Background: While I was hanging out with some friends in Chicago last summer, somebody mentioned how the filming of "the new Batman movie" was causing mass hysteria around their workplace downtown. I didn't think about or hear mention of The Dark Knight again until six months later, when Heath Ledger's sudden death caused an even greater buzz about the movie. Now, six months after that, humanity's anticipation for it has reached a Y2K level that I can't fully comprehend. I joked to my friends while waiting in the midnight line that Knight is going to have a viral reach - I challenge you to find 10 people one week from today who have not seen it. Anyway, you know all of this. Truly, there are too many trivia items to share about the most hyped movie since Revenge of the Sith, and why I didn't choose it in our fantasy league is a total mystery. To catch up on the Batman franchise, go here or here.
Synopsis: After learning that Gotham has a bevy of problems (bank robberies, angry mob bosses, Batman wannabes), we meet our three main characters: The Joker, committed to causing anarchy; idealistic D.A. Harvey Dent (Eckhart), committed to cleaning up the streets and corralling the mob; and Bruce Wayne (Bale), committed to being rich and awesome (and Batman, when called upon). These men form a bizarre triangle involving revenge, justice, love, hate, depression, and costumes. The supporting players come and go, but the action and drama remain within these tenuous relationships, eventually culminating in The Joker threatening to eliminate the city unless Batman reveals his true identity. This leads to a good hour of brooding dialogue, fistfights, explosions, and Batmobile/Batcycle chases. As this is a franchise, there's no real point in discussing more details. This story will keep going until Michael Bay signs on and casts Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne.
+ Heath Ledger's viscerally shocking performance, which has received award buzz since before last year's Oscars (ironically, he died the day last year's nominations were announced). At the very least, a nod for Best Supporting Actor is in the bag.
+ Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, especially in the restaurant scene. The kind of guy that I hate in real life but can love in the movies.
+ The final frame.
+ That a movie rated PG-13 could still contain enough bite and fright (um, Ledger), without the ghoulish gore. Is there a better example?
+ Morgan Freeman, who, with hardly anything to work with, ripped out some of the movie's most memorable scenes. My favorite? Putting the research nerd in his place when he was threatening blackmail.
+ The comedic lines: "I'm a dog chasing cars..."
+ The action sequences, as cluttered as they were. Memo to Hollywood: Less CGI actually makes for better action, unless you're Guillermo Del Toro.
- The comicy comic book lines: "The night is darkest just before the dawn." Eh.
- Batman's animal-like growl. I don't remember it being that pronounced in Batman Begins, or at least I don't remember the bass being jacked up so high. His voice, even when just talking normally, had the cinematic effect of the T-Rex stomping around in Jurassic Park.
- The makeup effects for Two-Face/Harvey Dent. That looked like a complete rip-off from the "Body Worlds" exhibit, never mind the fact that he would have had a fatal infection within hours. Yeah, I'm ridiculous.
- What else? Goofy fanboys sitting behind me. Shouldn't those people be the most silently reverent of everybody in the theater?
Writing - 9
Acting - 10
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 10
Music - 5
Significance - 4
Total: 47/50= 94% = A
Last Word: As groggy as I was this morning, it didn't take me too long to realize that I not only enjoyed The Dark Knight more than Batman Begins, but more than any of the others before it, including Tim Burton's Batman. That 1989 version may have been the bigger achievement (considering its context and Burton's vision), but it doesn't quite pack the same punch as Knight.
Most of this can be attributed to Heath Ledger, but credit is also due to writer/director Christopher Nolan, who has not only written amazing characters (and wow, what a knockout of a cast again, all of whom brought their "A" game - Bale, Freeman, Eckhart, Gyllenhaal, Caine, and Oldman), but placed them within an actually believable story, at least relative to most comic book/superhero movies.
Would it be a stretch to say that, in this installment, Bruce Wayne is a universally relatable character? Not just for the trillionaires and superheros among us, but for anybody who's ever struggled to give something up and move on to the next stage in their lives. I don't mean that The Dark Knight is a grand parable for humanity that has significant relevance to my life; it is, after all, a movie about a rich guy dressed up in tights and cape fighting a sinister maniac wearing face paint and purple suit. But I do think its story is much richer and much more interesting than any of its 2008 summer peers (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Hancock, Hellboy II, etc.).
In any case, The Dark Knight is not the type of movie that I see for its moral lessons, and I'll let others delve more deeply into its symbolism, relation to the other sequels, and place in film history. I'll just declare that it's a summer blockbuster in every way, and probably the only one you'll remember three months from now. Now to make a plan to see it in IMAX...