How in the hell
do you write about something that leaves you completely speechless?
That’s the conundrum that I’ve found myself in this past week as I’ve been working on this review of THE DARK KNIGHT.
Never has a movie struck such a chord with me that it took away my ability to talk about and discuss it with others. That is certainly what I want to do right now -- I want to talk about it, I want to discuss it, and I want to shout out to the world that “THE DARK KNIGHT is a GREAT film!”
Look, I’ve long known that I was going to like this flick -- that was a given and I’ll own up to that from the get-go here. All the positive buzz that accompanied this film, paired with my blind faith in Christopher Nolan and company -- thanks to the wonderful BATMAN BEGINS -- already had me pretty much convinced that THE DARK KNIGHT was going to be good.
Despite this preconceived belief, I was not prepared for the powerful affect that THE DARK KNIGHT would have on me.
As a movie fan -- but especially as a Batman fan -- THE DARK KNIGHT moved me in a way that I did not expect nor had I experienced previously with any other film in my life.
Look here, I've been a fan of this great character for 40 years and absolutely NOTHING "Batman" has had the visceral affect that THE DARK KNIGHT had on yours truly. Not a comic book, not a TV show, not a cartoon, and certainly not a movie -- BATMAN BEGINS included.
Speaking of which, when I first saw BATMAN BEGINS three years ago, I let out a “Hell Yeah!” when it ended and began spontaneously high-fiving everyone around me. It was like being at a football game and your team has just scored the winning touchdown as the clock expired, you know what I mean?
Yet when THE DARK KNIGHT came to a end, my reaction was a total 180. I sat there in stunned silence not able to say a word. I wanted to say something, but my brain, mouth, and heart were unable to work in conjunction to express what was going on inside of me. I was in complete and total awe of what I had just witnessed for the last 2 and a half hours on that screen.
And yes, my eyes did well up.
Did I have tears streaming down my face? No. It was one of those times in your life when you get that, well, “woosh” of emotion and that's how it’s displayed on the outside.
These weren’t tears of joy nor where they tears of sadness. No, these tears were the result of being shaken to the very core of my being.
So let me go ahead and name 'em…
DOG DAY AFTERNOON.
And yes, even revered THE GODFATHER, PART 2.
Whoever is the caretaker of "That Big 'ol Shelf" on which they sit, needs to move ‘em over a bit and make room for THE DARK KNIGHT.
Why? Because it too can be considered one of the great modern cinematic crime dramas.
I don’t care if it’s based on a “comic book.”
It doesn't phase me in the least that the hero is dressed like a giant black bat.
I couldn't care less that the villain parades around in white makeup, green hair, and a purple zoot suit.
Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT transcends the genre. To label it a “Comic Book Movie” isn’t fair or accurate. It’s simply a great film.
I’m not going to rehash the entire plot and try to analyze it here, OK? Yes, the theme of "escalation" and its consequences as prophesized by Gary Oldamn’s Lt. Jim Gordon at the end of BATMAN BEGINS is front and center. Batman’s appearance in Gotham not only has positive affects, but some very negative ones as well -- ones in which Bruce Wayne never expected.
A “dark night” for The Dark Knight indeed.
As soon as the movie begins with the already renowned bank heist led by an in disguise Joker, it’s a never-ending ride on one hell of a roller coaster. The film’s length doesn’t matter either as time flies by leaving you wanting more right then and there.
We are now at the point that I HAVE to talk about Heath Ledger.
During the Summer of 2007 when I was on the Chicago set of THE DARK KNIGHT, Gary Oldman told me the something about Heath’s Joker that has been seared in my mind since. “This kid,” he said, as he pointed to the picture of The Joker hanging to his left. “What’s he’s doing is going to blow people away.”
Like Jim Gordon, Gary Oldman is a prophet as well.
Heath Ledger’s interpretation and portrayal of this iconic villain is one for the ages. His Joker can be truly be considered one of the greatest movie villains of all time.
All this talk about an Oscar nomination for Heath is totally legitimate. Anyone who suggests that it’s nothing more than a sympathetic reaction to his unfortunate passing earlier this year is full of it.
He’s THAT good.
This Joker is an evil bastard without morals or any sort of remorse for his actions.
