Saturday, July 19, 2008

film review: the dark knight

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I went to see the new Batman film, The Dark Knight. This is not a traditional film review, per se- but one with a commentary. Lord knows, you've probably seen plenty of the film reviews out there. Besides being an all- around film fan and classic film geek, I was a comic book geek in a previous life. Long-time Shelfers will remember how I love the Superman flicks, and was excited about Superman Returns. In the end, however, I was ultimately disappointed but what the film wasn't. I still think Superman II was the last great one. I liked some of the Batman films, but to me some of the animated series caught the character much better than the flicks. Tim Burton did OK with the first one, but everything after that was like watching your favorite Snowman melt: slowly, but surely, everything you liked about it just ebbed away.

Then came Batman Begins, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It still felt like it lacked...something, but it was definitely a step in the right direction. No apologies for taking out the bad guys, an origin story and a great cast. In fact, Christian Bale was great and Gary Oldman and Michael Caine were inspired bits of casting. Now comes The Dark Knight. I am not trying to be over the top, or anything, but when I say it's a masterpiece, I am using my words carefully. Forget all the posthumous Oscar talk for now- who knows how the Academy will look at this film, if they even consider it, given their recent track record. For now, just forget about the Oscars, and just think about this- The Dark Knight is everything a Batman movie should be, and everything the previous Batman flicks didn't get right.

Director Christopher Nolan has pulled together one of the best films, not just superhero film, of the year. The Dark Knight, like the great Iron Man flick, ventures out of the comfort zone and forces the viewer to think and to ask questions. Sure it provides the great suit and great gadgets, but these two films have a hero who has to ask - what being a really hero is all about and what defines making a difference. The Dark Knight has stepped up the superhero drama and provided a test of wills in a real world setting about real world problems. You cannot watch the film and not think about the post 9/11 world we live in and how we fight the bad guys who cannot be reasoned with, and the bad guys within who can be bought off. In fact, there is no stylistic, crazy looking Gotham city. The backdrop looks like every other huge metropolis. Perhaps that was the point- not to distinguish Gotham apart as a dark fantasy land, but to reinforce the idea that this could be, and in a way has been, us.

There is no Batcave this time (Wayne Manor burned down last film, and they allude to the fact that it is being rebuilt in this one), there is no flashbacks to Bruce Wayne's tragic past. He is Batman- he knows what he is and what he has to do. He also makes the hard choices and takes the consequences when lesser men cannot. To paraphrase Oldman's Police Commissioner Jim Gordon at the end of the film: "Batman is not the hero Gotham wants, but the hero Gotham needs." I know some commentators and politicos have been talking about the film in relation to terrorism and Bush, etc. I don't know how else to say it, but some of them are right. I don't want to make this political, but the film is very much tapped into where we are now, but also still evokes ageless themes. The Dark Knight presents some of the same choices that our real world is throwing at us right now- do we appease a madman, because he says he'll stop killing? Can we truly handle the sacrifices necessary to stop the madmen and bad guys of the world? Can we have faith in our fellow man when it seems everyone is out for themselves? Can we allow the good guys to do their job, even if it isn't quick and neat without casualties? What kind of world do we really want to live in and is peace merely the absence of violence- or is it a peace of heart, being able to live strong making the right choices and knowing that good will out in the end- if we stand up for it? In a way, The Dark Knight continues the themes and discussion started by 300.

Heath Ledger's Joker is one of the best performances where an actor has taken an iconic part and completely inhabited it and made you forget anyone else had the role before. All of the praise is warranted- he is the standout performance in the film. But then again - so was Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon, Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freedman as Lucius Fox. Heck, everyone was great- but this was a turning point to be sure for Ledger. If this is where he was headed as an actor, then we lost a great one on the cusp of some really great performances. His Joker not only redefines the role and reinforces what he was conceived to be, but it also is the perfect foil to Bale's Batman. This is one of those rare instances where I disagree with Leonard Maltin's take and agree with Roger Ebert (read their reviews). The evil that the Joker represents isn't about money, or even power- it is uncompromising. It is destructive and resents that which is good. Even the Joker acknowledges to Batman that he doesn't have any rules- he is chaos personified. He even manages to take the crusading district attorney Harvey Dent, (Aaron Eckhart) and push him to the brink and create the classic villain Two-Face.

But trust me this isn't a "Batman versus several costumed villains" flick. Batman isn't about the camp- it's more about the heart and philosophy of good versus evil; personified by the choices and actions of the characters- not their costumes. The best way I can describe it is- the story and flow is organic. Even the introduction and story arc of Two Face is integral and organic to the larger story. The Joker is the real villain, and taking down evil isn't going to be pretty. Some particular scenes are very strong. Although Ledger dominates every scene he's in, Oldman is a fantastic presence. Towards the big climax of the film, even the average citizen making a life and death choice in the ferry scene is so powerful as to have you wondering how things are going to play out. Look for a great small performance by Tommy "Tiny" Lister as a prisoner on the ferry that will have you second guessing what you think will happen.

