Two Reviews: The Dark Knight & X-Files

The Dark Knight: I saw the movie Wednesday and four days later it's still on my mind. Trust me when I say that you have never seen a "comic book" movie like this before. At nearly three hours, it's epic and lyrical in its twisted nihilism. Oh, and it's basically a film about the mob and terrorism -- The Godfather meets Batman. Except, you sorta forget this is a Batman movie. Maybe because there is nothing "superhuman" about Batman. One look at Bruce Wayne (expertly played by Christian Bale) and his battered, bruised and deeply lacerated body, shows that he is most definitely human and his body is paying the price. 

When the film begins, Wayne Manor is still being rebuilt from its destruction in Batman Begins, so Bruce is living in a swanky penthouse loft overlooking Gotham City. The "batcave" is underneath a salvage yard, a sterile bunker flooded with fluorescent light overseen by loyal butler Alfred (Michael Cain in yet another perfect performance). Gadget creator Lucius Fox (stately Morgan Freeman) is now head of Wayne Industries; Rachel Dawes (now played more convincingly by Maggie Gyllenhaal) is assistant district attorney and falling for the new DA, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who has vowed to rid Gotham of its organized crime; and Lt. Jim Gordon (a subdued and thoughtful Gary Oldman) is warily working with Batman to suppress crime. 

Into this already busy milieu strolls Heath Ledger's sadistic Joker. His characterization of the classic villain is so far from the fey Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson (doing Jack Nicholson) in clown make-up that he barely registers as the "Joker." Yes, his face is painted, but it's smeared on haphazardly, and rather than having his face pulled into that famous rictus grin, there are giant scars accentuated with red paint where someone (his abusive father...maybe) sliced open his mouth with a knife. The flicking tongue, greasy hair and oversized jacket make him look like a homicidal, homeless clown. He's one of the scariest things you'll ever see on a movie screen. Ledger deserves a posthumous Oscar for best supporting actor. It's a crowning achievement and, along with Brokeback Mountain, will be his defining moment as an actor.

The plot is fairly labyrinthine, but DA Harvey Dent vows to end organized crime in Gotham, while the Joker forces himself on the crime bosses as their only saviour. But this Joker doesn't care about money or power, he just wants, as Alfred so astutely observes, "wants to see world burn" for his own pleasure. Batman and Dent join forces -- the dark knight and white knight -- and the civilian body count starts to increase as the Joker and his goons blow things up, target police officers and vow to take down both Batman and Dent. 

The special effects in the film are nothing short of astonishing. There's a sequence with Batman on his Batcycle and the Joker in an 18-wheeler on the streets of Gotham that is right up there with the French Connection and Bullet for most thrilling chase scene put on film. You will be white-knuckling the armrest. There are unexpected deaths and Bruce Wayne is torn between bringing justice and being a vigilante. Dent's horrifying transformation into the villainous Two Face (one of the grossest make up jobs ever -- make sure you've finished your popcorn) takes up the last hour of the movie as he moves from white knight to grief-stricken avenger. 

I don't know if I've ever seen a film so relentless in its hopelessness (maybe Alien 3 comes close). The vague flicker of hope remains Batman, but even he is a grief-stricken outlaw by the end of the film. Where the third film will go is beyond me, although listen for a reference by Lucius Fox about how Batman's new armor suit will protect him against dogs, but maybe not cats. Meow. Along with Ledger, the film and director/writer Christopher Nolan should all be nominated for Oscars. It really is that good.

The X-Files - I Want To Believe: I'm stunned at the shitty reviews this film has received. Sure, it doesn't come close to having the scope and sweep of The Dark Knight, but for fans it's the long-awaited return of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. Yes, it does play like an episode of the television show, but isn't that what the fans wanted? I think so, but the critics just aren't having it, which sort of misses the point. Rather than delve back into the alien mythology, this movie is what fans used to call "monster of the week," a standalone story which means, in theory, you don't have to know what happened to Mulder and Scully during the series' nine year run. Except you do if you really want to get some of the nuggets of info creator Chris Carter has thrown into the mix.

It's been six year since Mulder and Scully left the FBI. They are living together (one character refers to Mulder as Scully's husband, but it's never defined) in a small snowbound house in what appears to be rural Virginia. Scully is a doctor at Our Lady of Sorrows Hospital (perfect name for this third world, dark place) and Mulder is a bearded shut in who has created his old FBI office in a back bedroom and clips newspaper reports of UFO sightings and other strange phenomena. The "I Want To Believe" poster is there along with a photo of sister Samantha, who was taken by aliens and put Mulder on the road to working with the X-Files in the first place. 