He is "funny," if you want to call it that, but you almost feel guilty laughing because he’s such a despicable character. The Joker is someone who doesn’t care about money or success or power or, well, anything. As Alfred (Michael Caine) tell Bruce, “Some people can’t be explained. Some people just want to watch the world burn.”
I’ve long maintained that if and when The Joker returns to the big screen, he must be portrayed in a way that makes us hate him. Love to hate him perhaps, but hate him nonetheless. We should want Batman to pound his sorry you-know-what into the ground. The Joker is not the hero and certainly not the one that the audience should be rooting for. The brothers Nolan and David Goyer know that and it's THAT Joker that they have given us in THE DARK KNIGHT.
If fictional characters have souls, then Heath Ledger somehow discovered a way to channel The Joker’s. Each time he‘s onscreen, he is without a shadow of a doubt, “The Joker.”
Despite the fact that The Joker is getting a lot of the hype -- smartly and deserving so -- Chris Nolan certainly didn’t forget that THE DARK KNIGHT is a Batman film. And like BATMAN BEGINS, Batman is the star of the show.
Christian Bale is again fabulous as Gotham’s silent protector. This time around, Bruce Wayne thinks he sees a light at the end of the tunnel. Someday soon he hopes, he’ll be able to put Batman away and get on with his life. For a brief moment, it looks as if that’s going to happen. Until of course, that light gets snuffed out by The Joker.
Aaron Eckhart is Gotham D.A. Harvey Dent, the city’s “White Knight.” He is a good and honest man who fights crime in Gotham without a mask. He is the one that will take over for Bruce and become Gotham’s hero...a hero without a mask. He joins Gordon and The Batman to form a crime-fighting triumvirate to rid the city of the last bits of organized crime that remain after the downfall of Carmine Falcone. Their plan is a success…for a while.
Gary Oldman’s Gordon plays a much, MUCH larger role in this movie than he did in its predecessor. In fact, the finale pretty much belongs to Jim Gordon. Oldman is solid as ever and that speach -- I've got to give you this heads up -- that the “speech” he gives at the every end of the film will either bring about goosebumps or get you a tad misty-eyed. Methinks both.
Maggie Gyllenhaal joins the cast as assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes, taking over for Katie Holmes. No offense to Katie, but Maggie is much better and more believable in the role.
What else can can one say about Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) other than to proclaim that both are as solid as ever. I believe it’s important to mention that both of these important rolls are expanded from what we saw of Alfred and Fox in BATMAN BEGINS. These are two of our greatest actors and the reason we say that is certainly on display.
I also must give kudos to all the folks behind the scenes of THE DARK KNIGHT. Nathan Crowley’s production designs are fantastic. Gotham looks and feels like a real city and not as if it were stuck in a claustrophobic matchbook. Wally Pfister’s wonderful cinematography should earn him many an accolade from his peers. Chris Corbould’s F/X are seamless and spectacular and mostly real. Lee Smith’s editing certainly aids the smooth flow of the two and a half hour narrative. And Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s superb score only adds to the drama and tension.
To them and everyone who worked behind the camera to give us this film -- BRAVO!
Bottom line: THE DARK KNIGHT is the best -- BY FAR -- BATMAN film that we've ever seen.
So where does the Batman movie franchise go now?
Clearly, there’s going to be another BATMAN as well as more Batman films in the future.
Based on the success that THE DARK KNIGHT is going to have alone, Warner Bros. will want a sequel in the very near future. I think “Team Nolan” will return when it’s all said and done and I for one certainly hope so.
You all can hear that right? Listen carefully....It's that big 'ol "MR. NOLAN, ONE MORE PLEASE!" drum I'm already banging.
Yet, there's been one thing that I’ve kept asking myself ever since I saw THE DARK KNIGHT: “How the hell can they top this one?!”
How do you top what is not only the best BATMAN film to date, but also the best of its kind and a great film regardless of genre?
Christopher Nolan can walk away right now, never do another BATMAN, and he will still be considered the greatest director in franchise history.
That’s the label you get pinned with and deserve when you make a masterpiece.
Jett, AKA "Bill Ramey," is the founder of BATMAN-ON-FILM.COM.