WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR 2008’S THE DARK KNIGHT
Best (insert something here) ever isn’t a phrase thrown around a lot. Or at least it shouldn’t be. It needs to mantain a certain weight as to create an elite class of things in our society that can be considered great. So when something is nearly unanimously considered the best (insert something here) ever, it’s pretty substantial. And now here, I’ll say it: The Dark Knight is the best comic book movie ever. I’d even go so far as to call it one of the best blockbusters ever. But where it really is king of the hill is in the comic book movie department. And if you’re thinking that is a narrow field, think again. There’s been over fifty (not an exact number, if you want to go do your own research and prove me wrong, go right ahead) adaptations of comic books in the last decade and a lot of them have been pretty good (The Avengers, Iron Man, Spider-Man 2, Batman Begins round out my top five after this one in that order) so when something emerges as the best, it must be pretty damn good. The Dark Knight is pretty damn good. But you already knew that, didn’t you?
The Dark Knight continues the story of secretive orphaned billionaire Bruce Wayne, who lives a double life as the masked vigilante Batman, who must rise to the occasion of saving his home, Gotham City, when it is threatened by a mad-man known as The Joker. Beyond that, Batman seeks help from Lt. Gordon and the new, ambitious D.A., Harvey Dent.
I think it’s hard to talk about the cast of The Dark Knight for more than a sentence without
mentioning the immortal performance given by Heath Ledger as The Joker. I could go on and on and talk about how good he is. And seeing as this is a review, I will go on, for what is likely going to be several sentences of compliments towards the late great Ledger’s performance that you have heard a million times. And the fact you have heard these compliments towards the portrayl of this villainous clown is a compliment towards the performance in its own right, and an attribute of its lasting legacy. Ledger as The Joker has become a pop culture icon. His lines such as “Why So Serious?” or “Do you want to know how I got these scars?” or “Want to see a magic trick” will be forever etched into our minds because of his brilliant, manic delivery. Ledger doesn’t play The Joker with any subtlety and its a spot-on move. The role defines the movie, and I often find myself wishing Ledger were alive to reprise it. In fact, it often becomes the case (as this is my main problem with the film) that The Joker outshines the rather boring Batman we’re presented with in this film. Speaking of Batman, Christian Bale is good-as-always as billionaire Bruce Wayne. He’s slick, cool, but complex. But as the masked hero, Batman, Bale, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, kind of botches it. Sure, you still root for him because, you know, it’s Batman but honestly, there’s a lot of problems with the role in this film. First of all, he pales in comparison to his villainous counterpart and scenes between Batman and The Joker are always carried by The Joker. When it comes to the point that you want to see more of the villain than the hero, you know something is a bit unbalanced. Also, and I know you’ve heard this before: the voice. Yes, Batman’s voice in this film is just god awful. There’s so many explanations I’ve used in everyday conversation with people about it, among them being:
a.) It sounds like Batman is trying to gargle marbles.
b.) It sounds like Batman has strept throat.
c.) It sounds like someone shoved a jackhammer down Batman’s throat and left it running.
d.) It sounds like a broken garbage disposal.
Yep, that pretty much sums it up. The voice is laughably bad, but it surprisingly doesn’t deter from how good the film is, which I think is a true testament to how freaking good the movie is. Joining the cast is Aaron Eckhart as District Attorney Harvey Dent, who will eventually become the evil Two-Face at the hands of The Joker. Rewatching this film, you realize Eckhart is pretty damn good as Dent. His descent into hell could’ve felt rushed and stupid but Eckhart is the main reason I buy into Dent turning into Two-Face. His expressions of loss and hatred are pretty convincing. In the beginning as well, Dent is pretty charming, idealistic, and heroic, which are all traits that Eckhart plays well. They refer to Harvey Dent as Gotham’s White Knight, and to be truthful, Eckhart just looks the part. Nevermind that he also delivers the best line in the film: You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. That’s called foreshadowing, folks! Replacing Katie Holmes as the frankly-boring love interest Rachel Dawes is Maggie Gyllenhall. I know a lot of people didn’t like Holmes in the first film, but to be honest, I actually prefer her to Gyllenhall. Gyllenhall plays Dawes in such a stereotypical damsel-in-distress manner. She’s not a serious girl. She’s kind of ditzy, even. In truth, she’s an archetype that Holmes played against and to be blunt, I’m glad her character got blown to bits and isn’t coming back for the third installment. It made for some great emotional moments and it got rid of a character that just didn’t need to be there anymore. Rounding out the cast are the always great Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman. Those guys are living legends, and they couldn’t be more incredible for their roles.
