“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
Rated PG-13. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Written by Nolan, Jonathan Nolan & David S. Goyer. Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Eric Roberts.
I don’t think I’ve been more excited for a summer movie than I was for The Dark Knight since, well, probably ever. I’m a huge fan of director Christopher Nolan and I thought the first entry, Batman Begins was a great beginning to a series and by far the best film to feature pretty much the only superhero I care about. Then the reviews came out, and I was wondering whether it could live up to the hype. Well, I can say that I was not disappointed in the least — The Dark Knight is a tremendous accomplishment, and the best movie I’ve seen so far this year.
There’s not much plot summary needed — the film starts where Beginsleft off — Bruce Wayne (Bale) is settling in as Batman with the help of butler Alfred (Caine), Wayne Industries CEO Lucius Fox (Freeman), and Lieutenant James Gordon (Oldman). Meanwhile, newly minted District Attorney Harvey Dent (Eckhart) is trying to rid Gotham of the mob underworld while dating Wayne’s ex-girlfriend Rachel Dawes (now played by Gyllenhaal). The mob, finding itself in a desperate time, allies itself with a new criminal making waves in the Gotham underworld, a man known only as The Joker (Ledger).
Ledger is getting all the press, deservedly so, and would be even if it weren’t for his untimely death. You simply cannot take your eyes off of him when he’s onscreen, and embodies Nolan’s vision of the Joker — less a true villain than a psychotic, twisted agent of chaos who is so compelling he’s almost likable. This was the performance that could have ruined the film if it wasn’t pulled off. But Ledger did it so well, and it’s a shame it’s his last full performance.
But if Ledger was perfect, Eckhart was on a similar level in that he was Harvey Dent, and you truly believed that, as the residents of Gotham did, that he was their White Knight. The film’s emotional arc was centered on him, and his performance was up to the challenge. Gyllenhaal, while an improvement over Katie Holmes, is largely wasted, and not enough is done to show why two of the most powerful men in the city are after her.
Bale, Freeman, Oldman and Caine repeat their strong, effective performances from Begins. Bale is particularly good in his “Bruce Wayne” persona, able to fool the characters within the movie but at the same time making it clear to the audience that his Wayne is acting. While Batman (especially in the brilliant animated series) has been shown as a dark, introspective character, Bale does a great job of showing his naiveté and insecurities. His Batman is a fallible hero, capable of not only making mistakes, but large errors in judgment.
Most of my praise though, falls to Christopher Nolan (and his brother Jonathan, who co-scripted), who has yet to make anything less than an excellent film. The intelligence and cleverness shines through in the writing and the direction. From the opening scene to the end, even in the scenes that are in retrospect unnecessary, he holds our attention. The film looks great and the action sequences are flawlessly presented.
It is a superhero movie, but it is one grounded in reality. None of the characters have superpowers, and Nolan consciously sets this in a world that we can recognize as our own. Yes, the action scenes have parts that are so unrealistic, and yes, Bruce Wayne is a billionaire with ridiculous toys, but the audience buys it because of the rest of the film around it. Nolan deserves a Best Director nomination, and he might just get it.
The film isn’t perfect – the opening scene with Batman (featuring a cameo from a familiar face) is confusing and while they felt the need to tie up a loose end from Batman Beginsit was sort of unnecessary. Similarly, the scenes in Hong Kong were cool and had clever moments but ultimately they could have been cut from the 2 ½ hour runtime. Finally, as solid overall as the Nolans’ script is, they can’t help but introduce a minor character who can only be important for one predictable reason.
The Dark Knight may not be a masterpiece overall, but within its genre, you won’t find any better. If you’re one of the 12 people who haven’t seen it – go see it now.