Movie Review 08: The Dark Knight

You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain.
-- Harvey Dent

Let's get a few things out of the way first.

Yes, The Dark Knight does live up to the hype.

Yes, Heath Ledger puts in a truly amazing performance, well worth an Oscar nod.

Yes, the effects are awesome.

Yes, the story is dark, nightmarish, and important.

Yes, it does make excellent use of its 2.5 hour run time.

Yes, this is one of the 25 best films ever made.

Yes, if you have the opportunity to see it in IMAX, do that. The view is spectacular.

No, Heath Ledger's Joker is not 1000 times better than Jack Nicholson's. They are two different Joker's in two different roles and decades. The stories around the two Jokers are very different, and their role in the story is also different. Nicholson couldn't have portrayed the Joker in The Dark Knight, and there is no way Ledger could have played the Joker in Batman. But don't worry -- I'm not about about to defend Cesar Romero and Adam West.

There are plenty of reviews gushing over Ledger's insanely good, and just plain insane, portrayal of the Joker. So I won't spend much time on that.

In this movie the Joker is not evil. He is definitely the bad guy, but he is more a force of chaos in contrast to Batman's role as a force of order. The Joker is the personification of Entropy -- a fundamental element of the breakdown of not just society, but of everything in the world. Batman is simply trying to hold it all together long enough for the general population of Chicago Gotham to take the burden from him.

The Joker is crazy, but we never quite learn why. His origins remain a mystery, and that's okay. He just shows up, causes chaos, and sits back to admire things. The fact that we don't know where he comes from makes him all the more believable as that force.

Within that structure, the Joker wreaks his havoc.

The movie is beautiful. The opening sequence -- which dispenses with the credits all together -- is truly amazing cinematography. It's also one of several scenes shot with an IMAX camera, and they take full advantage of the monster screen in an IMAX theater.

The city scape is amazing. They shot the film on some beautiful sunny Chicago days. I don't know why they still call the city Gotham, though. There not even pretending the film isn't shot in Chicago. There are great shots of the El and glamour shots of the river. The world renowned Chicago bridges play a significant role, as does Lower Wacker Drive. Even the license plates are all Illinois plates. It's clearly Chicago in all its Chicago-ness.

It's a long movie but it never drags. The pace, and suspense hit all the right nerves.

This movie is filled with surprise twists. It kept me in shock throughout the film. There was a new dark surprise around every corner. There were even a couple little bursts of light.

There are several tense moments in the movie, but they aren't of the variety of "Will Batman solve the problem in time?" "Can he catch the Joker?" "What is the Joker going to do next?"

Instead the question is, "Will this person do the right thing?" And that's what makes this movie so compelling. It is filled with little morality plays. The Joker puts major and minor characters in tough situations and it turns out they have a choice. Will they do the right thing, which is likely to hurt them? Or do they take the easy way out and act solely in their own best interest?

The way people answer those questions drives the story forward in fascinating ways.

In that way, the Joker is a catalyst for the plot, in addition to being a plot element himself.

This movie is actually about Harvey Dent. It's not about Batman. It's not about the Joker. It's about how their actions affect Dent, and by extension all the people of Chicago Gotham City. It's almost like two competing Greek gods (Batman and the Joker) decide to settle there bet about human nature by playing games with people, and using Dent as the embodiment of the populace. His character arc takes off in the last hour of the film. The use of his coin flip throughout the film is a great barometer of his character.

I would like to have seen more of his story, though. It was a bit rushed. But to expand on his story would have meant adding another 30-45 minutes to the film (a bad idea), cutting back on the Joker (a worse idea), or ending the movie earlier and sending Dent's story into the next movie (the worst idea). So I'm satisfied with how it turned out, I guess.

The film has a strong story, heart rending twists, incredible acting, beautiful cinematography, and great fodder for later discussion. It's a winner.

Here's what some other bloggers had to say:

***NOTE: Spoiler in later comments***


Anonymous said...

Great review! I can't wait to see it. :-)

Anonymous said...

Great Review. I really like the insight about Dent being the general populace. Oh, the list at the beginning was a great way to start the article it really sucked me in.

mjsterling said...

great review...I seen this movie already and I like it.. I just don't like the way it end though

Unknown said...

Wonderful review you have written, mine pales in comparison.
I think it was a shame that we could not explore Harvey Dent more, but agree with your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

saw it in IMAX at the midnight (ok, 12:05) showing opening day....and it was FANTASTIC and AMAZING and all kinds of other desciptors. :) definitely one of the best movies that I have ever seen.

Anonymous said...

An awesome review, everybody is talking about the Knight a definitively must see.

Jon Clarke said...

Next time we get together, we'll watch it again.

Even if it's Blu-Ray.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone, great review. It made me want to go watch it for sure. You've also made me curious about Dent's character now :-) instead of just wanting to see Heath Ledger.. :-)

foongpc said...

I have yet to watch it but must watch it this week after your review and also after everyone who've watched it told me it's an excellent movie. I liked the previous Batman movie so I'm expecting this one to top that!

Anonymous said...

Great review, and an even better movie!

Anonymous said...

I like your point about Harvey Dent, I hadn't thought about it that way. I did notice that Batman didn't seem to be the main focus, which I actually liked. And Heath was barely recognisable as the Joker. I do think there were a couple of plot holes, but I still really enjoyed the movie.

Anonymous said...

Simply put, I thought the movie was awesome! And yes, Heath did a FANTASTIC job (though I still give major credit to Jack Nicholson)...

Mystery Man said...

Great review. I'm glad to see I'm not the on;y that thinks the comparisons of Heath Ledger's portrayal to Jack nicholson's are ridiculous.

This move was definately more about Dent than Batman or the joker.

My biggest complaint was that they killed Rachel. If they were gfonna do that, they should have left her as Katie Holmes...lol

Cromely said...

@angelika, sam_mygeeklife, j.c., luanne, foongpc, beau71, ribeezie: Thanks. I really appreciate the compliments. It was a fun movie, and a fun review to write.

@mjsterling: I've gone back and forth on the ending. It may not be quite as satisfying, but I think it does offer some fascinating dramatic possibilities for the future movies.

@sassy mama bear: Thanks. Dent was fascinating.

@tiffanie: The Imax adds a nice element

@jon: Sounds like a plan

@eric: There may have been a couple but they really balanced it well