Discount Bin Reviews: The Dark Knight (DVD)

My apologies to the Wonderpod viewership for my lack of posts the last few months, a busy work schedule and a demanding 17 month old just makes me want to relax most evenings and weekends when I have free time. But I digress, here I am to post a review, finally. All the buzz and spoilerific photos and videos from The Dark Knight Rises filmshooting sets inspired me to go back and rewatch the previous Chris Nolan Batman film, The Dark Knight. Hope you enjoy the review.

“Some men just want to watch the world burn.” – Alfred Pennyworth
The Dark Knight has become quite a phenomenon. The film has achieved pretty well widespread critical and fan acclaim and broke box office records all over the place. And deservedly so. It’s probably the greatest comic book movie ever made. Though perhaps what might be the most ironic thing about that compliment is that The Dark Knight doesn’t really feel like a typical comic book movie. Sure, it has guys in costumes, over the top performances and lots of biff-bang-pow sequences but there is a level of darkness and dramatic intensity that I don’t think has been captured in a comic book movie before. Even Batman Begins wasn’t this bleak or tragic.

It’s been a year since the events of Batman Begins and the iron grip of the crime bosses of Gotham has been cracked, though not entirely broken. Bruce Wayne is seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, thanks mostly in part to Harvey Dent, the new Gotham District Attorney. Dent is Gotham’s new white knight, and unlike Batman is a very public hero determined to bring down the crime bosses of Gotham but through legal means. The trio of Dent, Batman and uber-cop Jim Gordon has finally come very close to bringing order to Gotham. Enter The Joker, who has come to shake everything up, to disrupt and to foil the grand plans of everyone. He pushes people to do things they would never do, he sets elaborate schemes to cause everyone to second guess themselves. What’s truly scary is that The Joker isn’t doing these things for money or power… it’s the amusement that chaos gives him. As he says, “I’m like a dog chasing a car. I don’t know what I’d do when I catch it.”

The Dark Knight is a film about identity. Harvey Dent is trying to find the hero within himself only to have everything stripped away. Well, half of it anyway. Batman tries to come to terms with a Gotham without him but then later questioning what kind of world he’s created just by his very existence. The only character that knows EXACTLY who he is is The Joker. He is an agent of chaos, pure and simple. It’s that lack of flaw, that confidence that makes The Joker so compelling and riveting to watch. The dialogue he spews is like some kind of sick poetry, of course only made more compelling by the delivery of Heath Ledger. It makes the character strong and the one in control. It’s interesting how early in the film Batman dismisses the importance of the Joker, as he feels that he understands how common criminals think. It’s that mistake that allows The Joker to change every rule and flip every preconception of Batman, Dent or Gordon on their heads.

I won’t spend too much time gushing over Heath Ledger’s performance. What I will say is this: believe the hype. You can almost forget that The Joker is Heath Ledger at all, it’s that good. The closest example I can think of is Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector in the Silence of the Lambs. The sheer evil of the character is palpable. If Ledger hadn’t gotten the recognition he would receive posthumously, I’d have been shocked.

As for everyone else, it’s all great stuff. Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman do just fine reprising their roles from Batman Begins. Maggie Gyllenhaal is much better than Katie Holmes as Rachel, much less abrasive. Though I think particular attention should be paid to Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent and Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon, who I thought did excellent jobs. Eckhart made me believe in Harvey Dent, the flawed hero tragically turned into a bitter villain. And for Oldman, he is leaps and bounds ahead of his performance in Batman Begins… it was as if the honorable, loyal Jim Gordon of the comics had leapt from the page and onto the screen.

The plot is quite deep with many twists, and it is quite long at 2.5 hours. I don’t know if that is a flaw or not. They try to pack in a LOT of stuff into this movie, but I found that it never got all that overwhelming or convoluted. Though I have noticed that in some of the reviews I’ve read that some of the movie’s small details were misheard. For example, some critics thought Batman chose to save Harvey over Rachel, but that’s not true. Batman told Gordon he was going after Rachel. Joker switched the addresses, another cruel joke. And even Ebert said that Joker was a product of an abusive father… but that was only one of the origin stories that the Joker told; he told Rachel a story about cutting himself to make his disfigured wife feel better about her own scars. That’s the thing about the Joker… nobody knows why he is what he is – not even himself. So based on these inaccuracies by critics, maybe the plot was a bit thick after all.

After a summer of really great comic book movies, the Dark Knight was a perfect way to cap off the blockbuster season of 2008. I simply enjoyed the film from top to bottom. It has a great cast, great script and a great look and feel. Even among the excellent crop of comic book movies that summer, it was the most shining example that comic book movies may have actually grown up; that much more can be possible from a movie about a guy in tights and a guy in white face paint fighting each other. The Dark Knight Rises has an awful lot to live up to.

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2 Responses to “Discount Bin Reviews: The Dark Knight (DVD)”

  1. PatMan says:

    Great review Jon!
    And yes, The Dark Knight Rises will have a hard time when compared to this movie. But I hope people don't expect it to "be better", I just expect it to be the same quality as the other 2 movies and for it to entertain me.

    • Gurn Salg says:

      It'll be another Final Fantasy 8 to be sure, but as long as it has merit, much unlike FF8, I think it'll be fine. I personally enjoyed both Begins and Dark Knight, so I think it'll be fine.