Review: Dark Knight
Plot: Unless you've been living under a rock for the last year- you know what this is about. Batman, The Joker &Two-Face...'nuff said.
Review: By now so much has been said about how amazing THE DARK KNIGHT is that there's really not all that much to add. Make no mistake - THE DARK KNIGHT is an absolute masterpiece. Not only is it the best film of the summer but it's also (in my opinion) the finest film of the year.
If I had to compare THE DARK KNIGHT to any film I'd compare it to Sergio Leone's THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY. When that film came along in 1967 it took a genre that had grown stagnant (the western), and re-invented it for a new generation. It showed that a pulpy western could be also be art, and it paved the way for Leone's own ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, and Sam Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH, both of which took the genre to exciting new places.
Basically, what that film did for the western THE DARK KNIGHT does for the superhero movie. Don't get me wrong - the summer of '08 has been great for superhero movies. IRON MAN, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, & even HELLBOY 2 were all terrific superhero films but they didn't push the envelope. I don't want it to seem like I'm criticizing those films- because I enjoyed all three. In my reviews I gave both IRON MAN & THE INCREDIBLE HULK a 9/10 and I stand by both. But THE DARK KNIGHT is a 10.
What makes this film so radically different is that it does something no other superhero movie has done. It shows you the dark side of being a hero. In this film Batman suffers like no other superhero has ever suffered onscreen. While no one can really challenge him physically, The Joker is the one villain who really seems to understand what makes him tick, and by the end of the film- Batman has lost so much that one might even say he's lost part of his soul. Pretty heady stuff for a PG-13 summer blockbuster!
Another element that sets THE DARK KNIGHT apart from the pack, is that that THE DARK KNIGHT is probably the first truly adult superhero movie I've ever seen. I'm flabbergasted that Christopher Nolan manged to land a PG-13 rating as Two Face's appearance alone would get most films an R-rating. While Nolan cuts away from the most violent acts, the film is still fairly hardcore and uncompromising. I also liked the fact that the audience is not bombarded with long, over the top action scenes throughout the film. While the film does not skimp on the action quotient, the fights are fairly down to earth. There's really only one huge action scene, which is a chase involving the Tumbler & the Bat-pod that occurs around halfway through the film.
In my humble opinion, what really makes the film worth watching is the brilliantly crafted storyline, and the terrific performances. Naturally- the most striking performance comes from Heath Ledger as The Joker. Compared to Ledger- Jack Nicholson's Joker is about as threatening as a drunken clown at a children's birthday party. Ledger is astounding- and gives an iconic, and at times truly frightening and disturbing performance (I especially love the way he licks his lips like a rabid dog). His Joker is one of the most memorable villains in screen history- and it would be a crime if he doesn't posthumously win the Oscar. It's a really a shame Ledger didn't live to see the finished film- as it would have likely made him the biggest star in town.
While Ledger is definitely a highlight- THE DARK KNIGHT is by no means a one man show. Aaron Eckhart gives the performance of his life as Harvey Dent/ Two Face and throughout the whole film he never once lost my sympathy, even though at times he does some mighty questionable things. His character arc is absolutely perfect, and in many ways- Eckhart is actually the central character. More than anything- the story is about his rise and fall- and his storyline is tragic and meaningful.
Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, and I must say- I prefer her in the role to Holmes. While Holmes wasn't bad in BATMAN BEGINS- I never felt like she belonged in that world, and Gyllenhaal is a much better fit.
Every role in this film is perfectly cast and I particularly liked some of the smaller, character roles. Eric Roberts plays the new crime boss of Gotham City- and he does his best work in years, as does Anthony Michael Hall as an opportunist news reporter on Batman's trail. The film is full of familiar faces, and at one point- none other than Nicky Katt shows up as a frightened S.W.A.T team-er who gets taken on a wild ride. Also noteworthy is Tiny Lister who, despite his small role has one of the best scenes in the film.
Returning from the first film are Michael Caine as Alfred, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox & Gary Oldman as James Gordon. All three continue their great work from the first film- and I really felt like the three, along with Batman- were a team. Gordon handles the politics and Fox handles the gadgets, while Alfred acts as Batman/ Bruce Wayne's trusted confidant, and could even be called the care-taker of his soul.
Which brings me to Christian Bale. In many ways Bale is going to be the unsung hero of THE DARK KNIGHT. While he definitely has the least showy role he really centers the film. Others have noted that Bale seems less buff in this outing- which I think is intentional as it shows how Bruce Wayne is essentially killing himself going out night after night as Batman. As far as I'm concerned Bale IS Batman and at this point I'd have a really hard time accepting anyone else in the role.
Also noteworthy is Wally Pfister's cinematography, which is particularly striking on the giant IMAX screen. I like the way that Gotham City was made to look less like a futuristic metropolis, and more like a real city. Visually the film is not at all similar to BATMAN BEGINS and much the film takes place during the daytime which is unusual for a Batman film. I also really liked the score by Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard, which is similar to their work in BEGINS. The Batman theme they introduced in the last film has really grown on me over time- and when the theme starts pumping during the big chase scene I got goosebumps.
All in all I really can't praise THE DARK KNIGHT enough. It's a strikingly original, bold film. After seeing it Monday I found it difficult to think of anything else afterwards and I can't wait to see it again!