Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Film Review: 'The Dark Knight' – 8.5/10

Film Review: Superhero · Drama · Thriller (2008)
'The Dark Knight'
Written by Joé McKen on Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Heath Ledger incarnates one clown you don't wanna mess with as The Joker in Warner Bros.' 2008 blockbuster The Dark Knight.

I've never been a Batman fan – actually, I've never cared much for comics or superheroes at all. I just didn't develop in(to) those trends. But that just might change; I may just kindle a form of interest, in Batman at least, if movies like The Dark Knight are made from now on.

Brought to us by the Nolan brothers (Christopher and Jonathan) and directed by Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight is much more than a typical superhero film. In any other film (be it Superman, Spiderman, Ironman, Otheradjectiveman), the superhero gradually undergoes a transformation, usually taking them from their original cocky and self-assured position and, through tragedy and personal demons, eventually reveals them as being kind but strong and good, always fighting for the greater cause. This tried-and-true formula has been given a slight twist in TDK. And by 'slight', I mean it's been thrown out the window eighty stories into a vat of magma-covered steel spikes. And has had cement poured over it.

Continuing from Tim Burton's Batman Begins (2005), which I haven't seen, The Dark Knight does more than simply telling the tale of a good man who was wronged and now wants to wrong the wrongdoers. The whole theme throughout the movie is tragedy: why did that happen to that character? How will that character react? Or, what could've happened to that character to make him who/what he is now? These are the sorts of questions the film begs from its audience, and any movie that succeeds more in making us ask questions rather than glean answers has done something specially right in my opinion. It keeps you thinking and guessing, yet never reveals any of the big answers we crave, which only feeds our addiction(s) as moviegoers. That's truly the hallmark of a great movie, and The Dark Knight, while not a perfect film, crosses that checkpoint with clear certainty and ease.

On to the story. Now that Batman Begins has established who/what is the Batman (Christian Bale), now the ever-crime-plagued city of Gotham is facing a new rising, terrible enemy, in the form of the Joker (Heath Ledger). Disfigured by gruesome scars around his mouth that make him look as though he were continually smiling, the Joker is by far Batman's worst enemy ever – but it's how the Joker operates that makes him so terrible, instead of precisely what he does. Shootings, stabbings and explosions are actually quite minimal under his reign. No, Joker prefers psychology and mind-games to destroy his rivals and enemies, and he soon reveals himself to be a criminal mastermind and tactical genius the likes of which Gotham, and Batman, have never encountered previously. From single-handedly gaining control over the Gotham mob to manipulating government and law enforcement officials without them even knowing it, this is the first and only threat that finally forces Batman to reevaluate his morals and his 'rule' ('never kill') – and may even push Batman over his limits.

Meanwhile, rising star District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) is busy being the overt hero and single-handedly putting half the city's criminals behind bars. He's in love with his assistant D.A., Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), which discomforts Bruce (what with him still being in love with her and all), but Rachel can't be with Bruce as long as he's Batman. Typical. What's not typical, though, is what the Joker plans to do once he acquires this information.

The film is engrossing and dark, and holds back very few punches when it comes to establishing and illustrating just how dark a drama, tragedy and thriller can be. I'm not talking about limbs flying off in a cascade of blood and guts; that's better left for the crap that is Chainsaw Massacre or Saw or other pretenders to the 'thriller' genre. Thrillers are not screams and chases and bloody saws and knives (although this movie contains a fair few of each). A good thriller is one in which you never know when the danger is there or not – everything seems fine, you don't have foreboding music, when suddenly the monster jumps up and grabs you.

For showing us even stale formulas can be totally revamped in new and brilliant and deep ways, I give The Dark Knight 8.5 Joker playing cards out of 10.

PS – And will people stop complaining about impossible endurances and resilience to trauma and injury on Batman's part already!? It's a SUPERHERO MOVIE for crissakes, it's not supposed to have Batman die at every stunt. Jeez! Get a clue, folks.

Bruce Wayne / Batman: Christian Bale • the Joker: Heath Ledger • Harvey 'Two-Face' Dent: Aaron Eckhart • Rachel Dawes: Maggie Gyllenhaal • James Gordon: Gary Oldman • Alfred Pennyworth: Michael Caine • Lucius Fox: Morgan Freeman
Crew & Credits
Director(s): Christopher Nolan • Writer(s): Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, David S. Goyer • Original Score: Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard
General Information
Distributed by: Warner Bros. • Released: July 18, 2008 (US) • Running Time: 152 mins • Budget: US$185 million • Rated: PG-13


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