Monday, July 18, 2011

Revisiting The Dark Knight...

Three years ago today, one of the best films in movie history was released to a bewildered and unsuspecting populace the world over. Considered one of finest examples of a superhero movie done right, The Dark Knight was everything Batman fans could have ever wanted from a film based on their hero - A movie that was darker, grittier, and pretty much tailored to perfection by someone who truly understood the character and the comic book stories from which he was spawned from. This was all achieved by the brilliant mind of one British director named Christopher Nolan. As the person responsible for rebooting the Batman franchise with 2005's Batman Begins, Nolan ensured that his vision of Gotham City's hero would remain grounded and realistic, and he succeeded on both points by selecting the right team and casting talented and well known actors, most especially Christian Bale in the lead role of Bruce Wayne/ Batman. Upon its release, Begins reignited interest in the Batman film franchise and displayed a true if not perfect depiction of the Caped Crusader in cinema.

The Dark Knight Trailer

With Begins success, Warner Bros. commissioned Nolan to work on the inevitable sequel right away, and after a few years of tailoring a solid script and casting the now late and great Heath Ledger as The Joker, The Dark Knight was filmed and released on July 18 2008, topping all expectations and cementing the legacy of the Batman for all time to come. Below is a repost of my 2008 review of said film from my now defunct LiveJournal account. If you haven't seen ANY of Nolan's Batman films, I suggest you avert your eyes away from said article. Otherwise, take a deep breath and have read up my little ol' review below.

Brilliant. Absolutely B-R-I-L-L-I-A-N-T, and I mean every letter of it.

In all my years as a comic book reader, I have never witnessed such a phenomenal film as The Dark Knight, a well made, honest to goodness comic book film that elevates the Batman property in a new way... even more so than its predecessor, Batman Begins, which rebooted the  franchise back in 2005 and introduced a more grounded and realistic interpretation of Gotham City's defender. I loved that film, and what I saw just a few hours ago blew me away completely. I mean, I entered there eager to see a sequel that lived up to the expectations of the many bat-fans out there who were quite pleased with Christopher Nolan's take with the character, and everyone got more bang for their buck with the end result. We're talking about a director who clearly knows what he's playing with. Sam Raimi and Jon Favreau have had similar success with the Spider-Man and Iron Man properties respectively, but Nolan clearly shows he's not in it just for the kicks. He's delivered a movie that speaks to everyone, that suggests there's more to a hero than everyone perceives one to be. Responsibility and redemption are only some of the issues to tackle, and The Dark Knight clearly illustrates themes that have more to do with how humanity reacts to certain situations... in this case crime and corruption. It's been a 3 year wait, but it paid off, especially with the massive viral marketing campaign that tided us over and offered us a few treats and pieceing together events that happen directly before the events of the film. If you're not familiar with it, you can read this primer.

So before reading away at this biased and personal review of mine (your SPOILER ALERT starts here), let it be said that this could very well be the BEST MOVIE OF 2008... and much of it has to do with the late Heath Ledger's performance as Batman's greatest Arch Nemesis - The Joker. Now let's put a smile on that face and begin this mega-review of The Dark Knight.

Review: The Dark Knight
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, and Maggie Gyllenhaal
Directed by: Christopher Nolan

The Dark Knight picks up a few months after the end of the first film, with Bruce Wayne/ Batman still waging his one man war against crime. Assisted by his loyal butler Alfred Pennyworth, CEO of Wayne Enterprises Lucius Fox, and Lieutenant Jim Gordon of the GCPD, Batman is finally closing in on his goal to eliminate the remaining criminal organizations around Gotham, finding another ally in the form of the newly appointed District Attorney of the city, Harvey Dent - an idealistic public servant known throughout the city as the "White Knight". The partnership of Batman, Gordon, and Dent proves to be an effective alliance, but a new and sinister face shows itself in the form of The Joker, a criminal mastermind who enjoys inflicting pain and terror into the hearts of Gotham and its Citizens. Lines will be broken, people will be tested, and one man must brave all the circumstances to restore order and measure up against someone who simply enjoys chaos.

