The Dark Knight
Release Date: December 9, 2008
Own it on DVD and Blu-ray
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Stars: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman
MPAA Rating: PG-13
With The Dark Knight dominating headlines over the summer, exceeding all expectations and breaking box office and IMAX records, writing a review of the movie for its DVD release seems somewhat frivolous. Countless newspapers and Internet sites (including this one) sang the movies praises when it was released in July. Chances are you have either already seen the movie in the theater or you have no interest in ever seeing the film. Either way, you are most likely already familiar with The Dark Knight.
Still, for the sake of this review let’s assume you haven’t heard of The Dark Knight and that you know absolutely nothing about the plot the film. The movie picks up not far from where the 2005 film Batman Begins left off. At the end of Batman Begins, Lt. Jim Gordon tells Batman that a new criminal with “a taste for the theatrical” has started leaving a joker’s card at crime scenes. Batman promises to look into it.
The Dark Knight begins with a bank heist being executed by men in clown masks, quickly introducing us all to the man Gordon was talking about – The Joker. The Joker instantly becomes a force of nature ripping his way through the film, thriving on chaos. He steals money from the mafia and other street gangs, pits people against each other just to see them destroy each other and attempts to make Batman cross the boundaries he has established to justify his own actions. Alfred explains to Batman that The Joker just wants “to watch the world burn.”
Elsewhere in Gotham, Batman has inspired others to stand up against criminals. A few citizens have become copycat Batmen who wear homemade costumes and attempt to stop crime by force. Lt. Gordon is now running a handpicked division that is secretly working with Batman and is attempting to overcome the corruption inside the police force to bring down criminals and make the charges stick. There is also a new District Attorney named Harvey Dent who is fearless and willing to prosecute Gotham’s shadiest criminals, whiling putting his own life in danger.
Dent is dating Assistant District Attorney Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend and love interest in Batman Begins (Katie Holmes played Dawes in the first film, but she has been replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal). While Bruce is definitely jealous that Rachel has moved on and is dating someone else, he genuinely likes Dent and believes that Dent’s work may help bring about a day where Batman is no longer needed.
Overall, the film is considerably darker than Batman Begins and every other Batman film ever made (long gone are the days of nippled Batsuits and utility belts filled with shark repellent spray). What’s most interesting is that it’s not just a great superhero movie; it’s a great movie. Director Christopher Nolan has done such a great job making a convincing world and well-developed characters that it’s easy to forget you are watching a film about a man in a giant bat costume. To be completely honest, many of the films best scenes take place when Christian Bale isn’t wearing the costume at all and is simply playing Bruce Wayne.
Bale does an excellent job in the lead role, which should come as no surprise to anyone who saw Batman Begins. Ever since American Psycho, Bale has shown that he can play a complex character who is attempting to juggle two distinct personas. My only complaint is that his “Batman voice” is rather ridiculous. I applaud Bale for attempting to find a way to distinguish Bruce Wayne’s voice and Batman’s, but the low growl that he uses when wearing the Batsuit makes him sound more like Cookie Monster than Batman. He uses the same growling voice in Batman Begins, but Batman didn’t have much dialogue in that film, so it isn’t as noticeable. This time around, Nolan has given Batman substantially more dialogue, including a few important speeches late in the film, which all end up sounding rather silly. Perhaps Bale would have been better off adopting an Alec Baldwin-esque whisper voice when delivering Batman’s lines.
There was a lot of speculation and hype surrounding Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker, especially since the actor tragically died before the film was released. Most critics agreed that he gave an amazing performance and there continues to be Oscar buzz surrounding the role. I am happy to say that Ledger lives up to the hype. His portrayal of The Joker is absolutely fantastic and he deserves all of the praise he has received. He plays the role perfectly, even outshining Jack Nicholson, who played The Joker in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film. It is truly a shame that he died before seeing the finished film. It’s also both a blessing and a curse that he did such a good job in the role that I can’t possibly imagine them attempting to recast the role of The Joker if Christopher Nolan comes back for a third Batman film.
The rest of the cast is also highly enjoyable. Aaron Eckhart creates a very likeable and fun to watch Harvey Dent. Maggie Gyllenhaal manages to take a character who was utterly forgettable in the first film and make people actually care about her. Gary Oldman is great, as he always is, although a few times when he is shouting, Jim Gordon loses his American accent. As you would expect, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are also both phenomenal and provide some of the film’s best lines.
The film itself is well-paced and beautifully shot. Nolan shot several key sequences in IMAX, which makes them really pop. The film of course looked great this summer in theaters, but I am happy to report that it looked equally as wonderful at home on my television. I would recommend picking up the Blu-ray version if you have a high def TV, but the regular version looks great as well.
One thing that continues to bothers me about Nolan’s Batman films is the way he shoots action scenes. Nolan relies too heavily on quick cuts and shaky cameras. In this film, one of the biggest, most action-packed scenes is a car chase featuring Batman in the Batmobile, Harvey Dent in a police vehicle and The Joker in an 18-wheeler. It had the potential to be a truly memorable action scene, but instead the quick cuts make it confusing and nauseating to watch. At times it feels more like watching an amateur home video instead of a big budget studio film. The rest of the film more than makes up for this annoyance, but it is frustrating that in an action film, the action scenes aren’t always fun to watch (especially when you couple that with the fact that in a Batman film, it’s difficult to listen to Batman talk).
While the film isn’t perfect, it’s perhaps as close to perfect as a Batman film will ever be. It’s a film that raises the bar for all future comic book movies and shows what you can do with the genre. In the film, Lt. Gordon says that Batman is “the hero Gotham deserves.” After Joel Schumacher’s campy Batman films and Tim Burton’s films that strayed too far from the source material, The Dark Knight is finally the film Batman fans deserve.
Written by Joel Murphy. The Dark Knight is available on DVD and Blu-ray today. For more Dark Knight fun, you can put together a movie themed puzzle by visiting TheDarkKnightPuzzle.com or you can personalize your website/social networking site with Dark Knight characters by visiting My-DarkKnight.com.