PG Cooper: The Dark Knight Review

Posted: July 12, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Retrospectives

*Disclaimer: Review contains SPOILERS!!!

Release date: July 18th, 2008

Running time: 2 hours and 32 minutes

Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, and David S. Goyer

Based on: The character Batman, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Aaron Eckhart

After an exciting and epic adventure, Batman Begins would conclude with a rooftop meeting where Gordon hands Batman a joker card and fans around the world knew what was coming. Given that Batman Begins was a film loved by everyone from hardcore geeks, to critics, to the casual moviegoer, a sequel was indeed inevitable. That sequel would finally come in 2008, titled The Dark Knight. The hype and anticipation for the film was insanely high, to the point that it felt like no film could meet such expectations. But when The Dark Knight finally came out, nearly everyone unanimously fell in love with the film. The film grossed over 1 billion dollars world wide while still getting rave reviews to the point where several people, fans and critics alike, argued the film deserved an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. I loved The Dark Knight back in 2008, and it still holds up today.

Batman (Christian Bale) has been a prominent force in Gotham City for about a year. His presence has led to a lot of good; James Gordon (Gary Oldman) is doing a lot of good in the war against crime and has his own task force, the criminals of the city have far less power than before, and a new charismatic D.A named Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) has emerged as Gotham’s White Knight, inspiring the citizens to seize their city back from the criminals. Even Batman sees the hope of Gotham lies with Dent. But Batman’s presence has also inspired The Joker (Heath Ledger), a crazed terrorist bent on anarchy and destruction. The Joker purposes that if the mob were to kill Batman, everything would go back to the way things were before. The mob, in their desperation, decides to hire The Joker to kill Batman. What follows is a city wide epic struggle between Batman and The Joker.

Many of the elements that made Batman Begins great return here as well, including the cast. Christian Bale still makes for an excellent Batman, and everything he pulled off in Batman Begins he pulls off in The Dark Knight too. Bale also takes the character further in this film. Batman is truly tested and pushed to his limits by The Joker and Bale does a great job bringing Batman to his edge. It’s a very multi-faceted performance, and in my opinion the best lead performance in any superhero film. Most of the supporting cast from Batman Begins are back too. Gary Oldman is even more of a badass as Gordon and is given a lot more to do here, including becoming Commissioner. Michael Caine is still a great Alfred, whether providing comedic relief, loving warmth, or insight and advice to Batman, Caine is constantly able to deliver. Morgan Freeman is also back as Lucius Fox and he’s still a very fun character. Not returning is Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, instead replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal. While Rachel’s role isn’t nearly as prominent as it was in Batman Begins, I’m glad she was recast since Gyllenhaal brings a maturity and sophistication that Holmes doesn’t have.

Of course the performance that everyone raves about is Heath Ledger’s Oscar winning turn as The Joker. When The Dark Knight first came out, everyone was blown away with Ledger’s performance. Several people described him as the best Joker to ever grace the big screen and one of the greatest villains in film history. These people were right. While he may not be my favourite Joker (gotta go Batman: The Animated Series), Ledger delivers an outstanding performance. Everything Ledger does, from his movement to his voice to his speech pattern, is mesmerising. Ledger’s Joker has become an iconic film villain, and even The Dark Knight’s harshest critics admit that Ledger was great. What I personally love about this Joker is that he’s the perfect mix of being scary, funny, and interesting. What he does is horrifying, but he does have a morbid sense of humour which can be very funny. More than anything though, The Joker is a fascinating character who spending time with is a treat. Ledger deserves all the credit he gets, as do Christopher and Jonathan Nolan who wrote Joker’s incredible dialogue (Goyer only helped create the story). Lines like “Why so serious?” and “You wanna know how I got these scars?” are great, but Joker’s dialogue is great throughout, particularly in the interrogation scene, hospital scene, and in his final scene with Batman.

