Author: Paul J. Wares
Tuesday, July 29, 2008

THE DARK KNIGHT - A Warner Bros. release, presented in association with Legendary Pictures, of a Syncopy production. Produced by Emma Thomas, Charles Roven, Christopher Nolan. Executive producers, Benjamin Melniker, Michael E. Uslan, Kevin De La Noy, Thomas Tull. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Screenplay, Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan; story, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer, based upon characters appearing in comicbooks published by DC Comics, "Batman" created by Bob Kane.

Bruce Wayne/Batman - Christian Bale
The Joker - Heath Ledger
Harvey Dent - Aaron Eckhart
Alfred Pennyworth - Michael Caine
Rachel Dawes - Maggie Gyllenhaal
Jim Gordon - Gary Oldman
Lucius Fox - Morgan Freeman

When BATMAN BEGINS was released in 2005 I gave it a glowing review that was prone to hyperbole. I admit that my opinion of it when it was released was skewed due to the fact that I had a significant emotional investment in it. I had been lucky enough to visit the set for BOF, that certainly had an impact on me and affected my judgment of the film I would see Ė but also, for the most part, I got exactly what I wanted. I got a serious treatment of a character I love and a fantastic film to boot, something that after BATMAN AND ROBIN, I never thought Iíd see.

Later I would come to disagree with some of the things I said in that review. I donít believe that BATMAN BEGINS is the best comic-book movie ever made, subsequent viewings opened up a whole slew of flaws that I had previously not noticed or ignored. That is not to say that I donít love BATMAN BEGINS, I do. But I did give it a free pass and overlooked a lot of the films problems, simply because I was so damned grateful to have the film we got. p I was determined not to do that with THE DARK KNIGHT and to that end I divorced myself from the production as much as I could. This was partly to avoid spoilers, but also so that I would judge the film on its own merits and not be weighed down by my own advance preconceptions of it. Perhaps predictably this wasnít always easy to do, particularly when you moderate a Batman movie message board.

Because I didnít see BATMAN BEGINS as perfect, there were certain things that I wanted to see improved upon in THE DARK KNIGHT. In no particular order, they were better editing, more daring production design Ė particularly Gotham Ė less repetitious and expository dialogue and the removal of Katie Holmes. Well, early on it was obvious that I would get one of those wishes come true, but I had to wait until now to find out if anything else was improved upon.

Itís fair to say that I had faith in Christopher Nolan to deliver on a lot of levels. Holmes aside, he has always cast his movies exceptionally well, he is a solid director and the stories he tells are always done in an engaging and intelligent manner, but that is where my faith stopped, Iím not a Kool Aid drinker and after past disappointments with the previous franchise, I wasnít about to blindly ďTrust Nolan.Ē Everything else would be down to what was finally delivered on my first viewing.

Gladly, he didnít disappoint.

BATMAN BEGINS laid a solid foundation for which THE DARK KNIGHT cements itself. It truly stands head and shoulders above its predecessor and to be perfectly frank all other comic-book movies as a whole. That is quite a claim, but quite simply, THE DARK KNIGHT transcends the comic-book movie genre and places itself firmly amongst crime drama thrillers like SEVEN and HEAT. In fact TDK Ė as it as become affectionately known as Ė has a lot in common with both of those films and thatís good company to be keeping.

Iíve had issues with Nolanís placement of Batman in the real world previously, but here everything fell into place and it worked, I think mainly due to the removal of so called ďrealismĒ replaced instead with ďplausibility.Ē Somehow Nolan has crafted a picture where the outlandish and absurd notions of a man dressed as a giant bat and a man painted as clown, fighting for the soul of a city is plausible. Real it might not be, but by heck there are an awful lot of times where you think it could be.

This is thanks largely to an absolutely outstanding story and script crafted by David Goyer and the brothers Nolan. The script is not only the absolutely best comic-book movie script ever written, itís also the best script thatís been written for Batman. I even argue that itís one of the best stories written for the Bat in nearly seventy years of continuous print. I think Jonah Nolan has to be singled out for praise in this respect as I truly believe that a lot of the really great moments in this film have come from fresh input. These chaps are a hell of a team and I only hope they all return to writing duties for the next installment.

The other huge strength the movie has, are the performances of all the actors involved. Not one weak link this go around. My only disappointment is that some of those performances will be limited to only one film and for those that have seen the movie, you know Iím not just talking about Heath.

