Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Dark Knight (2008 Review, 8th review of 9)

     Okay, Batman had always been an icon but now, thanks to Christopher Nolen’s new Dark Knight series, the character was being launched into absolute greatness and this next installment is an absolute blast. Now “Batman Begins” was a terrific film but it was going to be a hard one to top. Then in 2008, there was a sequel titled “The Dark Knight”, and it completely surpassed expectations.

      I'll admit, I wasn’t all that excited about this film and I thought it would just make a decent rental off Netflix. But then I found myself cot in so much hype for this film. I couldn’t leave the house, watch TV, or go on the computer without seeing some kind of advertisement and I immediately predicted this would be “Star Wars 1: The Phantom Menace” all over again, a lot of hype and then a disappointing payoff. However, I went to see it one afternoon and to my surprise, it was sensational, I will remember that theater experience for a long time. This truly is one of the greatest movie sequels ever made, right up there with “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” or “The Empire Strikes Back”, definitely one of the greatest superhero movies ever, along side “Spider-Man 2” or “X-Men” and while this isn't a very original opinion, I think this is the absolute best entry in the Batman film series. People have gone so far to say it’s one of their favorite movies, and I completely agree, this is one of my favorite movies too. 

     So what makes this film so great? Well, I loved how this wasn’t marketed toured kids and more for adults. On that note the story was nothing like your average comic book adaption. It didn’t feel like a live action Saturday morning cartoon either, this was smart, full of great structure and depth into the characters and it’s strung together with ideas and subjects regarding anarchy, peace, terrorism, morality and that’s just to name a few. It’s simply every bit as entertaining as it is thought provoking. In other words, “Batman Begins” was a great Batman movie but “The Dark Knight” was a great movie that just happened to be a Batman movie, it’s such a richly told crime thriller that you actually begin to forget it’s a Batman film. Director Christopher Nolen really knew how to portray these characters and push the envelope on how competent a comic book movie can be. He really is one of the greatest writers/ directors in force right now and has done some excellent films from “Memento” too “Inception”. The true strength of Christopher Nolen is that he writes real stories with big concepts, some terrific dialog, conversations and character interaction.

    Throughout the film we see Batman making all kinds of heroic decisions and smart planning, he’s not just waiting for the next fight, instead we finally see him acting like a superhero and as a detective. With all the great development into his character, strong emotions and heroic acts, this is easily one of the absolute best portrayals of his character and Christian Bale still delivers a satisfying performance. However, the story really isn't about him this time, it's all about the escalation of crime in Gotham city, and how Batman, Commissioner Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent are the three forces of peace who do all in their power to put things right. 

     Now it seems that the writers have stopped bringing in new Batman villains, instead their remaking some of the classic enemies and returning to be the main antagonist in this film is The Joker, who’s played brilliantly by the late Heath Ledger. This portrayal of The Joker is now being regarded as one of the greatest villain performances of all time, and with good reason because he was amazing. Just the way he looks at someone while liking his lips was intense. Not only was his performance great but his motivations were equally intense. His goal isn’t to destroy the hero but to corrupt him, he’s not after power or wealth, he just wants to prove a point, that anyone, no matter how good they are, can be just as crazy and evil as him. There’s almost a hint of a dark reality that comes from this character and that’s what makes him so scary. He’s like an unstoppable force of nature that can’t be reasoned with, he was also a smart mastermind who keeps a city in fear, intimidates mobs, breaks himself out of prison and no matter how hard the hero’s try to stop him, the Joker is always one step ahead, making him one of the most powerful and terrifying villains to challenge Batman. At times he comes off as a little funny and entertaining but he still stays relatively frightening. Basically he’s a combination of the dark side of comics and the dark side of reality. Another cool thing about him is how we know very little about his past or who he is, was he born this way, or did he go through something traumatizing, all this mystery just adds to the dark and complex fascination of his character. 

     I have to admit, even though the Joker is an excellent villain, I personally like Two-Face even more, honestly, this is my favorite villain in the whole Batman film series. He's played masterfully by Aaron Eckhart and his story is excellent. He isn't an evil mastermind that's after the city, instead he's a broken human who has been transformed by the loss of a loved one. I especially like how we don't even see him as Two-Face until the last half hour of the movie. This gives us the chance to know him as the District Attorney Harvey Dent first and when he becomes Two-Face, it just feels more tragic. This was a man that symbolized hope and lighting a city’s darkest hour but then without warning he became an unjust monster who was convinced that the only morality in the world is chance. It’s such a frightening concept, to think that any great world leader with noble intentions can fall without warning. He's arguably the most tragic of Batman's enemies and that just makes him all the more interesting. The makeup is outstanding, symbolizing the two faces of Gotham city, one pure and the other unjust. 

