Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Dark Knight: More Than A Super Hero Film

You've heard the hype, excitement, and anticipation surrounding the sequel to Christopher Nolan's amazing origin story and film series reboot, Batman Begins. With the Joker teased in the final moments of the movie, there has been a frenzy since Heath Ledger was controversially cast as the quintessential Batman villain. Previously known for his role in the award-winning Brokeback Mountain, he quickly silenced doubters by portraying the Joker like never before. His tragic death earlier this year has only solidified the early positive reactions to his performance, magnifying the already huge buzz for The Dark Knight. But the movie is so much more than any one performance. With District Attorney Harvey Dent making his debut, the gradual downfall of the corruption and evil brought about by the mob bosses, and seeing Batman evolve as the stakes get higher, the Joker is but one piece that ties everything together. With Nolan's realistic vision of Batman, Batman Begins presented a story that defined who Bruce Wayne is, the fall and hopelessness of Gotham City, and the reason Batman came to be. The Dark Knight takes everything further, putting the sequel beyond the boundaries of the superhero movie genre and into much deeper, darker, and thought-provoking areas that make it a true classic in every sense of the word.

Batman Begins was a great film, giving an accurate and realistic portrayal of the mythos that has not been seen in live action depictions for a while. After the abysmal Joel Schumacher films, Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, Nolan stepped in and made everything right again. With an amazing cast featuring the likes of Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman, there were only a few minor problems and issues that prevented Begins from truly reaching greatness. The original character and created love interest, Rachel Dawes was one of the sore points of the film. With a very thin personality, little chemistry between her and Bruce, and the poor portrayal by Katie Holmes, the role was recast with the much better actress, Maggie Gyllenhaal. And with the introduction of Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, Eric Roberts as mob boss Sal Maroni, and Heath Ledger as the Joker, The Dark Knight only gets better. Picking up not long after the end of Batman Begins, everything hits the ground running. You can immediately see the effect Batman has had on Gotham, the change and hope Harvey Dent is bringing, and the very real criminal shift that the Joker is causing about and continuing. Every character is spot on, from Jim Gordon to Alfred to the much improved Rachel Dawes. Just about every problem many people had with the first film was remedied and made better by tenfold.

There were so many things to like about The Dark Knight, it's difficult to find a negative point. Most, if not all of the actor reprisals truly outdid themselves the second time around. They all felt even more in character, like they really found their groove. Rachel Dawes made an amazing turnaround, going from poor plot device to a real character. And the one character who may end up flying under the radar is Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent. Most know him as the villain Two-Face, most famously played by Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever. However, Two-Face is not a typical villain and is perfectly shown here. While many sing the praises of the many dimensions and richness of Batman or the Joker, Harvey Dent has his own past and history that is just as deep and tragic.
As the new District Attorney for Gotham City, he leads the crusade against mob bosses like Sal Maroni and the incarcerated Carmine Falcone that has controlled the city for so long. His passionate speaking and court savvy, possible love, and overall attitude leads him on a journey not unlike Bruce's path in the first film. His campaign slogan, "I Believe In Harvey Dent" perfectly sums up his drive, dedication, and his overall outcome. The infamous scene by the bat-signal with Dent, Gordon, and Batman are just one of the few touches that takes The Dark Knight that extra step into greatness. While all the hype and excitement is surrounding Heath Ledger's performance, I think Aaron Eckhart's role as Harvey Dent will surprise many.

With so much pressure and anticipation for one of Ledger's final roles, it was almost impossible to conceive that he live up to that hype. While his untimely death may cause some to see the Joker through rose-colored glasses, he truly does draw and demand attention that is really awe-inspiring. Much different from Jack Nicholson's version in the original 1989 Batman film or even Mark Hamill's version in the animated series, Ledger shows this dark, twisted, yet humorous Joker that is so unique and right. He ushers in this new kind of criminal, different from the mobs and petty thugs that littered the streets. As Batman, Jim Gordon, and Harvey Dent lead the charge in the war against the mob, the Joker brings an entirely new element to the table that is pure anarchy. Heath Ledger's performance was truly astounding, with so many subtle nuances and details captured perfectly and vividly. He perfectly shows why Batman and Joker are eternal enemies and shows the beginnings of that never-ending fight against this new crime element that the Joker ushers in. The Joker's lack of typical criminal motives and his twisted nature shows why he's different from the rest of them. Ledger's undisputed portrayal shows why the Joker is unofficial and unspoken leader of Batman's rogues gallery of criminals and the amazing imprint he will put on the Batman mythos to come.

While the state of Gotham is gradually improving after Batman Begins, the dark, grittiness and corruption are still very prevalent. As Bruce really absorbs the role and responsibility he's undertaken, he starts to question himself, the life he's living, and the hope that is still alive in the city. The unspoken alliance between Dent, Gordon, and Batman echoes throughout the film, with repercussions felt with every step. The duality and contrast of concepts such as light and dark, good and evil, & pure and corrupt fit very well here, with very different ideals and senses of justice present in many characters. The Dark Knight analyzes the human concept, one of inherent good, moral duty, and making the right decisions. The themes and concepts in this film go way beyond that of a typical comic book movie or even a Hollywood blockbuster. It's more than an action flick, more than a love story, and more than a super hero film.

