Movie Review: The Dark Knight (2008)
Most movies surrounded by as much hype as The Dark Knight usually don’t live up to it. This is one rare and shining example of something that I would call close to cinematic perfection. This summer’s blockbuster is a direct sequel to 2005′s Batman Begins, picking up right where it left off, with a new villain starting to stir up trouble in Gotham City. Along with a new villain comes a new hero in the form of Gotham’s new District Attorney, Harvey Dent. With Dent, Lieutenant Gordon, and Batman, the crime in Gotham City has to now find its own self proclaimed savior — the mysterious and strange criminal who calls himself The Joker.
In this film, we see the kind of improvements you would expect from a sequel. Batman gets a new suit and some new toys, the movie gets a little more substance (some thought the development in Batman Begins was a bit too slow), as well as gets a little longer in run time. What I think wasn’t expected, was how big the improvements were.
For those of you who know some things about the production of the first film and the underpinnings of the ideals – not just with the themes of the story itself, but what Christopher Nolan and the producers of the film had in mind for what they were showing the audience – you will notice how they built on just that. The music, while almost vague in the first film is huge and integral in this one, becoming a gripping part of The Dark Knight. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard deliver a score that was so incredibly vital to the movie that you couldn’t help but feel like it would have been playing had all the events onscreen been occurring in real life.
Speaking for the production of the film next, I again cannot say enough. Nolan decided to film a few of what he felt were important scenes, in the 70mm film format. I was fortunate enough to see the film in IMAX as well, and it’s a sight to behold. For the most part, you don’t particularly notice, but that’s not a bad thing, that’s just how this movie grabs you and doesn’t let go. Wally Pfister (the director of photography on all of Nolan’s films) takes the cityscape of Gotham to another level. In addition to the shooting of just the sprawling metropolis, there was new action to shoot, new suspense, and with that came over 700 effects shots that needed to be done, which was a substantial amount more than the previous. None of it disappoints. The mystique of Batman is upheld with the realism that Nolan has strived to build, with pretty much everything in the movie played about as close to the fringe of fact and fiction as you can get.
But beauty is only skin deep. What about the script? What about the actors? Can you make a movie where a main character is replaced by another actress? Yes, yes, and yes. I can’t say enough that this movie delivers in every way. There was some dismay over the script of Batman Begins; some scenes felt drawn out, unnecessary and/or hokey. The Dark Knight delivers something new: a gripping story that not only stands on its own merits, but stands out in a remarkable way. You’ll forget that you are watching a movie about a comic book character. Even when saying that, fans of the comic books will notice the story elements from the acclaimed 1996-1997 limited series The Long Halloween, as well as others. The kind of depth that was brought to this production is almost otherworldly. The themes of Batman have always been imbued to the specific characters, and this film is no different. It’s as if Nolan was able to reach out through these characters and tell the audience what they mean, stand for and what’s on their minds. It almost appears that the screenwriters (Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan) had read every piece of Batman fiction there is as their understanding of the characters and more importantly, how the characters interact with the world is phenomenal. Each character has multiple deep emotional moments. Even the characters with small roles are three dimensional, with their own motives, decisions, actions and reactions. The story is expertly crafted to grab on and not let go, lending screen time for all the characters to arc in a complete way. The beginning grabs you, the middle is the meaning of the word climax, and the ending is complete in a big way.
When you have a cast like the one in The Dark Knight, it’s to be expected that you get good performances. Good performances are what you got from Batman Begins. The Dark Knight boasts some amazing performances from its cast. There is no interaction between characters wasted in the film and they all have a deep kinetic connection that drives the film with an ethereal force. You’ll also see a variety of old and new faces, further adding to the world created by Christopher Nolan.
Reprising his role as billionaire turned vigilante Bruce Wayne/Batman is Christian Bale. First thing I’d like to point out is how Bale speaks. He is Welsh, and he masks it quite well. His voice and manners as Bruce Wayne are nothing like that of his alter ego, Batman. Bale gained a deep understanding of this character and his dual personalities from day one and has built on the foundation that he made in Batman Begins. In The Dark Knight, we see more of Batman, a striking difference from the first film, where he was portrayed more as a shadow. It’s to say, now that we know Batman, and we get to see Bruce Wayne when he’s inside Batman and vice versa. What comes with seeing more of Bruce and his double life in full swing, we begin to feel more for him.
Also coming back is Michael Caine as the loyal butler and confidant to Bruce/Batman, Alfred Pennyworth and Gary Oldman as Lieutenant James Gordon, head of a special unit to fight organized crime called the Major Crimes Unit. Caine’s part isn’t large, but every line of dialogue given is deep and filled with love and support for Bruce. In a way, you could liken Alfred’s role to that of Yoda from the Star Wars trilogy. Easily, the role would be nothing if it weren’t for Michael Caine, whose classical background and dry English wit bring the character to life and keep up with the charismatic Bale with no problems. Oldman on the other hand, brings the purity and hope in James Gordon’s heart to life, which is important, as his character is incredibly deep and unfathomably important to the story (he appears to be the only cop in Gotham who isn’t corrupt).
The two newcomers to the series are Aaron Eckhart, playing Harvey Dent, and Maggie Gyllenhaal who plays the returning character, Assistant District Attorney Rachel Dawes (originally played by Katie Holmes). I personally thought that Dawes’ role in Batman Begins was too small to merit any huff about a change in actresses. The expanded role of Dawes here was played very well by Gyllenhaal, whose natural abilities played well to the love interest of not only Bruce Wayne, but also to Harvey Dent.
Aaron Echart plays the hardnosed D.A., Harvey Dent. Harvey’s noble attitude works well with Eckhart’s physical appearance as well as his charismatic and acting qualities. If you’ve been following the viral marketing surrounding Harvey Dent’s “campaign” to become Gotham City’s new District Attorney, you have either come to love him or hate him. I, for one, believe in Harvey Dent, as the slogan goes. I became engrossed with this character that was built by the mythos and portrayed by Aaron Eckhart. His call to arms of the citizens of Gotham to help him rid the city of scum the right way had me convinced. Eckhart’s commitment to Harvey Dent was as strong as Dent’s bond to Gotham.
Finally, we all know the tragedy that befell the young Heath Ledger, who plays the villainously insane Joker. With all the praise he’s been handed and the words “Oscar nomination” being used, there’s much speculation that it’s, well, sympathy for a good young actor who passed much before his time. I can say that, without sympathy, dead or alive, this is one of the best performances given by an actor. I didn’t watch a lot of the trailers and clips from the film, I tried to save myself. What I did read about was what Christopher Nolan, Christian Bale, and Michael Caine, and many, many others had to say about Heath: That he was a brilliant actor; dedicated, energetic, and most of all, talented. It was more than apparent when watching him onscreen as the Joker. You didn’t want to take your eyes off him; you hung on every word, even when he was scaring you or one of the other characters. I watched with a mouth wide open as he spoke each line of dialogue. Mind, body, and soul, Heath Ledger became the Joker.
It’s easy to say that this is the best movie of the summer. I personally think that is one of the best movies of the year. From the production to the marketing to the film itself, The Dark Knight delivers in a way that other filmmakers dream about. The world of Batman that Christopher Nolan has created is a sight to behold, by anyone, at least once. I would say that this movie is going to be in the theaters for a while, so brave the crowds for this film; I promise it’ll be worth it.