     Scarecrow, once again played by Cillian Murphy, makes a nice little cameo in the opening, following where he left of in “Batman Begins”. Some may be disappointed that he’s only in the movie for 5 minutes but I thought it was great just to see him there at all and it was really satisfying to see Batman take him down, especially sense they didn’t have a final fight in the last movie.

    All the terrific supporting characters from the last film are all back and are even brought up a notch. I look forwarded to seeing more of Morgan Freedmen as Lucius Fox in further installments, Michael Caine gives another terrific performance as Alfred and has even more terrific speeches to convey. The only cast change is for Rachel. Originally she was played by Katie Holmes but now she’s played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, to be fare she does look like an older Katie Holmes and it still feels like the same great character but I still wish they could have kept the same actress. According to many sources, Katie Holmes was too busy with the movie “Mad Money”, which is really a shame but at least they got a good cast replacement. Garry Oldman once again is outstanding as Commissioner Gordon, to me, he feels like a lead character and is the closest to being Batman’s partner. I love how the character is developed and Garry Oldman just brings him to life on so many intense and emotional levels. I really hope they never bring Robin or Bat Girl into these films because Commissioner Gordon is all the support Batman will ever need. 

    The cinematography in this movie is breath taking, the camera makes some outstanding wide sweeps through Chicago and it really draws you into the film and subjected you to the environment. The new bat cave is interesting and it makes for a cool looking base of operations even though it doesn’t resemble a cave at all, it’s just an underground base but that’s fine. I love how there’s little to no CG in this film, most of it is real locations, real sets and real stunts. Hans Zimmer’s score was just as great as ever and really drew me into the action. The new bat pod was also really cool, I wouldn’t mind if this becomes the new permanent bat vehicle. Also, I loved the new sonar device, very original and fits the character well. 

      Now, action has never been a strong point in a Batman film but here the action was just exhilarating. The hand to hand fights were well choreographed and edited, there were a lot of cool explosions and let’s not forget that awesome car chase, I mean wow, that’s easily one of the greatest car chases of all time! The climax is a non-stop thrill ride, with two boats on the verge of blowing each other up, a swat team mistakes hostages for gunmen that need to be taken down, and Batman has to find a way to resolve all this on his own, it'll just make your head explode. The final confrontation between Batman and Two-Face is especially intense as he's holding Commissioner Gordon’s family hostage and has no problem executed them in front of their father. The actual ending was another nice surprise, very unexpected and one of the greatest acts of heroism that Batman has ever done.     

      Some may feel that only evil comes from this film, well, there’s evil in it but it’s not about evil. Admittedly the film is dark and brooding but it’s also smart and exciting. This is a richly told story about the conflict of good trying to prevail over evil and enduring evil, it’s about rising up against corruption. It's also a war between two symbols and what they stand for, a battle between what Batman stands for and what the joker stands for, it’s the very soul of the city that’s at stake, not just the city itself and that’s what really launches this film as one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. There's also a lot of really unpredictable moments and character deaths that I never saw coming and if you've seen the movie, you already know what I'm talking about. 

   The film dose an outstanding job focusing on the character arks of Batman, Joker and Two-Face and gave use a terrific story surrounding them. Neither character overshadows the other, there all given just the right amount of attention. However, even a great movie like this will be picked a little by viewers, maybe for Batman’s voice, it’s darkness, the run time or the use of old movie clichés like the 360 shot in which the camera constantly orbits around the actors talking. Whether you think this film is perfect is up to the viewer. 


     Personally, I thought it was a near flawless depiction of escalation, blind desperation, good falling from grace, hope in a hopeless situation and how fear can be a powerful tulle to turn a city into anarchy. The film may be long but it’s never boring, there’s always something to talk about in every scene, always something to notice or hold your interest, and whenever you think you've seen it all, the film gives you another twist that throws your brain in a loop and it has you asking yourself, how did they think of all this? It's dark, exciting, complex, solidly constructed and unforgettable, succeeding a a richly thrilling crime drama and as an entertaining superhero film. I give “The Dark Knight” a perfect 5 stars.


    So this is it, one more review left to go in my collection of theatrical Batman movie reviews, will Christopher Nolen end his trilogy on another high note, will Batman’s media legacy be brought to a proper close, stay tuned because a review of “The Dark Knight Rises” and conclusion to my series of theatrical Batman movie reviews is up next.

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