Once again Christian Bale shines as Gothamís protector. His Batman is now at the top of his game, exactly what I wanted to see. The biggest surprise for me though, was how brutal he actually is. Aside from not killing, thereís not a lot else the Batman wonít do to keep Gotham safe, including very questionable, authoritarian approaches to crime deduction. Baleís performance is confident and comfortable, he now knows this character inside and out and I only pray that sticks around for at least one more movie. I want to see his Batman taken to the very edge and his Bruce Wayne getting lost in the persona heís created.

Much has been written about Heath Ledger, plenty that has nothing to do with this movie, but also plenty that has. The praise that has been heaped upon him is well deserved. Heath is quite simply breathtaking -- absolutely mesmerizing. I have no problem saying that I believe The Joker as portrayed here transcends his comic-book counterpart. I have never seen The Joker scarier, funnier, or more insane than how heís presented here. Yes you heard me right, the Nolan/Heath Joker is BETTER than the comic-book version. Utterly extraordinary and simply tragic that such a talent has been taken from this world too soon.

One of the most welcome performances for me was Aaron Eckhartsí as Harvey Dent/Two Face. Much has been made about Ledgerís Joker and rightly so, but this movie belongs in equal part to Eckhartís wonderful portrayal of Batmanís most tragic foe. Eckhart is superb as both personas and his subtle transformation into Two-Face even before he is scarred is wonderful. One of my favourite moments is when he wakes in his hospital bed and sees his lucky coin. For one brief moment there is a glimmer of hope in Dentís eyes, which is utterly shattered when he turns the coin over. Tremendous acting from a tremendous actor in a star making performance. Well deserved praise.

Itís no secret to anyone that knows me, that I adore Gary Oldman as an actor. Long before he was cast as Gordon and before Nolan was hired to restart the Batman movie franchise, I wished for him to somehow make it into a Batman movie, as a villain or, what the hell, as Batman himself! Never could I have imagined heíd make such an incredible Commissioner Gordon, but here he is lending much gravitas to a substantially meatier role than his first outing in BATMAN BEGINS. His performance is everything one would expect from an on form Gary Oldman and here, heís as much an action hero as Batman. His scenes with his on screen son are some of my favourite in the movie. I think all the fathers in the audience will be particularly touched by his performance. Brilliant!

Maggie Gyllenhaal was another wonderful addition to the film, even if her character had been seen before. Gyllenhaalís performance is above and beyond her predecessorís. Here she is witty, sexy strong-willed and most importantly BELEIVABLE. Her role as ADA and Harveyís lover is very well crafted and without her, the film would have lacked much of the emotional punch it had.

Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are as dependable as ever in their respective roles, with each of them layering even more back story to the proceedings. They have the least amount of screen time of the other main cast, but they eat up every second and both characters are not only vital players in Batmanís world, but much needed father figures for Bruce Wayne.

On a movie like this you know that the best of everyone in their respective fields are there giving their all. Itís one of the most exciting things about a production like this, that so many talented artisans are coming together to share their talents with a large audience to swallow up. Everything from Nathan Crowleyís production design to Lindy Hemmingís costumes, are superb, the editing, sound, music, SFX, VFX and everything in between is fantastic.

Now I had been vocal about my distaste of Batmanís costume, you know what? It looked great. I had been vocal about the lack of daring in the production design, you know what? It was brilliant. It just goes to show when viewed in isolation these things might not be down to my/your individual tastes, but in the context of the movie, where it matters most, it justÖ..works. So my thanks (and apologies!) to those that worked so hard.

So whatís bad about this movie? Letís be honest, no movie is perfect, there has to be something right? Not a whole hell of a lot actually. There are some plot holes that should be mentioned and some of the technology stretches credibility to its limit, but aside from that, there isnít much else, at least for this reviewer. Yes I would have like to have seen a little more visual continuity, a little more of the monorail for example. Yes I would have like to have seen more visual atmosphere, more rain or fog for example, but these are very, very minor quibbles, and frankly it feels as if Iím reaching.

The simple fact of the matter is, itís the best comic-book movie of all time, one of the best genre movies of all time and for me at least, one of the best films of all time. Now thatís hyperbole for you and I mean every damn word.

Paul J. Wares serves as the BOF Forum Administrator as well as the UK editor of BOF
You can email and send feedback to Paul HERE.

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