THE DARK KNIGHT is one of the most hyped movies to date, and a lesser film would be crushed under the weight of all that expectation. Some of the publicity stems from the early death of Ledger, who turns in an excellent performance. He provides moments of humor, but this Joker is terrifying, sharing more with classic villains such as Hannibal Lechter than with his comic book predecessors. Eckhart is equally good as Dent, and Maggie Gyllenhaal deserves praise for taking over the role of Rachel Dawes from Katie Holmes. Though there's more emphasis on plot and character development than in most comic book adaptations, that doesn't mean Nolan has skimped on any of the action sequences. Each set piece is done perfectly, leaving the audience breathless. THE DARK KNIGHT is filmmaking at its best; its subject matter may be dark and depressing, but it's tough not to feel exhilarated by its artistry when the credits begin to roll.
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Why are you reading this and not watching the movie?!
Heads up: a thunderbolt is about to rip into the blanket of bland we call summer movies. The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan's absolute stunner of a follow-up to 2005's Batman Begins, is a potent provocation decked out as a comic-book movie. Feverish action? Check. Dazzling spectacle? Check. Devilish fun? Check. But Nolan is just warming up. There's something raw and elemental at work in this artfully imagined universe. Striking out from his Batman origin story, Nolan cuts through to a deeper dimension. Huh? Wha? How can a conflicted guy in a bat suit and a villain with a cracked, painted-on clown smile speak to the essentials of the human condition? Just hang on for a shock to the system. The Dark Knight creates a place where good and evil — expected to do battle — decide instead to get it on and dance. "I don't want to kill you," Heath Ledger's psycho Joker tells Christian Bale's stalwart Batman. "You complete me." Don't buy the tease. He means it.
The trouble is that Batman, a.k.a. playboy Bruce Wayne, has had it up to here with being the white knight. He's pissed that the public sees him as a vigilante. He'll leave the hero stuff to district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and stop the DA from moving in on Rachel Dawes (feisty Maggie Gyllenhaal, in for sweetie Katie Holmes), the lady love who is Batman's only hope for a normal life.
Everything gleams like sin in Gotham City (cinematographer Wally Pfister shot on location in Chicago, bringing a gritty reality to a cartoon fantasy). And the bad guys seem jazzed by their evildoing. Take the Joker, who treats a stunningly staged bank robbery like his private video game with accomplices in Joker masks, blood spurting and only one winner. Nolan shot this sequence, and three others, for the IMAX screen and with a finesse for choreographing action that rivals Michael Mann's Heat. But it's what's going on inside the Bathead that pulls us in. Bale is electrifying as a fallibly human crusader at war with his own conscience.
I can only speak superlatives of Ledger, who is mad-crazy-blazing brilliant as the Joker. Miles from Jack Nicholson's broadly funny take on the role in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman, Ledger takes the role to the shadows, where even what's comic is hardly a relief. No plastic mask for Ledger; his face is caked with moldy makeup that highlights the red scar of a grin, the grungy hair and the yellowing teeth of a hound fresh out of hell. To the clown prince of crime, a knife is preferable to a gun, the better to "savor the moment."
The deft script, by Nolan and his brother Jonathan, taking note of Bob Kane's original Batman and Frank Miller's bleak rethink, refuses to explain the Joker with pop psychology. Forget Freudian hints about a dad who carved a smile into his son's face with a razor. As the Joker says, "What doesn't kill you makes you stranger."
The Joker represents the last completed role for Ledger, who died in January at 28 before finishing work on Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. It's typical of Ledger's total commitment to films as diverse as Brokeback Mountain and I'm Not There that he does nothing out of vanity or the need to be liked. If there's a movement to get him the first posthumous Oscar since Peter Finch won for 1976's Network, sign me up. Ledger's Joker has no gray areas — he's all rampaging id. Watch him crash a party and circle Rachel, a woman torn between Bale's Bruce (she knows he's Batman) and Eckhart's DA, another
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A Legend in Film, Forever
The Batman Begins (2005) sequel is easily the best comic-based action movie yet (2008). The Dark Knight is unstoppable in it's path of destructing all crime-thriller flicks before it; raising the bar very, very high. The two and-a-half hour runtime glorify the fact that you could split the movie into two amazing films rather than one legend (which it is) and still be satisfied to an extreme extent. Heath Ledger's surprising death is truly unfortunate but his final performance is without a hesitation worthy of 2008's Oscar award, closing the doors to all contesting actors starring aft The Dark Knight's release. Ledger's outstanding achievement that no one expected is one of the best acts I have ever experienced in the thousands of films I have seen.
