Film Review: “The Dark Knight”

July 27, 2008

Let’s get this out of the way first: “The Dark Knight” is not a perfect movie.

With apologies to IMDB voters, it is not the best movie ever.

That said, “The Dark Knight” does a lot of things outstandingly well. Although the movie is extraordinarily long — particularly for a superhero flick — at a shade over two and a half hours, it is paced perfectly. With a film of that length, even with outstanding performances and direction, it’s easy to drag at some parts, as we saw with last year’s “There Will Be Blood.” Director Christopher Nolan, who co-wrote the script with his brother Jonathan, guides the film through its twists and turns expertly, never losing sight of where he’s going.

Christian Bale reprises the titular role, and doesn’t seem to have missed a beat since 2005’s “Batman Begins,” although his role in “The Dark Knight” is not so much main character as it is to cast a shadow over all the other goings-on in the film. This time, Batman (who would have been better off without Bale’s voice being technologically enhanced, which only distracts and adds nothing) isn’t involved in everything that happens, but everything that happens is about Batman — and his secret identity, Bruce Wayne, who gets to take his own unexpected turn at heroism.

The concept of heroism itself takes center stage in “The Dark Knight,” and on a much greater and deeper level than in the “Spider-Man” films, which dealt with it only on a surface level — Spider-Man was either going to be a hero, or not. Batman and Gotham City’s idealistic new district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, even more sincere and convincing than he was in “Thank You For Smoking”) are two different brands of hero — one a white knight and the other dark, although which is which may be the most important question of the film.

Dent, together with assistant D.A. and love interest Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is more bearable than Katie Holmes, but not by much), is taking aim at the crime syndicates that are, despite Batman’s best efforts, running rampant throughout the city. Dent is Gotham’s white knight to Batman’s dark knight, but both characters — along with Gotham’s very citizens — have a lot of moral ambiguity to work through. The movie expends a lot of time and effort on drawing the line between good guys and bad guys, and Dent is the one caught in the middle of much of it, almost to a greater degree than Batman himself.

The person most concerned with it, and the one you’ve been waiting for me to mention, would be a man known only as the Joker, played to sick, maniacal perfection by one Heath Ledger, who I heard died earlier this year or something. I don’t know, no one ever talks about it, so I’m fuzzy on the details. But he’s dead, right? I definitely heard that somewhere.

In any case, the Joker is after creating nothing less than utter chaos in Gotham, taking the moral ambiguity of the common (and uncommon) man, and using it against them. Ledger is unrecognizable beneath the makeup and the mannerisms, losing himself in the character perhaps more thoroughly than anyone I have seen since Daniel Day Lewis in the aforementioned “There Will Be Blood.” Skeptical though I was about all the Oscar talk surrounding Ledger, it now seems borderline impossible that he could be denied a nomination for the perfect insanity he brings to the role.

Ledger’s Joker is a frightening character, a sick man and compulsive liar almost more in the mold of Hannibal Lecter than any previous Joker. He is a man beyond all rhyme and reason, and his goal is to show everyone else that they are beyond reason as well. As Wayne’s butler and co-conspirator Alfred (Michael Caine, comfortable as can be in the role of wise man) says, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

The only problem with Joker is that, for a guy so utterly insane, he sure can plan his criminal activities to the finest detail, causing Gotham’s finest, only somewhat ineptly led by ultimate do-gooder and now-Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), to bumble along in their quest to restore order.

Therein lies the basic flaw of this movie: As much as it tries not to be a superhero movie, to transcend the genre and offer something totally different, and as much as it succeeds in doing that, it is still a superhero movie and it is still contrived. Things are just too easy for the Joker; his plans work out too perfectly, even though he claims not to have any plan. When he threatens to blow a place up, it gets evacuated and then completely abandoned? Really? No police left to see to that last nurse or patient who might just get left behind? Similarly, Batman seems to always have just the right tools for the job, even if he doesn’t know what the job is going to be, thanks to the excessive genius put on display by Wayne Enterprises CEO Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and his R&D department. All superheroes could use a good R&D department, of course, but Batman’s seems downright clairvoyant.

For a movie that is constructed to be so gritty and realistic, the lack of realism — not to mention the excessive optimism — in some places is more than a little jarring. It’s that element that makes “The Dark Knight” settle for merely being the best superhero movie ever.

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2 Responses to “Film Review: “The Dark Knight””

  1. Nick said

    Such a great movie… and like 1000000 times better on an Imax screen for sure!!! I got so wrapped up in the film that I had to make a time line of the making of this movie!! I found so much stuff online and made just one huge linear time line of the movie at capzles.com. Tons of behind the scenes footage/photos and all the viral marketing campaign that they did for it as well, like Clowns against Dent… check it out i’m very positive you won’t be sorry!

  2. movie buff said

    i still wish Katie Holmes had stayed on board as Rachel Dawes for the Dark Knight; it was like the time spent getting familiar with her character in Batman Begins was wasted…

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