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The Dark Knight – Film Review

By: Kryptonian Detective

The Dark Knight

“The Dark Knight” reunites director Christopher Nolan with star Christian Bale, who returns to continue Batman’s war on crime. With the help of Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Batman sets out to destroy organized crime in Gotham for good. The triumvirate proves to be effective, but they soon find themselves prey to a rising criminal mastermind known as the Joker (Heath Ledger), who thrusts Gotham into anarchy and forces the Dark Knight ever closer to crossing the fine line between hero and vigilante. (Warner Brothers)

After watching Batman Begins, I have waited with bated breath three years to see what happens next. I’ve followed every possible detail of the production possible. Hell, I even had dreams that I had seen the film. In my dreams the film was great and I was more than satisfied. So on July 18, 2008, I sat in an IMAX theatre ready to finally see what happens next, hoping it would live up to my lofty expectations. Undoubtedly it did. It was better than my dreams could imagine. In fact, it was a wet dream come to life, and justified the three years of my life I spent waiting for this film. The Dark Knight redefines this genre and not only is the best picture of its kind, it is indeed one of, if not, the best films I’ve ever seen. Some have compared it to The Godfather and Heat, and those comparisons aren’t unfounded. It’s that damn good.

Editor’s note: The rest of this review contains spoilers so if you are the one person in the world who still hasn’t seen TDK, GO RIGHT NOW!!

Batman Begins was an exploration into what drove Bruce Wayne to become Batman and his quest as a hero. The Dark Knight focuses on the consequences, both good and bad, of Batman’s war on crime in Gotham City. It highlights his triumphs along with Lt/Commissioner James Gordon, and D.A. Harvey Dent in eradicating mob presence in Gotham City. At the same time the film forces the audience to see the tribulations of Batman’s quest. In an effort to force Batman’s hand The Joker has many killed, including Rachel Dawes, Bruce’s childhood friend. Batman rises above the tragedy and self blame to defeat The Joker. Therefore, as a sequel, The Dark Knight succeeds because it expands on the theme of escalation, touched on in the third act of the first film, and moves the story forward by treading new ground in placing each character in new uncharted territory.

As with Batman Begins, director Christopher Nolan decided not to make The Dark Knight an exact adaptation of any particular comic book story. Instead the film borrows elements from Batman #1, The Long Halloween, and The Killing Joke, creating a remarkably cohesive, entertaining, and groundbreaking film. Batman #1 was clearly the foundation for The Joker’s portrayal in the film. Like his first appearance in the comics, The Joker has no origin, he just is. He begins with robbery, and then moves his way to mass murder. To taunt both police and Batman, The Joker announces his crimes in advance via television and newspaper. In Batman #1, his announcements came via radio, but that was the main communicative device of the time. Other similarities include the fact that the Joker uses a joker card as his own calling card. Just like in The Dark Knight, the Joker dresses up as a cop in an attempt to assassinate the mayor.


Similarities between The Dark Knight and Batman #1

Finally, the Joker is arrested and escapes, causing more death, before finally being defeated by Batman. The Dark Knight inherits from The Long Halloween in a multitude of areas as well. Firstly, the partnership between The Batman, Gordon, and Dent, is lifted directly from the graphic novel. The rooftop meeting between the three in the film is transplanted directly from page to screen.

Similarities between The Dark Knight
and The Long Halloween

The feud between the mob and the freaks is also common between both works as well. The biggest contribution the film gets from The Long Halloween is the origin and motivations for Two-Face.

Similarities between The Dark Knight
and The Long Halloween

In both cases, Harvey Dent is scarred by Salvatore Maroni, and later kills those responsible for injuring him, and killing his loved ones. Finally, The Killing Joke serves as a reference point for the chaos the Joker perpetuates, and serves as a blow by blow storyboard for the interrogation scene, where the Joker receives a healthy and warranted beat down courtesy of Batman.

Similarities between The Dark Knight and The Killing Joke

The acting in this film is superb. Everyone involved puts their best effort forward elevating an already superb script. Christian Bale once again effortlessly portrays the duality of Bruce Wayne/Batman. In his performance you can tell that Christian seemed more comfortable with his character the second time around. You really sense the sincerity in the emotions Bale needs to conjure up at various points in the film. The glimmer of hope for Gotham that Bruce finds in Harvey Dent is evident in his smile and glances at Rachel early in the film. His rage and anger towards the Joker is evident through Bale’s even raspier tone as Batman, and the sheer force of his punches.

At films end when Batman was carrying the burden of Two Face’s crimes in order to spare Gotham from losing hope, Bale is more longwinded and laboured in speech and movement. This combination provides a powerful performance.

Heath Ledger gives a stunning turn as the Joker. Every bat-fan was skeptical when he was cast, but how wrong we all were. It’s as if Heath is not in the film at all, because all I saw was the Joker. Heath managed to both make me laugh and scare the $#!+ out of me simultaneously.

The Joker’s magic trick had everyone in the theatre laughing and clapping. Then when Joker had a knife to Rachel’s mouth everyone gasped. Heath stole every scene he was in. The Joker’s laugh was truly bone chilling. The way he spoke and walked made him seem like a ticking time bomb that could go off at any moment.