I've been a big fan of Nolan's work since his early days directing sleeper hits like Memento and Insomnia. The man has an acquired taste who knows exactly what he's doing when he sets out to make a movie that will blow your mind away in so many levels. The Dark Knight did that and a whole lot more with its presentation, and only someone who knew that could conceptualize a consistent script and gather actors who are so dedicated to their craft that no one else could see what's coming until the end result plays right through your very eyes. I'd imagine many moviegoers out there to see this film in part to witness the coveted role of The Joker being portrayed by Heath Ledger, and I don't blame them. Nolan simply knew who he was casting in this movie, and he treated it like a work of art that flows in a consistent direction. Next to directing the film, Chris' credits also include writing the screenplay with his brother Jonathan Nolan and conceptualizing the story alongside David S. Goyer, who also wrote the screenplay for 'Begins and the Blade series.

The film could not have a better cast of actors to play their parts beautifully on The Dark Knight, most of them returning from the previous film, comfortably reassuming their roles without the slightest hint of discrepancy. Christian Bale once again steps up into the dual role of Bruce Wayne/ Batman to fight crime and save the day. I was greatly impressed with Bale's portrayal of the character from the first movie -  a man who pushes his limits beyond that of the ordinary to defend his city and prevent others from suffering the same horrible fate as his parents. The first film gave us an origin story on the birth of Batman... now we see him as an established presence in Gotham City who already put up quite the reputation to scare the criminals away with his knowledge of the arts and powered by the high tech arsenal offered by the R&D facilities of Wayne Enterprises. The challenge here is that it has become so routine that Bruce Wayne now questions himself as to when his crusade will truly end so he can settle down and be reunited with his love interest Rachel Dawes. He sees that chance in Harvey Dent, a man who holds onto the same beliefs on justice as he does without wearing a mask. However, that doesn't stop the wicked from spreading evil, and there's more time for Bale to go into action with his Batman character here than in the previous movie. In fact, the film introduces a new batsuit that's designed for better mobility and use for Bale, especially now that he can turn his head without the suit restricting his movements. He still has that gravely voice that seperates his persona from his public identity, and it still sounds weird, but Batman is a dark character to begin with, and this interpretation suits me just fine.

Nothing... and I mean NOTHING can be as iconic in the film as the late Heath Ledger's role as The Joker. He's THE TRUE STAR of the show, and deserves that much talked about post humous Oscar award simply for his brillaint presentation on this movie. His interpretation of The Clown Prince Of Crime differs greatly from the ones played by Jack Nicholson and Cesar Romero, both of which I enjoyed, and it doesn't exactly top their performances... it just goes off to a completely different level. Christopher Nolan said it best when he described Ledger's performance... "Iconic", and it shows off in every single layer of this film. You won't even recognize Heath Ledger at all... the star of films like Cassanova, The Patriot, and even Brokeback Mountain... just simply a mad man who walks weird, talks weird, and acts like there's something wrong with society that doesn't match up to his expectations. He has all the symptoms of a psycho, and one who's willing to push the right buttons for his personal satisfaction. All the campy humor and clown jokes we'd expect from the Joker aren't funny anymore... it's actually quite scary when you think about it. The realistic interpretation of the character comes off as a full blown display of what an insane man can do when he's unleashed on an unsuspecting populace. Sure, he can come off as ridiculous and clumsy looking (especially with all the make-up), but it's those mannerisms that make him unpredictable, and that's a dangerous thing to ponder about. Ledger brings out more than what we came to know and understand of the character we've read and in the comics. There's simply no way to comprehend a madman when you see one thrust fully into your face, and this Joker is someone you'll enjoy seeing and become frightened off at the same time. He's an agent of chaos willing to spread the word and inflict total pain on the unsuspecting populace just to get the message across. I truly loved watching this character and it will forever be embedded as a absolutely classic performance. R.I.P Heath, and thanks for the laughs.

