24 July 2008

Review: The Dark Knight - believe the hype ***No Spoilers***

I was lucky enough to go and see a preview of Christopher Nolan's latest Batman film last night, The Dark Knight (it opens in the UK tomorrow). There has been so much buzz about this film that, surely, it could live up to the high expectations: I think it exceeded them.

This is The Godfather of superhero films. The Hamlet. To even call it a superhero film seems to cheapen it - it is more a film about crime and corruption, like some of the great, gritty, dirty, intelligent movies of the seventies. Or the tussle between De Niro and Pacino in Heat. The twists and turns of The Usual Suspects. Yes, I'm naming a number of my favourite ever movies, It really is that good. I have to see it again to fully understand it's intelligent complexities. Thankfully there was very little CGI, which is another thing that makes it believable, though some are obviously far fetched, sequences are give a realism rarely seen in an action movie, let alone a superhero movie.

Yes, it's about a billionaire playboy with a tortured past who dons a rubber suit to act vigilante in a decaying city. Yes, it's main villain is the "Clown Prince of Crime", the psychotic war painted Joker. But it is the first film that lifts their motivations from that of the comic book characters. Bruce Wayne himself questions what the hell he is doing, wanting to pass the mantle of Gotham City's saviour over to idealistic District Attorney, Harvey Dent (a brilliant Aaron Eckhardt) It is as much Dent's film, who's character arc from incorruptible golden boy to the hideous Two Face, is not only believable, but totally understandable and tragic.

The way Nolan handles the film (he was also co-writer) is noting short of brilliant. I'm not going to give any spoilers other than what is already common knowledge, in this review but his introduction of the Joker is unforgettable. His reason for his madness and truly petrifying look is brilliant. He is no longer a camp, wise-cracking cartoon, he is one of the most frightening, convincing and dangerous movie villains of all time.

Much talk has been about Heath Ledger's performance, especially after his untimely death in January. Premature calls for an Oscar nomination have turned out to be justified, his crazy, twitching, (but honest and charasmatic, just like the character) almost lizard like performance as the personification if chaos is nothing short of immense. But it's not just Ledger's show. Christian Bale's Batman ying to the Joker's yang had to stand up to the performance and is brilliantly played, his anguish, conflicted loyalties and even jealousies as both Batman and Bruce Wayne flesh out a character that in the past just seemed like a moody teenager with a troubled past.

Roles that could have been consigned to bit parts in a lesser movie were integral and weighted perfectly. Gary Oldman's Captain (Commisioner) Gordon is the perfect foil to Batman's bending of the law for the greater good. A major part of the plot rather than the character who Batman saves the day for, Gordon is a fully fleshed out character.

The realism of the story is helped by two more supporting characters, Wayne's butler Alfred (Michael Caine) and tech specialist and Wayne's right hand businessman Lucious Fox (Morgan Freeman). A problem I always had was (despite being a billionaire) Bruce Wayne could create all his gadgetry without detection (even this is handled as a major plot twist). Batman couldn't be a one man team, Alfred and Fox make this possible. Taking over from lightweight Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, Maggie Gyllenhaal has a tough job as the only main female role but brings out subtleties in lover Dent and ex-flame Wayne (she knows he's Batman).

The film even takes Batman out of Gotham, expanding the notion that the web of greed and corruption extends far beyond the streets, jails and loonies in Arkham Asylum. With Dent's passion for the same outcome as Batman and Gordon - of cleaning up the streets -overshadowed by the Joker's reign of chaos, the outcome is almost inevitable. Can their plans really succeed when they have a conscience and what they are fighting has none?

It's very difficult to write a review without giving away any of the delights of this film. It has it's brilliant action scenes but what stayed with me was the personal battles, the crime thriller plotting. Forget everything you expect from a superhero film, The Dark Knight has rewritten the rule book. The comic book movies can now be taken seriously.
A posthumous Oscar for Ledger? Absolutely, but also for best film, best director and best screenplay.


This post was a slight deviation from the normal list formula of this blog but I couldn't let the event pass without mentioning it. So here's a quick Dark Knight related list:

:: Today the film smashed the box office record after reaching the $200m (£100m) mark worldwide in just five days (former record was held by three movies, Spider-Man 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith, which passed the mark in eight days).
:: Taken more than $203m around the globe.
:: In less than a week it has made number 84 on the all time 100 blockbusters list
:: Already taken more than the last Batman movie, Batman Begins
:: Biggest US box office opening day ever ($67m)
:: Biggest opening weekend ever ($158m).
:: Set a weekend box-office record for IMAX venues with $6.2 mil. Previous record Spider-Man 3.
:: Record midnight showings with $18.5 million. Former record Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.


kswitz said...

good point about michael caine and morgan freeman's roles, it's very true (though i still think his gadgets are all far-fetched and crazy, it's all about disbelief-suspension).

also: as per your question on my blog, a good point again, about the Oscars and superhero comic movies.

i think they'll definitely consider it, despite the less "serious" genre.

how could they not, after its box-office smash success, and week-long waits for tickets?

it's been out a week where I live (toronto), and many screenings STILL sell out before 10 pm

KH said...

Nice review. Best Dark Knight review I've read so far. Although we already know that it's the best superhero film made and everyone's talking about it. You write really well.

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