#71 The Dark Knight

(2008, Christopher Nolan)

“Why so serious?”

Way back with film #18 back in November, I reviewed Tim Burton’s Batman from 1989, and made a few references to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Saga. And now, thanks to a new edition of the movie book and its 23 additional movies, it’s time to shine the spotlight on that chapter in the Batman movie history. Bit strange I never reviewed the two movies together, but hey, that’s the nature of adding films at a later date.

So, Batman backstory remains the same. Bruce Wayne, dead parents, avenger of the night, gadgets, etc. so I’m not going into great detail there. The Dark Knight takes place following the events of Nolan’s previous Batman outing, Batman Begins, so this skips the origin story and gets straight into the action. Gotham City is proving to be a little safer since the appearance of Batman (Christian Bale), whose tireless efforts have severely reduced crime in the city, along with the help of his butler Alfred (Michael Caine), police lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and former Wayne Enterprises R&D man turned CEO Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). Even better, the new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) is proving to be a great asset in bringing criminals to justice, and Bruce Wayne (obviously still Christian Bale) recognises this, and aims to use his influence to promote Dent. However, a mysterious new criminal has arrived on the scene, calling himself The Joker (a barely recognisable Heath Ledger, in what infamously became his last role) and is steadily bringing chaos back to Gotham.

Now, this movie frequently gets the tag “best Batman movie ever!” and it’s fairly easy to see why. All the action you’d expect of Batman is present and correct, but now much of it is made more believable than the crazy cartoon gadgets of other incarnations of the character (for instance, all of Batman’s gadgets are abandoned military projects dug out of the R&D basement of Wayne Enterprises), and there’s also a serious level of drama holding everything together. The Dark Knight succeeds at being a great comic book movie, ironically because it never once feels like a comic book movie.

Christian Bale makes a fantastic Bruce Wayne, playing him with the right levels of smugness and genuine heart. His performance across the two Nolan movies so far could have easily been a re-hash of his Patrick Bateman performance from American Psycho, albeit with less bloodthirsty killing, but it really isn’t. If there is an issue with his performance, it comes from the ridiculously throaty voice he gives Batman, which is sometimes laughable rather than threatening. But the real star here is Heath Ledger, who is just delightfully deranged as The Joker. By turning him from a campy supervillain into a psychotic terrorist with a clown fetish, he becomes more believable and terrifying. And it’s a shame that Ledger’s death has cast a shadow over his performance, because it would have been fantastic to see more of this. All his twitching and mood swings are absolutely perfect for the character.

How does it hold up against the 1989 Batman? Well, Bale is definitely a better Bruce Wayne, due to his ability to play him as a selfish and slightly stupid playboy billionaire in the public eye and a scheming vigilante out of it equally well, something that Michael Keaton sometimes seemed to struggle with. Ledger, as stated, is perfect as The Joker, and while Jack Nicholson is always good at playing deranged characters (he merely needs to walk in the room and say hello), the Dark Knight Joker is more believable. His backstory in Batman bugged me something fierce, particularly with the chemicals turning his skin white, while his lack of backstory in The Dark Knight leaves us completely in the dark about what he intends to do. Oh, and its actual makeup this time, rather than some convoluted explanation why he looks like a clown, which I much prefer.

The art direction isn’t as inventive as Batman, but then Tim Burton was behind that, and his trademark is his slightly twisted, gothic style, while Nolan based his Batman movies in something resembling reality. This means everywhere looks like a real place, largely because much of the movie was filmed on location. And really, I prefer a climactic battle on top of a construction site over a battle on top of an implausibly tall clock tower, even if it isn’t as visually stunning.

There is very little bad to say about The Dark Knight. It’s geared close enough to the comics to win over the existing fans, while there’s plenty of exciting drama here to appeal to those who would consistently refuse to have anything to do with comic books. But obviously, I would recommend watching Batman Begins before this one. They are part of a set, after all.

Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal & Morgan Freeman
Written by Bob Kane (characters), David S. Goyer, Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan
Produced by Charles Roven, Emma Thomas & Christopher Nolan
Music score by Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard
Cinematography by Wally Pfister
Edited by Lee Smith

Favourite Scene: The entire climactic scenario with the ships. The right level of tension and social commentary to keep you hooked the entire time.
Scene That Bugged Me: As good as the Joker “interrogation” scene is, Christian Bale’s growl as Batman is jarring, particularly when he splutters out “WHERE ARE THEY?!”. Basically, any time the voice gets in the way counts here.

Watch it if: You want a genuinely thrilling superhero movie
Avoid it if: You’re too serious

Originally posted on Blogspot Saturday 24 March 2012

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Posted on April 15, 2012, in 2000s, Action, Thriller and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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