One cast member who I find is all too often overlooked is Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent. After the complete insult that was Batman Forever, I was aching for a good Harvey Dent, and Aaron Eckhart delivered. Of all the characters in The Dark Knight, it’s Harvey that changes the most. Through most of the film, Harvey is a noble person and someone willing to do damn near anything to make Gotham a better place. But as the film progresses, Harvey is pushed by The Joker and brought closer to madness. Joker eventually has Rachel killed and half of Harvey’s face is burnt. Though he physically has become Two-Face, it isn’t until The Joker convinces him that chance is the only real factor in life that Harvey truly becomes Two-Face. What I love about this iteration of Two-Face is that he does feel like a tragic figure. Even when he does villainous things in the film’s third act, he’s still sympathetic and I always acknowledged he was a victim too. Eckhart and the Nolan brothers also nailed Two-Face’s nihilistic view of the world. As Two-Face says himself, “The world is cruel, and the only morality in a cruel world is chance: unbiased, unprejudiced, fair.” Some people complain that Two-Face should not have died at the end of the film and that more could have been done with Two-Face in the sequel. I felt that way at first, but as time has gone by, I’ve realized that the way he dies in The Dark Knight is the perfect way for that character to go within the confines of the Nolanverse. Two-Face probably could have returned later on, but it may have watered the character down. Really, him dying served the character and story best. Bottom line, Aaron Eckhart made for both a great Harvey Dent and a great Two-Face, bringing the emotion and tragedy that I had always wanted to the screen flawlessly.

The story here is awesome. While Batman Begins was a relatively small-scale film (until the climax), The Dark Knight is a huge epic in the vein of something like Heat. It’s a battle for the soul of Gotham City between Batman and The Joker. It’s an engaging story, with plenty of twists and turns throughout. One of the great pleasures of The Dark Knight is just experiencing the story. Whether you’re watching Batman, Gordon, and Dent together trying to take down crime, or watching The Joker cause anarchy and destruction, the plot is constantly interesting. It’s also clear that a lot of effort was put into crafting an intricate story and if one were to not pay attention, they’d lose a lot of the film’s appeal. A big part of what makes the plot so thrilling is that the script never falls into the conventional storytelling of other superhero films. Instead, The Dark Knight challenges its audience to keep up with the plot. However this doesn’t feel like a chore given how carefully put together the film is. Now, there are some little holes with the story, such as the improbability that Bruce would be able to set up so many of the phones as sonar devices, but I can let these things slide given how invested I find myself getting in the story. Overall, The Dark Knight is a dramatic tale that for fans can also be quite the emotional ringer.

The Dark Knight also touches upon some major themes. The most obvious one is how terror is dealt with in a post 9/11 world. The film frequently refers to The Joker as a terrorist, and his plans involve blowing up buildings and creating anarchy. Batman frequently has to consider how far he needs to go to stop The Joker and how far is too far. Batman using the sonar cell phones, which give information at the expense of the privacy of others, can be easily compared to the privacy invading Patriot Act. The Dark Knight seems to argue that sometimes extreme measures are necessary. I don’t want to get into a political debate here, and I’m not saying that Nolan’s true intentions with The Dark Knight were to argue the merits of George Bush’s presidency, but themes regarding the war on terror are certainly there. The film also looks at whether human beings are inherently good or evil, and uses the ideologies of Batman and The Joker to ask this. Overall, the film concludes that human beings are inherently good (the people on the boats decide not to blow up the other for their own survival) but that even the noblest human being can become evil under certain circumstances (Harvey Dent’s descent into Two-Face).

One of my few criticisms with Batman Begins was the fight scenes, which I found fairly poor. Nolan completely fixes this in The Dark Knight. Nolan pulls the camera back during the fight scenes and does not cut away as much. This leads to far more fluid and exciting fight scenes. In fact, I’d say these are the best fight scenes in any live action Batman film. Of course, none of the Batman films had exceptionally good fight scenes, but even so. There’s also a ton of great action set pieces, including an exciting SWAT raid on a construction building, several fight scenes, and one of the greatest car chases ever put on film. The Dark Knight is also aided by some great cinematography by Wally Pfister and tight editing by Lee Smith. I also really like the score from Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. It doesn’t have the same fantastical quality that the Danny Elfman scores for Batman and Batman Returns had, but the music is still very effective and memorable.

Overall, The Dark Knight is a brilliant film from a master filmmaker. It’s a film that can be appreciated on multiple levels. It works as an action film, a Batman film, a crime drama, an analysis on the war on terror, and as a study on the human spirit. I am biased, being a big Batman fan, but I do sincerely believe that The Dark Knight is a great film and one of my favourite films of all time. It’s the quality of Batman film I had waited my whole life for. Not only is it the pinnacle of Batman films, but it is still the pinnacle of superhero films and comic book adaptations. Great acting, great writing, great direction, great effects, The Dark Knight has it all. A must-see, interest in comic books not required.

