Movie Review: "The Dark Knight"

This weekend a friend and I saw The Dark Knight, the highly-anticipated sequel to Christopher Nolan’s celebrated franchise reboot, Batman Begins. I can confirm that the media hype is legit: this film is amazing.

Orphaned billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has been Batman for about a year, and Gotham City is improving for the first time in ages—criminals are scared, the mob is in disarray, and the efforts of new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) leave Bruce hopeful for the day Gotham no longer needs his alter ego, leaving him to a normal life with his beloved Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, replacing Katie Holmes from Begins). But all of Gotham’s progress threatens to be shattered by the rise to power of a self-described “agent of chaos” known only as the Joker (Heath Ledger).

Knight excels as an action movie (the ambitious action sequences will thrill you all the more when you realize digital effects are used very little), as a crime drama, and as a case study in human nature. I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen a movie that took such a strong grip on my attention, and maintained it throughout a 2 ½ hour running time. Nolan, along with writers Jonathan Nolan (yep, his brother) & David Goyer, have imbued the story with a real sense of unpredictability, and at times even fear of what might lurk around the corner (by contrast, I thought The Incredible Hulk was both a respectable effort and a lot of fun, but there was virtually nothing surprising or unpredictable about it).

Aiding the immersion is the fact that, just like Begins, Knight is far more grounded in reality than the average comic adaptation. Granted, the technology at Batman’s disposal still has one foot firmly planted in science fiction, but it’s decidedly more James Bond than Adam West (plus, Batman’s the only one with access to hi-tech gear). As fanciful as the idea of costumed crusaders is, Nolan’s vision comes closer to making you believe what you’re watching could really happen than any other superhero film ever has. And none of this grounding comes at the expense of the source material’s essence (a refreshing departure from mangling things
for no better reason than the whims of Tim Burton or Joel Schumacher…).

It’s also due in part to the film’s oft-mentioned darkness. If you’re expecting cartoonish villainy, or even something akin to the League of Shadows’ master plan from Begins, think again. This Joker isn’t some unscrupulous goofball out for world domination—he’s a sociopath and anarchist without the slightest hint of decency beneath his grubby clown makeup, and his actions reflect that. While there’s no real gore (save one character’s fate I won’t mention, but every Bat-fan knows who I’m talking about) and there’s no sex (indeed, it’s to the filmmakers’ credit that a sex scene doesn’t happen at a certain point where it would have in most other movies), Knight is violent, even brutal, and there’s a lot of disturbing imagery, harrowing situations, and tense buildups to disaster and tragedy. Young children simply should not see this movie. At the very least, parents should watch it in advance so they know which scenes to skip when watching the DVD with their kids.

But teen and adult audiences would be hard-pressed to find a fictional movie more powerful and rewarding. Everything you’ve heard about Ledger’s phenomenal, menacing performance is true (Jack who?), but as great as he is, he doesn’t overshadow the rest of the cast. As the protagonist, Bale perfectly conveys, and balances, Bruce Wayne’s public image of carefree excess and Batman’s obsession with justice. Without giving too much away about Harvey Dent, let’s just say Eckhart won’t disappoint in the role’s broad range of emotions. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman display wit and gravitas as butler Alfred Pennyworth and gadget guru Lucius Fox. Gary Oldman’s role as honest cop Lt. Jim Gordon is larger than in Begins, and he soars in it. I thought Maggie Gyllenhaal was a tad too spunky early in the film, but she proves her dramatic credentials later on—and then again, a little spunk helps lighten the load in a film this heavy (unlike some viewers, I wasn’t bothered by Katie Holmes in Begins, and I have no opinion on who is ultimately better).

On that note, don’t take all this talk of darkness to mean Knight is some sort of depression-fest. It’s not. Tragedy strikes and human depravity is on full display, but so are the heroism, courage and decency of Batman, his allies, and even the people of Gotham (refreshingly, the film actually affirms several basic conservative tenets: the futility of appeasement, the occasional need to do harsh, ugly things to defeat evil, and the importance of doing the right thing at the expense of public opinion). There’s wit, humor, and moments that are simply fun and cool. Without giving too much away, the film ends on a bittersweet note that drives home the sacrifices that make Batman compelling in a way few cinema or comic-book heroes can match.

Sure, there are imperfections here and there—a minor plot hole or two, if you look hard enough—but they are eclipsed by the film’s sheer quality. The Dark Knight is easily the best Batman film ever made—not only does
the beloved 1989 version pale in comparison, but the contrast shows just how limited an application Tim Burton’s style really has. But it’s also the best example of the superhero/comic book genre, and an outstanding cinematic achievement in any genre. Simply put, it’s a masterpiece.
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4 thoughts on “Movie Review: "The Dark Knight"

  1. I agree: it was indeed amazing. I gave it 4 stars, even though the length was a bit much.Incidentally, I’d like to ask you to check out my blog, BipolarNation.com, and if you find the content interesting, please add it to your blog roll.Thanks!Dan K

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  2. Yeah, I tend to prefer visual continuity in franchises (speaking of which, what’s up with the black Wayne Tower in TDK?). But since they apparently had no choice but to recast, I think Maggie Gyllenhaal was a fine choice.

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