Smith’s Verdict: ****
Reviewed by Tanner Smith
If I thought Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” was one of the darkest (and very best) superhero films I ever saw, then I hadn’t seen anything yet. “The Dark Knight” is the follow-up to the film that represented Nolan’s new look at the dark, harsh “Batman” universe, and to get it right out of the way, this is not just one of the best sequels I’ve ever seen; it’s also the best superhero film I’ve ever seen. I don’t even want to necessarily call it a “superhero film.” For a film about Batman, this film is unbelievably tough, powerful, adult, moody…and oddly enough, that all works in the film’s favor. Aside from being extraordinarily well-crafted in story and execution, the tone and staging of “The Dark Knight” reminded me of a Caped Crusader version of “The Godfather,” in terms of uncompromising actions and consequences. I mean it—it’s that great.
“The Dark Knight” is a film about power, chaos, hope, deceit, selfishness, actions, and consequences. It’s a deeper film than one might have expected from a film such as this—not that the original Tim Burton film or Nolan’s “Batman Begins” weren’t dark; it’s just that apparently, they weren’t this dark. It’s the kind of film that provokes thought and leaves you stunned by everything it had to offer. It seems as if Nolan figured that the origins of Batman were already spelled out in the other film, and now it was time to go all out and give him a story that builds upon solid themes and concepts that were implied before.
Batman is a symbol of Gotham City and people’s great hope whenever trouble is near. Although, there are debates about whether or not Batman is a hero or a menace, and it doesn’t help that his presence influences “copycat Batmen” who wear similar costumes, but carry rifles and sport hockey pads. Crime bosses are on edge because of him, which serves as a good purpose for the city’s new D.A., Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), to take them on. Dent is the White Knight to Batman’s Dark Knight—he doesn’t have to wear a mask and knows how to push someone’s limits and handle himself as well. He’s an ideal hero for Gotham City. Thanks to a meeting together brought upon by incorruptible police lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), Dent and Batman know they’re on the same page in a crusade to stop crime, so they do their parts in order to continue.
But a new threat has made himself known in Gotham. Enter the Joker (the late Heath Ledger in his final film role); a sadistic psychopath with as much taste for theatrics as Batman, only he dresses like a clown and keeps a flamboyant personality that also reads sadism and madness. His mission as the new mob enforcer is to spread anarchy and chaos throughout the city. Knowing Batman stands in his way, he demands that he remove his mask and turn himself in, or else many people will die at his hands.
Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), Batman’s human alter-ego, is more arrogant than before, but that’s just a cover for everyone around him. The only people he confides in are his butler, Alfred (Michael Caine), and Assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, replacing Katie Holmes). Through them, he acknowledges that things are getting even more out of control now that he has all of these duties to handle, and especially now that he must reveal himself as Batman or people will be killed by the Joker. And the Joker does keep good on his word, making things even more complicated and painful.
This is not a superhero film in which despite everything being thrown at the hero, everything turns out right in the end. Mostly, everything just goes wrong, and even more so as the situation continues. Batman may be a heroic figure, but he’s not perfect. He has his flaws and he can’t save everybody, which is especially true in the cases of some important characters. No one is safe in this movie; there’s danger all throughout and consequences for every action, whether they be your own or not. This is what differentiates “The Dark Knight” from pretty much every other Batman film, in that it’s bleaker with hardly any compromises in how situations occur. It’s grim and unpredictable.
Batman is more intimidating than ever and his presence says a lot about what he represents and what he’ll go through to fight for it. He doesn’t take any bull from anyone, even from the city’s most psychotic villains. I won’t say anything about the growling voice that everyone seems to make fun of, because really, it does work at delivering words of menace when they’re needed.
(At this point, I’d like to issue a SPOILER ALERT!)
Anyone who knows the name “Harvey Dent” before seeing this movie already knows that Dent becomes the villainous Two-Face. This becomes an important transition midway through the film, as Dent does become Two-Face as the result of an incident that (SPOILER ALERT!) takes the life of Rachel, because Batman could only save one of them. With half of his face horribly burnt, Dent’s personality changes as well. He’s out for vengeance against those who betrayed him, and goes through many lengths to do it. And this man was supposed to be Gotham’s new hero. This is all very powerful stuff, as he transforms into the very hateful criminals he was trying to protect Gotham from; but due to deceit and false hopes for the city, he only becomes no different than the rest of them. It’s a tragic portrait, and it’s also even more thought-provoking when you realize that this is who Batman could have become if Bruce Wayne were corruptible.
(END OF SPOILER ALERT!)
“The Dark Knight” gave movie audiences a new, truly-intimidating villain in the Joker. This villainous character has already made himself known in so many Batman tales that it seemed inevitable that he would show up to battle Batman. But this representation of the Joker, portrayed by Heath Ledger, is just excellent. Ledger may not have been people’s first choice to play the role, but you never see Ledger in this performance—you only see the Joker. The Joker is not only darkly funny, but he’s also menacing and very scary. He may look like a clown, but there is no humor with him whatsoever. This guy is vicious and twisted, and worst of all, intelligent and enjoying every minute of what he does.
The scariest scene in the movie is seen through home-video footage of the Joker as he tortures and interrogates one of the Batman impersonators—the realism of the footage and the sickness of the Joker will make any audience member silent minutes after this scene is over.
But what about the action? While “Batman Begins” was a bit annoying in its camera-shaking, “The Dark Knight” delivers its action with swift camera movements so that everything is seen and admired. The action itself is exhilarating and some of the best I’ve ever seen in a film. The best action scene comes midway through the film—it’s a car chase through the streets of Gotham, and the situation is made even more intense in that it’s also a race against time for Batman to save somebody. The editing isn’t as quick as most action films like to do; it just shows the action head-on and puts the viewer right in the middle of it.
Oh, and there are also new, improved Batman-gadgetry, invented by Q-like Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). This includes a type of sonar-invention that allows Batman to keep track of everyone in the city via their own technologies. Even Fox can’t help but think that this is wrong on so many levels.
Christopher Nolan has crafted a masterpiece with “The Dark Knight.” It’s strange about how a film about a man dressed as a bat can have the same amount of gravity as a crime thriller such as “The Departed.” But with a clear vision of concepts and ethics, a series of masterful action sequences, an even-more-complex hero, quite possibly the most memorable movie villain in a long time, and even more elements that I don’t even think I mentioned in this review, “The Dark Knight” is the best superhero film I’ve ever seen.