THE DARK KNIGHT
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Produced by Christopher Nolan, Charles Rovan & Emma Thomas
Screenplay by Christopher Nolan & Jonathan Nolan
Based on a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer
Based on “Batman” created by Bob Kane
Something really special happened to me while watching THE DARK KNIGHT. Sometime around the part where The Joker and Harvey Dent are having a very revealing conversation in Gotham General Hospital I realized that I wasn’t just watching a good superhero movie. I was watching a good movie, period. The summer of 2008 has been a very good summer for superheroes in general and along with several other popular comic book based movies, THE DARK KNIGHT has successfully straddled the worlds of the comic book fan and the average movie goer. Movies based on comic book superheroes have made it into the mainstream. And in the case of THE DARK KNIGHT it’s well deserved. But comic book fans such as me have been saying for years that if only the studios would take these characters seriously and trust their stories to writers, directors, actors and technical people who would simply treat the material with respect, these characters and their stories would deliver. In this case, it pays off in many excellent ways. That’s not to say that THE DARK KNIGHT rang all my bells. But we’ll get to that later.
Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is living in a gorgeous penthouse atop the Wayne Enterprises building by day and keeping the streets of Gotham safe by night as Batman. His faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) is keeping their underground Gotham City hideout tidy as well as the penthouse while continuing to offer sage advice with his usual acid wit and deadpan delivery. Batman and Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) have got Gotham’s underworld on the run and they contemplate an alliance with crusading District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) Dent is beloved by the citizens of Gotham and Bruce Wayne is seriously thinking about throwing the full weight of his considerable influence behind Dent. Maybe it’s time Gotham had a hero who doesn’t have to wear a mask and skulk around at night to do his good work. Bruce would also like to put Batman behind him so that he can devote all his attention to Assistant District Attorney Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) However, Rachel is devoting her time to Harvey Dent and is seriously considering marrying him.
Everybody’s plans get put on hold by a siege of terror brought to Gotham City in the form of a white-faced, scarred demon of chaos who calls himself The Joker (Heath Ledger) The brilliantly deranged psychopath strikes a deal with Gotham’s crime bosses: he’ll kill the Batman in exchange for half of their immense illegal fortune. But that’s only a scheme within a scheme as The Joker intends to rule Gotham himself. The Joker announces he will kill someone for every day that The Batman does not turn himself to the police and unmask. Despite the disfigured, goofy grin on his face he ain’t kiddin’ around. Panic soon fills the streets as the terrified citizens of Gotham are caught in the middle of a war between Batman and the Joker. But it’s a more than a war fought for control of Gotham: it’s also a war for the soul of Harvey Dent as well. And Batman faces what is perhaps his most terrible dilemma yet: how far is he willing to go to stop The Joker? Is he willing to cross a line that he can never step back across?
What really made THE DARK KNIGHT a standout for me is the ethical and moral issues raised by and faced by the main characters. Batman, Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent are all good and honorable men committed to their dream of a Gotham City free from the terrible decay of crime eating away at it. And they’re willing to go to war for it. But The Joker escalates the war to a frightening new level. And he keeps upping it. Each one of the three men must look inside themselves and determine how they’re going to save the city without losing the elements of their character that separate them from the criminals they fight. Rachel Dawes loves Bruce Wayne but she wonders if Gotham needs him to be Batman more than she needs him to be a husband. Even Alfred and Wayne Enterprises CEO Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) have their own ethical issues to wrestle with in this movie, especially Lucius Fox when he discovers how Batman is using an invention of his in a way Lucius never intended for it to be used and is plainly frightened at the thought of Batman having such power.
What else did I like about THE DARK KNIGHT? I like how Batman is actually shown doing detective work. I like how Lucius Fox and Alfred work so well at providing backup/support for Batman. Lucius actually plays a major role in helping to capture a major mob accountant, a task that takes not only him but Batman to Hong Kong. I liked Tiny Lister’s brief but kickass cameo. I like all the cool Batgadgets. I like Christian Bale a lot. He seems more confident in this movie and is equally at home as Bruce Wayne and Batman. I like how Bruce Wayne had a lot to do in this movie. I like that this movie was filmed in Chicago which does an excellent job of playing Gotham City. Having the action take place in a real city and not on a set gives this version of Gotham City a bedrock reality that the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher films didn’t have.
What didn’t I like about THE DARK KNIGHT? Christian Bale still hasn’t found a voice that works for Batman. His Batman continues to sound like a throat cancer victim straining to talk. I missed Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes but considering the character’s eventual fate I was glad she wasn’t in this one. I was confused by some of the fight scenes. Christopher Nolan tends to film them too close in and underlit so that I honestly had a hard time telling what was going on. I think the gimmick of Batman’s cape being a glider is used way too often. The Joker could have been cleaned up a little. He looked downright diseased and infected throughout most of the movie
Which brings me into what you probably really want to know: what did I think of Heath Ledger as The Joker? I thought he was scary, brilliant and wonderfully psychotic. This is a Joker who’s traded in his high voltage joy buzzers and acid squirting lapel flowers for shotguns and razor sharp knives. Notice that I said ‘a’ Joker. Ledger is a wonderful Joker but he’s not ‘The’ Joker if you know what I mean. His interpretation of the character is as far from Jack Nicholson’s Joker as Nicholson’s was from Cesar Romero and it’s even further from the comic book version. This is a Joker that fits in magnificently with this ‘Real World’ vision of Batman but he’s not The Joker from the comic books. Not for me at any rate. That didn’t stop me from enjoying Ledger in what is really a performance that has to be seen to be believed. You never know what he’s going to do or say next and there are several scenes Ledger has that are truly disturbing. This definitely isn’t a Batman movie for the kiddies. I know that Batman fans insist that the movies get darker and darker but after THE DARK KNIGHT it can only get darker by opening with one of the major characters hanging themselves in the attic of Wayne Manor.
I only hope that with all the deserved praise given to Heath Ledger that Aaron Eckhart isn’t forgotten as I believe that his performance is equally as good. Harvey Dent’s character and story is what is really at the core of THE DARK KNIGHT and Eckhart is terrific in the role. But there really isn’t a bad performance or misstep in the entire movie. THE DARK KNIGHT is essentially a hardcore action thriller that sets out to show Batman in the ‘Real World’ just as much as possible. And it works. By all means don’t wait for the DVD. Go see it in the theaters. It’s simply the best Batman movie made so far.
Rated PG-13 But I think it should have been an R. There are some scenes that I feel are too intense for younger viewers and parents should be advised that this is not a fun superhero romp. This is most definitely an adult picture with sometimes shocking violence and mature themes.