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The Dark Knight Proves to be a Phenomenon

The Dark Knight (Warner Bros., 2008)
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Nolan and Jonathan Nolan from a story by C.Nolan and David S. Goyer based on characters created by Bob Kane

While I usually don’t write a review of a film that the Projectionist has already critiqued himself, and we pretty much see eye to eye on. However, The Dark Knight is one of those films that as a reviewer, you can’t just not write about it.

The Dark Knight has been both over and undersold by many critics already, and I will just be adding on to that. But what one has to understand, as the Projectionist already touched on, is that the film is one of those experiences where it will take more viewings over the years to see it in its complete context. As for a first viewing experience, The Dark Knight is one of those special presentations that reminded me of seeing films like Pulp Fiction and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for the first time.

I find it funny that the biggest complaint with Warner Bros’ first attempt at a Batman franchise (the Burton/Schumacher years) is the overreliance on villains and the lack of justification for Batman’s role in the universe. It’s a justifiable complaint, but The Dark Knight works for one of the biggest reasons the previous films failed. This film belongs almost entirely to the Joker (Heath Ledger) and Harvey Dent/Two Face (Aaron Eckhart). Batman is essentially a catalyst for all of the problems that are affecting Gotham City (which was well played in The Dark Knight by the city of Chicago).

The brothers’ Nolan make this dynamic work wonders, and it proves to be essential build-up for continuing a much bigger story; this plays a role in the franchise much like The Empire Strikes Back, Godfather Part II, and Spiderman 2 played in their respective franchises. Hopefully, a third Batman film will not fall under the same “Part III” curse that affected all of the aforementioned films.

Many reviewers, including the Projectionist, have touched on the fact that this film feels less like a comic book movie and more like an epic crime drama. That’s very true. This seems more like something along the lines of a twisted version of Goodfellas or the excellent F/X series, The Shield. Any follower of the Batman comics should not be surprised, however, because this is also a lot more in line with what the comic book series has become over the last two decades.

The Dark Knight, at its core, is a very well told story about inner city corruption with plenty of mob bosses and dirty cops to throw around. The Joker is, as he has always been treated in the comics, an evil and demonic puppeteer of chaos. His every action is a game that divides up the city at its most basic corruptive core. Heath Ledger is as great in this role as everyone has stated; I don’t think I can add any more to that. But what I most liked about Nolan and Ledger’s take on the character is how truly evil they make him. One of my favorite sequences is toward the end where we have two ferries on the water that are armed with explosives, and it is completely up to the passengers on each boat as to which one explodes and which one stays afloat. It’s diabolical in its execution and the ending result might be a little predictable, but it works so well in the context of the story that you really won’t care.

Tim Burton and Jack Nicholson’s take on the character in the 1989 Batman, is not bad, per se, but they turn him into a loveable villain along the lines of what crazy fiends like Freddy Krueger became later on in the Nightmare on Elm Street series. Considering how dour and unexciting they made Batman, you almost cheered on the Joker. The Joker in The Dark Knight is as evil a fuck as I’ve ever seen in a movie, and while you are captivated by Ledger’s performance, you never once find sympathy or humor in the character. The way he eventually masterminds the destruction of Harvey Dent’s character is flat out terrible and vile. This is a very dark film, and Dent’s fall from grace is its most frightening aspect.

While Ledger will get most of the credit, everyone here is top notch. With a cast like this, how could they not be? Eckhart is stupendous and nails every bit of the character’s struggle with success and eventual failure. Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman are as brilliant as usual; I was surprised at how much they were able to use all three of these guys and give them all some credible scene stealing sequences. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a much better actress than Katie Holmes, so it was no surprise that she succeeded a lot more with the role; however, like the previous films, they still can’t figure out how to successfully incorporate a female love interest in the storyline, but it’s as good here as it has ever been.

Christian Bale should be applauded for not being the typical egotistical movie star; he takes a back seat mostly to all that is going on around him in this film. He still remains, as he did in Batman Begins, a very stoic presence. And he is still the only actor that has been able to play the dual role of both Bruce Wayne and Batman with any form of success.

What might be most amazing about The Dark Knight is that it takes such a basic story that we’ve seen and read countless times before and makes it seem fresh and exciting. Granted, a lot of these types of films don’t have the budget for such awe inspiring action sequences, but the iconic nature of good vs. evil is what energizes all of the events. The great special effects and stunt work are just a nice visual bonus.

My complaints are very minor. I think this might have to do more with the construction of the suit itself, but Nolan still can’t seem to stage an exciting hand to hand fighting sequence, but at the same time he stays away from that mostly and encompasses most of the action around exciting car chases and the like.

From a man that has yet to make a bad film (I do love Insomnia along with the rest of his filmography), this might very well be Nolan’s masterpiece. It will be interesting to see where he takes the storyline from here. If we are to believe rumors, we might be seeing the Riddler in the next installment, and I would actually be curious to see Nolan’s take on this rather goofy villain. Whatever it is, I’ll be waiting in anticipation. And I will also say that if there is a film this year made that is better than The Dark Knight, then we are in for one hell of a year.

Sam Loomis

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