It’s been a good summer for movies, especially those of the superhero genre. Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Hellboy II-- all very well done, all very well-received.
But they all fall under the shadow of The Dark Knight.
Words can’t describe what Christopher Nolan and his band of capable filmmakers achieved with this movie. The breadth, the scope, the reach, the execution—I honestly feel like I have to watch it again to fully absorb everything before giving it a fair review.
But I’ll go ahead and try anyway.
In 2005, Nolan rebooted the Batman franchise with Batman Begins, after Joel Schumacher had effectively destroyed it eight years earlier. The former film went on to be labeled one of the best comic book movies ever made, and, up until last night, was my favorite comic book movie of all time. It was no surprise that a sequel was in order. And, just like Batman Begins, The Dark Knight is helped out by having a stellar cast, with the new cast members being even more memorable than many of the returning ones.
The film begins with a bang-- A bank robbery- shot on an IMAX camera- taking its cues from that scene in Michael Mann’s Heat. And, as you might have guessed, the Joker has a little something to do with it. This is the perfect introduction to someone who is one of the most terrifying villains ever seen in a movie. Just from this opening sequence alone, you know exactly what to expect from the Joker-- and that is you have no idea what to expect from the Joker. This plays out through the entire movie with one twist after another as the Joker continually stays one step ahead of Batman in several instances, while still claiming to be “an agent of chaos”. And, at first, it seems like the Joker has a simple goal: Get Batman to reveal who he really is. And if the Caped Crusader doesn’t comply, then people will die. Repeatedly. But, there’s far more to the “Clown Prince of Crime’s” anarchic plans than meet the eye . . .
On the other end of the spectrum, however, a new hero is rising. Gotham City believes in Harvey Dent. Harvey is the White Knight to Batman’s Dark Knight. Whereas Batman uses vigilante tactics, Harvey uses the law as his weapon, and it proves rather effective when he's able to put the entire mob in jail. This catches the attention of many of Gotham’s colorful citizens, including the Joker. So, the Joker decides to take matters into his own hands, starting with one of the greatest and most shocking “magic trick” scenes I’ve ever encountered. What unfolds is a movie of epic proportions, one that every moviegoer should experience.
The storyline of The Dark Knight is as unpredictable as the Joker himself. With one twist after another (and some seriously shocking, "cover-your-mouth-with-your-hand" moments), the plot keeps you thoroughly engaged and guessing until the very end. The Dark Knight not only manages to thrill you and keep you on the edge of your seat, but you barely notice that you've actually spent 152 minutes in a theater being glued to the screen. The film focuses very heavily on its characters, and all the players brought their A-Game to the court.
Is Heath Ledger’s performance as riveting and as brilliant as you’ve been hearing? Believe it. Not only does Ledger outperform Jack Nicholson, but he manages to turn the Joker into . . . something chilling and not quite human. A force of nature that should not be messed with. You're completely convinced that The Joker is absolutely Bat-shit crazy (pun intended), yet underneath that is a brilliant and cunning tactical mind. Ledger performs all too well and never once does he enter the arena of overacting. He is vicious and genuinely scary, while at the same time being full of dark humor. This is the Joker as he was meant to be and Ledger nails it head on. Any time Batman and the Joker confront each other you're actually hoping deep down that Batman will kill him because the Joker is just that evil, and yet you are completely mesmerized by him, so what’s that say about you? Heath Ledger’s captivating display of calculated insanity more than deserves some type of award.
Equally impressive is Aaron Eckhart who plays Harvey Dent. He's got the charisma for the role and he too has an excellent grasp on the tough-as-nails District Attorney. And with Harvey’s rise to power also comes his fall from grace. We all know who Harvey eventually becomes, and that plays perfectly into the themes and character study that The Dark Knight is. As Dent makes his transformation into a fairly terrifying figure himself, Eckhart’s performance convincingly goes from one end of the moral spectrum to the other. My one complaint would be the Dent’s motivations for his actions at the end of the film did not seem that well-developed, but that just may be my view on it. Eckhart and Heath Ledger steal the show, but that does not discount the rest of the cast by any means. Christian Bale shines as my favorite Batman and Bruce Wayne, coming in with a much better grasp of the character than in Batman Begins. Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon evolves into a much more capable police leader, and replacing Katie Holmes’ wet-blanket performance with Maggie Gyllenhaal’s endearing charm and personality as the very well-handled love-interest Rachel Dawes was a good move by the producers. (Though, I did feel that Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox was under-utilized.)
There are also several impressive visual effects throughout the film and some of the most intense action sequences I've ever seen. I was on the edge of my seat for the length of the movie, even wondering at times how Batman was going to get out of certain situations. When I initially saw the new “Batpod” vehicle in the trailers and posters, my eyes rolled. However, I found myself cheering at the end of the sequence where the ‘Pod is introduced. Also, one of my few issues with Batman Begins was the rigidity of the fight sequences. Not so with this one. Nolan definitely learned a thing or two about the proper framing sequence of a fight, and Bale shines as “ass-kicking” Batman here.
As for the dialogue: it's a vast improvement over "Begins", which had Liam Neeson and Katie Holmes spouting weighty maxims that came off with more fortune-cookie-triteness than philosophical insight.
Despite being over two and half hours long, the film moves along at an excellent pace and keeps your eyes glued to the screen. The movie’s overall dark mood is perfect as well and is played throughout. There's quite a bit of humor thrown in there, though much of it is dark and ironic as perfectly-delivered by the Joker. The Dark Knight easily fits its given title-- This is a comic book film that actually takes the serious themes of its source material quite, well, seriously, and gives it a top-notch treatment in its transition to the screen.
Christopher Nolan is making a statement about humanity and human behavior in this picture-- the lengths to which we might go to save our own lives over others, the often illogical and unfair way in which we come to idolize or demonize those around us-- all very interesting and commendable themes, and fitting for an "adult" Batman film. This is a big movie. This is even more than a comic book movie, more than an action movie, more than a summer thriller. The Dark Knight is some sort of never-before-attempted mix of crime thriller, action flick and message movie, that has a bit of romantic drama thrown in and more than enough horror. Top it all off with some exceptionally gorgeous cinematography, a stirring soundtrack, and top-notch acting, and you have got arguably one of the best films ever made.
If there's one movie you need to see this summer, it needs to be The Dark Knight. And after seeing it, you'll be thinking about this one for awhile. Not since Stephen King's "IT" has a clown been so scary.