Wasn’t sure how to approach a review on The Dark Knight — the movie has received so much critical acclaim and made so much bank, it almost seems like piling on. I wanted to be sure so I saw it again last week. Didn’t want to seem too sensational or over-the-top, but…
The Dark Knight is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. It’s that good. It’s also that seriously in my wheelhouse.
Of course you have to take into account personal tastes and biases of the writer, which may be a little different from your own. But from the Beemsville perspective you have an all-time great superhero and fictional character, you have the villain that most embodies the protagonist-shadow relationship, you have total commitment to the character and source material with no sidebars for yuks or ironic self-abasement. You have intense film-making with vision. You have meditation on good vs. evil and what defines a hero. Finally, a movie that lives up the best the comics can offer us — and with The Dark Knight that means Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Batman Year One, and Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke.
Chris Nolan and David Goyer deserve all the credit for delivering a taut multi-faceted story. Every scene counts, building towards the kind of tense visceral experience film does best. And it’s not just the explosions or the set-pieces, or even the hero-villain showdown. There’s more here: plot points, characters, themes, revelations, all coming together. You’re worried as you’re watching this. You’re concerned for the characters’ choices and consequences. You’re drawn into a world that allows a costumed vigilante to function in what seems like reality.
The cast is outstanding; great performances all around from Bale to Freeman to Oldman to Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent. And yes, Heath Ledger, whose Joker I was determined to examine very critically. The whole suicide thing and the predictable Hollywood fawn-fest regarding ‘the tragically departed star’, the Oscar buzz… But you know what, it’s all warranted. Ledger’s Joker is all-time villain material. The performance is stunning — a whole order of magnitude better than Javier Bardem’s Best-Supporting Actor role from No Country for Old Men this last year. Better than Nicholson’s take on the character. This Joker is sinister, frightening, diabolically clever and tough, and yet somehow charismatic in his own way — just like the best of fictional villains. It’s truly a shame Ledger did what he did, for a variety of reasons. From the purely selfish standpoint of a Batman fan and Moviegoer, because we won’t see this Joker again. And we won’t get to see what else Heath could’ve done in time.
So this is my assessment: not only is this the best film of the year, it’s the best film in several years. Name me a recent Oscar winner and I’ll take The Dark Knight. Crash, The Departed, Million Dollar Baby — all inferior. Go ahead and give it Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Set Design, etc. Best Supporting Actor to Ledger. But this probably won’t happen, because it’s a superhero movie, a big summer blockbuster. Some wanky film will come along in December about ‘people learning to come to terms with stuff’ and there’s your Oscar winner. Ah, well. Batman doesn’t need your damned affirmation; he knows what it’s about.
A couple of small criticisms then, since nothing’s truly perfect. I wish Christian Bale’s Batman voice was a little more like Kevin Conroy (from Batman: The Animated Series) and less like the Wolfman. It’s too bad they couldn’t have somehow found a little more for Maggie Gyllenhaal to do — maybe one more scene with Bruce Wayne to re-cement that relationship. Mostly, though, I’m bummed about the prospects of the franchise. This is it, this is the movie. You can’t replicate the performances (because of Ledger) and you can’t recreate that awesome protag-villain chemistry. No other Bat-villains come close to the Joker. And I don’t know how or what else Nolan and Goyer could do with this version of the title character. Because of the money, though, they’ll probably try, which is part of the problem with the movie industry. The next movie would probably need to have Robin, which brings up a host of other problems. Maybe they should just transition to the long rumored Superman-Batman movie, but that will probably never happen…
On a final positive note, The Dark Knight extends the shelf-life of super-hero and comic book movies for another term, which is a good thing according to the Beemsville philosophy. And soon we will see films based on less well-known (to the general public) source material such as Watchmen and The Spirit. These are comics every bit as revered and multi-faceted as the best of Batman. And the trailers look good. Let’s hope they can approach the level established by The Dark Knight.