Rating: A+

 

This concludes my Batman review series. I had a lot of fun writing these and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them. The Batman films have certainly had an interesting history. They’ve been light and they’ve been dark, campy and dramatic, great and terrible, they’ve been everything.  Through all the ups and downs, the Batman films have always meant a lot to me, and I imagine they always will. I can also say I admire what every filmmaker brought to Batman history. I appreciate Leslie H. Martinson helping make Batman and a lot of his rogues gallery house hold names, I appreciate Tim Burton bringing a darkness to the films, and I appreciate the realism and emphasis on character Nolan brought to Batman on film. I even appreciate Joel Schumacher, whose films were so bad it allowed the studio to take the series in a totally different direction with Christopher Nolan.

On July 20th, Nolan will bring his Batman trilogy to an end with The Dark Knight Rises. There will be more Batman films after it, but there will never be another Batman film from Christopher Nolan. As sad as it is to see Nolan walk away from this series, I’m glad to see him have the power to conclude his series the way he wants to. The Dark Knight Rises is easily my most anticipated film of the year, and I’m hoping Nolan and company will be able to deliver another great film, one that ends the series with dignity and respect. But even if The Dark Knight Rises sucks, everyone involved with the Nolan films should be proud with what they’ve accomplished. The series stands as the highest level of quality for comic book films, and hopefully The Dark Knight Rises will maintain such a high level of quality.

I have one more Batman post planned, an epilogue if you will. That post will go up on July 19th, or “Dark Knight Rises Eve”. To close my review series out though, I present to you how I’d rank the films. It’s probably real easy to predict how I’d rank the films based on my ratings, but here they are in one concise list.

1. The Dark Knight

2. Batman Begins

3. Batman (89)

4. Batman (66)

5. Batman Returns

6. Batman Forever

7. Batman and Robin

Comments
  1. Chris says:

    What about the 2002 Ultra Classic Scooby Doo meets Batman!

  2. le0pard13 says:

    You’ve done it justice, Daniel. And it’s going to remain the hurdle for the last of the trilogy to overcome in popularity and critical acclaim. We won’t know till ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ hits the screens (beyond those lucky enough to already seen the previews and signed non-disclosure agreements, that is ;-)). Well done.

  3. Very nice review, Dan. (And can I just say that it’s a testament to the depth of Nolan’s films that we both found different things to say about them?) I agree that Eckhart’s performance is often overlooked in favor of the more showy Ledger; it’s a shame that people generally only focus on one “star”, since even though Ledger is the standout performance in the film, he’s far from the only great one in it.

    I’ve seen the theory about the war on terror references before… there are definite similarities, but I always wonder on things like that if it’s not a case of Tolkien’s theory about applicability — i.e., that sometimes it’s possible to draw perfectly useful and valid comparisons from a work that aren’t actually intended by the creator. (In Tolkien’s case, he was talking about how people interpreted his work as allegory for WWI, WWII, the Bible, the industrial revolution, and more…) There are definite thematic similarities between TDK and the war on terror, but since a lot of it is a natural outgrowth of the question of why Batman doesn’t do more to put away criminals like the Joker for good, I don’t know how much of it is intentional commentary and how much is just addressing the same concerns coincidentally.

    • pgcooper1939 says:

      Regarding the whole war on terror thing, I wonder about that theory too. I don’t think Nolan was necessarily trying to make a political statement, but it is interesting that such interpretations can be found.

  4. Once again, a perfect review from PG Cooper’s Movie Reviews. This was the best Batman yet. Ledger rocked, Bale rocked, and Eckhart rocked. This is a seriously powerful movie.

    -Steve

  5. r361n4 says:

    I don’t care if it’s a popular choice, ever since I first saw this movie in the theaters it was clear to me that The Dark Knight would always have a place near the top of my favorite movies list. I’ve probably seen in around eight times now and the only issue I have with it after all of those viewings is that I admit it runs a bit on the long side. On the other hand, there is not a single scene in the movie I would have cut so I don’t worry about that quibble too much.

    It’s always interesting to read a review like this from someone who loved the movie as much as I did, great job on this one :)

  6. brikhaus says:

    Great review. Agree that it is an excellent movie (superhero or otherwise). I do have a couple of gripes about this movie: first, the bat sonar crap was ridiculous, and second, the pacing could have been improved with more editing. I have expanded a lot more here: http://awesomelyshitty.wordpress.com/2009/06/05/the-dark-knight-was-so-goddamn-long-thats-what-she-said/

  7. […] Cooper wraps up his Batman movie reviews with his review of The Dark Knight. He has some solid insights into this film, and with the conclusion of the trilogy coming soon, now […]

  8. […] picture for the last few years it would look something like this: 2007: There Will Be Blood, 2008: The Dark Knight, 2009: In The Loop, 2010: Inception, 2011: […]

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