Dark Knight, The (2008)
Release Date: July 18th, 2008 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Christopher Nolan Actors: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Ron Dean, Cillian Murphy, Eric Roberts, William Fichtner
ignificantly darker than even Tim Burton’s 1989 vision, Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” is certainly no family film. Packed with explosive action, heavy-hitting violence, and diabolical maniacs, the famous masked vigilante has never looked or felt more intense. But despite the many attempts at seriousness, realism still evades this version of Batman, as inexplicable technology comes to the rescue and a jarring lack of security allows villains to plot overelaborate schemes. And despite a fresh, flawless performance by Heath Ledger as Batman’s archrival, the Joker, the picture weakens as secondary rival Two-Face steals screen time from what was plenty enough mayhem for a single superhero.
The gangsters who run the underworld of Gotham City are continually under the scrutiny of the mysterious vigilante Batman (Christian Bale). Aided by his lawyer girlfriend Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and new district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Batman’s efforts slowly coerce the town into cracking down on organized crime, forcing the mobsters to turn to extreme measures. And that’s when they let the clown out of the box.
A horribly disfigured psychotic masochist called the Joker (Heath Ledger), who dons white face paint and a purple suit for added eeriness, hires himself out to the warring gangs to assassinate Batman. But in his attempts to kill the pesky hero, he proves uncontrollable and unstable, escalating the spread of panic and pandemonium throughout the streets of Gotham. Firstly targeting everyone close to Harvey Dent and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), the Joker terrorizes the city with explosives and death, proving to the frightened citizens that he is absolutely not a laughing matter.
And indeed, the most impressive aspect of “The Dark Knight” is Heath Ledger’s wild performance. Made up with a truly sinister appearance (a stretch from Jack Nicholson’s haunting visage), including hideous scars and devilish clown makeup, the film wastes no time with giving this notorious antagonist a redundant backstory. Opening with a bank robbery scene that rivals the intensity in “Heat’s” own unforgettable holdup, “The Dark Knight” leaps right into the action, rarely letting up from there. Despite the comic relief provided by Michael Caine’s assistant Alfred and Morgan Freeman’s businessman Lucius Fox, the film stays deadly serious so much of the time that it’s difficult to see any light at the end of the tunnel.
The unrelentingly baleful tone of the film makes “The Dark Knight” a perfect match to “Batman Begins,” and a real treat for fans itching for stark severity; but much of the over-the-top fun of the original comic book character has altogether vanished. It’s no longer suitable for younger viewers as it routinely pushes even the limits of its PG-13 rating. And, despite the drastic switch in target audiences, adults may find themselves questioning some of the storytelling elements, such as the ease with which the Joker is able to move around the city, plant bombs, and avoid gunfire.
Most detrimental of all, however, as “Spider-man 3” so substantially and single-handedly proved, is the inclusion of too many villains. Fears are confirmed when the enraged Harvey Dent starts to transform into his alter ego, Two-Face, during the final third of this 152-minute epic. The creative team behind “The Dark Knight” went to great lengths to achieve realism with the scar tissue and makeup for the Joker, but went ludicrously overboard on Two-Face. Believability is completely discarded for the sake of shock, resulting in general goofiness instead of awe for this entirely extraneous second fiddle.
With stunning car chases, a new Batcycle toy to play with, white-knuckle stunts, annihilative bazookas, and cinematic anarchy, “The Dark Knight” may be too mortifying for some and just right for others. Either way, this is a new take on an old entity, and one that is likely to garner plenty of admiration from fans who were outraged by Joel Schumacher’s previous, notably airy and colorful adaptations. Plus, Batman films are always box office gold.
– Mike Massie