Movie Review 2: The Dark Knight
By Evrim Ersoy Jul 25, 2008, 15:36 GMT
The Dark Knight is the sequel to Christopher Nolan\'s 2005 critical hit, Batman Begins. Batman and Gordon find alliance with a newly appointed DA Harvey Dent to stop a vicious killer with a warped sense of humor known only as The Joker, a threat to both the good, and the evil of Gotham City. ...more
Director Christopher Nolan’s follow up to his rebooting of the Batman franchise, Batman Begins, has got to be one of the most anticipated films this year. Not only there has been a steadily rising level of hype about the film and what it achieves but also the untimely death of actor Heath Ledger gas turned the spotlights firmly on this title and its’ entire production process.
There were ethical worries over whether Ledger’s performance should be included in the film as well as questions about whether Nolan had shot enough material for the film to be completed. In the end Nolan assured everyone that the film would proceed as before and a nervous waiting game began.
Soon after the post-production had finished, information trickled down that not only ‘The Dark Knight’ is a brilliant film but it also contained the finest performance of Ledger’s career. The possibility of an Oscar nomination started to echo throughout the halls of Hollywood. The public, however, still had to wait. Only this week will they find out the answer to the question: Is The Dark Knight worth all the hype?
The short answer to that question would be: almost. The Dark Knight is one of the better, extremely well-made superhero films: it is also an incredibly dark and adult film peppered with ethical themes that no other Batman film explored so thoroughly up until now. Even Burton’s gothic imagination of Batman had come nowhere as near as capturing the true black spirit of the later Batman comics; and it is here where Nolan succeeds admirably.
The film is also a visual wonder: the early word is that the Imax version is even more stunning. However even in the old-fashioned print (which is the way most of the public will see it) the film looks amazing. The action set-pieces are shot with a steady and focused eye, letting the audience participate in the mayhem. The opening six minutes, which Warner has been previewing since Christmas time, still impress even after so much exposition. As the film builds to a crescendo of chaos, mirroring Joker’s growing madness, so does the visual action: a sequence during the police parade in Gotham city is simply amazing and the chase during the prisoner transfer breath-taking.
The Dark Knight picks up where Batman Begins left off –with just one year passing after taking out Ra's Al Ghul's plan to have Gotham eliminated and the mysterious disappearance of Dr. Jonathan Crane AKA the Scarecrow, after the city was nearly plundered with his toxins, Bruce Wayne and his vigilante alter-ego the Batman, continue the seemingly-endless effort to bring order to Gotham, with the help of Lt. James Gordon and newly appointed District Attorney Harvey Dent. Together, it seems that the trio are succeeding in cleaning up Gotham and stopping the rule of the criminals on the streets. What they don’t expect however is the emergence of a new type of criminal: a deranged psychopath called Joker who is nothing like they’ve encountered before. A malevolent force of nature Joker wants to raze Gotham to the ground and it seems that even Batman might not be able to stop him.
Without giving away any more of the plot, the basic premise for The Dark Knight acts as a springboard for the film to explore a lot more complex issues: the film deals with responsibility, the meaning of heroism and most of all the question of ethics: Joker is more than just a paint wearing villain in this film – he represents Chaos and brings to the story everything you’d expect from Chaos as a force of nature. Unlike the other men, he does not have ideals, principals or rules that he can be expected to adhere to. Here Christopher and Jonathon Nolan create a new kind of criminal: one that serves the character of Batman extremely well as a counter-point.
And Heath Ledger absolutely shines in this role. The more you watch him, the more you realise that he has stopped acting and has become Joker. The mannerism he gives the character do not feel like the tools of an actor trying to occupy a shell but a man slipping into a second skin. He truly feels deranged and every time he appears on the screen; a feeling of dread arises: it is impossible to guess what his actions will be and this makes him a truly terrifying villain however not quite Oscar worthy as every other review seems to suggest. Compared to the villains of the first film, Nolan and Ledger up the ante so far up that it becomes an exciting prospect to see where the franchise will go next.
But he is not the only one whose presence makes the film a great experience: Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent and later Two Face is simply on fire. The transformation of him throughout the film is one of the truly great character arcs I’ve seen this film and once Two Face enters the frame, he simply runs away with the show. Mention must also go to the great make-up/effect job on the look of the Two-Face: A genuinely frightening, disfigured appearance complements the mind-melt of a once great man. Ledger might be the star of the show but Eckhart is so close it becomes impossible to tell which one makes the better character.
Gary Oldman’s Detective Gordon also makes an immediate impression: his character has grown since Batman Begins and in The The Dark Knight you begin to truly see the man behind the ideals. The lengths he is willing to go to capture the criminals of Gotham City are truly amazing to see and his later confrontation with Harvey Dent is one of the best sequences of the film. It is not surprising to see such a virtuoso performance from an actor the calibre of Gary Oldman but it is truly a testament to his talent that he manages to keep up with the two villains mentioned above.
And this is where one of the major problems about Batman comes in: Christian Bale as Batman. Hoping he would actually bring more to the much suppressed characterization of the first film, he instead just continues to play more of the same in The The Dark Knight.
However because the opposition is so varied, well-drawn and well-acted that Bale’s Batman simply simpers: going no further than a man in a plastic suit. The raspy voice he uses once Bruce Wayne becomes Batman sounds more like the result of a bad night with cigars and whisky rather than the voice of a true menace. The character remains a bad empty shell, making this reviewer wish for Michael Keaton again.
The other supporting characters are portrayed admirably as well. Michael Caine is on top form as Alfred supporting his master admirably through thick and thin, Morgan Freeman does his best with a character which was and still is unnecessary at best and Maggie Gylenhall comes off looking perfectly acceptable in her limited screen time. However the film belong to Joker, Dent, Gordon and Batman and Nolan never lets you forget this once.
The music by Zimmer and Newton Howard also serves the film well, with a discordant melody played on on out of tune piano creating a beautiful Joker melody during certain scenes where the villain appears to the other characters to talk.
What stops The The Dark Knight from becoming a true masterpiece however is the inorganic feel of the script: in trying to build the action up, Nolan loses the feel of the city, turning the whole setup in a sort of sequences that follow each other: Each set-up has a corresponding action sequence – making the film feel as if it is a number of short stories each with its’ own explosive set-up scene. There’s none of the aliveness of the city say the first Spider-man film achieve and here Nolan uses one of the greatest assets of what Batman means: He is Gotham City.
However even with these minor quibble, The The Dark Knight is still a superior film: one that stands head over should over the completion in no small part due to its’ amazing array of actors. It is simply impossible not to wonder where the franchise go from here considering Nolan’s ambitions seem to keep getting bigger and grander each time. No matter: we can be assured that whatever happens here is a comic book adaptation that simply gets better each time.