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Friday

Movie Review - The Dark Knight

I wanted to wait until I saw The Dark Knight for a second time before I wrote my review. I did this for two main reasons. First, it is almost mandatory to see a film like this twice before you can objectively comment on it. Depending on your preconceived notions of the Batman franchise, your first viewing will probably be biased (this is especially true for someone like me).

Secondly, my first viewing was almost ruined by poor theatre management. Of course, I would be remiss in my review of The Dark Knight, if I did not begin by explaining this story.

Even though my friends made fun of me for it, I bought tickets for The Dark Knight online more than 1 month in advance. I have been excited about this film for quite some time. I had to see it on opening night and I had to see it on IMAX. My friends laughed, but I’m glad I did. Every single show for the first two weekends was sold out almost two days after I bought tickets!

A group of 8 of us showed up almost 2 hours before the show. We got perfect seats and waited for the show to start. When the movie began, we were all blown away by the opening sequence which had been filmed with IMAX cameras. The screen is HUGE, and the IMAX scenes filled the entire thing!

We were all enjoying the movie…for about an hour and a half. Then, almost half way through the film…disaster struck.

The IMAX projector shut down. Apparently, some jerk forgot to check the coolant levels which keep the projector bulb from overheating. Of course, if you don’t check the coolant levels, the projector WILL overheat, and it will shut down.

We waited for them to fix the problem and resume the movie. But after 15 minutes of waiting, they announced that the show was cancelled. Every person in the theatre was ready to revolt.

We were all compensated for the trouble, but that didn’t solve our biggest problem. We still were not going to see the ending of the movie! So, we did what any crazed film fan would do. We found another theatre in the Mall of Georgia showing The Dark Knight, and we snuck in. We had to sit on the very front row (the only available seats in the entire theatre). They were the worst seats that you could possible imagine, and it wasn’t an IMAX theatre. But, at least we were able to finish the movie.

Of course, I had to watch the movie again, and I had to watch the entire thing on IMAX. So, Katie and I went to see it again. And, it was well worth it.

Even on a Thursday during the third week of the film’s release, the show was still sold out. This isn’t surprising at all. The Dark Knight is, in a word, “incredible.”

I suppose the best way to format this review is to break it into categories, which I have listed below. But, in order to keep this relatively concise, I have posted my review of the three main characters on a separate posting.

Click here to read my character review.

So, without further adieu, here is my review of The Dark Knight:

The Plot
It seems like the perfect place to start. After all, the plot is the reason the film is supposed to exist. Sadly, too many films these days are made to sell toys, boost an actor’s celebrity status, promote a musical artist, or to simply make a quick buck. The story takes a backseat to the hype. I hate that.

But, this certainly isn’t true with The Dark Knight. The plot has so many levels and nuances to it, I’m still not sure that I fully grasp them all. The main story centers around Bruce Wayne and his desire to hand over his mantle. He looks forward to the day when Gotham City doesn’t need Batman anymore. After all, that was the whole point of becoming Batman in the first place. Batman Begins perfectly established that Bruce wanted to act as a symbol for Gotham. His symbol would be one that would terrify the criminal element in Gotham, but at the same time, it would inspire others to be courageous enough to fight back against evil.

This is certainly an interesting theme that has not been explored much in the comics, and certainly never played a role in previous films. But, it was a major part of Christopher Nolan’s Batman. The Dark Knight picks up on this theme and takes it to the next level.

I thought the central theme of Bruce’s desire to hand over his mantle was excellent, but it was seriously overshadowed by a subplot in the film – The Joker.

For me, The Joker was the most memorable thing about the film. He stole the show! I found myself waiting for him to come back on screen. He is truly twisted and truly sociopathic. But, his characterization was something I have never seen before. For more information on that, click here.

The other major sublot concerned Harvey Dent and his transformation into Two-Face. Harvey Dent’s descent into chaos was an interesting subplot, but it was too short lived. It’s almost as if it didn’t belong in the film. It seemed out-of-place. There was so much other stuff going on that it felt crammed-in for the big finale.

I suppose that I understand why they didn’t want to dedicate an entire film to Two-Face as the villain. For a guy as good as Harvey Dent, his descent into chaos would have to be short-lived. It would have to be almost akin to temporary insanity brought on by the death of a loved one. It would be all-consuming for a short time, but I just don’t buy that Harvey’s entire nature would suddenly change when he becomes disfigured.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always liked the character of Two-Face, and I think they handled it fairly well in this movie. But, I just wanted to see more in order to be truly convinced.

