The Dark Knight
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhardt, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace.
Parental Notes: This is a pretty hard PG-13 — I’d call it a borderline R. The makeup effects, psychotic characters, and thoroughly dark story make the film unsuitable for most youngsters.
“The Dark Knight” is the first Batman movie without “Batman” in the title, and it seems to be out to set new records for the franchise in other areas: most psychotic villain, grittiest movie about cartoonish characters, most likely to be awesome while watched but fall apart when examined closely. If you loved “Batman Begins,” you will no doubt adore “The Dark Knight,” which is everything the first film was, only turned up to eleven. If, however, you are looking for a standard comic book flick, a fun ride with a happy ending, go elsewhere.
The film begins not long after the first one ended. Batman has been working to fight crime so diligently that the mob is on the run and growing desperate. So desperate that when small-time crazy the Joker approaches them, they eventually sign on to his plan to kill Batman. Of course, things are far more complicated than that, and by the end of the film it’s tricky to pull apart the various complex and interwoven schemes the various sides have each been playing out.
Batman and Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) are as awesome as ever. The Caped Crusader has even more cool weapons and gadgets than in the last film. The titular hero is also still not mentally healthy — one of the things I like about director Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman is that he acknowledges the sort of insanity that’s necessary to be the kind of crime fighter Batman is. Bruce Wayne the gazillionaire playboy makes fewer appearances but is as delightful as he was in the first film when he does, sleeping through vitally important business meetings and saying things that come off as fatuous and meaningless to other characters but resonate with dual meaning for the audience.
Of course, any good action movie needs a good villain, and “The Dark Knight” brings us one of the best villains to grace the screen in a long time. The late Heath Ledger’s turn as the Joker is the sort which causes reviewers to clutch their pens and start crafting hyperbolic statements as soon as the credits roll. He gives us a villain who is unpredictable, casually murderous, and utterly anarchic — a wonderful foil for the straight-laced, focused, and determined-to-do-right Batman. Indeed, this English major could pretty easily write a 12-page essay about the relationship between Batman and his archenemy, there’s that much there to unpack. It’s marvelous.
The secondary characters are rock solid: Michael Caine continues to be a fantastic Alfred, Wayne’s conscience, adviser, and father-figure. The talented Maggie Gyllenhaal has thankfully replaced Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, Wayne’s childhood friend and love interest, and her intelligent performance saves the character from being a simplistic damsel-in-distress. Gary Oldman proves yet again that he can vanish into a role with the best of them as Jim Gordon, one of the few truly good men on Gotham City’s police force. Then there’s the always-interesting Aaron Eckhart as Gotham’s new district attorney, Harvey Dent. His is an interesting and layered performance that I think will reward multiple viewings of the film.
Unfortunately, “The Dark Knight,” like “Batman Begins,” will probably not hold up well under multiple viewings. There are too many scenes with long, motionless shots intended to build suspense that will likely be irritating upon a second viewing when you know what’s going to happen (they were already annoying to me upon first viewing). Worse, there’s quite a bit of refrigerator logic: things that make perfect sense while you’re watching them, but which fall apart upon later examination. Batman has always been so over-prepared that it stretched credulity, but the schemes he and the Joker put together over the course of the film require you to suspend your disbelief even further than normal. If you can let go and just hang on for the ride, the film will be thoroughly enjoyable, but even your humble reviewer started muttering, “but wait a second…” before even reaching her car.
Like many sequels, “The Dark Knight” ends on a dark note and is in at its heart a tragedy. It features self-sacrifice and painful choices, and as a result is hardly a feel-good film. It also features some incredibly gruesome makeup effects and a couple of thoroughly cringe-inducing moments of violence — to the point that its PG-13 rating is rather unjustified. Sure, it has no sex and almost no swearing, but its tone is pure R-rated material. This is a long way from the “pow!” days of the Adam West Batman. But for those at whom it is aimed, “The Dark Knight” hits it out of the park.