What can be said about The Dark Knight that hasn’t been said before? I’m not sure, but I’m going to try and offer my take on Christopher Nolan’s latest bat-masterpiece (I’m going to try and keep the “bat-insert something random here” jokes to a minimum, I promise, I just needed to get it out of my system). I’ll tackle the movie itself as well as offering my insight/hopes for the inevitable next portion of the trilogy.
So, like many people around the country, I attended a midnight showing of TDK after work and a viewing of Batman Begins on HD-DVD. Needless to say, I was ready to see Batman continue the good fight when midnight rolled around. Boy was I not let down.
From the opening scene until the title’s not so subtle “revelation” in the final act, I was blown away. My eyes were glued to the screen the whole time. The first thing I told my buddies when we left the theater was that I wanted to turn around and see it again (I’m waiting to see it in IMAX this week for that). For me, that’s about as much initial praise as a film can muster. I literally don’t recall the last time I had that thought. But why did I like it so much? Let me tell you my thoughts. My thoughts, let me tell you them.
Although I enjoyed Batman Begins for the tale that was told (exploring every single angle of the Batman character) watching the films back to back reminded me just how slow parts of Begins were (especially in comparison). I’ve heard some complaints that the story felt too rushed, but I feel as though the story needed to feel that way.
The Joker was supposed to be a literal presence in the movie that was pushing the city towards the brink of destruction. With the Joker on the loose, you never knew what was going to happen. He crashed parties and killed people without avail. At any moment he could show up and murder you. That feeling sort of carried over into the manner in which the movie was shot because the viewer themselves was on the edge of their seat (at least I was) waiting to see what was going to happen next.
As the movie rushed along I got the sense of urgency. The heroes needed to do something or else someone would die or something would blow up and it usually did. One moment everyone’s tense and on edge and the next something goes horribly wrong (for someone). The mounting murders and crimes just kept making that tension worse and worse and at times I was breathless. Sure, they could have slowed some scenes down and taken more time with certain characters here and there but then the movie would lose that urgency that was so prevalent in the film and which helped it feel as though the viewer could be next. I thought the pacing was brilliant, pretty much, as was the overall arc of the movie.
Nothing can really be said about Heath Ledger’s Joker that you haven’t already read. Yes, he deserves all the praise he’s receiving. Yes, he will make you forget Jack Nicholson’s version. Yes, he’s creepy as all hell. Just believe the hype.
The only other thing I have to say about the Joker is that I believe this will go down in history as the redefinition of the character. TDK’s version is so completely insane and maniacal that it doesn’t matter if they skipped a back story or which stories they borrowed from. This is the Joker at his sick twisted finest. Playing him up as a psychopathic terrorist (in the truest sense of the word) was simply brilliant. He didn’t need to get revenge on anyone to be an effective villain. He was simply pure evil.
Also of note is his second (true) introduction in the film. Yes, the meeting with the crime families. I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it (those of you who have know what I mean when I say this) but just trust in that they managed to take a dark, disturbing, and often times humorous character and sum him up in a brief 5 or 10 second scene that not only sets the tone of the film but cements the character within the world and defines him better than an entire two hours worth of film could manage. You’ll know it when you see it. You won’t expect it, at all, but you will love it.
As for the character himself, the writers would be remiss if they think Ledger's death should stop them from bringing him back, which some people believe is wrong. For a character that is so sick and twisted (just listen to his explanation of his scars... all three of them) I have a quick easy fix: the Joker spends time in Arkham for his crimes and is "cured" by Harley Quinn who does some magical paper work fixing and gets him sprung, all the while falling hopelessly in love with him and ready to aide him in his violent quest. As part of Joker's rehabilitation in Arkham he has assumed a somewhat different identity/approach (as he is now a man in love) and therefore it could be believable that whoever plays him wouldn't have to recreate Ledger's Joker exactly, but instead create their own unique twist on him. Problem solved.
The other two performances that truly stood out for me were Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon and Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent/Two-Face. As much as Heath Ledger became the Joker, I truly feel as though Gary Oldman became Gordon. Never once did I look at him as anyone but a determined and fearful man trying to deal with the crumbling world around him in the only way he knew how, by catching the criminals rotting his city from the core.
Eckhart (only known to me prior to this as the lead in Thank You For Smoking) also turned in a fantastic performance as the tragic Harvey Dent, the one friend Batman couldn’t save. The whole arc of the character was superbly handled and much more fleshed out than I thought it would be. In so doing the writers managed to afford Eckhart a plethora of emotional range which he conveyed very convincingly throughout. The only problem I had was that they sort of played Harvey off as Bruce’s love interest’s new boyfriend much more so than the good friend of Bruce that Harvey was often portrayed as in the comics. I understand why they introduced him as such a device, but I would have liked to see Bruce and Harvey linked by more than just Rachel Dawes (perhaps via a college connection) and some fund raising. That wasn’t Eckhart’s fault, though, merely stating.
Many have complained that Christian Bale’s Batman voice is grating and ruins the movie for them (or at least his performance therein) but I still don’t have a problem with it. Yes, I noticed it as I watched it (mostly because I read online prior to seeing it how people were already complaining ‘bout it) but it really didn’t ruin anything for me. I figure if I was Gotham’s princely son and I was gallivanting around at night beating up criminals that I wouldn’t want to sound anything like myself. Plus, I’d wanna do my best to sound angry and pissed off all the time to intimidate people. It may get to some, but I don’t see it as a problem. I mean, it’s better than taking his glasses off and messing up his hair or something stupid like that. (Zing!)
Overall Bale was great (as always) despite being outshined by some of the other supporting cast members.
Everything else in the movie was great, too. It offered up a nice mix of action scenes and nail bitingly tense moments where you truly didn’t know what was going to happen. The only major complaint I can leverage at it is that Nolan doesn’t quite “get” fight scenes yet. The quick editing and camera cuts during the fight scenes were jarring and made them all difficult to follow (if not increasingly fast-paced, like I mentioned before). If he could slow these specific moments down to show off Batman’s fighting style (and new suit, which barely seemed any more open to movement thanks to the fight pace) it would go a long way to show just how skilled and brutal Bats can be.
Otherwise, playing the film off as a truly great crime drama that happened to have an iconic super hero in it was great. Nolan can’t be praised enough for making these movies accessible, true to the characters, and overall appealing in every sense of the word. If you haven’t seen it, go see it. If you have, go see it again. I know I am.
If you like what I have to say, feel free to check out my second write up and how I think the movies' arc(s) should continue! Thanks.