The rest of the supporting cast is great. Nolan not only pulled off a brilliant directing job and screen writing job (with his brother Jonathan), but he inhabits the cast with some great performances. These are pros turning in a great job in small roles: Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Jai White, William Fitchner, Nestor Carbonell, Monique Curnen and Eric Roberts. (Yep, that Eric Roberts. Excellent as a mob boss.) All in all it is a fantastic movie. One worth seeing several times, and one that deserves a great DVD release with all the bells and whistles so you can enjoy it again and again.

It's not often that I step out of my comfort zone of classic film and write about current flicks, but this film warranted it. I am really enjoying this year's popcorn cruncher bonanza. Indy 4 and Iron Man were great rides (although I have qualms about the Indy 4 ending) and I am excited to see Hellboy 2 (another favorite), The Mummy, Tropic Thunder, and even the new Bond flick Quantum of Solace, which had a great trailer attached to The Dark Knight. (Two other great flicks that had trailers before The Dark Knight that look to be great are Ridley Scott's Body of Lies and Zach Snyder's Watchmen.) It's just turning out to be a fun and action packed popcorn movie summer.

The Dark Knight is a solid 5 stars- go see it. In the theater. You won't be disappointed.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

Some men aren't looking for anything logical. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.


stephan said...

I am pumped to see this - sounds like just the movie we need to see right now to forget about all the stupid talking heads and pols running for office who think appeasement is the path to peace.

Anonymous said...

Saw it today- review is right on the money.

Laura said...

My husband took the two oldest kids -- they loved the first film in this series -- they said it was well done but ultimately they were very uncomfortable with the darkness and violence. It was way more than they were expecting, and they're the more "adventurous" viewers in the family (grin). They found it extremely disturbing and difficult to watch.

My husband was particularly bothered as he felt that that level of cruelty was not truly punished and that the Joker would live to be evil another day. He also wondered if playing such an incredibly dark role, along with am existing drug habit, contributed in some way to Ledger's unfortunate death. He thought it was an excellent performance but I think he was taken aback by just how dark it was.

Leonard Maltin wrote a review from this perspective at his Movie Crazy site and my husband agreed so strongly he sent him an email yesterday (grin).

I guess their bottom line was it was well done but it wasn't the film they wanted to see, and not what they were expecting based on BATMAN BEGINS. My husband said it was TEMPLE OF DOOM "on steroids." LOL.

Just a little "flip side" feedback to add to the discussion -- enjoyed reading your perspective!

Best wishes,

J.C. Loophole said...

That's true Laura- it was very dark. I guess coming from the comics and I really caught the present day terrorist fight vibe. I appreciate your comments (and your husbands!) and I know that some people will view it that way- my wife did. To me, it operated as a modern day allegory, albeit a dark one. I was bothered a bit by not seeing the Joker "get his", but then again, we don't always see that in life.
I think I was more impressed by the moral problem that the Joker places the people on the Ferry- to kill another to save themselves. The prisoner's and the peoples agony and ultimate decision was a great scene. I would be interested to see what others think of it (not trying to given anything away though)
As far as Heath Ledger, it's sad but there is no way to completely know what he tapped into for his performance. It was shocking and to me, a very talented performance to bring a very evil villain that makes us ask those very difficult questions. From what his co-stars have said, Heath was very opposite off screen.
As always thanks for your thoughts and I think they add to the discussion greatly-

What do others think? Anyone else want to jump? Please do-
Thanks again for your comments Laura!

Anonymous said...

Not sure I completely agree with your take, but I can see where you would get the whole present day evil thing. I just didn't like how it ended.

Robert M. Lindsey said...

Fantastic review. SPOILER ALERT!

I was stunned by the convict's actions on the boat, and incredibly encouraged. I wrote a review also, though not as insightful as yours.

GHP said...

Excellent review! Clicked over from DHP and have been checking out some of the other reviews and stuff here. Kicking the tires if you will. Will come back.

J.C. Loophole said...

Anonymous- Thanks for your comments. I felt the ending was not only appropriate and inspiring in a way, but logical. Batman knew (as did Gordon) this was the only way in order to keep the fight going. As Alfred implied- it was a choice that was beyond wanting to be a hero.
Thanks for reading and your comments! I am with you- the convict scene was one of my favorites (and we aren't alone according to some of the other reviews I've read). Shocking and inspiring. I enjoyed reading your review and agree Maggie G. was a step in the right direction for Rachel- but still was for me the only thing that wasn't quite right. Everyone please check out Robert's review at:

GHP- Thanks for stopping by and we look forward to more comments- please come back!

Everyone else- keep the comments coming and keep the discussion going!

Reverse Phone Lookup said...

it was brutal review.

Anonymous said...



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