Bootler"s Yearly Random (But Interesting) Fact

7-Up was origanally named Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Dark Knight: A Film Review

Three years ago, if you had asked me what I thought of the Batman film franchise, I would have told you it was over. That Joel Schumacher was an evil, soulless fiend and had effectively raped millions of childhoods with Batman & Robin, a travesty not even Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg would bother referencing. Then Christopher Nolan had an idea, instead of trying to pick up the pieces and carry on, he’d just wipe the slate clean and start again. 2005 was an important year for me; it was the year my faith in the Batman movies was rejuvenated. It was very earnest, dark and closer to the feel of the comic books than any other in the franchise, and it answered the question “Why is he Batman?” in more ways than one. When I heard a sequel was in the works, I was both overjoyed and apprehensive. The fact that Christopher Nolan wanted to continue the series was wonderful, but the bar had been set so high that it was all too possible that he’d try too hard and ultimately slip and fall. Oh, how wrong I was...

The story begins not far from where the last left off. Batman and Commissioner Gordon are beginning to succeed in taking down the crime kingpins of Gotham City, thanks in part to the new DA, Harvey Dent, and Batman is beginning to think that perhaps his job is coming to a close. That’s when a psychopath in clown make-up, who only goes by the name Joker, appears, to challenge everything Batman has ever believed in and to test the limits of Gotham.

I’m at a loss as to where to put my praise first. Everything, from the acting, to the script, to the score, to the directing, to the cinematography is done at such a professional level that not only does it set a new benchmark for comic-book films, but it sets one for films in general. It makes the impossible possible. Well, that may be taking it a bit far. It makes the highly unlikely credible, and believable. Batman’s existence is given meaning to the point where you believe a situation like this could present itself beyond the movies. To an extent. It explains why we need heroes, and why they need to be more than we believe we can be.

Christian Bale returns with an evolved personality, as is only fitting. When Batman Begins finished, he’d firmly established himself as both the Caped Crusader and the head of Wayne Enterprises, so it’s only fitting that he should have more confidence this time around. But unfortunately, the terribly cheesy raspy Bat-Voice returns with a vengeance. At least it’s not the Bat-Nipples, I guess. The rest of the original cast does a great job continuing their character’s respective histories, especially Michael Caine as Alfred the butler. As for the newcomers, Katie Holmes thankfully sat this one out, and has been replaced with Maggie Gyllenhaal, a much more fitting choice. Holmes was terribly forgettable in her role, whereas Gyllenhaal gives Rachel Dawes life, and makes her a character you want to care about. Instead of having the film tell you she’s Bruce’s lifelong friend, Gyllenhaal just makes it seem right. Defense Attorney Harvey Dent is played brilliantly by Aaron Eckhart. Without revealing anything (but if you’re a fan of the comics, come on, you know what’s coming), he smoothly and meticulously sets up a character that knows what needs to be done, but doesn’t know exactly how to get it done. That’s about as ambiguous as I can get.

And of course, you all know who’s left to discuss. I’m going to be very honest here; I forgot that Heath Ledger was no longer with us while watching this film. The simple fact of the matter is his performance is that captivating, that terrifying, that...well, that good that he becomes lost in the role. You don’t see Heath Ledger playing the Joker while watching this film. You see the Joker. He plays the role with such a level of unpredictability and madness, that you are terrified by his very presence, even when he’s off-screen. But he’s not without his trademark sense of humour. There will be quite a few moments when you can’t help but chuckle, even though your conscience is telling you not to.

The way that the script has developed the Joker deserves a tremendous amount of applause as well. In almost every comic-book movie, even the excellent ones, the villain really only exists because of the hero. It’s always a case of “You’re the good guy, I’m the bad guy, so we’ve got to tussle.” Not the case in The Dark Knight. Yes, the Batman is in the way of Joker, and becomes his target more than once, but the Joker’s ultimate motive is far greater, far more ideological than just killing Batman. He knows Batman is a symbol, a small glimmer of hope in a city torn apart by crime, and that destroying the symbol is a great step towards introducing full-blown chaos to Gotham City. Hence, the Joker’s encounters with Batman are usually more examinations of his limits and his ideals as opposed to all-out brawls.

Taking into account the above, this is without a doubt one of the most complex, violent and disturbing comic-book films I’ve ever seen. It has some of the most graphic violence for a film of its rating, and Batman’s face on the poster is probably the only thing that saved it from an MA rating (R if you’re in the US, 15 if you’re in the UK, something else if you live somewhere else). From the moment it begins, each scene is treated with an unnerving sense of tension, leaving the viewer clenched-fist waiting for the inevitable, yet not knowing what the inevitable will be. This is assisted by the score Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard composed, enhancing the feeling that everything is leading up to something else, and that expecting the unexpected is pointless, because it won’t compare to what’s actually going to happen. Apologies for the ambiguity, but I don’t want to spoil a thing.

To say that The Dark Knight is an excellent comic-book movie is a gross understatement. The truth is this film is more than that. It observes almost every aspect of both Bruce Wayne and Batman, constantly examining his motives and reasoning. It questions the line he treads between being a vigilante crime fighter and a criminal. It defines his role as a hero and then poses the question “Should he be the hero that Gotham needs, or the hero it wants?” It’s both an epic crime saga and an intricate, dark and disturbing character study that met all of my expectations and then exceeded them by leaps and bounds. Simply put, it’s a masterpiece.

5 out of 5.

-- Kaboose.


Just D said...

Aaron, you've got every aspect of this film covered. Astounding review for one the best films this decade.

Patrick Roberts said...

i still wish Katie Holmes had stayed on board as Rachel Dawes for the Dark Knight... it was like the time spent getting familiar with her character in Batman Begins was wasted

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