Friday, August 8, 2008

Review: The Dark Knight

By now, most people have seen The Dark Knight. You've formed your own opinions, and nothing I say can change your mind about it. But I write things like this anyway because I know how ceaselessly clever I am, and I figure I should get my opinion out there.

The first thing you should do, if you haven't seen the Dark Knight already, is to go into it knowing this: this isn't a super-hero movie. There are elements of super-hero fiction to it, a number of them, but there are also the best elements of crime dramas like The Departed, or The Untouchables. There are elements of older westerns, as other, brighter people have pointed out. Ultimately, you just have to go into it with an open mind. It's darker than most comic book movies - hell, it's darker than most movies on the market today.

I suppose I'll start with the biggest downside of the movie. A common negative is the film's length, and I can't lie - you have to set aside some time to see this. The movie is just over two-and-a-half hours, so it's going to take up a big chunk of your time. And while the film does an admirable job of keeping things tense for much of that time, there are some scenes where the action runs too long. All that said, though, The Dark Knight makes good use of its time. While there are scenes that could be cut, none of them are wasted. Each one builds an important characters, sets up a crucial event.

Speaking of the action, it's improved greatly from Batman Begins. Some people would claim that, in Batman Begins, the brawls were harried and unclear to represent how brawls really would be, on top of Batman's inexperience, which is fine, but still made for uninteresting actions scenes. It's cleared up here by having fewer hand-to-hand fight scenes, but most of them are much cleaner. The notable exception comes late in the film, using a complicated sonar-system to 'see' - this seems more designed to appease fans of 'Batman the Inventor', and serves no sensible purpose, while bogging down the action of these scenes significantly.

Despite all that, though, The Dark Knight just might be the best movie to come out this year. Bale is believable, though morose, as Batman, and as ridiculous as his voice may sound at times as he snarls his way through Gotham's underworld, it is most certainly different from his Bruce Wayne voice, and it'd certainly intimidate me. Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth are both given little to work with, but they nail what they have as Batman's droll assistants in his crime-fighting career. Finally, Katie Holmes is out, and replaced by the far-superior Maggie Gyllenhal as Bruce's childhood friend Rachel Dawes.

It's not they who shine, however. The two new additions to the cast are perfect. First, Aaron Eckhardt, probably known to most of you from Thank You For Smoking, as Harvey Dent, the crusading new District Attorney, Gotham's white knight. He's slick, and he's quick to anger, but he's always in control, up until a sudden tragedy shakes him up and we see a villain born.

The real performance, as everyone under the sun has heard, is the late Heath Ledger as The Joker. The Joker is one of the most over-hyped villains of all time, and one of the hardest to get right, but Ledger plays him perfectly. He's mostly only funny to himself. His motives are hard to read. He's a scary guy. And throughout the whole movie, Ledger keeps licking his lips, keeps moving his eyes, keeps talking in this weird, unsettling voice. If Ledger doesn't get an Oscar nod for his performance, then the category is meaningless. This is the kind of performance that you rarely get to see, where someone breaks type so completely that you just can't recognize them, that they become completely consumed in the character they're playing.

The Dark Knight is long. It's morbid. It's depressing. But is also challenges the boundaries we've set up for super-hero films, and more than that, it's just a damn good movie.

Go see it.


- And you wondered why I have no future in reviewing? Hah!

1 comment:

movie junkie said...

i still wish Katie Holmes had stayed on board as Rachel Dawes for the Dark Knight; it was like the time spent getting familiar with her character in Batman Begins was wasted...