Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Night Is Darkest Before Dawn: "The Dark Knight's" Full On Cultural Moment

Joker Stare
"The Dark Knight" has already grossed over $222 million in six days. It has smashed every record in the books. Biggest opening weekend ever. Fastest movie to $200 million. Biggest first five days in release ever. Biggest six days in release ever. It nearly broke the record for biggest single Wednesday gross of all time, missing "Men In Black II's" mark of $18,599,621 by a mere few hundred thousand dollars. And "MIBII" opened on a Wednesday, while "Dark Knight" has been out for almost a week.

The weekday grosses are out of control... $24 million on a Monday, another $20 million on Tuesday, and just over $18 million on a Wednesday. Any of these marks are great OPENING DAY numbers.

IMAX screenings in both New York and LA are sold out solid through the week and weekend, and might not be available for about two weeks. People are still lining up around the block for their fix of the movie, and it's currently rated as the number one movie of all time as rated by IMDB users.

Batman, ladies and gentlemen, is officially "bigger than Jesus."

"The Dark Knight" is experiencing a full on cultural moment that no film has enjoyed since at least "The Passion." That movie made a ton of money and got everyone talking and debating, but as many people were talking about the film to criticize its supposedly stereotypical depiction of Jews, over reliance on violence, and writer/ director/ former superstar Mel Gibson's bizarre behavior as people who actually liked and were moved by the film. "Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace" (why didn't we realize how bad it was going to be based on the fucking title nine years ago,) was the only thing the media could talk about before its release, and if 9/11 had happened the same weekend that "Star Wars" had come out, it still probably would have been given less coverage due to Jedi hype. But then the movie sucked, and everyone still saw it and talked about it, but "Dark Knight" will probably surpass that movie's gross in a week or two. No, you have to look back to "Titanic" and "Jurassic Park" for movies that really got audience's blood pumping and talking. Everywhere I go, people are buzzing about Batman.

I haven't seen the country so behind a movie in a long while. And a truly dark and disturbing one at that. I felt like this kind of thing was dead, now that there are so many screens showing the same movie ("Dark Knight" played on a record number of screens, yet tickets were still scarce everyhwhere this past weekend,) and so many people are buying their tickets online (myself included.) So what's the deal behind this amazing cultural moment?

Clearly, Heath Ledger's tragic death before the movie's release created more interest in the film, and tons of free media coverage, than the studio ever expected. And the fact that people have been talking about his work as The Joker and buzzing about a possible (and richly deserved) posthumous Oscar nomination drove curiosity through the roof. The fact that his last film was a big mainstream movie as well helped a lot... if "Brokeback Mountain" had been Ledger's final film, it's not as if middle America would have lined up to see him play a gay cowboy. But Heath's remarkable performance isn't enough to explain the film's unrelenting success. There's more to "Dark Knight's" appeal than morbid curiosity.

My geeky friends and I are not the only people who love Batman. Everyone loves The Caped Crusader. He's arguably the most popular super hero in existence... Spidey has always been huge, and who doesn't know Superman, but Batsy might, at this point, be the best known and loved hero of them all. But why didn't "Begins" make more when it came out, you ask?


Love of Batman fails to explain why "Dark Knight" did three times the business that "Batman Begins" did three summers ago during its opening weekend. The problem was, pre "Begins," Batman movies had fallen on hard times. "Batman and Robin," Joel Schumacher's abortion of the franchise, is considered by many to be one of the worst movies of all time (in a hilariously bad way... Ahnuld's Mr. Freeze is unbelievable to behold, making him possibly the second most memorable big screen Bat-baddie... just for all the wrong reasons.) So even though "Batman Begins" made less than "Dark Knight" has already grossed in just six days, it was a well liked movie, and people who didn't see it in theaters saw it on DVD, getting them pumped and primed for the next one. I think that non film people were a bit confused and put off by the series relaunch, and still had bad taste in their mouths from "B and R." Only the true fan boys understood that Nolan was attempting to redeem the character and franchise.

Even subtracting the Ledger factor, Joker vs Batman might be the most well known villain/ hero standoff in the history of the genre. Bringing The Joker in to the second film was a total master stroke, especially when Nolan teased the audience with the reveal that he would appear in "Dark Knight..." in the very last scene of "Begins." Because there is nothing more iconic than a clown facing off against a Bat. Or something.

