Thursday, July 24, 2008

Movie Review - The Dark Knight

Let me preface this with a few things. First, I am a huge Batman fan and have been since I was a young kid. I've enjoyed most of the batman movies of the past 2-3 decades and I've had a lot of fun with the various comics and novels out there. So to say there is a bit of a bias towards Batman is not unfair. I'm also a fan of the "dark" and "creepty." That said, you may find some of my comments a bit unexpected...honestly, so do I. Anyway, with that prelude out of the way, on to the review.

I didn't see the film at a midnight showing in an IMAX theatre even though some friends and relations thought for sure I'd try for it. With young kids, a midnight show is tough (unless you're a deadbeat moron, which I try not to be). Knowing that my wife was just getting back from girls' camp that day, I figured the closer the theater the better, so we hit the lower quality Gateway in Bountiful rather than the higher quality Megaplexes of Salt Lake. Sadly, even though it meant a shorter drive and an emptier theater, it also meant a worse sound system...the effects and the music often drowned out the voices of the character, especially Gordon and Batman when talking in more subdued tones. While I still got the main intent, I felt like I missed a little bit.

Story & Characters
The overall story was done a little differently than I expected. I've always loved the Joker character and I thought that Nicholson did a fabulous Joker against Keaton's Batman. I may have to dig through old comics to find out more about the "original" origin of the Joker in the DC world, but truly, I don't care too much if they were true to the comics or totally off base because I think the Nolan brothers did a great job of scripting a character that was amazing and Heath Ledger did an amazing job of bringing him to life. Without spoiling too much about the story, at its core it is a simple "good vs evil" premise, but it questions the concept of what is "good" and what is "evil" and how are the distinctions made. Towards the end of the film, the Joker eloquently points out that he (the Joker) and Batman are essentially at the two opposite ends of the spectrum of good and evil and that they are each immovable forces for their causes...the Batman wholly good and the Joker wholly evil, neither willing to budge one way or the other.

A twist that was somewhat unexpected was the huge role that Harvey Dent played in this film. Based on the preview, I fully expected them setting up the third film with Harvey becoming Two-Face right at the end and running off into the darkness to plot his revenge. Instead, they spent a lot of energy setting up Harvey as the "White Knight" to Batman's "Dark Knight." Harvey did in daylight and within the bounds of the law what Batman could only do in shadows and on the fringes of the law. Harvey had many lines that were premonitions for what his character would become which worked well as foreshadowing for those unfamiliar with the story of his character. The transition from D.A. to Two-Face was done very well and was fairly believable. Perhaps it happened a little two quickly to be fully believable, but overall it was well done.

The Joker was completely and totally insane, but definitely not a raving lunatic or an idiot. He was very methodical and wise beyond his sanity. Heath Ledger did an amazing job in the role (makes me wonder if he got too far into the role and that led to his 'end'). He was absolutely creepy and gave me icky vibes all over.

I think, if anything, Batman was a little too virtuous. I definitely don't want my Batman to turn into a cold-blooded killer or to become a murderer...that's not who he was. I just felt he was perhaps a little too hard-lined to be fully realistic. He was battling with some major demons, which Bale portrayed fairly well, but he felt a little too stoic and holier-than-thou at times for my taste. By the end of the movie, he was turned into a self-made martyr with only a handful of people knowing the truth of the situation. While acceptable and believably done, it felt a bit awkward and forced and once the main plot element I would like to have seen loosened up.

Effects, Costuming, etc.

I commented earlier on the believability of the Joker and on the transition to Two-Face. The makeup work done for both characters was absolutely fabulous. Even in the trying times when his face paint was wearing away, the Joker was a terrifying visage. And the work on Dent's burned face was horrific.

Batman's suit made a few transitions which were figured into the plot. His suit looked great as usual. The Bat-Bike looked a little awkward to feel realistic...with its two enormous wheels bearing down the street, it almost bordered on the ridiculous...I wasn't sure whether to laugh or be amazed at the stunt where he turned the bike around on the wall of a building.

There were a LOT of explosions in this movie. The Joker lets on that he prefers knifes and gunpowder as his weapons of choice...the former because he can savor every slice and the latter because it does a lot of damage and it's cheap. I'm sure the explosions and special effects used in the movie were far from cheap, but they certainly were exciting. :)

The Feeling

As others have surely said, the title The Dark Knight is extremely appropriate because this movie is VERY dark. The darkness felt pretty good most of the time, but it came layer upon layer one after another for so long that by the end of the movie it was VERY heavy and I felt truly buried by it. The ending of the movie does very little to lift the darkness, instead suggesting that there is always darkness in the world and that we need an unsung hero like Batman to help overcome it.

I definitely don't think that much (if any) of the 'darkness' could be removed from the movie and still arrive at the same end result. The 'darkness' wasn't necessary in the form of graphic violence, gore or other such mechanisms. Rather, it was often grown in terms of dialogue or plot points. Killing off of characters with strong audience attachments. Prolonged moments of suspense for other minor characters that can equally be attached to because of their innocence of susceptibility (children, wives, etc). And the unraveling of the mob's ties around the city to show that nearly everybody that could possibly be an ally was actually on both sides of the fence.

In the "ferry" scene near the end, there was a glimmer of hope and light as we saw the humanity of the people of Gotham and watched them struggle with their own demons and (hopefully) all come out victorious. But due to the imminent danger still hanging over them, it was difficult to let this moment fully lift the darkness of the movie.


The character development and the overall plot, pacing, and work of the story were well done and did an absolutely amazing job of drawing the viewer into the world with every ounce of emotion.

After a week without the wife, a "feel good" movie probably would've been a better date for us to share quality time together. Instead of feeling like we'd had a fun filled evening, we came out a bit subdued and shaken. This isn't a superhero movie that leaves you feeling wonderful about the world and like there is a silver lining hanging out there and waiting to save us all. Instead, it leaves you feeling a bit bleak and troubled. If you can put that aside, you'll love that movie. If you let it get you down, you might still 'like' the movie, but you won't likely 'love' it.

As for me, I really enjoyed it and even though I left feeling heavily weighted down, it is still something I would like to see again and I can't wait for the third edition in the Nolan Batman saga.

4 1/2 Stars

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