Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Action The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight (2008)

Having seen The Dark Knight in the theater and thinking highly of it, I wanted to go back and watch it again on DVD to see if the movie held up without all the hype. I think it does. Christopher Nolan transcends the comic book genre so that The Dark Knight rises above those limitations to become something more, a crime drama in the mold of Michael Mann’s Heat.

The Batman story is familiar to everyone. Nolan reinvigorated the series after Tim Burton’s original series descended into camp in the hands of Joel Schumacher. Batman Begins was the origins episode that showed us how Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) became Batman. It was stylish and well crafted but leisurely paced and almost too serious. The action set pieces were at times poorly staged and lacked the exhilaration you would expect to find in a super hero movie. This time around Nolan delivers the action with several superbly staged action set pieces, such as Batman’s daring leap from a building in Hong Kong and subsequent capture of a mob informant.

This time around Batman must battle the Joker as a new DA, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), takes on the mob. The Joker usually steals the show whenever the character appears in the Batman movies and that is certainly the case here. The late Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for his entertaining characterization. This is not the cartoonish version that Jack Nicholson portrayed with great camp effect in Tim Burton’s version. Ledger’s take is much darker and frightening. His mannerisms and line readings are done with great flair. The Joker is evil not based on pop psychology but based on how Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred (Michael Caine) describes, “Some men just want to see the world burn.” Ledger’s demonic Joker is much more in the mold of what Bob Kane likely had in mind when he created the character in the DC comic books. Ledger is so enjoyable to watch that he does something I wouldn’t have thought possible. He makes Jack Nicholson’s performance look lame by comparison. Obviously the tragedy of Ledger’s death sparked the curiosity factor in bringing more people into see the movie but Ledger’s performance surpasses the hype.

As is so often the case in superhero movies with a colorful villain, the hero is relegated to less compelling status. Bruce Wayne is no longer romantically linked to assistant DA Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). She has hooked up with Harvey Dent. The emergence of Harvey Dent who develops into Harvey “Two-Face” takes away a lot of screen time from Bruce Wayne as does the presence of supporting characters like Police Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), Alfred and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). Dent’s transformation is seen as the way that society can build up a hero and tear him down with equal abandon.

The Dark Knight has been acclaimed as the best superhero movie ever made and it is hard to argue with that. Nolan uses the Batman story to incorporate modern events involving the threat of terrorism in order to explore issues like the ethical dilemma of surveillance. These themes are handled in an intelligent way so that we’re conscious of what he’s trying to get out without distracting us from the story. The movie is a bit long but we never feel bored. It is the perfect example of what audiences expect from a summer entertainment.

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