Scully is trying to save a young boy who has a rare disease with no cure. She's up against the Catholic administrators of the hospital and other skeptical doctors, but persuades the parents to let her try an experimental stem cell operation. Meanwhile, Mulder gets called back by the FBI to track down a missing agent. A pedophile priest (Billy Connolly) is having visions and leads the FBI to clues about the agent's whereabouts, but they don't really believe the priest and since Mulder was the resident expert on "weird," he's brought in to vet the priest's ability. Scully gets sucked back in, too, but she thinks the priest is a pervert and is using his "visions" to win sympathy and redemption.

There's really some edgy, unexpected stuff in the movie and much of it has to do with faith. Scully's ongoing crisis of faith; a pedophile as hero trying to get right with God; Mulder's inability to let go of the past; a hospital more worried about the bottom line and "God's will" than scientific medicine. Not surprisingly, it's Gillian Anderson's portrayal of Scully that -- as it did in the last half of the TV series -- anchors and grounds the film. She gives a nuanced, believable performance of a woman desperately looking for signs and answers to all the things that have happened to her and continue to happen -- why "the darkness" is always after her. But she's whip smart and still a perfect foil to the man she loves, Fox Mulder.

I really can't tell you too much about the plot. Let's just say it's serial killer meets Frankenstein. Think about that for a minute. And although this is spoiler (deal with it), FBI Director Walter Skinner (the gruff and reliable Mitch Pillegi) shows up to help save the day (and Mulder's head, literally) toward the end of the film. The X-Files movie is a fun, nostalgic 90-plus minutes at the theater and if you're a fan of the show, definitely go see it (and make sure to stay through the credits for a fun little surprise). Chris Carter has said he wants to do one more film that will wrap up the alien mythology arc that drove the series. Hopefully, this movie will help that one get the greenlight. If you watched the last episode of the TV show, you'll remember that the alien invasion of Earth is supposed to begin in late 2012. Hmmm.... 


Karen J. Weyant said…
I'm so glad to see the X-Files movie is not a total loss -- I was discouraged by critical reviews, although I try not to listen to critics too much. To the theatre again!
x files what?

Anonymous said…
I also liked The Dark Knight, though not quite as much as you. One interesting thing I just read that I thought you might be tickled by is that a lot (ok, there are only a few of these guys out there) of right wing critics are finding this movie to be very pro-Bush in its view on how to deal with terrorism. I, personally, find the opposite to be true, but wondered what you thought?
Collin Kelley said…
Only a right wing nutso would come out of The Dark Knight and try to equate it with the current administration and it's handling of terrorism. Although, I guess if you dig hard enough you could compare Dubya to Two Face and Cheney to the Joker. ;-)
Emily A. Benton said…
I clapped in the theatre when Lucius Fox said "spying on 30 million people is not in my job description."

I can see where the right will take the Batman mobile spying unit as a model argument for government privacy breaches to combat terrorism, but Lucius' and Batman are NOT George Bush characters, i.e. elected officials, and even the whole theme of "victor becomes villian" speaks to the opposite argument. Batman tells Dent (elected official) that he has to be better than he is, he has to be clean of crime and the white knight who doesn't take life by chance. Batman recognizes the wrongness of some of what he does in pursuit of justice, and that's why he deligates some of it to the hands of people who won't eff it up. (and leaves the film feeling a little guilty)

Nolen answered to some of this in his Fresh Air interview last week, and claimed political neutrality with the film.

As to X-files, I was underwhelmed, mostly because I thought the way Mulder & Skully's new romantic relationship was poorly developed and distracting to the film. I would have rather seen them remain platonic like old times for this one.
Collin Kelley said…
Emily, good points, but there is no way in hell Mulder and Scully could have remained "platonic" after what happened at the end of the series. They have a child (wherever he is), they were on the run and they loved each other. The fans -- who are definitely enjoying the film more than critics -- would have cried a huge foul if Mulder and Scully's relationship had not advanced. I know I would have been seriously pissed off. I don't think there needed to be any more development of the relationship. They've been together for six years, so trying to explain what had happened in the interim would have taken another hour. I thought Carter hit the right notes with their relationship, showing they were comfortable with each other but still frustrated with each other's beliefs.
Unknown said…
Collin, didn't you think the X-files was totally homophobic? The two get sexually abused by a priest so of course "end up gay" and get married in massachusetts (why did they point that out?) only to start stealing bodies and beheading women so they can give the one man a woman's body? Really? You're going there?

And Scully: she googles stem cell and can do Brain surgery the next day after having known nothing? And in a Catholic hospital to boot! She's be bombed! And she just happens to know how to reattach a head? Come on!

Dark Knight - tremendous.
Collin Kelley said…
^No, actually I didn't find it homophobic at all. I got the feeling the "organ transporter" was also abusing the molested alter boy and forcing him to go through with the "transformation." It was a little "Silence of the Lambs," which many also found homophobic, but not me.