Heath’s performance and look was so disturbing that you want to look away, yet you can’t because Heath’s performance is so immersive. Near the end of the film, there is an incredible statement the The Joker says to Batman; “You just couldn’t let me go could you? This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You truly are incorruptible aren’t you? You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness, and I won’t kill you, because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.” This sums up Joker and Batman’s relationship perfectly. Also, when I heard this I began to tear up knowing this was Heath Ledger’s final performance due to his tragic death in January. He was truly a gifted actor whose talent and potential was cut short far too prematurely. Regardless of his death, Heath Ledger deserves an Academy Award for this performance. He gave film-goers a villain as frightening as Hannibal Lector. No doubt Heath Ledger is missed, and will be remembered in the hearts and minds of Batman fans forever.

Aaron Eckhart’s performance was equally as strong as Harvey Dent and Two-Face. Aaron’s performance was so genuine that I immediately was rooting for Harvey to succeed. His views of justice were uncompromised, much like Batman, although his war on crime is fought through legal channels.

Harvey’s fall from grace is so hard to take. You don’t want it to happen, even though it’s inevitable. Aaron’s Two-Face transformation has less to do with his scarring then it does being emotionally broken. He has a deep rooted anger evident from the start of the film that he holds at bay until Rachel becomes a target and is eventually killed. Aaron can go from being calm to angry in seconds. His descent to Two-Face was like watching a volcano erupt. Aaron’s skill shines through when he first wakes up after his accident. There are no spoken lines. Harvey remembers Rachel, and then begins writhing in pain. Scratching at his bandages, he screams in agony. This was incredibly moving. At this moment, I realized Harvey “Two-Face” Dent is not evil; he is a tormented soul who got screwed trying to achieve justice in an unjust world. Driven mad, he resorts to criminality as a means of vengeance.

Every other actor performed to a high calibre and should be commended. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman provided humour in the midst of all this tension. However, they were more than that. Both actors served as a conscience for Bruce Wayne. Alfred, urged him to forge on despite the sense of hopelessness and tragedy and Lucius cautioned Bruce not to be pushed too far over the edge. Gary Oldman once again brings Commissioner Gordon to life. He has a more active role in this film. The chemistry between Bale and Oldman is spot on. The interplay between them really sells their partnership with their trust and admiration for each other.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is an improvement over Katie Holmes in the Rachel Dawes role. While I don’t really care much for this character, Maggie is more believable as a strong willed A.D.A who isn’t afraid of the Joker.

The Dark Knight is a very poignant film. Two themes that it features are terrorism and heroism. The Dark Knight forces one to recall 9/11 when watching the film. The Joker is an allegory for terrorism. He is chaos and anarchy – the definition of terrorism. During the interrogation scene he says that when things get crazy civilized people will turn on each other, and that’s exactly what happened post 9/11. People were beating Middle Eastern people out of fear just because they thought they looked like terrorists. In the ferry plot, the civilians were ready to detonate the boat carrying criminals based on preconceived notions. Just like after 9/11 it took level headed people on both sides to understand that this was wrong and they had to work together to promote good winning out over evil. The Dark Knight is also a commentary about heroism. It stresses that sometimes being a hero is more than public accolade or acceptance. Like Batman in the film, cops and soldiers in the real world are often criticized when crime seems to have the upper hand. Batman takes the brunt of that criticism and burden to keep the hope and faith of people alive, and at the same time protecting them. Soldiers and cops do the same thing when fighting for our safety and freedoms, no matter how much we judge them.

The Dark Knight is not only a thought provoking film, it’s also an action summer blockbuster. Nolan improves the fight scenes this time around. The camera is pulled back allowing the viewer a chance to see Batman’s hand-to-hand combat skill while maintaining the brutality of the scene. For skill see the fight in Hong Kong. If its force and brutality you crave, look no further then Batman’s “interrogation” of the Joker. This film should also get Oscar attention for its stunning cinematography. The shot of Batman atop a Hong Kong skyscraper, leaping off, and then gliding across the city was breathtaking and seamless and should garner at least a nomination, if not a win.

What about Two-Face’s visage. That was truly disgusting. I wanted to vomit instantaneously, but couldn’t help but stare. In fact I challenge every reader to watch The Dark Knight and attempt to decipher what’s real and what’s CGI. I certainly couldn’t. One of the best action sequences was the bat-pod versus the Joker’s semi-truck. To see a truck of that size flip over, knowing they actually did it with no CGI makes it a buzz worthy moment.

The Dark Knight proves much like its predecessor that a studio summer tent pole film can be dark, thought provoking, and a fun thrill ride all at the same time. I applaud cast and crew for not compromising their vision to pander to product placement, parental advisories, or PETA. The Dark Knight is a rare breed of film that I like to call sophisticated entertainment. The Dark Knight feels like the second part of a three act story. I look forward to seeing the next act. This act was a masterpiece, and will be tough to follow. The Dark Knight has dethroned Batman Begins as the best Batman film because it reminds audiences that Batman is “The hero Gotham deserves … He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector … a Dark Knight”.

Overall Grade
10 / 10

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