Perhaps the biggest surprise performance in this film is Aaron Eckhart, who portrays Harvey Dent, the newly elected District Attorney of Gotham City. Everyone who knows their Batman history will be familiar with Dent and his eventual transformation into the villainous Two-Face, but this origin is retold in a brilliant manner in The Dark Knight, and Dent plays a key role in one of the major plot points of this movie. A robust and fiery pursuer of justice, Dent aspires to clean the streets of Gotham and rid it of every mob boss and scum in the vicinity. You can relate to Dent's enthusiam as he's a very grounded character. He doesn't wear a mask to fight crime and early on it shows that even without the costume he can still kick ass and intimidate the living hell out of criminals. What people don't know is that deep inside the good heart of a man lies a dark side just waiting to be provoked and unleashed. His inevitable decent into madness is foreshadowed by his callous attitude and beliefs in "luck", which is symbolized by a coin given to him by hs father. Harvey is the quintessential example of a tragic figure who had everything going for him... until evil reared up its ugly head and twisted him to something that became a mere shadow of his formal self.
Most of the cast reprise their roles from the first movie, with Sir Michael Caine back playing the every faithful and wise butler, Alfred Pennyworth, and Morgan Freeman returning as Wayne Enterprises CEO and gadget extraordinaire Lucius Fox, who supplies Batman with all the tech needed to wage war on crime. Jim Gordon, played by the talented Gary Oldman, has a deeper part in the script this time instead of being Batman's most trusted ally, and a certain villain from the previous film makes a cameo appearance early on as well, so be sure to pay attention to the action bits. The role of Rachel Dawes, once played by Katie Holmes, has now been passed on to Maggie Gyllenhaal, which isn't too bad a switch considering that both look almost exactly alike in terms of appearance. The character still holds her position as assistant D.A, now working alongside and in a romantic relationship with Harvey Dent. This adds some tension to the movie as we all know she is the childhood friend and ex-love interest of Bruce Wayne, who still harbors some feelings for her. Gyllenhaal's character serves as a basis of character development, and it is her presence that starts off a chain of events that has no return destination.

As always, the city of Chicago makes a spectacular location for the setting of Gotham City, and unlike the first film, we get too see more of it as it becomes cleaner and greener as the crime and corruption slowly gets eliminated from its streets. However, the action doesn't take place in there alone. Batman will make a monumental trip to Hong Kong to pursue another link to the mob, with some of the most daring stunts I've seen in a comic book movie that has no traces of special effects whatsoever. In fact, all the action scenes in this movie hardly make use of computer technology (with the exception of the latter portions of the film), instead relying on stuntwork and explosions. Aside from the old and new batsuits, the Batmobile (aka The Tumbler) returns from the first film, still looking as awesome as it is powerful under that mighty black shell. A new vehicle is introduced in the form of the Bat-Pod, a reimagining of the infamous Bat Cycle. How it comes into play will be spoiling a lot for the action, but anyone who's seen the toys and merchandise will know where it comes from. All I can say is that if Batman needed to get to his destination without having to worry about parking, then he's got his ride right here. Since Wayne operates on the city while Wayne Manor is being rebuilt, he has a temporary "Batcave" housed under an abandoned construction area, while living high atop a massive penthouse overlooking the city. Nothing could be as picture perfect as this set up, and it brings to life the realism the film tries to evoke to the audience.

Colossal, Spectacular, or Phenomenal, you can add all of those descriptions together and still it won't be enough to describe the impact The Dark Knight has made to the general public. Everything was perfect... the score by Hans Zimmer, the set up and props for the movie, and the superb acting spearheaded by Ledger's talented performance which was mermerizing to say the least. Bat fans everywhere will be talking about it for decades, moviegoers will see it as a masterpiece, and many people will, perhaps one or the other, appreciate it for all time to come. A big thank you goes out to Chris Nolan, the cast, and everyone who worked on this film. For the 2 and a half hours I sat through this movie, I have never felt so relieved since Spider-Man 2 to see a superhero movie sequel  outperform its predecessor in almost every single way. Scratch that, if The Dark Knight wasn't fit to be labled a superhero movie, then it is quite possibly one of THE best films ever made in existence. Comic Book Icon and Guru Kevin Smith said it best when he saw this movie and I quote: "It's the "Godfather II" of comic book films and three times more earnest than "Batman Begins" ". Dare I remind people that it's Heath Ledger who made this movie quite the show? Why So Serious? It was Absolutely Brilliant, and it is literally a masterpiece for all time to come. Rating - 5/5 (if I could make it 100, why not?^^)

Haven't seen it yet?! You're really crazy and missing out the BEST film yet. Now put a smile on your face and go!^^

Well, that was a nostalgia trip article worth revisiting again! Sometimes I find myself in disbelief that this post is already three years old! Time does fly pretty fast, and with just a year to go before the next sequel, The Dark Knight Rises, arrives in theaters, one can only hope that Nolan ends his Batman trilogy in a good note. The teaser trailer was recently released and attached to screenings of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, aso the hype is gradually building higher and higher for this film. Can't wait for more updates, but until then, I'm gonna sit back and enjoy the first two films that made a BIG impression on my life as a Batman fanatic.

1 comment:

The Nerd said...

THE best superhero movie EVER!!! A blessing and a curse to every comic book movie to follow. Will The Dark Knight Rises live up to what The Dark Knight was? Good post, very well done!

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