‘The Dark Kinght ’ ***** Movie Review 072208

Joker Poster: ..... L.E. Soundtrack: ..... 2 disc Blu-ray: ...... 2 disc DVD: ......Sigle Disc DVD:

The work = *****
Batman returns to theaters, already having built up a massive amount of hype, thanks to the return of the villain The Joker and this being a sequel to a strong first film: ‘Batman Begins’. Then the passing of actor Heath Ledger before the film would open only added to the buzz. Now the film is here with almost unanimous positive reviews. So, does it live up to the hype? For me, yes.

‘Batman Begins’ was directed by Christopher Nolan and that film was, as the titled implied, a restarting of the story of Batman. What Nolan and company brought was an attempt at a real-world sensibility in the delivery of ‘Batman Begins’. Yes, the story was fantasy but assuming the character was real, what would he and the technology surrounding him look and act like? Why was he so obsessed with bats? (“To make my fear, theirs.”) Somehow Nolan and company made the caped crusader seem about as real and as fleshed out as could be imagined. 

You wouldn’t know it to watch that film but Nolan was also amassing a small army of supporting players and a back story that would propel the next film in the series: ‘The Dark Knight’. I think it is no small feat that the first film had Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, and Michael Caine and they all return (amongst others.) Add to that already strong line up: Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart and a conveyer belt of strong supporting players and you have probably one of the strongest line ups in a summer movie in some time. Then there is Christian Bale who is probably the most convincing Batman and Bruce Wayne to date.

Nolan has his cast and returning writer David S. Goyer, as well as his brother Jonathan contributing to the script. Actually, it is probably a safe bet that as much of the cast and crew returned as was available. (Although, Maggie Gyllenhaal has replaced Katie Holmes as Wayne’s love interest Rachel Dawes.) The whole company works in unity to deliver the goods and up to a point ‘The Dark Knight’ is a ruthless, memorable, film that almost transcends the superhero genre.

Is this the best ‘Batman’ film ever? Is Ledger the best Joker ever? Is it the best superhero movie ever? Well, who’s to say? This is certainly a good movie, as good as the first if not better. Ledger is mesmerizing as the psychotic Joker. Watching the film in a crowded theater, several people leaned closer when he spoke, as if they didn’t want to miss a moment of the villain. That type of charisma does double-duty for the film: it makes audiences want to see it and it makes it seem believable that he could amass followers despite being so dangerous and unstable. There is something clever going on with his portrayal too: he looks almost unassuming. The Joker is the true wild card in the film. It is one thing for a villain to be imposing, the Joker is that but he is also the victim when it is needed. One moment he is fearsome and brilliant, the next cowering and mad, it is part of how he keeps his victims off balance.

He would be enough for anyone to deal with but Batman’s home town is in trouble. Gotham City is loaded with crime and what’s more it is so apart of life that a citizen has a difficult time picking out the good guys from the bad guys. Batman imposters dress up and go to war with the criminals making crimes themselves. One could call the police but half of them are on the take and may do as much damage as good. Through it all Batman arrives and struggles to stop the imposters and catch the criminals, while avoiding the police.

He is aided by a corporate and technical wizard Lucius Fox (Freeman). I love the gadgetry that Fox cooks up for Batman in this film, it would make James Bond envious. The suite Batman wears is a technical wonder, makes him stronger and tougher than any mere mortal, but he is just that: a mortal. Watching the film one can see Batman wear down as the strain of a night’s outing takes its toll on the very human and very vulnerable Batman. It is no small feat that several times I was actually caught up in ‘Dark Knight’ and worried about Batman just dealing with groups of thugs. Nolan, Bale and company seem to try to make every movement count. He gets tired, beaten down and pushed to the limits as any human can and those moments are some of the best strengths of ‘The Dark Knight’.

The film has gotten some comparisons to crime dramas and on it mentions that Michael Mann’s film ‘Heat’ was an influence. While any comparisons are not unwarranted (especially when one considers that the original ‘Batman’ comics were closely tied to crime comics.) That does lead me to one minor qualm I had with the film: not unlike ‘Live Free or Die Hard’ much of the material in this film is adult in nature. No doubt due to forecasted box office demands, the film is crammed into a PG-13 rating. Much of the time that is not too distracting but one moment in particular, when the Joker has a knife to someone’s face, ends confusingly. (As if a shot was removed because it was too graphic.) It is unclear what the Joker does and as a result somewhat distracting.

Then there is a moment when citizen is pitted against citizen and I can’t explain why but it seemed false to me. The set up and ultimately conclusion of the sequence is, no doubt, meant to be a ray of light in an otherwise dark movie. The trouble is, the criminals of Gotham City are shown to be as ruthless and cut throat as one can imagine. Then at the end they are shown to have a conscience and when put to the test, will not push the button, so to speak. The trouble is, for me it didn’t fit with what is depicted in the rest of the movie. Remember, at the beginning of the movie there were endless amounts of criminals so desperate they would shoot each other in the back for some extra loot to say nothing of saving their own hides. As long as I have given my spoiler warning, I will mention that the Joker’s ultimate end was disappointing for me when I first saw it in the theater. Now, here’s the strange thing: thinking back I actually like that he was just left dangling upside-down, maybe for eternity. (In fact, it had one of my favorite lines/ moments in the film: “...this is what happens when an unstoppable force comes up against an immovable object...” Great stuff.) I don’t know if I was initially disappointed because Ledger had passed and I wanted the villain to have a finite end onscreen as there was to be no reprisal of the role (at least by Ledger.)  I will also mention that the make up for Two-Face seemed as if it too was restrained to fit into the world of a PG-13 rating. Perhaps not but it almost seemed to me that it was toned down and drained of blood and just enough scarred flesh to skate by the M.P.A.A.)

In writing this review, I was a little bit stuck: I had qualms with the film. There were minor things that didn’t quite work, that perhaps in a lesser film I would not have noticed. ‘The Dark Knight’ rises to the challenge and the lesser moments stand out only because so much of it is so exceptional. Yet, even in thinking about all my little nitpicks together, I still cannot deny that ‘The Dark Knight’ is an impressive film, well worth seeing. I have lines from the movie dancing in my head even now and I will for some time. ‘The Dark Knight’ is an impressive feature by anyone’s standards whether or not they think it is a “great” film (whatever that means.) I could be giving this one too high a recommendation but after the disappointment of the fourth ‘Indiana Jones’ film earlier this year, I feel the need to embrace a feature that in many ways does live up to the hype. That movie struggled to have one memorable performance (other than Harrison Ford’s) and here I have rambled on and have not even gotten to mention how strong Caine and Oldman were in the film or that supporting players like Eric Robberts, William Fichtner, Nestor Carbonell and Nicky Katt all make great appearances of varying screen time. I don’t know if in the years to come I will look back at the movie and think I over-recommended it but for the time being I feel that it is indeed the summer movie to see. One final note: those who are young or easily frightened may want to wait to see ‘The Dark Knight’ as parts of it are quite disturbing but otherwise as I often say: I can think of no reason not to see ‘The Dark Knight’. Nolan, Bale, and cast and crew pulled off a winner. I’m jealous of their skill and talent, highly recommended.



‘The Dark Knight’ Links:


My review of 'Batman Begins'.

My review of Nolan's film 'The Prestige'.

My review of 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull'


Copyright 2005 - 2012 Nate Bundy. All rights reserved.