As for Scully and her bit, it's THE X-FILES! It strained credibility on TV...that's why you have to suspend your disbelief.
tammy said…
Hi Collin. I'm totally in agreement with you on the X-Files movie. . . I absolutely loved it.

Funny you mentioned Silence of the Lambs, because that's exactly what I was thinking at times when watching the movie.

I absolutely cracked up when Mulder & Scully first arrived at FBI headquarters & while waiting outside a closed door they both looked at the picture of George Bush hanging on the wall -- and then the X-Files theme music cued up.

And of course -- Skinner! That was awesome seeing him save the day at the end.
Emily A. Benton said…
hey Collin,
good points. I watched The X-Files religiously up until the last couple seasons so I missed that development! I obviously need to catch up.
Well, after reading all these comments, I better get over & go see the movies...
Maggie May said…
X Files had a special magic, and i'm glad to hear you think they caught it on screen. i look forward to that movie. i think Scully and Molder have a kind of spirit/intellectual/screwing going on that you rarely see portrayed in mass media. it's complex and not fully explained, just like i like it.

great review of the bat. being someone who has experienced great anxiety and depressions, i know how much they can inform what i write. i can only imagine how Heath's struggle informed his characterization of the Joker.
I just returned from "The X-Files". I really enjoyed it; it was a fun "ride" as they say.
One thing, though, DID strike me as oddly standing-out in the movie: that comment about " married in the state of Massachussetts..".It really DID seem like the characters were telegraphing a really "anti-gay" message, or something. Which is just plain weird.
PWADJ, I agree with you.
Coll, I did not feel that way about "Silence of the Lambs".
And I LOVED that hilarious moment with Scully and Mulder in front of George W.'s portrait--especially since J. Edgar Hoover(notorious for his spying and trampling of civil rights) was flanking the other side of the elevator as they stood there.
Collin Kelley said…
Okay, let's parse this whole "homophobia" angle. Okay, I agree the subtext is rather horrifying, but let's put all the pieces together. And there's spoilers here, so stop reading if you don't want to know.

The man having his head put on the body of a woman was molested by the priest, so he's already psychologically disturbed. Is he so disturbed that he's the one wanting his head put on the body of a woman or is being coerced into it by his partner and the Russian doctors? This is never explained. The partner kidnaps two women who have his husband's rare blood type. Were no men available with this blood type? Again, unexplained.

The whole "they were married in Massachusetts" line seems to have riled everyone up, but I'm not sure why. Was it the delivery of the line by the FBI agent? Maybe.

Is it a little weird and maybe playing on some sterotypes? I can go along with that. But it's no more offensive than Buffalo Bill kidnapping women and skinning them to make a "woman suit" in Silence of the Lambs.

Also, those who saw the film will notice the film is dedicated to Randy Stone, who was X-Files longtime, openly gay casting director and a good friend of Chris Carter. I've seen a number of letters and blog posts screaming bloody murder now about X-Files being homophobic, but I'm not buying it.
I am feeling really good about hearing that Randy Stone was an openly gay casting director. I did notice the film was dedicated to him, and vaguely recognized his name, so THANK YOU for that clarification...
There's a fim I have NOT seen, called "The Celluloid Closet" that supposedly makes the point that most Hollywood films while they rarely show a gay character, or hint a character might be gay, when they DO, they also show them as scary, or evil:
I'm thinking Sharon Stone's luscious, but murderous bisexual in Basic Instinct, and the examples you listed, Coll. That's all. If we LGBT folk were represented onscreen more often, then the occasional murderous/insane/frightening/disturbed individual who also happens to be LGBT would not feel so, well, unfair.
Anonymous said…
I like this conversation. I have been out of commish reading blogs so didn't realize blogger from here to tarnation were saying it was anti-gay.

I immediately thought it was like silence of the lambs too, and that was why I felt sad about it. Of all the trippy things you could have made this movie about, you decided to make it about this? It just shows up all too often: gays are psychos, of course. And, you said "the man got molested by a priest, so he's already psychologically disturbed." EXACTLY: so why does that mean he has to end up gay?

Ok, one more lastly: I don't care if they love Randy Stone to death and he's the gayest man that ever lived. Are we not all homophobic at times? It's a deep societal issue and as members of society we all carry it with us. Just because a gay seals his approval on that movie, doesn't mean it's "down."
Collin Kelley said…
^I think what was going on in X-Files was more than "gays are psycho." There were a lot of disturbed, fucked up people and not everything was black and white. Typical of the X-Files.

By the way, the film was dedicated to Randy Stone because he recently passed away. Maybe he wouldn't have liked the finished product either.
Anonymous said…
I didn't realize Randy Stone had died - not paying attention here...but that makes me wonder if they made it deliberately ridiculous - perhaps the heads thingy was some inside joke...the movie was full of them.

And I will admit: I quite enjoyed watching scully.

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