The Dark Knight is often praised for its complex, moral-questioning story. And boy is it quite a story. The Dark Knight doesn’t dwell on anymore Batman origin. It knows we’ve seen all that. Hell, it doesn’t even give us any backstory on The Joker (a risky move, but one that paid off, creating a more menacing character in all). From minute one, The Dark Knightpositions itself as a truly epic crime saga, one that rivals anything to grace the screen in the past twenty-five years. The situations The Joker puts Gotham through form a dark and brilliant storyline that is compelling from the exciting start to the oh-so-intense finish. You never quite know what is going to happen next, which is such a compliment to a film in a genre that is known for being painfully predictable. But what makes The Dark Knightbrilliant is that it isn’t predictable. It goes against everything you know about the average summer blockbuster. Nobody went into this film saying: okay, so by the end of this, the main love interest of the entire series will be dead, there will be a little kid held up at gunpoint, Batman is gonna get shot, a criminal of Gotham will end up saving everybody from being blown up, and our hero will be a menace to society in most everybody’s eyes. But this movie did all that. In its runtime, which, although long, never feels it, this movie gets a lot done. And it is all done right. I don’t see any higher praise you could give to a story.
Beyond the story, there’s a stellar screenplay. The Dark Knight is an instantly quotable film. Go up to someone on the street and say something like: “We’ll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he’s not a hero.” and they will immediately know what film you’re referencing and the moment that line comes in. Beyond recognizable lines, this movie also has iconic moments. The interrogation room scene is probably the best scene in film of the century so far. Another amazing dramatic scene highlights Harvey Dent’s turn at the hands of The Joker. It’s an unforgettable one-on-one scene. There’s also incredible action sequences, and awesome Bat-stuff to go along with that. The Tumbler was cool, sure, but no Batman vehicle is quite as cool as the Batpod, the bulky dark motorcycle that the Caped Crusader uses to ride into the night at the end of this movie. The Batpod is brilliantly used in a music-less (another brilliant Nolan decision) car chase. The blowing up of the hospital is another action scene (more like a shot, really) that bursts with intense set-up.
But good action doesn’t make a movie. There’s also the route the director, who in this case is Christopher Nolan, the best working director, in my opinion, decides to take. Noaln nails this route. The film is dark, menacing, complex, but it’s not missing a heart or a sense of scope. Nolan builds this film with nail-clenching intensity, building to an incredible final sequence in which Two-Face holds up by-this-point Commissioner Gordon’s son at gun point. It’s a harrowingly intense moment no one in the theater will ever forget. And as Batman throws Two-Face off a ledge to his doom, you relax and then come to notice the goosebumps you have running through your body. The Dark Knight is just that powerful.
Even more powerful is the film’s final moments, in which The Dark Knight takes credit for Harvey Dent’s murders so Gotham doesn’t lose faith in good people who don’t wear masks and so that The Joker doesn’t win. Why the didn’t just blame the murders on the psycho clown I’ll never know, but hey, that wouldn’t leave much of a cliffhanger I guess. And what a cliffhanger it is. In some stunning imagery, more on that in a minute, Gordon destroys the Bat-signal with an axe, cops chase after Batman, and Batman rides up an on-ramp into a bright light.
Speaking of stunning imagery, this entire film is filled with it, thanks to brilliant cinematography and incredible direction. Images like a burning firetruck in the quiet night of the city, Batman landing on the roof of a white truck, and a hospital collapsing in during an explosion are great ones among others.It’s only elevated by Hans Zimmer’s unforgettable, meticulously intense score. In the end, The Dark Knight isn’t just the best comic book movie ever, but it’s probably one of the most notable Oscar snubs ever. You never thought you’d say that about a movie about a guy who dresses up like a bat, would you?
FINAL GRADE: ★★★★★★★★★★ (10/10 stars)