Title: The Dark Knight (2008)
Dir: Christopher Nolan
Rating: ***** out of 5 stars
When I first heard Christopher Nolan was going to make Batman Begins, I thought all my nerdy dreams had come true. I loved Memento, loved Batman (especially the idea of someone making a movie loyal to the comics), and two of my all-time favorite actors were Bale and Oldman. Well, after a year or two of anticipation, I finally saw the film and felt a little let-down. Too many cheesy lines, Jim Gordon was a buffoon, the main villain was lame, and Katie Holmes made the film seem dumber just by being in it. There was a lot of good stuff, too, but it felt...off.
With the follow-up, The Dark Knight, Nolan has corrected every mistake I just named. He recruited his genius brother Jonathan to pen the film, replaced Holmes with a great actress, shaped Gordon into exactly what he should be, and then of course, he introduced The Joker. The sequel is not without its minor flaws, but it is so much better than its predecessor and one damn fine Batman movie. Finally, somebody gets it.
Thanks to Batman, Lt. Gordon, and the new district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Gotham is a cleaner, safer city than before. The mob, now led by Salvatore Maroni (Eric Roberts), is still running drug-deals, but they constantly live in fear of "the Bat." Along comes a makeup-wearing psychopath calling himself The Joker (Heath Ledger) who gets a kick out of killing people and taunting Batman. While Bruce Wayne longs to hand Gotham's safety over to Dent and live a normal life with Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the Joker keeps pulling him back into the cape and cowl. Batman soon realizes that conventional crimefighting tactics will not work against this new foe, and consequently, the hero learns a thing or two about sacrifice.
I have heard some mainstream critics complain this film is "too dark." Clearly, they know nothing about Batman. Contrary to the Joel Schumacher school of thought, Gotham City does not perpetually glow neon purple. The real Gotham is dank, dirty, and dangerous. On a good day, it is still worse than Baltimore or Detroit. It is full of drug-dealing mobsters and murderous mental cases, and the cops are mostly corrupt. This place needs a superhero. Particularly, a hero who scares the piss out of criminals. Hence, Batman. Everything about this universe is dark and now we finally have a movie that captures that. Even Begins felt too light-hearted to me.
The Nolan brothers' script really captures what Batman is all about. The challenges he faces and the choices he must make are very true to the comics. The writers' choice of villains for this film is perfect because each satisfies a different, important niche in the film rather than being randomly chosen. The Joker represents Batman's opposite, a reckless killing maniac without motives, and so he makes a perfect foil. Two-Face represents the fall of a good man. He is motivated purely by revenge, and so he is what Bruce Wayne would have become had he not chosen the right path. Both are great villains and expertly executed.
The performances are all amazing and I have no complaints. Leading the pack is Heath Ledger, who is deserving of every hyperbole you can think of. Everytime he is on screen, the film gets better. You simply cannot take your eyes off of him. And let's settle this right now - he is a MUCH better Joker than Jack Nicholson. I am not comparing their respective acting talents, but purely their performances as this character. Heath wins, hands-down. Part of that is attributed to how much better Joker is written in Dark Knight, and the other part is Ledger's brilliant portrayal.
Joker is PERFECT in this movie. He doesn't spraypaint artwork while dancing to Prince. He is a bonafide psychopath without motive or remorse, and loves nothing more than to break rules and cause chaos. Ledger never falters in his portrayal of that. He was so convincing that I couldn't even imagine this man doing normal human activities. He is so beyond the realm of a normal person that I cannot envision him sleeping or eating - only killing or plotting to kill. He also brings an uncanny sense of humor to the film. I wish more than anything that we could have seen Ledger in a third film. No one will ever be able to re-create this.
The second best character is Jim Gordon. For one thing, he plays a much bigger role this time around. He is one of the few honest people in Gotham and a trustworthy friend to Batman. Gary Oldman - still the greatest character actor alive - is perfect in the role. Aaron Eckhart also gives a great performance as D.A. Harvey Dent. You can visually track his downfall throughout the movie and I only wish there were more of him as Two-Face. The character has come a long way since Billy Dee Williams. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman both return, doing great jobs, as well. I even loved Eric Roberts in this movie. Who knew?
As Rachel, Gyllenhaal is SO much better than Holmes. Even though Begins set up Bruce's relationship with Rachel and featured it more, I actually believed it more in The Dark Knight. It felt so much more sincere with Maggie. Seeing Bruce's vulnerability because of her broke my heart. As for Bale, he delivers another solid Batman, even if the raspy voice is distracting. Yes, he does it to be scary and unrecognizable, but there's no getting around it - it's laughable. Despite that, Bale makes an ideal Bruce Wayne and a badass caped crusader.
I even love the title of this movie. It is the first Batman film to not use his name in the title, and that really suits the message of the film. In this installment, our hero must become something bigger than Batman . He must sacrifice everything that name has been associated with and be something more important - a "dark knight" if you will. Furthermore, this movie is more about Gotham, Joker, Dent, etc. than it is about Batman himself, so the title is very appropriate.
Now for my minor complaints (without being too spoilerish). In the film's final action sequence, Batman gets helps from Lucius Fox and a piece of technology that annoyed the crap out of me. I'll simply say, it felt like I was playing Splinter Cell. Very, very cheesy and I cringe everytime I watch it. Beyond that, my gripes are petty, like an awkward cut or line of dialogue. What the film does well, it does REALLY well, and therefore the good overshadows the bad. And for the record, I have no issue with the film's length.
I forgot to mention - the action sequences are awesome! You can see the fights in more detail and there are some badass stunts. It really is difficult not to love this film. Ledger's Joker alone is worth the price of admission. I sincerely hope Nolan's 3rd film (if he makes one) does not suffer the same 3rd-movie slump as the X-Men and Spider-Man series. The Dark Knight has set the bar high not only for its potential sequels but for comic book films in general.