*** ½ out of ****
The sequel to the brilliant revamping of the Batman franchise, “Batman Begins,” is Christopher Nolan’s equally brilliant, “The Dark Knight,” which takes the “superhero movie” to a darker, edgier level. Nolan has turned the unrespected superhero film genre upside down with “The Dark Knight,” which feels like it has been modified to a modern crime drama in the vein of “The Departed.” Despite this difference, the film never loses sight of the characters comic book fans have come to know so well. Additionally, the film weaves a tight-knit, complex story into 150 minutes of pure adrenaline and dark psychology. “The Dark Knight” may well be one of the best superhero films of all-time.
In the film, a new villain by the name of the Joker (Heath Ledger) is starting up in Gotham, and his first target is the bank, where he manages to steal a tidy sum from a group of mobster and gangster investors who want to take him out. The Joker has other plans, as he becomes directly involved with them and offers to help them take out their collective enemy—Batman (Christian Bale). As Batman begins to capture them all, the Joker’s plan turns to killing any number of great Gotham public figures, starting with the Mayor and ending with the revelation of Batman’s identity. As the Joker’s plan becomes more dangerous and hits closer and closer to home with Batman, he must work to take out the crazed killer clown before he takes out all of Gotham.
Written, directed, and produced by Christopher Nolan, “The Dark Knight” is a work of genius. Nolan’s script (written with his brother) is brilliant. He continues using his darker Dark Knight while knitting a framework that exudes its complexity through characters and circumstances. One of the greatest themes of the film is choice, as the Joker so proudly and frequently demands. He presents several ethical dilemmas that force good guys and bad guys alike to make a choice, usually on who should live or die. It is clever that his presentation of choice rivals his protégé Harvey Two-Face’s style of using chance. It is fascinating to discern how the two compare, as the Joker’s choices ascertain more mastered, certain calculations while Two-Face’s are unpredictable and lead him to quicker failure. I am certain Nolan considered this when he wrote “The Dark Knight,” because every character from the Batman comic books is ingeniously adapted here. Because Nolan is consistent and has a clear vision for this film, his screenplay and direction are mature and flawless.
My favorite scene outside of the action-packed sequences is the Joker's encounter with the scarred Harvey Dent in Gotham General; the Joker slips into his room dressed as a nurse and then explains that he is a scary villain because he never wants anything out of doing evil. It is brilliantly written, not only because of his words, but because the Joker's role in that scene is so Joker-like.
The character of the Joker is well-developed, and when played by a talented actor like the late Heath Ledger, he becomes unmitigatedly perfect. Heath Ledger modifies the Joker from the killer clown we all know so well to make him less laughing madman and more unrelenting evildoer. (Take that, Jack Nicholson!) His darting eyes and the occasional flick of his tongue over his gooey red lips establish recognizably serpentine (read: evil) qualities for the Joker. In this way, Heath Ledger transforms one of the most brilliantly-written characters in comic book history and offers him tangibly realistic qualities. Nolan’s clever film also allows the Joker to offer a constantly changing origin story, revealing his untrustworthiness and hailing back to such well-crafted Joker stories as “The Killing Joke.” Heath Ledger’s Joker is the Joker that diehard Batman fans will adore, as his complex psychology, killer instinct, and creepy laugh prove unchanging in this film.
Meanwhile, ranting on Heath Ledger’s inspiring performance aside, Aaron Eckhart steps out as the other great actor in “The Dark Knight.” Though I am wholly unfamiliar with his work, he strongly proves himself as brave Harvey Dent, respectable D.A., and later, Harvey Two-Face, vengeful villain with a new origin story that flows right into the film (and what makeup!). His performance is subtler than that of Ledger, but he still surprises me with the vigor of his acting. Supporting actors like Michael Caine (Alfred) and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) are evergreen while Batman newcomer (and Katie Holmes’ replacement) Maggie Gyllenhaal proves herself equally formidable. Christian Bale is still great here in “The Dark Knight,” although I have to assert the same complaint some film critics make against the Tim Burton “Batman” films—Batman takes too much of a supporting role. For a movie about “the Dark Knight,” it could have been re-titled “Harvey Dent and the Joker featuring Batman.”
Though runtime is my complaint against the film (a whopping 150 minutes), it is still tolerable, as the film grabs viewers and never lets go on one pulse-pounding, action-packed thrill ride. (And what special effects!) It climaxes over and over and does not finally release until the last second of the film. When it does release, viewers discover that it is totally worth the ride.
This movie will be the tried and true blockbuster of the summer. “The Dark Knight” is currently playing in theaters.
Subsequently published in the September 3 issue of Versus Magazine: Entertainment & Culture
July 19, 2008
*** ½ out of ****