Review: The Dark Knight

I went into The Dark Knight with excessively high expectations. Not necessarily expectations placed on the movie by myself, rather the incessant hype machine that was built around this film. And when you factor in the untimely death of Heath Ledger, a certain veil of mythology is added to the movie as well, making it seem to be more transcendent than it actually is. So how'd it do? Well, I'll just say that it was everything I could have hoped it could be and more. As I was watching the movie I kept thinking it was surreal. The characters from the first film pick up right where they left off, with Christian Bale digging more into the Bruce Wayne/Batman dichotomy and getting more comfortable with the character. He did a great job in Batman Begins, but you can tell he's really found the character with The Dark Knight. Michael Caine and Gary Oldman also pick where they left off with their roles of Alfred and Lieutenant Gordon (respectively) and you can sense that they really know what is expected of them. The new additions to the cast are what set the movie over the top. I'll get to Heath Ledger in a second, but let me start with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Aaron Eckhart. There is small lack of continuity with Gyllenhaal replacing Katie Holmes, but I think its for the better. I always felt like Holmes was forcing the character in the first film, like she wasn't really happy to be there. Gyllenhaal really seemed to be happy to be there. She stepped up and was great as Rachel Dawes, and I don't know if that's a testament to her acting or the character, but she was great. Aaron Eckhart really set the table for Harvey Dent/Two-Face. For 3/4 of the movie, Harvey Dent was Gotham's White Knight, the perfect complement to Gotham's Dark Knight, perfectly symbolizing two sides of the same coin. And when Dent transforms into Two-Face, the transformation isn't elaborate or "Hollywoodized;" rather, it happens as you would expect it to happen. The man loses everything, and is forced to live with the choice he made to fight crime and make Gotham City safer regardless of the harm it put him and his family in. There are indications throughout that he is slowly giving in to the darker side of temptation and his personality, but they aren't fully capitalized on until his physical transformation. Heath Ledger. When the other actors on set said that his performance as the Joker was chilling I was somewhat skeptical. And then I saw the movie and I was just blown away. Ledger took everything that was great about the Joker and channeled him into his character. The Joker has never really been a psychopath for any one reason...he just loves chaos. And this is the Joker we saw: deranged and with no real purpose in life other than to cause epic amounts of anarchy. His performance is really one of the greatest performances you will see from any actor, and you can really tell that Ledger was just hitting his stride. Like most great operas where the characters have their own musical intros, and every time the Joker is about to appear onscreen there is a high-pitched shrill that is piercing and eerie, setting a tone for the madness about to ensue. And the entire movie centered around him without becoming all about him. His machinations were totally brilliant and achieved the effect he intended of leaving a lasting impression on the city and its inhabitants. His nihilistic view of life and Gotham City is accurately reflected in his neurotic tongue-flicking and restlessness that seem to symbolize an impatience with anything that remotely resembles order. Yet the most ironic thing is that for all his fascinations with perpetual madness, his plans are so meticulously thought out. Ledger's untimely death is made even more tragic by his brilliant performance in this film that is most certainly Oscar-worthy. You will not forget his portrayal of the Joker immediately after the film or even years later when you're reminiscing about the film. As far as the story goes, just imagine if you had put everyone who had ever written a Batman comic into the same room to collaborate on a story. What would you get? An awesome Batman story that covers it all: the duality of Batman/Bruce Wayne, the choices people like Gordon and Dent make for the idea that they want the city to become, and what drives people like Joker to do what he does. A theme that has appeared in the comics before is the Batman/Joker relationship in the sense that each individually represents the exact opposite of everything that the other stands for. Joker even says it to Batman that he completes him and its true because you really can't have one without the other, and both were created as a response to actions representative of the other (if that makes sense). This movie also touched on so many other aspects of the Batman character that is often overlooked. For example, Batman is extremely paranoid, and we saw that in this movie (the creation of the sound imaging device using the cell phones of Gotham City was not just made to capture Joker). We also saw more of his investigative nature, as he does more in the way of checking out crime scenes to deduce the cause of a bullethole (for example). And it wouldn't be Batman without gadgets. The first film depicted him getting a sense of his limits, and this film has him knowing his limits but looking for ways to exceed them. A movie is only as good as the visuals and sounds that carry it, and of course Christopher Nolan knows what he's doing. There are constant sweeping shots of Chicago and Hong Kong giving a sense of the grandiose scale of the film. And most of James Newton Howards' score has returned intact, however this time Hans Zimmer is chiming in a bit to add his own flair. And Batman's costume has been tweaked a bit, adding a bit more of a refined touch. Joker's garb, as plain and tattered as it may seem, it great and adds a disjointed feeling to the character and scenes featuring him. The Dark Knight is going to make a ton of money. And even now as I write this, some three hours after seeing the movie I'm still not completely sure what I saw. I'm not saying it was bad by any stretch of the imagination. What I'm saying is that this film is the rare perfect storm of a film that only comes along every once in a while. The casting is perfect, the story tight and well-paced and the entire feel of the movie is what a Batman (or superhero for that matter) movie should be. It was like watching a good Batman comic book on screen. I finished the film and was literally speechless. I just didn't know what to say. What I do know is that this is about as perfect a comic book film movie as you can make, and it will definitely be one of the top this year. Nolan would be extremely hard-pressed to make a third film that is at least as good as this one. But knowing him it will probably be that much better, and a deserving finish to what has been a beautiful interpretation of the character that is Bruce Wayne/Batman. Is it a perfect movie? No, but what is? The Dark Knight is about as close to perfect as a movie can get. It is THE movie of the summer, and is everything that a blockbuster should be. And as far as superhero films go, this is one of the most mature and visceral superhero films you will ever watch, and in what was seemingly shaping up to be Marvel's year, DC has stolen its thunder with only 2 1/2 hours of film time. Overall score: 97 out of 100