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The second film in Christopher Nolan's Batman film trilogy released in 2008.

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A knight for our darkening days

  • Aug 21, 2008
  • by
Rating:
+5
Just as Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" was clearly a product of the violence and confusion that arose in the mid-1970s, Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" is unmistakably spawned from the gloom and doom attitude America has adopted in recent years. It is like looking through murky glass at a beautiful dream ruined, a vision brought to its knees and humiliated. More cynical Americans would say this has happened to America. "The Dark Knight" is about dealing with the destruction of that dream. Should we abandon that dream? Should we hold on to its tattered remains? Or should we continue on, remembering that vision, following it as best we can, even though it no longer exists as once we dreamt it?

If it sounds absurd to dig so deep into a superhero movie, you've never read a comic book. Around the mid-80s, comics became literature, thanks to authors like Alan Moore, whose comic "Watchmen" (soon to become a film directed by "300" director Zach Snyder) was listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 greatest novels of the 20th century. Just as it took comic books over 40 years to become mature, complex, and relevant, it's taken the film industry about 30 years to make a superhero film that transcends clever self-awareness and intense action sequences. "The Dark Knight" is a film without pretension or self-consciousness, the Batman film comic book readers have hardly dared dream of. It is the best film since Richard Donner's classic "Superman" in 1978. In fact, it's much better. This is the greatest comic book film of all time, because this is a comic book film that makes you forget it's a comic book film. Everything in this movie falls past fantasy and into the world of terrifying reality.

Warner Bros. and the film's producers made a brilliant decision hiring Christopher Nolan to re-start the Batman franchise back in 2005. Nolan had previously made three immensely artistic and acclaimed independent films, chiefly 2000's "Memento." He was and is a director who will never compromise his vision. He may be the most skilled director in the business. He's also one of the most cerebral directors, which is perfect for dealing with a character as psychologically complex as Bruce Wayne - a.k.a. Batman. Tim Burton depicted Bruce Wayne as an eccentric, quirky, and mysterious millionaire in his films, where Wayne was portrayed by Michael Keaton, while Joel Schumacher depicted him as a rich playboy with no depth whatsoever for his two disastrous films in the late-1990s, which starred Val Kilmer and George Clooney. Nolan's Wayne, played by the peerless Christian Bale, is a character who cannot escape his past, and who has built himself a vehicle to clear a path for a bright future. That vehicle is Batman. What Wayne does not realize is that Batman is destroying his future in the process. Can Bruce Wayne escape Batman? Should he escape Batman? Or should he accept Batman as the life he has chosen?

Wayne is in love with Rachel Dawes, who is now played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. She was previously played very unconvincingly by Katie Holmes in 2005's "Batman Begins." Gyllenhaal is a much more satisfying actor, and she brings much more plausibility to the character. Rachel Dawes represents the perfect life that Bruce Wayne dreams of, the life that he feels Batman will give him. So is he in love with Rachel, or what she represents?

Somehow, Gotham City's new district attorney, Harvey Dent, seems to be the answer to all these questions. Batman fans know where this is headed. The Harvey Dent storyline is a fan favorite, set-up in Tim Burton's "Batman," in which Dent was played by Billy Dee Williams, and then executed in a gruesome fashion in Joel Schumacher's dismal "Batman Forever," in which Dent was played by Tommy Lee Jones. Here, however, the storyline is beautifully adapted for the big screen by Nolan and his brother Jonathan, with whom he wrote the screenplay. Nolan emphasizes the idealistic and optimistic friendship between Dent, Batman, and Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), especially its tragic consequences for the three of them. Aaron Eckhart is perfectly cast: he has a genuine, all-American strength that's just what the role requires. Eckhart's Harvey Dent is to Gotham City as Barack Obama is to America - which makes Dent's tragic fate hit audiences even harder. Eckhart's only previous acclaim-garnering performance was in 2005's "Thank You for Smoking"; if "The Dark Knight" is any indication, he's one of the most undervalued actors in Hollywood.

But not many people have seen "The Dark Knight" for Christian Bale, or for Maggie Gyllenhaal, or for Aaron Eckhart. They're seeing it for Heath Ledger, whose death - ghastly as it sounds - has aided the hype surrounding this film in ways that nothing else could. It's especially bizarre, and, its own way, awesome, that Ledger's final performance is as a character so chilling and unforgettable as the Joker. Last played by Jack Nicholson in 1989, the Joker is Batman's nemesis, and may be the most famous of all comic book villains. Nicholson's Joker made audiences a little uncomfortable at times, but for the most part, he was a blast, adding all the over-the-top comic relief Burton's film needed. Ledger's Joker is a whole different character. He is the Joker as comic book fans know him, a horrifyingly unpredictable, sadistic, enigmatic serial killer. Ledger's Joker has long, gangly hair. His makeup is gradually rubbing off. He has an Irish grin (if you don't know what that is, look it up). And Ledger's performance, well - those who say Ledger carries the film are missing the point, because there's so much more to the film, but it is certainly the highlight of the picture. It is brilliant. It is sensational. If it doesn't win Ledger a posthumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar, then the film industry will see its equivalent of the L.A. riots of the 1990s. Which is to say that infuriated fans will post nasty messages on Internet message boards. But still - something to be avoided.

