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

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Superhero cinema does not get much better than this.

  • Jul 26, 2012
Rating:
+5
**** out of ****

In "Batman Begins", Christopher Nolan brought an entirely new vision - a much darker vision - of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) to the screen. We witnessed his origins and his even further beginnings as a crime fighter for the scum-infested city of Gotham. The same motive has driven the Batman to keep on fighting for the city all the way into this next chapter of the Caped Crusader's legacy. "The Dark Knight" begins with a heist involving the psychopath donning clown make-up and a nasty, cut-up face known as The Joker (Heath Ledger) and then proceeds to bring back a villain from its predecessor, The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy), in a sequence that reveals a lot about the influence that Wayne's alternate identity has on the society that surrounds him. Wayne tries to defend Gotham in any way he can. He starts here by involving himself - or his alias - in a plan devised by Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and also involving the new district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) to crack down on the mob once and for all.

But of course, The Joker basically beats them to it. He then hatches a plan of his own: to persuade the Batman to reveal his true identity to the public or pay the price in the blood of the people he will kill daily until this becomes a reality. The Joker has an agenda too; Harvey Dent, the mayor, and Dent's girlfriend; the childhood friend of Wayne, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). The Joker weaves a very complicated web of violence, mayhem, and old fashioned trickery; although the main players on the opposing team aren't so dumb to succumb to it all on demand. Obviously, they'll all individually put up a fight in their war on crime; which is the least significant of The Joker's moral less wrong-doings.

This is a deep, engaging multiple character study. Bruce Wayne's psyche is further explored and his connections - including his guardian Albert Pennyworth (Michael Caine) and wardrobe/weapons designer Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) - are strengthened too, although this time the other characters are covered too. In particular, there's The Joker and Harvey Dent. The Joker is a sadistic madman with a Glasgow smile that scars his face due to an accident brought on by his drunkard father at a young age, and even deeper emotional scars underneath the surface, which is already way messed up as it is. Dent, meanwhile, is Gotham's supposed "white knight"; a hero who doesn't believe himself to be a hero but certainly believes in the power of chance, which explains why he's always flipping his father's lucky coin in order to determine the toughest choices in life to the simplest. He later becomes the villain Two-Face after a tragic burning incident which he survives from but emerges a changed, emotionally broken man.

Nolan's first foray into this expansive universe was heavily flawed but at the same time genuinely fascinating. Although it gave an interesting and intelligent portrait of Bruce Wayne that outdid all other previous screen versions of the character due to Bale's pitch-perfect and gritty performance; it also suffered from a second half that didn't quite live up to the brilliance of the first. The last half of "Batman Begins" was action-oriented mostly, but even though it was entertaining action, you can't beat strong character development and therein lies the missed opportunities of that film. "The Dark Knight" has action scenes, perhaps even more notable ones than "Begins", but they exist within the Joker's villainous plot; which is kept consistent throughout and therefore gives the film a lot more balance and edge. In more ways than one, this shows Nolan truly mastering the material and taking it even further down the road into dark, realism-grounded superhero storytelling.

The casting is flawless. Ledger, bless his soul, gives easily the most memorable performance in the film; and not just because of his passing before its actual completion. He channels the psychotic whimsy and dark absurdity of The Joker so effortlessly, and that's not exactly an easy feat. Like Bale for Wayne, he's the best Joker we've gotten so far. And he ended his career with a mighty bang. Then there's the decision to replace Katie Holmes - who I thought absolutely SUCKED as Rachel in "Batman Begins" simply because she's not an actress I admire at all - with Gyllenhaal was an inspired decision, mostly since Maggie Gyllenhaal can actually, you know, act. Eckhart also gets a role fit specifically for him - and better than most he accepts into his imperfect track record of a career - and runs it into the ground till the last spine-tinglingly intense minute. Meanwhile, every returning member of the cast is as superb as always.

Nolan also upped the visual ambition of this one in comparison to his first "Batman" reincarnation. There isn't a wrong or uninteresting shot present in "The Dark Knight"; it's beautifully shot from start to finish. The images and the sound (courtesy of a wonderful and provocative score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard) come together to form a cinematic experience beyond stimulating. With a plot this engaging, it didn't even need this much visual panache; yet it possesses these things anyways. Nolan proves to us that practical action and plot-driven thrills are more exciting than all the big-ass CGI action set pieces money can buy. I've admired this series thus far for its ability to hold back on the excessive FX and focus more on the story and characters at hand. But "The Dark Knight" truly goes above and beyond. The title of the film doesn't come until the end credits start rolling, because only then has it truly become "The Dark Knight". It ends with such power and resonance that it's almost impossible for anyone to forget it. That is unless you're one of the few who found it not so much to your liking. But personally I don't know many people like that, and I don't care to. This is master class modern American cinema.

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July 26, 2012
Good review!
 
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More The Dark Knight reviews
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About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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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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