Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Dark Knight will enter movie history tomorrow.

Warner Bros. had to be looking at Paramount back in May thinking, yeah, just wait 'til July. That wait is over tonight at midnight. As the clock strikes twelve The Dark Knight will open its doors to its first public screenings and enter into movie history. If that sounds grandiose or somewhat like the hype we love to skewer, we can't say it clearly enough. The Dark Knight, will become one of the most successful movies of the summer, of the year and, for all of the superhero action flicks, one of the most successful ever. Even with the likes of Iron Man, Indiana Jones and Hancock, we'll bet on this weekend for being the single most successful opening of the year.

Is it all because a cult like following has built the usual fanboy and popcorn summer crowds into a frenzy? Is it really the death of Heath Ledger, who by all accounts has given a riveting, award-level performance in his take on the Joker, that this Batman will soar beyond all others? The role Ledger's death plays in the anxiousness of fans to witness his performance is undeniable but there's a lot more going on here. To use the cliche that is getting close to being as worn as "let's cut to the chase", there seems to be a "perfect storm" forming around this Batman which may have been only slightly less frenetic had Ledger lived to see its premiere.

On the very surface of things, this second film will cement for all time that as Sean Connery is to 007, Christian Bale will be to Batman. He's simply the best and most nuanced that the role has seen and arguably the best cast superhero so far. (Though we'll give points to Marvel for casting Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man earlier this summer.) Nuance in the role of a comic book hero? Enter another element of that perfect storm, director Christopher Nolan. Nolan shined with the wonderfully clever and artful Memento in 2000 but turned in a masterwork with 2006's The Prestige (using both Bale and Michael Caine for effect). His sense for nuance and story detail is superb and his timing as impeccable as a stage magician. Combine that with the sense for the Batman story line and characters he's picked up as a writer on both films, and he is in the perfect position at the perfect time.

And then comes the support. The last Batman supervillain to remain memorable was Nicholson as the Joker in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman.  Even the glimpses of Heath Ledger's performance from the earliest trailers last year were enough to make you realize that he would own the role from this summer forward. Then tragically he died and like so many bittersweet hollywood stories, this performance will take on an almost mythic aura for fans of the Batman franchise and fans of the actor. But adding to Ledger's tour de force is a supporting cast that is as "A" list as these lists can get.

Everywhere the camera wanders, it will find first class talent. And as it often is in legendary films, these are actors thrilled to be part of the production. With Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy  and Morgan Freeman all reprising roles, and Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Eric Roberts and Anthony Michael Hall coming on board, the reviews of the supporting cast have been as glowing as the leads. Some critics are calling Aaron Eckhart's performance in the dual role of Harvey Dent / Two-Face as perhaps the best of his career.

And then there's this character called Batman. One of the most complicated and textured superheroes ever to catapult off the page of a comic book, Batman may be the quintessential movie superhero. He's perfect for the movies. Strikingly visual (in his latest evolution of badass rubber), dark and brooding yet noble and heroic. Immensely troubled and broken, yet incredibly resilient and driven. Take everything we've learned about Peter Parker in the Spiderman movies and tweak it up a notch, then add serious acting chops and you're getting close. 

The last piece is the indefinable, the magical element that swirls into the storm and sets off the lightening. The combustibility. That is where this storm truly gathers and unleashes its energy. That's the magic of multiple pieces coming together in a seamless whole and spinning into a tale so well told as to be new and original while being familiar and exciting, clever and funny while staying surprising. The movie experience that defines a summer for so many summers after. That will be The Dark Knight.

Making predictions is a losing proposition but we'll be startled if there's anything less than 100 million in Warner's Batman bank account on Monday. There most certainly will be another Batman movie chapter in our futures and we'll be looking forward to what's ahead while sorry to know that some of what could have been is forever lost to us. But as of midnight tonight, what is now is The Dark Knight, this summer's last and possibly best blockbuster movie event. We're kicking off our vacation with this release. Wherever you are, we hope you'll have a blast at the movies this weekend. See you back here soon.

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