Rounding out the cast are the returning vets. Morgan Freeman is as delightful as ever. Freeman's character, Wayne Enterprises C.E.O. Lucius Fox, has a sense of moral absolutism which is invaluable when Bruce Wayne needs grounding. Even more delightful is Michael Caine, whose warm yet cheeky portrayal of Alfred, Wayne's butler/father figure, adds some much-needed comic relief to the film.

Oh, and when I write "much-needed comic relief," I mean it. "The Dark Knight" is not called "The Dark Knight" for no reason. Otherwise, it would be called "The Bright Knight," and that just doesn't have the same grit. Its title has a double meaning. On the one hand, it is Batman's nickname, the "Dark Knight," which is particularly fitting given some of the choices he's forced to make in this film. On the other hand, it refers to the period of time depicted in this film as a "dark night," so to speak. This is a dark, dark film. At one point, Harvey Dent uses the old saying, "The night is darkest just before the dawn." That's the crucial line of the film. If "Batman Begins" was dusk, then the inevitable third film must be dawn, because "The Dark Knight" is certainly midnight. Hope prevails at its end, because, thankfully, hope springs eternal, but for the most part, this film is black and bleak. This film makes one feel like hope and optimism are futile emotions. Isn't there a similar feeling running through our country right now?

Chris Nolan's last film, "The Prestige," was a spectacular piece of filmmaking. I thought it was his masterwork. But without a question, "The Dark Knight" trumps it. Nolan is at the top of his game. His style shines through the film, but never rises above the character, a problem which plagued the previous Batfilms. Instead, Nolan's style, dark, gritty, and heavy, blends with the character. Nolan and Batman are a perfect pair. Shot-for-shot, the film is perfect. Despite its two and a half hour runtime, which will be heaven for some and a bit arduous for others, there is not a wasted moment. This film deserves a Best Film Editing Oscar. In all honesty, it deserves a shipload of Oscars. The chances of it receiving them are pretty slim.

Maybe, though, the Academy will rise up and realize what they have in their hands: a masterpiece. It's a masterpiece of superhero films, staying true to the classic storylines, but also fully realizing the depth and psychological complexities of each and every character. It has none of the self-consciousness which peeped out in Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" films (though that was fitting, considering their socially-awkward hero), and none of the lack of ambition which plagued Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns." And it's a masterpiece of cinema, period. "The Dark Knight" is a film in the classical sense. Its storylines are captivating, intriguing, grand, and clever. It's technically flawless. It has a historical relevance which many seem to be overlooking. The mood of the film, its messages and observations, are so clearly a product of the troubled times we're living in. Audiences are connecting with it, which is why it's now the second-biggest film of all-time domestically. Lastly, it's a film very representative of America, both from a citizen's perspective and from the perspective of an outsider (F.Y.I., director Nolan is British). Michael Caine said it best: "Superman is the way America sees itself. Batman is the way the world sees America."

If that's so, we have a long and dark path ahead of us. But at its end, "The Dark Knight" suggests that there is only one way to go, and that's forward, no matter the cost, no matter the stakes. It may not be a pleasant journey, but fortunately, moviegoers have films like this to help us on our way.

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review by . July 26, 2012
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Tom Benton ()
Ranked #122
Aspiring high school English teacher with dreams of filmmaking and a strong taste for music.
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About this movie

Wiki

The Dark Knight is a 2008 American superhero film co-written and directed by Christopher Nolan. Based on the DC Comics character Batman, the film is a sequel to Batman Begins. Christian Bale reprises the lead role. Batman's primary conflicts in the film include his fight against his arch-nemesis the Joker and his strained friendship with district attorney Harvey Dent. For his conception of the film, Nolan was inspired by the Joker's first two appearances in the comics and Batman: The Long Halloween. The Dark Knight was filmed primarily in Chicago, as well as in several other locations in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Hong Kong. The director used an IMAX camera to film six major action sequences, including the Joker's first appearance in the film. The Batsuit was redesigned, with a cowl allowing Bale to move his head.

The film was released on July 18, 2008 in North America, and on July 21, 2008 in the United Kingdom. During its opening weekend, the movie brought in over $155 million, breaking nearly every box office record.
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Details

Director: Christopher Nolan
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama
Release Date: July 18, 2008
MPAA Rating: PG-13
DVD Release Date: December 9, 2008
Runtime: 152 minutes
Studio: Syncopy Films, Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Studios
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