THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)
Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Eric Roberts, Monique Curnen, Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Jai White, Nestor Carbonell, Cillian Murphy, William Fichtner, Edison Chen, Patrick Leahy, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister and Nicky Katt.
Screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan.
Directed by Christopher Nolan.
Distributed by Warner Brothers. 152 minutes. Rated PG-13.
I went into The Dark Knight with just a little trepidation. Yes, I had heard all of the fan boy critics falling all over each other to anoint this THE GREATEST FILM EVER! However, they also said similar things about Christopher Nolan’s first Caped Crusader film Batman Begins – and I did not get that movie at all. It was okay, but not the modern masterpiece that everyone had said it was.
The Dark Knight, on the other hand, comes pretty damned close.
I can not stress strongly enough how much better this film is that its predecessor. However, this bump up in quality is not so much because of the main character – who still is a rather dull hero. It is completely because he is surrounded by a much better class of villain.
A hero is only as good as his nemesis, and in his last performance, the late Heath Ledger created a bad guy for the ages.
Not that he exactly created him – the Joker has been played by everyone from Jack Nicholson to Cesar Romero. However, Ledger has reinvented him in a performance so startlingly nuanced that the former Jokers fade to black.
Add to that Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart) a good guy-turned-secondary villain who is also more interesting than the threat from Batman Begins. (I still can’t figure out why they would pick a lame bad guy like The Scarecrow to reopen the franchise, though Cillian Murphy does a brief cameo in that role here as well.)
Luckily The Dark Knight is not nearly as relentlessly bleak as the first Batman comeback film. Not that it’s a light-hearted film – hell no – but it knows how to balance the tragedy with pathos and some pitch black humor.
Even the Joker, who is in some ways a tragic character who has overcome some kind of vague horrifying history (and the character changes his backstory regularly depending on who he is talking with) has a twisted but real funny streak – somehow making what he does even more horrific.
As Batman, though, Bale still has no real chance to be anything other than a tragic figure – a martyr for the good. (He is also saddled with a new strange tough-guy whispery voice in the costume which verges on the comic when it is trying to be intimidating.) I still don’t quite buy the need to ostracize Batman for the good of the people. In fact, the final scene where Batman convinces Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) that Batman must be unjustly accused in order to save Gotham City makes no real sense for the Caped Crusader or the policeman – the crimes he offers to go on the hook for could have been easily explained away in other ways.
However, the action sequences here are much better and more imaginative (and much easier to comprehend, too.) The writing is superior – and it goes without saying that the threat is much more evocative. The supporting actors are generally better as well, though frankly Maggie Gyllenhaal’s read on the character of Rachel Dawes – while less strident than Katie Holmes’ take on the same character – still doesn’t quite resonate as the one woman who Bruce Wayne truly loves. Add to that the fact that the two best performances of Batman Begins – Michael Caine as Alfred the butler and Morgan Freeman as Bruce Wayne’s confidant in his company – are present and accounted for and still steal every scene they are in.
I’m not going to totally buy into The Dark Knight hype – for example, as terrific a job as Ledger did in his role, it is not worthy of an Oscar – as so many are suggesting. If he gets one, it would be out of sympathy for a very good actor who died too young, not on its own merits. This is not really a deep, nuanced performance so much as a impressively quirky and disquieting one.
That said, The Dark Knight is by far the best Batman movie made – ever. For a hero who has been on film so often over the years, that’s saying something.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 5, 2008.