Pulling the Joker Card

Lost in all the praise that Heath is receiving is Christian Bale's improved performance as Batman/ Bruce Wayne after his already excellent turn in "Begins." People loved his Batman, and everyone was pumped to see him in the role again.


Another stroke of genius from the studio... for anyone who cared to go down the rabbit hole, WB put out an excellent viral campaign that implied The Joker was effing with everyone on the Internet, sending fanboys into a frenzy that infected other, non geeks who just like Batman. That's why they call it "viral," I guess.

"DK" is unequivocally fucking great. The movie is epic, dark, legitimately terrifying, intelligent, and fucking kick ass. Every time I've seen it (two and a half and counting,) the movie plays the audience like a fiddle, the tension rising at the scary sections, the nervous laughter filled the theater with all of the Joker's scary/ funny antics, and people cheered at the end (and many teared up a bit, including, ahem, myself.) People are talking about the movie after they see it. They're discussing its themes, ideas, moments that disturbed them, and yeah, the awesome scene where Batman on a motorcycle faces down the Joker in a truck. It's the most ambitious summer blockbuster ever made, and it goes way beyond the type of fun yet disposable entertainment we usually get when the weather gets hot. This is a honest to God great movie, with Batman at the center of it.

This is a legitimately exciting time to be a fan of Batman and movies in general. I'm going to stop writing now, because I want to get out of here and jump in line to see it again, talk about it more, and just be part of this undeniable cultural phenomenon.

James Cameron is probably feeling a little nervous right now about the Caped Crusader catching a certain ship in the next few months.

Batman,Hong Kong

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Effing Knight

Batman Batpod

Remember me? Honestly, I don't either. I'm about to move into my own pad, so hopefully then I will start to blog again, with life updates galore and all the pop cultural insight the world (or two people who read it and have long since given up) has come to expect from this here blog.

But I can't move on in my life without giving "The Dark Knight" its due.

The latest Batman movie had the biggest opening of all time this past weekend, and it richly deserves every cent it makes. This is a movie created by filmmakers who really understand the Batman mythos, and who take it as seriously as it deserves to be taken.

It's also an amazing crime epic, a thoughtful film on terrorism and life in post 9/11 America, a psychological and philosophical study on human nature, a dark and disturbing look at madness, and kick ass Batman movie where the Caped Crusader rides a bad ass motorcycle and glides from skyscraper to skyscraper.

Heath Ledger's Joker will go down as one of the great screen villains of all time. If he doesn't take home a posthumous Oscar for his unhinged and unnerving performance, I just might give up. His Joker is, as many reviews have pointed out "a force of nature" that descends upon Batman's Gotham and makes it go crazy as he runs his own experiments in human psychology and forces all the characters into impossible ethical choices.

But Aaron Eckhart's tragic performance as doomed DA Harvey Dent is equally strong, though maybe not as in your (forgive the expression) face. His story is actually the film's true through line, as Joker doesn't have a backstory or real arc (which is totally appropriate for the character and works brilliantly.)

Gary Oldman, as cop ally Jim Gordon, is astoundingly good as well, giving a speech that will break your heart and give you chills at an important moment. And what else can be said about Michael Caine, who takes the role of Bruce Wayne's butler, Alfred, to places nobody thought possible.

And then there's Bale, who plays Batman/ Bruce Wayne with more intensity than any actor before him. This is the movie all fans of Batman have been waiting for for a very, very long time.

"The Dark Knight" is the best movie of the year so far by leaps and bounds, and it's the best super hero movie ever made by a mile. It's a dark, heartbreaking, and brooding epic, and it makes other so called "dark" super hero movies look laughable. People die in this movie, and character's lives are ruined. This is a movie where none of the main characters come out unscathed by the film's events, and there is no happy or triumphant ending like the other films in this genre always have. But there is Batman at the end, so there is hope.

The final moments of the film are so powerful that I teared up and had chills running up and down my spine both times I've seen it. This is great cinema, without the caveat that it's "a great comic book movie" or a "great super hero movie" or even "a great action movie." No, this is a great movie, period. And as such, I may have new favorite movie of all time.

As The Joker says in his mindblowing first scene, "How about a magic trick?" This whole movie is a magic trick of the highest order, and director Christopher Nolan deserves to be elevated to the elite status of God among geeks after his work on this, I'll just go ahead and say it, masterpiece.
Heather Ledger as The Joker,Christian Bale as Batman