The Batman character and mythos has remained an enduring classic for so many years, and it really feels like it has been reborn with director Christopher Nolan's vision and the hard work all of the actors have put forth and redefining these timeless characters. The Dark Knight transcends its fantasy trappings and tells a tale full of despair, real human emotion, and thought-provoking themes and concepts. Heath Ledger has left an indelible imprint on the series that not only epitomizes the Joker but displays why Batman has remained a symbol and a true legend.

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lil,  July 19, 2008 at 4:02 PM  

Good review of TDK. I'm hoping to see it really soon. Coming from you, its good to know that it's a good movie.

Redskyy July 19, 2008 at 5:34 PM  

I've only had a chance to see it once, and I already can't wait to go see it again. Look for it in IMAX theatres, as there are certain scenes created especially for it.

For another in-depth review of The Dark Knight, check out munjey86's great upcoming blog.

therese,  July 20, 2008 at 1:21 AM  

I waited to watch THE DARK KNIGHT before reading your review, as I wanted to be able to see the movie for what it is.

I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and I agree that all characters seemed to be spot-on. I was concerned that Heath Ledger's part in this movie was being seen "through rose-colored glasses," as you say, but after watching the movie, I must say The Joker lived up to his name. I am saddened to know that any possibilities of The Joker being reprised for future sequels to this series can never be entertained in the same way again.

I also agree with you that Harvey Dent was a hidden treasure in this movie. What could have been a flat side villain was rich in shades of light and dark. He had more depth than I realized, and I appreciated that it was brought forth.

I liked the attention to detail in this movie, such as the effort with shadowing and other effects to make Maggie Gyllenhaal more similar to Katie Holmes' physical portrayal of the character. I always wondered how they were going to keep hidden Bruce Wayne's use of Wayne Enterprise's R&D Department for Batman's purposes, and the movie even had an explanation for this.

THE DARK KNIGHT was more about the choices that people ultimately make for good or bad and what can push someone to make a decision to perform acts of evil. I can't wait to see where this series goes in the next installment.

Redskyy July 20, 2008 at 4:02 AM  

I couldn't have said it better myself. It truly is unfortunate that the Joker could never be recast in good conscience, but I believe it's not completely necessary to do so. He will remain in spirit, already setting things in motion and creating that standard to live up to.

There were so many little, subtle things that added up to make The Dark Knight so amazing. The attention to detail and the fact that everyone so completely understands the characters, universe, story, and all the different nuances. You could really see the thin line that separates good from bad and how precarious it can be. It really is a huge leap from Batman Begins.

Comrade Mo,  July 26, 2008 at 8:57 PM  

I'll start off by saying that I'm not a huge fan of the Batman. The series has been going on since 1939, which means story lines have been full of contradictions, unnecessary characters have been added to prolong the life of the series, and the values of the story have changed and evolved (so the characters don't necessary have the same values and personality.)

I do like the character himself. From what I can see of the random tv shows, movies, comics, and Wikipedia articles, he represents truth as truth is. He's not willing to go through the politics of being a beloved public figure, so he doesn't mind rejecting the public for its own good. (The Dark Knight touched on this.) I like that he doesn't have superpowers - that he uses his own intellect and badass gadgets to catch criminals makes him more heroic and a character most people can relate to. (Points off for being a wealthy millionaire with the trust fund.)

Having said that, I loved the Dark Knight. It brought in a major character to the Batman story (the Joker) and all the characters were played believably. Yes, Joker was portrayed as the carefree anarchist very well. Yes, Harvey Dent was shown as the great DA with the tragic fall to criminal behavior. (I do think his death was premature or staged, but probably used as a good segway into the next movie.)

The thing I'm disappointed with is that Ledger did such a good job with the Joker's character. Without getting into how terrible it is that he died and that, his performance of the Joker was so believable that another actor playing may be rejected by the audience as not being true enough to form.

Overall, awesome movie. I think your description of it is very accurate and that you accurately described/commented on the different elements of the movie.

Redskyy July 27, 2008 at 3:34 AM  

My personal opinion and love for Batman aside, one of the biggest reasons why I think The Dark Knight is so amazing is because it truly is one of the more definitive versions of the character and story. With so many different interpretations over the years, I feel like TDK can be pointed to any fan or non-fan and have both be satisfied.

I agree with your assessment on both Harvey Dent and Joker. There are several possibilities on a third movie, and it will be very interesting to see how the story will play out. I will say that I think the next one can be pulled off without recasting Heath Ledger. There will be criticism no matter what they do and I believe it can stand on its own without directly showing Joker and giving Two-Face (no longer just Harvey anymore) a chance to shine. And given Nolan's track record so far, they really could do Catwoman justice. That throwaway line with Lucius and Bruce may have more hidden meaning or just be a casual tease.

Mr. Mike August 5, 2008 at 8:39 PM  

Now that I've finally seen the movie, I read your review and think it is really excellent. (both the movie and the review). Had fun reading it!

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