Retro Review – The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight

Release Date: July 18, 2008

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

HoboTrashcan’s Rating:

When The Dark Knight was released on Blu-ray in December of 2008, I gave it five stars, concluding the review with this paragraph:

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.

Overall, I still believe that. The film elevated the discussion of what a “comic book movie” could be. It was an entertaining and action-packed summmer blockbuster that didn’t talk down to the audience or treat you like you were an idiot. It also, thanks to a mesmerizing performance by Heath Ledger, redefined what The Joker could be – giving us a character with a twisted sense of humor and a mischievous persona that didn’t seem cartoonish or over the top. Nolan also showed us how beautiful and breathtaking action sequences could look when shot with IMAX cameras.

But as close to perfect as this film is, it still has some major flaws. So, in the interest of (pretending I have) objectivity, I think it’s worth taking a look at the film’s biggest drawbacks.

Perhaps the most glaring one is Christian Bale’s Batman voice. The ridiculous growl he uses to deliver his lines has become the subject of countless parodies in the past four years. The voice only gets worse the more you watch this film. It was such a terrible choice as it distracts you from key bits of dialogue, both with the absurdity of it and the general incomprehensibility the voice adds. Making matters worse, Bale chose to use the Batman voice every time he was in the costume, even if the character knows his secret identity. So in moments like the pivotal scene where he and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) debate the ethics of his surveillance technology, he’s still using his Cookie Monster voice while launching into his impassioned defense of his spy software.

One other thing that really stands out to me now, particularly when watching the film on Blu-ray, are the effects used to generate the scarred half of Two-Face’s head. Christopher Nolan is a big advocate of using practical effects whenever possible and CGI only as a last resort. So it seems odd that he would choose to make half of Aaron Eckhart’s face CGI. The effects are pretty good, but your eye still catches that something isn’t quite right with them. I think using makeup and prosthetics to make half of his face burned would have been much more convincing and more more visually disturbing.

The action scenes, which I’ve talked about at length before, are needlessly shaky and frantically edited. Having to spend time figuring out who is punching who or what car is where on the road takes you out of the scene. It is Nolan’s biggest weakness as a director of summer blockbusters.

There is another thing that bothers me more over the years as I think about it. Nolan establishes Batman’s code of not killing anyone, which I love, but he doesn’t go a very good job sticking to it. Batman still racks up a rather large body count, though most of those deaths are on a technicality. In Batman Begins, he undoubtedly kills a large number of people at Ra’s al Ghul’s place when he tosses a branding iron onto gunpowder. And he lets al Ghul die on the subway, saying he won’t kill him, but he won’t save him either, which is rather un-Batman. But the worst offense of all occurs at the end of this film, when he basically murders Harvey Dent by shoving him off of the edge of a building. Perhaps there is a way this could have been explained better (with something as simple as Batman reaching out to save Two-Face, but failing), but as presented it just comes across as him breaking his one rule, which is never really addressed in the film.

None of these flaws are enough to ruin the film though. Overall, it is still by far the best Batman film I’ve ever seen (and quite possibly the best I ever will see). Nolan’s understanding of the characters and his ability to present them in an intelligent way has turned comic book movies into something more than mindless popcorn fare. And Heath Ledger, who posthumously won the Academy Award for his role, gave us the definitive take on The Joker.

It’s not perfect, but it’s damn close.

Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at murphyslaw@hobotrashcan.com.

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