However, the love triangle between Bruce, Rachel, and Harvey is utterly forgettable. I wasn’t invested in the relationship between Bruce and Rachel in the first film, and I certainly wasn’t invested in it this time. I know why they did it. I just don’t think that was handled as well as it could have been.

Gary Oldman
I’m glad they’ve given Jim Gordon a more central role. In the past, Commissioner Gordon has been relegated to a supporting role, offering police backup when it’s needed or giving Batman particular assignments. But, in Christopher Nolan’s Batman, Gordon fights alongside the Caped Crusader.

This gives Gary Oldman a real opportunity to shine. He is a great actor. I’ve always thought of him as playing a lot of bad guys on film, but it’s good to see him as a good guy. Plus, he brings a lot of depth to Jim Gordon. No longer is he a stuffy high-ranking cop who sits in his arm chair in his office and attends political functions. He’s a fighter. He’s as fearless and dedicated as Batman, but without the cape.

Michael Caine
What can I say? I love Michael Caine. Ever since I first saw him in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, I’ve been a fan. He can handle serious drama, and he is funny as hell.

When I first saw Batman Begins, I was hesitant to accept Alfred as having a low-British Accent. Typically, Alfred has been portrayed as having a very formal British accent. That’s what I have been accustomed to. There was just something about Caine’s accent that didn’t sit right with me.

But, I realized that I was quite wrong. Why would Alfred necessarily have a formal British accent? I’m sure that he was probably raised with very formal education, but Alfred isn't some stuffy, stereotypical British butler who wears ascots and white gloves. He’s Alfred! He’s witty, sarcastic, and tough. He has to be to put up with someone like Bruce.

Michael Caine’s accent makes perfect sense to me.

Maggie Gyllenhaal
Maggie’s performance was unbelievable. And, I don’t mean that in a good way. I did not believe for one second that she was an unstoppable Assistant DA or the love interest of two of the most powerful men in Gotham City. It’s not that she’s a bad actress. This just wasn’t the right role for her.

I should point out that I wasn’t a big fan of Katie Holmes either. She made a terrible attorney. But, at least I could believe that Bruce was interested in a girl who looked like Katie. Maggie just doesn’t have that kind of appeal that could snag guys like Bruce and Harvey.

Ultimately, I like the idea or Rachel’s character if it were done right. But, in both films she seemed to be more of a distraction than anything else.

Aaron Eckhart
If you haven’t seen the film Thank You For Smoking, go rent it. This was the film that really established Aaron in my mind. I love this guy’s work. He can play a great smart ass like he does in Thank You For Smoking, or he can play a hard ass like Harvey Dent. Aaron has the look of a guy you want to hang out. If you’re friends, he can be the nicest guy in the world. But, he’s also not afraid to kick your ass if you get on his bad side. That’s who Harvey Dent is, and that really comes through during his transformation into Two-Face. He plays the good and the bad equally well.

As I stated above, the Two-Face plot was a bit out-of-place for my tastes. But, this is in no way Aaron’s fault. He did a great job of playing Harvey and Two-Face. If Two-Face was the main villain in a Batman sequel (which seems highly unlikely considering the ending of The Dark Knight), I have no doubts that Aaron could carry the role.

Christian Bale
I feel that I have to preface this review by stating unequivocally that I am a huge fan of Christian Bale. I first saw him in a little film called Newsies. Since then, I’ve seen most of his films and loved almost all of them (The exception being Reign of Fire, but it wasn’t his fault. The script sucked). From Equilibrium to The Machinist, Christian can take on just about any role, make it his own, and excel. He is one of my favorite actors of all time.

With that said, his Batman voice has got to go. I think he makes an ideal Bruce Wayne. He’s dark and guarded. He doesn’t wear a mask, but you know you aren’t seeing the real Bruce Wayne. He comes off as a typical playboy millionaire without a care in the world except for himself. But, underneath lies something…abstruse (look it up).

Yet, as Batman, it is the one time that I hate hearing him speak. Bale is from Wales, yet he can perfectly mimic any accent on the planet. Watch any movie he’s ever been in. He rarely uses the same voice. He changes his voice to fit the characters that he is playing, and he does it flawlessly. So, why is his Batman voice so over-the-top?

I agree that Bruce has to disguise his voice when he is Batman. He has to whisper and sound very scruffy. But, when Bale does it, it comes off sounding so contrived. His words are broken up too much, and he occasionally sounds like he is congested. Of course, some of this is due to the cowl he is wearing.

