Our ‘Knight’ In Shining Armor

by Ian T. McFarland on July 17, 2008

in Movie Reviews , Theme Week

  • Title: The Dark Knight
  • IMDB: link

Though there are plenty unsure of him, it’s made clear at the beginning of The Dark Knight that Batman (Christian Bale) has done a lot to clean up Gotham since the events in 2005’s Batman Begins.  But he never saw a foe as strange and evolved as the Joker (who you are probably pretty aware was played by the late Heath Ledger).  Like a virus that evolves to survive the new antibiotics that is Batman, he’s a permutation of the typical criminal unpredictable, gets results and worst of all, seems immune to the power and threats of the Caped Crusader.

It makes for terrible timing – it was just looking like the day Bruce Wayne could quit his night job was within sight, with the newly elected Gotham District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) looking like a serious figure to unwaveringly enforce the law onto a corrupt city.  A real man to serve the city is going to be easier to follow than a grown man playing dress-up.  But by the time the Joker settles into front page news, it’s clear that Gotham’s never been worse off.

It’s a classic second act – after giving us a great set-up with the last Bat movie, the scope and scales are amped to unnerving degrees.  And I might just be giddy from excitement still, but my money says it’s every bit as good as The Empire Strikes Back.

You’re going to hear it in every review for the movie, so let’s get the obvious out of the way:  Heath Ledger is fucking amazing.  It’s easy to shout praises posthumously, but Ledger achieves every success in his take on the villain.  When he makes threats, it’s not just some guy on screen trying to be tough – it’s terrifying.  He’s not just another villain out of the comics to be disposed of; Ledger transcends anything cheesy or inauthentic about the character.  Ledger’s Joker is a full-blown, psychotic terrorist hell-bent creating and inspiring chaos.  Give credit to the script that inspired the character though – the Joker we’re given is totally opaque – we don’t understand his motivation or back story, which only makes him more frightening and entirely in control of Gotham, his fingers wrapped around it like it’s a kitten’s neck.

Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Eric Roberts and Michael Caine (respectively) can pull it off.  But the best of the rest is Eckhart, who gets as much screen-time as Ledger, but gives back a much more subdued and grounded performance.  It’s hard to give Eckhart his due when he’s opposite one of the best performances of the past few years; but his Harvey Dent is totally believable and will grab you where it hurts.

Having said all that, the real star of the film is co-writer/producer/director Christopher Nolan.  Nolan’s Knight is a fierce piece of cinema that’s not afraid to cross the line when it needs to.  He’s not just able to keep you glued to your seat like so few have before, he’s able to instill a deep, epic scale onto a hero we’ve already known since childhood.  He’s able to discuss massive topics like philosophy and questioning sanity, then follow it up by blowing up a cell phone in the same scene without any trouble transitioning between the two widely different subject matters.  Nolan shows a mastery of the subject, knows what he wants to say and executes in a manner that looks frustratingly easy.

And the thrills of the movie – my god.  The action isn’t even anything leagues ahead of the competition, it’s just sharply shot and crisply edited.  But with the stakes raised so impossibly high in a story that’s close to being totally believable and legit (a few of Batman’s technologies are pretty close to impossible) in a genre full of imagined realities, Nolan can grab the attention of every brain cell in your head as you watch Batman and the Joker duke it out, without either of the adversaries throwing a single punch.  It was, in all seriousness, one of the most tense movie-going experiences of my life.

To be sure, The Dark Knight is not without its faults. There are a few sections of the film that are blurred in their rushed pacing without ever taking out enough time to present a coherent enough idea of what’s going on.  It also hurts that the most exciting parts of the film come in the middle of it, letting the rest of the movie play out in relatively uninteresting fashion.  Neither of these foibles are fatal, but given they could have been fixed easily in post-production and are the only facets that keep Knight from being an utter masterpiece, it’s especially hard to swallow these small mistakes.

I wish I could explain to you how spectacular this picture is.  Even with the promise of greatness from the first film, and the viral marketing that’s been building up expectations over the past year, I still feel like I was totally unprepared to appreciate what Christopher Nolan has accomplished with The Dark Knight.  It’s as good as a done deal that we’ll get a sequel, and few franchises deserve to live on more than this Batman series; but what’s the point?  The idea of Nolan being able to outdo himself is preposterous.  The Dark Knight isn’t just the best Batman movie, it’s probably the greatest Superhero film, and one of the best action films we’ve been fortunate enough to see.

Previous post:

Next post: