Posted on 10/24/11 10:30 AM
The Dark Knight. What more does there need to be said about this film that hasn't been said already? Following months of massive hype, the film was released to huge critical acclaim and earth shattering box office records. It wound up as the highest grossing of the year and the highest grossing superhero film on record, even when adjusted for inflation, selling more tickets than the likes of Spiderman and Superman. It's currently tied with Iron Man as the highest rated superhero film based on a comic book, though it has a much higher average rating. It also currently stands at No.9 on IMDB's list of highest rated films, making it the highest rated film of the last decade and by far the highest rated superhero film. It also received the highest amount of Oscar nominations for a superhero film, while it missing out on a best pic nom was considered a huge snub and is arguably the reason why the academy would later expand the nominations to ten instead of five. It's received so much acclaim that it's suffered from a certain degree of backlash (few films have been called overrated as much as this film)
Usually I start off my review with a brief description of the plot. Unfortunately one paragraph simply won't do the film's plot justice (heck, you need several viewings to fully understand the film) Basically, to put things in a very simplified manner, the film involves the plights of Batman, Lieutenant Jim Gordon (who later gets promoted to Commissioner) and newly appointed District Attorney Harvey Dent to stop the crime wave in Gotham City. Unfortunately, just when things really seem to improve, the mafia in desperation turn to a man whom even they have no idea just how dangerous he can be - The Joker.
Watching The Dark Knight reminded me of watching The Godfather Part 2. No, it's not just because that they're both highly acclaimed crime sequels with a long running time, but because of the similar experience I had with them. In both cases, I came in with very high expectations due to all the praise the films had received and was initially let down. I enjoyed them, but I didn't feel they lived up to their hype. However, with each repeat viewing I began to enjoy them more and more, and realized how much I had missed on my first viewing. By the time of my third or fourth viewing of The Dark Knight I was left with a "wow" feeling after the credits started to roll.
This is a film where even the title has a deeper meaning to it. There's a reason why it's the first film about Batman not to have the character's name in the title and why it's called The Dark Knight other than how cool the title sounds. Not only is this the first Batman film not to feature any bats in it, but The Dark Knight is also a very accurate description of what Batman is.
The film can essentially be seen as a comparison between Batman and Harvey Dent, who is dubbed as Gotham's White Knight. Harvey is in essence a true hero. He is well loved by everyone, he doesn't hide behind a mask, he challenges the mafia directly instead of lurking in the shadows, and he obeys the rules and works within them. This makes him a much more positive icon to the city, and yet it also makes him much more limited and much more liable to be corrupted or fall (as Harvey himself says "you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain") Batman, on the other hand, is not your best description of a hero. He broods in the shadows, wears a mask, he's hated as much as he is loved, he lives by only one rule (never kill anyone) and has no trouble using any methods on criminals he's sees necessary, even if it involves throwing someone off a building. However, all this allows him to do things regular heroes can't do, such as taking the blame for crimes he didn't commit. The film demonstrates just how much more than a hero Batman is by comparing the different fates of Harvey and Batman. The ending of the film can seem a little confusing on the first view, but with repeat viewings one realized just how deep and complex it is (it also demonstrates another theme of this movie which is how sometimes the truth is not enough. Spoilers - having Batman say in the end in a voiceover how people deserve more than the truth and then showing Alfred at that very moment burning a letter Rachel wrote to Bruce, preventing him from knowing that Rachel intended to marry Harvey Dent was one of the most brilliant scenes in the movie)
In fact, it's almost interesting how much Batman actually bears in common with The Joker, with the one rule Batman put on himself being the one line that really separates them, a line The Joker throughout the movie is determined to push (he even tries to get Batman to kill him) Speaking of The Joker, one thing I've noticed in comic book adaptations is how difficult it is to find a convincing reason as to why the villain would want to destroy a city. The Joker is arguably given the most convincing reason, which is no reason at all. There's no logic to The Joker's actions, he's not out there for revenge or greed, he simply takes pleasure in watching the world burn (On a side note, I've noticed how a number of reviews have complained that for someone who claims he's just a dog chasing cars, he sure seems to have what seem to be very well thought of plans. I think they misunderstood what the Joker meant when he said he wasn't a guy with a plan. I think he meant that there simply was no real purpose to his actions, except maybe to prove how people are just like him. Also, I don't think his plans were very well thought of. They were incredibly risky and seemed to have been formed on a mere whim, which is probably why they were able to work so well, because the police were used to much more organized operations from the mafia)
One of the many things I loved about the film is how they went out of their way not to give The Joker an origin. We're not sure where he came from, we don't know his names, we're not even sure where he got his scars (having the Joker's story of how he got his scars change everytime he tells it was a nice touch) One of my complaints about the batman films pre-Nolan that The Dark Knight solved was how they gave The Joker an origin yet not Two Face, which I think is completely wrong. Because the Joker has no motivation or compelling reason behind his actions, an origin feels pointless and actually lessens our fear of the character. It's a problem with so many horror remakes as well; they try to explain the actions of a character that we're not supposed to feel sympathy or compassion for. On the other hand, Two Face is a much more conflicted villain, and therefore needs an origin so we can understand why he's doing the things he's doing.
