Movie: "The Dark Knight"
Genre: Action / Adventure
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Writing credits: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, David S. Goyer
Plot: A new madman calling himself the Joker threatens Gotham City, constantly leaving Batman, Jim Gordon, and new Gotham D.A. Harvey Dent two steps behind in their struggle to stop him.
Review: Spider-Man 2. Superman II. Iron Man. X-Men 2. Sin City. That made-for-TV Nick Fury movie starring David Hasselhoff. Whatever you previously thought was the best comic book movie is not anymore, because there is a new king in town called The Dark Knight. I had sky-high expectations for this film; it's about my favorite super-hero, it features my two favorite villains from his rogues gallery, and Christopher Nolan did such an amazing job with Batman Begins that I had plenty of faith he wouldn't let us down here. And I'm glad to say he didn't, because this movie easily met or in many cases shattered every expectation I had.
I've seen other reviews saying that this film is the Godfather II of comic book movies, or that it's the Empire Strikes Back of its franchise (let's just hope the next one is a Return of the King instead of Return of the Jedi), and they're all absolutely right. At its core, if you take away the make-up and masks, this movie is an excellent, well-acted, very compelling crime drama about four men: the quite conflicted Batman and Harvey Dent, and the not-so-conflicted Jim Gordon and Joker. Mixing the capes into this formula just gives it a little extra flavor, or perhaps adds a little gravitas to the comic book film genre, however you look at it.
It's obvious very early on that the filmmakers truly understand the characters they're working with here, and even more importantly, they understand the dynamics between them. This is never more clear than in every single scene that Batman and Joker share together. These are two of the most iconic comic characters ever created, and they are nothing less than icons here in the hands of Nolan, Bale, and Ledger. When Joker explains how he and Batman define each other, it seems a lot more reasonable than the unnecessary "I made you? No, you made me!" moment in Tim Burton's Batman. The story of Harvey Dent is expertly handled here as well. They could have easily fucked this up (see Batman Forever), but Harvey's tragic story is the backbone of the film and for the first time does justice on the big screen to Batman's most sympathetic rogue (for the filmmakers thankfully understand that he is no mere "villain").
You've no doubt heard all the raving about Heath Ledger's Joker, and there's a reason for that: he really is that fucking good. From the moment I saw him perform his first "magic trick", I knew I was fully on board for this take on the character. The praise isn't just heaped on Ledger because he's dead; people would be giving the same well-deserved compliments even if he was still alive. I heard that he spent a month living in a hotel to prepare for the role, working on the Joker's mannerisms and speech, and it certainly shows here, because all the subtle and not-so-subtle quirks he's given the character completely make you forget that he's an actor at all. He's so convincing that you may as well be watching a documentary about a real psychopath. This is without a doubt the most dark and twisted version of the character ever portrayed, and he's easily the most menacing because he's not only insane--he's driven. He doesn't just wreak havoc for the mere hell of it, instead preferring to continually present Batman, Gordon, and Dent with impossibly difficult moral dilemmas because he's actually got a point to prove. And the laugh. He nailed it. Perfectly. But that's just incidental, because he was right when he said the key to the Joker wasn't in the laugh--it's in the eyes. And he proves it. I can think of no finer praise than to say that from now on when I think of the Joker, it will no longer be Jack Nicholson's or Mark Hamill's (or yes, even Cesar Romero's) versions that will first come to mind.
And now for Harvey. After the colossal fuck-up that was Tommy Lee Jones's take on the character (and I'm convinced that's more Schumacher's fault than Jones's), Aaron Eckhart was refreshingly well-suited to the role, playing pre-tragedy Harvey with self-righteous confidence and conviction, with a subtle hint of occasionally explosive anger bubbling just beneath the surface. As for Two-Face himself, I was extremely curious as to what he would look like and though I looked at some conceptual fan art online, I was careful to avoid any actual spoilers beforehand. I feared they would take it rather low-key and I would be disappointed. Thankfully, this was not the case--he's far more gruesome than I imagined they would go with it, skirting the edge of disbelief, but this is a comic book movie after all. In short, he looks fantastic, and you'll get to see plenty of his horribly disfigured face, so you don't have to worry about them obscuring him in darkness to avoid actually showing it. Twisted by the Joker twice-over, Harvey's descent into madness is quite believable, and they do a great job explaining his attachment to that coin and Two-Face's motivation for everything he does.
Bale's performance is as solid as it was in the first film, although there are a couple moments where his gravelly Batman voice is a little too over the top and comes across as almost comical when it's clearly not meant to be. This is a minor quibble though, and it hardly matters when you consider the rest of his performance. Bale manages to channel some impressive rage in this film, particularly when dealing directly with the Joker. We got a taste of this in Batman Begins during one of his criminal interrogations, but this takes it to a whole new level. Gary Oldman's performance as James Gordon is also noteworthy; never has Gordon been a more compelling character than he is in Oldman's hands. The character really comes into his own in this movie, finally showing the confidence needed to take on the position of Gotham City's Police Commissioner.
As for the film's plot, it takes a back seat to the characters, and I don't mean that in a bad way at all. What I mean is that the characters drive the story instead of merely being dragged along for the ride, being moved from set piece to set piece as the story requires (see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Terrible Disappointment). They dictate the action, as a good story should be, and nothing seems gratuitously thrown in without logic or reason just because the writers thought it would be cool.
I can't think of a single thing I didn't like about this movie; It delivered everything I was hoping for, and more. It was about as damn near perfect as a movie can get, and it's raised the bar for comic book movies to tremendous heights. I just hope that future filmmakers rise up to the challenge, as I would love nothing more than to see another film one day dethrone this as King of All Comic Book Movies. But they've got their fucking work cut out for them, that's for sure.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
Also, did anyone come to the theater early to see the Watchmen Trailer? My God, It's beautiful.
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