Overall, the action packed scenes were original and incomparable. All the right explosions and fights hit hard right and left, perfect on cue every time. Director Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins) is finally the first to really step up the graphic features of Batman's truly dark life and the absolute real ruthlessness of his villains so much that, even though the content wasn't threatening, the rating is a very strong PG-13 (Where I would not recommend anyone under the age to view, unlike it's predecessor, Batman Begins). Supporting performances by Bale, Caine, Eckhart, and Oldman were unmistakably beautiful additions to the masterpiece cast. Even Katie Holmes filler (Rachael Dawes, Batman Begins) Maggie Gyllenhaal pulled off quite nicely in a "better than before" respect. The Dark Knight was rightfully hyped up since it's announcement. The release has created an easy out for the perfect score of a movie for those who seem yet convinced of such thing. The soundtrack was superb, the script unprecedented in intelligence and wit, and by far the creativity and ingenuity behind the incredulous scenes of exotic sports cars weaving traffic, semi trucks flipping in the air, and state-of-the-art technology, has beat anything before it.
The Dark Knight stands as a mind blowing testimony that DC Comics has not been shut in the dark by Marvel's many pumped out mediocre movies (3 Spider-Man films, 2 Hulk films, 2 Fantastic Four films, 3 X-Men films for starters, in one decade). DC Comics Delivers the good in their 2008 blockbuster that hit so hard, none of Marvels twenty-plus movies can come close to touching. The Dark Knight will be on movie lover's top favorites for a very, very long time
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A Better Class of Criminal
Gotham has a new white knight: a fearless district attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who's determined to nab malefactors through the law with the same gusto that Batman, the dark knight, applies using his gadgets and charisma. The Mob (led by Eric Roberts) they can handle, with the help of stalwart police lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman). But the Joker — this guy is nuts. He does deals with the Mob, then crosses them up. He makes a point with his pencil by ramming it into a gangster's head. "This town," he says, "deserves a better class of criminals." So do action movies, and here he is, vowing to bring down Batman and Dent, just for the mad fun of it.
In its rethinking and transcending of a schlock source, The Dark Knight is up there with David Cronenberg's 1986 version of The Fly. It turns pulp into dark poetry. Just as that movie found metaphors of cancer, AIDS and death in the story of a man devolving into an insect, so this one plumbs the nature of identity. Who are we? Has Bruce lost himself in the myth of the hero? Is his Batman persona a mission or an affliction? Can crusading Dent live down the nickname (Two-Face) some rancorous cops have pinned on him? Only the Joker seems unconflicted. He knows what he is: an "agent of chaos." Your worst nightmare.
No, really. This villain, as conceived by Nolan and his scriptwriter brother Jonathan and incarnated with chilling authority by Ledger, is not the elegant sadist of so many action films, nor the strutting showman played by Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman. He isn't a father figure or a macho man. And though he invents several stories about how he got his (facial and psychic) scars, he's not presented as the sum of injustices done to him. This Joker is simply one of the most twisted and mesmerizing creeps in movie history.
The mayhem and torture wreaked here, by saint or scum, are so vivid and persistent that it's a wonder, and a puzzle, why The Dark Knight snagged a PG-13 rating. (Don't take your 9-year-old son unless you think he'd enjoy seeing a kid just like him tremble in fear while a gun is held to his head by a previously sympathetic character.) But kids would have trouble following the movie, let alone understanding it. For teens and adults, it's a strap-yourselves-in trip, handsome and assured as only a big-budget picture can be. (Part of it was shot in the IMAX process, which lends the action scenes a startling clarity and depth.) And for reassurance, Nolan brings back old friends from Batman Begins: Michael Caine as Bruce's butler Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Fox, who takes care of Bruce's toys.
Actually, they're just diversions from the epochal face-off of Bruce and the Joker. For a good part of the film, when the two embrace in a free fall of souls — one doomed, the other imperiled — you may think you're in the grip of a mordant masterpiece. That feeling will pass, as the film spends too many of its final moments setting up the series' third installment. The chill will linger, though. The Dark Knight is bound to haunt you long after you've told yourself, Aah, it's only a comic-book movie.
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The Dark Knight is stunning, in every sense the word. Whether you look at the acting, the directing, the writing, or any other aspect of the movie, it's hard to find a weak point.
Nolan returns to do another incredible job at directing, and once again raises the bar for the Batman series. He creates a perfect balance between having The Dark Knight be a drama about the characters in it and an action-packed crime saga.
The acting alone is terrific. Christian Bale is a natural as Bruce Wayne, and also makes the best Batman I've seen yet, and by his side is Michael Caine, who just seems to fit perfectly as Alfred. Maggie Gyllenhaal does quite well as Rachel and Aaron Eckhart pulls off the transformation from Harvey Dent to Two-Face. Gary Oldman playing Gordon deserves an honorable mention. And then there's Heath Ledger, whose performance alone is nothing short of amazing. A few years ago most people would've said that he would be best known for and remembered by his starring role in Brokeback Mountain. Not anymore.
There's a constant internal struggle for Bruce Wayne, who does all he can to keep the difference between himself and Batman, and the difference between what is right and what has to be done. And all the while chaos reigns in the streets of Gotham, compliments of the Joker, who seems to be the one man who can bring down Batman.
All in all, there is nothing disappointing about The Dark Knight. For a movie that's two and a half hours long, there isn't a dull moment. Living up to the expectations and hype seemed impossible for it to do, but somehow The Dark Knight not only does, but surpasses it.
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