It's 3:07 am on Friday, July 18th, and I have to wake up for work in four hours. But it's worth it. Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight packed six screens at the nearby theater; the line to get in, two hours ahead of time, spiraled down two flights of stairs and out the door. But it was worth the wait.
Batman Begins was already highly regarded as one of the best, if not the best, superhero adaptation, but Nolan has made that film look like nothing more than a setup for the chaos that rains down in this complex, gritty and twisted film. No character is safe and anything can happen as the Joker - and eventually Harvey Two-Face - embrace Gotham. Batman, a.k.a. Bruce Wayne, has helped reduce crime, but where he has squeezed, the criminal element is reacting accordingly. Whereas Batman is order, the Joker is chaos, and that is what is at play in The Dark Knight.
As my tired fingers tap against my keyboard, I must make note that to truly appreciate The Dark Knight, it may take a day or two for it to soak in, or even multiple viewings. I have my grievances, though I suspect many of those slight hiccups are a result of too much hype and anticipation. Such minor flaws will gloss over in time, and I will come to realize The Dark Knight for what it is - Hell, I pretty much already realize it - that this movie is as close to a masterpiece as comic book adaptations can come.
Well-written, superbly directed and, of course, brilliantly acted, The Dark Knight is the crowning achievement of comic book films. It's hardly fair to compare it to Spider-Man 2, which relishes in mutated heroes and villains, or even X-Men 2, which has dozens of the like. Those are both great films, and there are people who will like them more because they are pure entertainment and blockbuster action flicks. I still love them, but The Dark Knight takes one of the most popular superheroes in history to an entirely different level. Nolan's version of Gotham is shockingly realistic. Other than a guy who flies around in a bat suit and a psychopath who can destroy a city, the Nolans (Christopher with brother Jonathan) have created a gritty, believable crime thriller complete with a sustainable plot, riveting characters and plenty of action. The Dark Knight has it all.
Before I get to the good stuff, let me point out the few annoyances I have. I don't like the cell phone sonar system - it was a little too James Bond-ish for this kind of film. Christian Bale, while still great, didn't blow me away as much this round; I didn't like his gravely Batman voice. While Two-Face isn't relegated to the very end of the movie, I was hoping to see even more. And why does Nolan even include the Scarecrow at all? There are a few other things, but my tired mind has started to wander.
To get it out of the way, Heath Ledger makes this film. His rendition of the Joker is disturbing, psychotic and downright creepy. This is one of the rare roles where the actor, as he really is, cannot be recognized. If he hadn't died, would an Oscar nomination even be considered? Perhaps not, just because of the type of film he has chosen to deliver his crowning achievement. But he is gone, and it is almost assured that Ledger will get a nomination. Ledger is absolutely incredible.
Aaron Eckhart, as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, is also surprisingly good. The marketing team kept his character - or at least his eventual self - under tight wraps, and the anticipation pays off. The makeup job is incredible; nothing like the horrible Tommy Lee Jones pink-face from the late 90's. His performance is sound, though it would have been great to give him an entire movie on his own. After all, how is Nolan going to follow up The Dark Knight with something better? I really don't see how a sequel could be better than this.
The movie is two-and-a-half hours long, but it doesn't feel like it. It moves at a fast pace and the Nolans have plenty of plot to play with. The movie starts off good, but gets great in the middle section - I literally was grinning through much of it - and ends pretty solidly. I wouldn't say it's perfect, but it's near perfect, and again, a couple more viewings of this picture may convince me that the film is flawless. Either way, The Dark Knight is jaw-dropping.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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