One can't talk about the Joker without mentioning the brilliant performance of the late Heath Ledger. I remember how so many were skeptical when it was announced that Heath Ledger would portray the Joker, and how his mere voiceover in the teaser completely changed people's view of him. He really buries himself into the character, coming out completely unrecognizable (unlike The Joker in the original Batman, where most of the time I was watching Jack Nicholsen and not The Joker) He's creepy, deadly, psychotic, and his mere laugh sends a chill down your spine (The scene where Batman interrogates him in jail had me starring in shock at just how crazy the Joker was) In fact, he's the type of villain that most horror films would love to have. I also like how Ledger didn't try to go too over the top or tried too hard at humor. This makes him much more menacing and also gets a much bigger laugh out of you when he says or does something funny (the mere sight of him emerging out of the hospital after setting up the explosives and then stops and presses the button repeatedly until the explosions finally goes off had me laughing hard) Rarely has there been a character whom you could fear so much and yet find him so funny at the same time. It's almost hard for me to watch any other portrayal of The Joker without thinking how much it pales in comparison to Ledger's. His Oscar was well deserved.
The performance of Ledger is so great that I've heard many say how he outshines everything else in the film. Personally I disagree with that, because the rest of the film is pretty amazing two. In fact, my two favorite scenes from the movie (Batman confronting Dent and the ending) don't even have the Joker in them. Also, it's not like the rest of the cast is weak; in fact, this film arguably features the best cast in a superhero film ever. Christian Bale continues to greatly balance portraying the spoiled and carefree Bruce Wayne (or so he appears to the public) and the menacing Batman (his growling has increased from the first film, but while that's another thing people love to complain about, I actually think it's logical that with time Batman's voice would grow thicker and thicker as a way to further disguise his voice) Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman remain strong supporting players to the film, while Maggie Gyllenhaal and Aaron Eckhart are welcome additions to the cast as Rachel Dawes (replacing Katie Holmes, who was unavailable for the film) and Harvey Dent respectively.
Even on a pure entertainment level, there's a lot to enjoy. There are several impressive action scenes throughout the film, the highlight being the chase through the city, where we see Batman using his Batpod for the first time (and it's one of the coolest vehicles ever) Granted, Nolan still uses a lot of shaky-cam, which can make the action a little hard to follow at times (particularly the fight between Batman and The Joker) but then again, this is a film you're going to have to watch more than once to fully get, so it's almost suitable that the same applies with the action scenes.
Like almost everything else about the film, the drama is top notch (spoilers - Rachel's death is one particularly heartfelt scene) It helps that the conflicts in this film are not just black and white. In his attempts to prove how cruel people really are, The Joker puts the people of Gotham through a number of situations where they're almost guaranteed to turn against Batman and the police. This puts a lot more weight on the climax, where Batman and The Joker are not just fighting physically like they would in a lesser movie, but fighting to prove whether or not people deep down are all just as ugly as The Joker, which in turns makes the resolution all the more rewarding (spoilers - a number of people I know have protested against it, saying that in real life the people in the ferry boats would have done exactly what the Joker wanted, but I disagree. Yes, a lot of people would have wanted the other boat blown up but how many would have willing to have the death of hundreds of people on their conscience, even criminals? I think the film demonstrates that idea perfectly, showing how despite the fact that the majority on the first ferry boat voted for blowing up the other one so they could be spared, no one had the guts to do push the button themselves)
While many agree that the lack of a best picture nomination was a huge snub for the film, I also think the lack of a nomination for best score was another major snub (though in that case, there was some behind the scenes drama that prevented it from getting it) Hans Zimmer's score is so epic it pulls you into the film. The music for the Joker, known as"Why so serious?", is especially noteworthy in the way it builds up so incredibly and effectively (take the scene where the Joker is about to tell Batman about the origin of his scars - the music for the scene hits all the perfect notes at the right time, and the same goes for the scene between The Joker and Rachel)
Finally it goes without saying that the special effects in this film are great. Nolan continues relying on practical effects, using CGI only when necessary (like the effects on Two Face) which goes really well with the gritty realism of the film, and means that even the effects are likely going to withstand the test of time, just like everything else in the film.
Simply put, The Dark Knight raises the bar for superhero movies, one that has yet to be matched. Not only is it my favorite superhero movie, it's one of my favorite movies ever. A lot of people say that once the fanboy hype dies down the film won't be as well regarded but I disagree completely. This is one of those rare films that gets better and better with each viewing. If you saw it once and felt letdown from all the hype, I'd advise you to watch it again, because you'll probably appreciate much more on repeat viewing. Almost everything about this film is masterfully done, while the ending is one of those that doesn't seem to scream at you "come and see the sequel!" but instead leaves you feeling completely satisfied with the film and wanting more.