Ledger’s Joker that insists he needs to see that everyone has a breaking point, and that he will find it by any means necessary. The Joker is a brilliant loose cannon. He commands the screen and it is impossible not to laugh at his insane humor and be repulsed by his sick mind. I wanted more and more Joker, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.

Harvey Dent’s character is played magnificently by Aaron Eckhardt, a vastly underrated performer who brings true emotion to the screen. His transformation to Two-Face is truly horrifying and you’re feeling for him every step of the way. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a fantastic fix to one of Batman Begins’ only sore spots, and this comes as no surprise as she is a talented actress to begin with. Christian Bale remains slightly over the top as Batman, but his Bruce Wayne is absolutely perfect, solemn and fractured. It is impossible not to feel Bruce’s inner torment through the film and the sacrifices he must make are immense.

The rest of the cast is absolutely perfect as well, and reads as a who’s who of Hollywood- Morgan Freeman as Wayne’s right hand man Lucius Fox, Michael Caine as the voice of reason, Alfred, and Gary Oldman has another star turn as Jim Gordon. The action sequences in this film are brilliant, awe-inspiring and relevant. Several scenes made my jaw drop in their perfection. As you can tell, I truly enjoyed this film.

When the movie was over, I immediately wanted to see it again, and I’m going this evening. Of course my friends loved it too, and my girlfriend (who isn’t a real fan) said it was the best movie she’s ever seen. I’ll likely go another 2 or 3 times just to catch everything. Just one of the reasons that this film is top notch is because it shows that superhero movies don’t have to be inane and insulting like Fantastic Four. This film isn’t a Superhero movie that happens to be good, it’s a fantastic film that happens to have Superheroes in it. The plot in this movie is so engrossing, rich and detailed that it requires a second viewing.

Chris Nolan and his crew don’t lead the audience by the hand, and they always manage to keep you guessing. I’m so proud that a Batman film has been made not just for Batman fans, but for anyone at all. As much as it hurts me to say it, this movie makes Batman 89 look quite small by comparison. Burton’s Batman was painted with long, black broad strokes, with Jack Nicholson essentially playing himself with the volume turned up. The Dark Knight is an intricate machine that is full of sorrow, sacrifice, difficult moral decisions and characters who are completely three dimensional and simply fascinating. If there are any complaints, it is almost as if too much was in this movie.

And now the film has broken box office records everywhere and will likely continue to do so throughout its theatrical run. It has become the number one movie of all time on IMDB.com, and is the talk of the town. I can’t help but feel that a lot of the press is coming from Ledger’s unfortunate death, but this movie will stand the test of time and lives up to the hype more than almost any film I can think of. The last time I felt a movie was so perfect was indeed nearly 20 years ago, and I never thought something else could knock Burton’s Batman from its perch in my memories.

I don’t believe Nolan can top this film since Ledger’s untimely passing will prevent another masterful performance, but if this was the last Batman film, I’d be okay with that. Batman is finally back, and he’s in top form. Believe the hype, grab your friends and get going, this is the perfect comic book film and damn near a perfect film in its own right. You owe it to yourself to see this film.

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