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.

Critical Movie Critic Rating:
5 Star Rating: Fantastic

5

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The Critical Movie Critics

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'Movie Review: The Dark Knight (2008)' have 24 comments

  1. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 16, 2008 @ 7:26 pm Jeffrey

    Hells yeah! This movie is gonna kick ass! I got my ticket for the midnight showing and I can’t wait.
    Thanks for not spilling out any spoilers to..

  2. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 16, 2008 @ 7:35 pm Pluto

    Good review. Can I get a condensed version of it next time!? :D

  3. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 16, 2008 @ 9:46 pm Rob

    All I’m going to say is, “This ain’t your grandpa’s Batman no more.”

    Be ready for a very twisted, very dark tale.

  4. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 17, 2008 @ 9:03 pm Yor

    Ledger is spectacular as Joker. Its a damn shame that he died because he definately took it to another level with this portrayal.

    RIP

  5. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 17, 2008 @ 11:01 pm Jonathon

    I haven’t seen it the movie yet, but I read that playing the Joker really put him into a depression…

  6. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 18, 2008 @ 6:33 am Brian

    I think now that he’s dead people are trying to connect the dots back to this performance.

    I also think his dying is propping up his performance more than it would have otherwise deserved..

  7. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 18, 2008 @ 9:09 am Sam I Am

    Your review is a little long-winded but otherwise good.

  8. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 18, 2008 @ 10:38 am TheAbsoluteJay

    @Brian: “I also think his dying is propping up his performance more than it would have otherwise deserved..”

    No.

  9. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 19, 2008 @ 5:56 am Nary

    Your second line sums it all up – “This is one rare and shining example of something that I would call close to cinematic perfection.”

    This is truly a great movie and it deserves all the praise its getting. I’m still awestruck!!

  10. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 20, 2008 @ 2:26 am Marvin Marks

    Great review.

    I saw the movie today and I thought it was fantastic. The best superhero movie I’ve ever seen in fact.

    And I think Ledger deserves the accolades he’s receiving. It’s sad that some people will say that people are only saying he gave a great performance because of his untimely death. I don’t think it’s that. I really think people would be talking about his performance in an awestruck manner even if he were still alive.

  11. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 22, 2008 @ 8:48 pm Celina Buy

    Hi there. Great review. Looking forward to seeing this one. Hoping to see a review for the new X-Files film on here soon, but anticipating that it will not be good :(

  12. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 25, 2008 @ 3:54 pm Haiku Girl

    I enjoyed the Dark Knight, but not nearly as much as most. I thought the story was good, the acting was good to great, but the editing of the film was brutal! The scene with Bruce and Alfred having a coversation in the Bat Garage (just doen’t have the same ring as Bat Cave), was on of the worst edited scenes I have seen this year. Again I liked the film, but the “greatest film ever” hype is totally insane. If you think The Dark Knight is one of the greatest films ever made, you seriously need to expand your cinematic knowledge.

  13. The Critical Movie Critics

    July 25, 2008 @ 4:34 pm TheAbsoluteJay

    Do you have a couple examples on how you felt the editing was so bad? I thought the editing, if anything, was a little basic, letting more of the camerawork do the job.

    While I don’t think it’s the greatest film ever, I still think it’s lived up to it’s hype, especially compared to some of the other over-hyped movies in the past 2 years.

    Your last sentence is a bit harsh, especially considering you review movies in haiku form without much supplemental review/reasoning (not saying you’re one of those awful people that compare really new movies to really old ones or movies that aren’t in the same genre as each other or anything). Some people think Ingmar Bergman’s work is the best filmmaking ever and it still to this day makes me say “WTF?” I’ve seen countless movies and I would consider my knowledge to be somewhat large (don’t particularly want to brag about or have a gauge or way to prove it). I mean my favorite movies are Collateral, The Empire Strikes Back, Blade Runner, and two of my favorite filmmakers are John Carpenter and Michael Bay, so how can I be a proper judge of what’s good, right?

    My point is that it’s 2008. You’re not going to get Lawrence of Arabia, or Citizen Kane. Modern cinema is worlds apart from classic cinema in terms of style and sometimes quality, as unfortunate as that may sound. At this point you can balk about decreasing standards, birth of CGI, or any number of things. I personally think it’s about a transitioning period of media and how it’s determined based on our social evolution, which is a whole issue in itself not suited for a comments section.

  14. The Critical Movie Critics

    August 9, 2008 @ 5:55 am Rich

    Betcha Katie Holmes is kicking herself in the ass right now. She had the opportunity to be in the biggest movie of the year (maybe ever) and she chose to listen to her Scientology asshole husband!! I see divorce papers in the near future..

  15. The Critical Movie Critics

    August 12, 2008 @ 3:18 am Jason

    The movie was okay but didn’t live up to the hype in my opinion. The best scene of the whole movie was the disappearing pencil.

  16. The Critical Movie Critics

    November 7, 2008 @ 11:04 am Design Company Manager

    I have not seen the film yet! Is it so great? I want to buy a dvd to watch.

  17. The Critical Movie Critics

    November 7, 2008 @ 4:46 pm Kathy

    I don’t like such kind of movies but your review made me watch it and I’m really impressed. Thanks a lot!

  18. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 10, 2008 @ 11:51 pm J

    Good review….I agree, this movie is incredible. Your grammar is a little bit off in some places, maybe a little tuning up on your sentence structures and the way you say things will go a long way. You have a lot of potential to be a great critic. Keep doing these reviews, I’m enjoying them a lot :)

  19. The Critical Movie Critics

    April 10, 2009 @ 11:00 pm The Massie Twins

    Dark Knight is highly over-rated, but still entertaining. The biggest crime was to force The Joker to share the spotlight with Two-Face.

  20. The Critical Movie Critics

    May 15, 2009 @ 4:49 am Self Improvement

    To make it short, It was the best film of the year 2008.
    This isn’t just the best Batman movie ever made, this is one of the best movie ever made. Not one piece of annoyance. This Joker is not like the other renditions; he is the best. Downright evil, corrupt, insane, psychotic, terrifying. Also as a serious soundtrack fan I have to say James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer did a great job to keep the atmosphere dark and moody during all the scenes.

  21. The Critical Movie Critics

    May 16, 2009 @ 5:28 am Mircea

    Spot on! The movie was a masterpiece..but the reason is not the story but ledger’s superb acting of the joker. May he rest in peace! :(

  22. The Critical Movie Critics

    October 25, 2009 @ 4:52 am Jesse

    Thanks for the informative review

  23. The Critical Movie Critics

    February 15, 2010 @ 8:25 am Kate The Portrait Artist

    Ledger is awesome in this film as the Joker, can’t see how you can say otherwise. May be this was not the best Batman Film ever made and it will always be a victim to its enevitable hype. A very indepth review – well done in my opinion. Thanks

  24. The Critical Movie Critics

    September 22, 2010 @ 3:20 am James Kerry

    What I really liked about this movie is it is sweet and touching without ever trying.

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