Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Batman-a-thon Part 7: The Dark Knight (2008)

[Note: These links will be available as the reviews are posted: Batman (1966)/Batman Prime, Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992), Batman Forever (1995), Batman and Robin (1997), Batman Begins (2005), Batman Awards Blog]
Following the incredible success of Batman Begins, Warner Bros. knew a sequel involving the Joker had to be done. As such, three years later, The Dark Knight premiered, and it has in many ways altered the way the superhero movie is done.

Not necessarily because it's a gross change from Begins, but because of the incredible levels of commercial success it had. It garnered the third-highest domestic gross of all time until The Avengers' movie passed it. Likewise, it was in the top 10 of worldwide grosses when it left theaters.

I said the quality of Begins should have warranted more critical acclaim and money than it did. Did TDK get too much? Absolutely not - Christopher Nolan may be a Batman genius because much like the predecessor, this was brilliant.

The film doesn't bother to show a backstory because, in all honesty, the Joker doesn't need a backstory. He exists because of Batman. This is very much how he's portrayed in the comics and especially in The Dark Knight Returns. It seems very clear to me that Nolan took much of his Batman knowledge from Frank Miller's two legendary works.

Joker robs a bank, which allows him to gain funding for his next stage of planning: Convincing the mob to hand over the reigns to him to get Batman.

In both his scene with the mob and his robbery, you can tell the Joker is a master planner who plans everything out miles in advance. He lacks the more extreme elements of his character and they are replaced with subdued cunning and rage, but it makes sense for this universe. It's clear that this world is meant to be like our own, so other DC heroes probably don't exist, and being able to act less as a cariacature would help in this world.

If you can't tell, I am a huge fan of the Heath Ledger Joker. Do I consider him the best Joker of all time? Well, no. I'd probably go with the Animated Series' Joker (Mark Hammil) for that one. But Ledger is probably the only man who could have carried out a Joker for this style of Bat-world, and boy, did he.

While all this is happening, Bruce is watching as Rachel Dawes (now played by Maggie Gyllenhal) falls in love with Harvey Dent, played by Aaron Eckhart.

Eckhart is absolutely brilliant in this film, and is a total step up from Tommy Lee Jones in Forever. He's a genuinely likeable guy throughout the first part of the film, and that makes it all the more tragic when he breaks and becomes Two-Face.

That said, Two-Face's changes to character are iffy. I prefer when he has an inherently split personality because he's always fighting and that makes it more tragic when he inevitably loses the fight. Here, he doesn't seem to want to live for Rachel and is completely selfish, which is a blind shift from the man who was willing to sacrifice himself potentially to catch the Joker.

It's kind of foreshadowed that he has to remain a White Knight by the mayor, but that's more to do with the arc as to giving people hope. It's not completely unbelieveable, but it certainly could have been done better.

As for Gyllenhal, I can't help but feel that she got this part because she's related to Jake Gyllenhal and he was in Brokeback Mountain with Ledger. She's serviceable, but she's a complete damsel-in-distress here. I only care about her because Dent and Wayne care about her. Her personality is kind of grating, weakening the 'stand-on-my-own-power' approach Katie Holmes had, and if it wouldn't spark major events, her death actually makes the film more enjoyable.

The romance between Bruce and Rachel also weakens for it. For the weaknesses of that romance, when Holmes said she'd wait for Batman, I believed it. I don't know how much time passed in between, but it seems like she's given up on it here.

And again, she acts as a romantic interest to Dent but also as a mother figure when she tries to talk him down before the bomb goes off. And she doesn't act as tough or carry a stun gun anymore (Think that would have worked against Joker?), so she lost what made her a decent character to begin with.

Going back to Bale, though, he did an excellent job transitioning into a non-origin film and is right on par with his prior performance. Wayne is portrayed as a billionaire playboy who has no regard for other people, and while it's not as good as, say, Val Kilmer, it's a nice portrayal, especially when you see how competant he really is.

His Batman voice is more annoying here, and you have to try to make sure you understand what he's saying, but his Batman overall is really good. He's every bit the hero he should be.

Alfred's monologues are even more long-winded and distracting this time around, but he's also just as witty as before and had one of the best exchanges with Bruce when he's about to reveal who he is. It's fatherly but also humorous by the end of it - very endearing.

Morgan Freeman's Lucius Fox is excellent and it's fun to see him become directly part of a Batman plan at the end. And Gary Oldman's performance was great as the eventual commissioner, as he's so clearly a good cop and is seen as the perfect vehicle to help Batman carry out his goals.

I'm not going through the story in chronological order as much here because it's the most recent and would need the least refreshing, but I'll hit the major points.

Joker trying to get Batman's identity at the expense of the murder of other people is a good, basic concept, and it's made even greater when he realizes what a threat men like Dent can be as well by acting right in the face of adversity. I'm not sure if his plan changed when it was revealed Dent was not Batman or not, but that is the fun of the Joker.

I also love that Joker switched the locations of Dent and Rachel because he anticipated he'd lose Dent if he was honest. Very well played on Joker's part.

Every plan that Joker had had multiple layers to it and I love that he's a criminal mastermind here.

Ultimately, this was about Batman being more of a hero than any other hero - he in effect follows a Christ-like story where he takes up the crimes of Dent. In that sense, he is what Gotham deserves, but they don't need him - they need a visible hero who works within the law to serve as an example.

Meanwhile, Dent represents the fall from grace that Joker tried to get out of Gordon in The Killing Joke. It's a small take from what is my favorite Batman graphic novel, but I love the reference.

Overall, this is, like its predecessor, one of the best of all time. Of course, it will get more credit, but both should be seen as equally legendary.

As such, this film gets 4 stars out of 4 and 9.3 out of 10.

Don't think this is over yet! Tomorrow, I post a blog where I pick my favorite villains, Batmen, movie, etc. Be ready!

1 comment:

  1. Good review. Very, very epic film that boasts one of the most iconic performances of the past decade. Shame that Heath had to leave us so early because I know he would have really had an even more amazing career than he already had in the first place. This last one will just be epic, I know it.