Here’s a little trivia for you. No other Batman cowl has ever had a nose piece which covered the actor’s entire nose. It’s always open at the bottom so he can breathe. Why Nolan decided to do this, I am not sure. But his cowl covers Bale’s entire nose at the bottom. There may be some holes there so he can breathe. But, he is still covered up. That alone can make him sound congested.

Because the nose piece completely covers his nose, it also pulls his upper lip up. This would also affect his voice (and make him unable to ever close his mouth, which is another issue that I had).

Overall, I am just not sold on his Batman. He looks the part, he just isn’t sounding the part.

Heath Ledger
I have saved the best for last. I don’t really know what to say besides…Heath Ledger stole the freakin’ show! I knew, as everyone did, that his death would surround this film and his performance with hype. His passing was a tragedy. And, I honestly regret that I will never be able to see him on screen again. That is especially true after The Dark Knight.

His portrayal of The Joker went far beyond anything I had anticipated. For this film, it was a perfect representation of The Joker. It would have been out-of-place for Burton’s 1989 Batman film, which is why it is probably not fair to compare Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson. But, Heath took a well-established character and introduced the audience to a Joker they had never seen while maintaining all of the original intent of the character. He treated this role with the utmost respect, and it shows. Too many times, actors, writers, and directors take part in making a superhero film, and have no background and/or no respect for the source material. That becomes blatantly obvious when they make a superhero film for the sole purpose of selling toys and making a quick buck.

Heath, however, spent an entire month living alone in an apartment, surrounding himself with Batman comics, and working out The Joker’s voice and personality. He was dedicated to delivering more than just a surface-level characterization for one of the most intriguing and disturbing criminal masterminds ever put on paper. That is why I say that his performance was perfect.

I would say the same had he not died. If he were still alive, he would still merit the Oscar talk that is happening now. He deserves it.

The Suit
I was unsure about the new Batsuit. Of course, I said the same thing about the Batman Begins suit, but it grew on me. Before Batman Begins, I had always thought of the Batsuit being closer to Tim Burton’s Batman. It’s sleek, but it still looks like armor (and NO nipples!). But, the Batman Begins suit looked very "industrial" to me. I hated it at first. But, I realized that with Christopher Nolan’s “real world” approach to the character, it made perfect sense.

In The Dark Knight, Bruce asks Lucius Fox to build him a new suit. He needs something that will provide more flexibility but still give him some level of protection. He also wants to be able to turn his head. That all makes sense to me. But, the new suit came out looking like a mix between Motocross armor (which is actually what it was designed after) and SWAT riot gear.

Again, I understand and appreciate the reasoning behind it. But, it still looks a little funky to me. I’m getting used to it. But, I hate the cowl. I’ve explained why.

The Batpod
The Batpod was kind of forgettable to me. Yes, it’s cool that Batman has his own version of a motorcycle (which apparently only about a dozen stuntmen in the world are actually qualified to drive), and yes it makes for an impressive escape vehicle. But, I just didn’t get it. For all the realism that Nolan tried to inject into the movie, why this thing? I’m just sad that they destroyed the Tumbler. It took me a while to get to the point where I loved it. Now, it’s gone. Or, is it?

Christopher Nolan
Despite the few criticisms that I have, I am absolutely sure that Christopher Nolan is the man for this job. He has brought Batman back to the real world and given the Caped Crusader back a lot of the dignity that Joel Schumacher robbed him of. Christopher said that he wanted to create a world where Batman could really exist. That was his mindset when they created the Tumbler, the Batsuit, the Utility Belt…all of the things that make Batman who he is. He formed all of the characters in this same fashion. They are characters you can believe.

He has returned Batman to an elemental state where he can thrive as a hero, but is grounded by laws of reality. A few of the effects may be over-the-top. But, what’s a summer blockbuster without a Semi-truck being flipped over in the middle of a metropolitan?

All I can say is, “Thank you, Christopher Nolan.”

Final Thought
In the end, I have to say that The Dark Knight went far beyond all of my expectations. Rarely does such a movie live up to the hype, much less surpass it. But, this movie did just that. I was a huge fan of Batman Begins. The Dark Knight is far superior. It took the Batman mythos to a new level by introducing new ideas that gave the characters more complexity while retaining and expanding on established themes.

It is the best film of 2008 without a doubt. And, to think, it was almost ruined by some jerk who forgot to check the coolant levels in a projector. Unbelievable.

1 Comments:

  • i still wish Katie Holmes had stayed on board as Rachel Dawes for the Dark Knight; it was like the time spent getting familiar with her character in Batman Begins was wasted...

    By Anonymous movie kingdom, At August 27, 2008 8:22 PM  

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