Directed By Christopher Nolan
Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Cillian Murphy, Eric Roberts
There’s two ways to look at this film; one as a fan boy film and two as a legitimate action/drama. What’s so fantastic about this film and some other recent comic book films is that they are so well done-featuring deep and layered drama and real characters-that even the most jaded of critic has to admit that these are real movies worth consideration, not just kid’s stuff.
The Dark Knight falls in the best place in the life of a super hero franchise. The second film in a series is all about that film with the drudgery of the origin already taken care of by the first film. Sure the second film can go back and show more detail about a character’s history but it’s not required and it can be come as part of the story not as the story. With that advantage The Dark Knight does what you want it too; it gets right to the action and to the introduction of the new story.
At the end of Batman Begins the hint was dropped that the next villain in the franchise would be the Joker. I was very disappointed because we’ve already seen the Joker done on the big screen. Why not introduce a new villain from the DC universe? I know the Joker is supposed to be Batman’s greatest enemy but I thought at the time that he could have waited for a few movies. I felt the same about Lex Luthor in Superman Returns. I’m eating those words now though. Sometimes it’s all about timing, and this was the perfect time to introduce that character because Nolan had the perfect script and the perfect actor to play the role. Heath Ledger is stunning in his turn as the Joker delivering the best performance of his career. The modern version of the Joker should be ruthless, scary, and morbidly funny not silly, and Ledger plays the character this way. Also, the best villains are mirror images of the heroes they are fighting and Nolan does a phenomenal job with this theme. It’s not as heavy handed as it was in the X-Men movies or even the recent Hellboy sequel. Nolan places this mirror in front of Batman in a truly dramatic way.
Nolan has honed the Batman character to perfection. He is comfortable in the role in and out of the costume. The only warning I have for Bale and Nolan is to be careful with the socialite Bruce Wayne. This isn’t supposed to e Tony Stark and while the character doesn’t go that far in this film it’s easy to see how he could fall on that side of the fence in future installments. Other issues with Batman are that we almost see him too much. That may seem weird but when you think about the character he exists in shadows ready to strike, not just walking around in the open for all to see. It feels like Nolan went out of his way to show Batman more this time because of the complaints about not really getting a good look at Batman in the previous film. I was one of those complainers by the way. There’s a balance that Nolan has to strike where we see him, but only just enough. The whole idea is that the character is supposed to be scary. It all falls into this gray area where Batman exists. It wouldn’t be so bad if he was just a little scary to the audience too. This is mostly a nitpick; but I did stop and think about it during the film. On the upside the fight sequences, while still frantic, were slowed down just a little so as to not give viewers a headache while they try to keep up with what’s going on.
There’s so much to love about The Dark Knight that it’s almost painful that the film doesn’t hit that pinnacle of greatness that it’s so close too. The main story arcs are riveting, so why put the unnecessary and overly long subplots in? The worst offender is this story involving an underworld company trying to work a deal with Wayne Enterprises which leads to a completely unnecessary trip by Batman to the Far East. Also there’s a lot of screen time given to the Joker taking over the underworld. I believe this story is necessary for the film but it could have been told in half the time and no one would miss the padding. There are also a couple of places the film could have ended but it goes on for another 20 minutes. These false endings wouldn’t have been so bad had the padding been removed. Maggie Gyllenhaal doesn’t get a lot to do as Rachel but her existence is imperative to the evolution of Bruce Wayne and Batman. Wayne really wants to make a difference in his city and he loves the rush of the fight but a part of him does wish for the regular life and she’s always around to remind him of what he could have if he’d make some different decisions. Gyllenhaal is a fantastic actress but her quirky nature somehow doesn’t work for me. Don’t get me wrong her acting is fine, it just seems like her qualities are a bit wasted in the role. She’s much proffered over Katie Homes though. Also it seems that he’s done being haunted by the deaths of his parents. It isn’t referenced in this film at all.
With the complaints out there I have to reiterate that overall The Dark Knight is a fantastic film. The cast is huge and nearly everyone gets at least one great scene and nearly every character seems important to the story. I wasn’t sure if Aaron Eckhart was even necessary through the first two thirds of the film but he shines in the last third. In fact that may count as another complaint. Eckhart as Harvey Dent deserved a separate film but instead he gets to build a great character that plays into an anticlimactic conclusion.
The acting is just so meaty and great here, better than most other films that’ll probably get Oscar buzz early next year. The characters of Batman and the Joker are deeply layered and rich with story, making their actions have weight even if one of them is dressed like a bat and the other is wearing clown makeup. The writing for The Dark Knight is nearly perfect, leaving only a few clunker moments which I won’t spoil, giving these actors plenty to work with. This is the magic behind a comic book movie, the ability to build real universally identifiable people and then make them super heroes and put them in these astonishing situations
The true final moments of the film, two monologues in particular are stunning, so much so that the hairs lifted on my arms. The monologues were both moving and they set the stage for a dramatic and powerful change in the Batman character that has me itching for the next film now.
To hear more discussion of The Dark Knight check out next week’s podcast where we will really get into the film but make sure you see it first. We can’t be responsible for spoilers!