As we walked out of the theater, my friend turned to me and said, “Holy hell, that was a lot of movie.”
The Dark Knight is an awful lot of movie – at two hours and thirty minutes, it’s a lot to shove in your brain.
We pick up primarily where Batman Begins left off. In one scene, Harvey Dent puts it best — it’s always darkest before the dawn — and that’s where we find Gotham, knee deep in violence and corruption but at a pivotal moment when the scales are beginning to tip in the favor of clean streets and against the seedy criminal element that’s so pervasive in the city.
Enter The Joker, a sadistic, psychotic man who has little aim in life except to create chaos and confusion, but who has a crystal clear understanding of how to win back the streets in favor of Gotham’s hardened criminals – kill Batman.
The main thing is, The Dark Knight is what every comic book movie ever made should have been or should be striving to be. Comic books (or graphic novels, nowadays, depending) aren’t just silly little pieces of fluff dedicated to colorful drawings of extreme characters. Comic books wouldn’t be very popular if they didn’t deal with universal themes and elements that people can identify and associate with, things that come from everyday life, just presented in a far different fashion. The Dark Knight takes things that have always been turned into broad, often comical movies and narrows them down into a real world setting with real life people. Simply put, The Dark Knight succeeds because the filmmakers take this world seriously and seriously enough to give it a dramatic, nuanced feeling.
Batman/Bruce Wayne has become more withdrawn, in a way. He keeps up the exterior of the devil-may-care playboy, but he’s reaching burnout rapidly. Although he wishes for someone else to take up the mantle of Gotham’s hero, a question the film puts forward is that once he’s crossed the line to being Batman, can Bruce Wayne ever really give Batman up?
Heath Ledger’s performance is as excellent as everyone’s been saying. You can’t tell it’s Heath Ledger under all that pancake makeup as the Joker; the creepiest thing is that even his eyes look different. Does Ledger deserve an Oscar for this? Oh, absolutely. WIthout exaggeration, Heath Ledger created possibly one of the scariest villains in the history of film. This is a guy who without reason or remorse will torture you (probably while mocking you) and then kill you just for his own satisfaction. Even when he’s joking, it’s pretty terrifying. And after seeing The Dark Knight, I honestly doubt anyone can not hear the phrase, “Why so serious?” without hearing Ledger intoning it in your head and feeling a small shiver down your spine.
The great thing about the Joker is that he has no backstory, no explanation for why he’s completely insane. He just is what he is.
The real underappreciated actor here is Aaron Eckhart, who does an equally fabulous job as Harvey Dent. It’s one thing to play crazy, but Eckhart takes Harvey Dent and shows him to be a fallible human being which only makes his sharp descent into insanity even harder to bear. Christian Bale is effective as usual as Batman, but he takes a back seat to the supporting cast. Maggie Gyllenhaal is decent as Rachel Dawes, and far, far better than her predecessor, but she’s given little to work with other than to advance the plot along as necessary.
The Dark Knight is not a perfect film. It’s got its problems; some of the fight scenes and other scenes are difficult to follow, mainly because of the lighting and partly because of how certain scenes are shot. Batman gets some neat new technology that becomes really annoying to watch put into practice in the later parts of the film. There’s a side trip outside of Gotham that feels a little forced and unnecessary and only serves to really make a long movie longer.
All in all, though, it’s a stunning film, primarily because the actors and directors treat the material with such care and a sense of responsibility to take it seriously, which 99% of other “comic book” films get so very wrong.
It’s probably my most favorite film I’ve seen so far this year.