Friday, July 25, 2008


Movie Review: The Dark Knight


Batman is caught between the Joker, a villain who wants to bring anarchy to Gotham, and Harvey Dent, an ambitious DA who's sense of justice is matched by his sense of self-worth.




Oh, easily a five on a five scale. It delivers more bang for your buck than any other 2008 summer movie (I'd imagine).

Extended Review:

Scott Nehring is one of the few who didn't enjoy The Dark Knight, and his analysis of the film (warning: spoilers) forced me to examine my own reaction to the latest installment of the Batman saga.

So, OK, here's the truth: I'm a fanboy. I'm a Batman nut who went into the theater prepared to have a great time. That much is true. Consider that qualifier before you take anything I have to say about the movie to heart.

In my defense, though, I don't think that the mere presence of the cape-and-cowl is enough to make me enjoy a movie. I despised Joel Schumacher's two campy, day-glo Batman farces from the '90's. They were too much like the kitschy mid '60's TV show. The Batman in the comics I've enjoyed is not a doofus. I like my Batman like I like my coffee: Dark. Bitter. A bit crazy. (It's tricky to brew crazy coffee, by the way.)

The Dark Knight features the kind of Batman I enjoy. Played by Christian Bale, Chris Nolan's version of Batman is the ultimate Republican: By day he's a jet-setting millionaire; a king-maker and power-broker with more money than God and AT&T combined. By night he's a crime fighter who lives by his own strict scruples (no moral relativity here, thank you) and is willing to go to war regardless of the repercussions if he thinks it's the right thing to do. He's even willing to assume the role of the bad guy in the eyes of the public as long as he's convinced that his actions really do promote the common good. Chris Nolan's Batman is basically Dick Cheney, forty years younger, in a black ninja suit. How cool is that?

Nolan's previous Batman film, Batman Begins, was the first Batman movie to really focus on the main character himself instead of the movie's villains. Having given the caped crusader his long-overdue day in the sun, Nolan must have felt comfortable focusing more on Batman's rivals in the new film. And the Joker (Heath Ledger) and Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart) of The Dark Knight are both just what they should be. Both of these villains are compelling and endlessly fascinating because both actors play their roles with totally straight faces. There's no winking at the camera (see Jack Nicholson's Joker from 1987's Batman) and there's no manic scenery-chewing (as in Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face in 1995's Batman Forever).

Bale and Eckhart are both good in their roles, but the late Heath Ledger steals this movie from both of them. His version of the Clown Prince Of Crime puts the emphasis on crime rather than on clown, and the performance is creepy, fun, and totally original. One of my few complaints with the movie is that I'd sit and look forward to the Joker's next scene whenever he wasn't on screen. And to think, I initially opposed the casting of Ledger in the role. Just goes to show you that I don't know nothin'. I enjoyed every element of Ledger's performance ... even his Crispin-Glover-channeling vocal work.

The most surprising thing about The Dark Knight, though, is that it works not only as a comic-book movie but also as a crime drama. The Joker, as portrayed by Ledger, is as enigmatic and as scary as any real-life terrorist I've ever seen portrayed in a film. Harvey "Two-Face" Dent pursues the Joker and the Gotham mafia with an obsessive determination that reminded me of Popeye Doyle and Eliot Ness. And Christian Bale's Batman is as focused and as volatile as Travis Bickle ... though maybe a bit better mannered. So, yes, this is a comic book movie, but on another level it's just a crime drama with a twist: all three of the principle characters happen to be completely insane.

The Dark Knight delivers everything a fan of Batman Begins could have hoped for. There's lots of great action and plenty of intensity, there's a story that never (in my opinion) became predictable or directionless, and there's some great acting in fascinating roles. If Nolan and company turn out a third Batman movie this good, it'll be a first in the history of trilogies.


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"Watch as I make this pencil disappear!"


Kind of set the tone for the entire movie.

Excellent review, sir.
I really should write a proper review one of these days...a week later and I'm still absorbing and processing. These movies are not only the template for how to handle multiple villains, which NO other comic book movie has done nearly as well, but the whole comic book aspect is kind of secondary. It IS a crime drama with an "oh by the way this guy is wearing a bat costume" kind of thrown in as an afterthought, and I think taking that approach, setting it in the "real" world and making the fantastic element secondary, it makes it more accessible to a wider non comic geek audience.

It's something to read your initial reaction to Ledger in hindsight, isn't it? He really proved himself, and I felt the same way you did between his scenes. More the pity that we won't see him in a third installment, which I suspect they had planned.
Points for an interesting post, but more points taken away for making me think about Dick Cheney in tight black leather.
Batman Begins was one of my favourite movies, even after multiple viewings, and if I could get a ticket for a decent hour, I'd be seeing The Dark Knight. I did think that Michael Keaton made a good Batman, but maybe that's more to do with hormones than good sense.
Excellent review, and I agree completely.

as in Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face in 1997's Batman And Robin

Minor correction: Tommy Lee Jones was Two-Face in 1995's Batman Forever.
Paul: Minor correction: Tommy Lee Jones was Two-Face in 1995's Batman Forever.

Oops. Thanks for the heads-up. I've corrected the review. I make that mistake all the time, Schumacher's two movies blur together in my head into one big mess.
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