8.22.2008

Caped Crusader Cinema: The Dark Knight (2008)

Perhaps some of you are thinking, "Finally, there are no Batman movies left for Dave to geek out about!" Well believe it or not, I have had requests for posts covering Batman: The Movie starring Adam West, and Batman & Some Guy, starring yours truly. And if I really wanted to be a completist, I could also review the animated movie Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, which was released theatrically (for about two seconds). For now though, "Caped Crusader Cinema" is going to take a little hiatus, but I definitely plan to bring it back at some point to truly complete the series.

In Retrospect

Batman Begins set the bar very high, and with the promise of the Joker at the end of that film, I knew the sequel had the potential to take things to a whole new level. I was a recent first-time father who was addicted to blogging when The Dark Knight arrived in theaters and blah blah blah, let's stop right there. One thing this review won't have is the benefit of nostalgia, or the familiarity of endless viewings.

There are a number of problems inherent in reviewing new movies. It can be a challenge to reconcile all of the hype and expectations with what actually ends up on screen. Sometimes, I am slightly disappointed by a film the first time, only to find it much more enjoyable later on after the weight of my expectations has been lifted.

And how much of a movie's appeal can be attributed to its newness factor? Often I will see a film once and think it is great, but when I watch it again, I find that the thrill is gone, and have little desire to ever see it again (unfortunately, I have usually already bought the DVD by this point). Anyway, to make a long story short, I have waited this long to review The Dark Knight because I wanted to see it at least twice before diving in, and going out to the movies tends to be a dodgy proposition when there is a three month old involved.

Critical Analysis

Spoiler Alert: I will be discussing the movie in all its glory, so if you haven't seen it yet and don't want all the secrets ruined, you have been warned. Also, what is your problem? It's been out for over a month, go see it already!

So how did The Dark Knight hold up to a second viewing? Let me put it this way. As the credits rolled the first time, I immediately turned to Kristen and said "I want to see it again." When the credits rolled the second time, I immediately turned to my friend Spencer and said "I want to see it again." The most character driven of any Batman film to date, The Dark Knight is so richly layered and epic, even after 2 1/2 hours, I have been left wanting more—twice.

As the events of the film begin to unfold, Bruce Wayne has yet to completely lose himself in the cape and cowl. While he spends a good deal of the film in costume, growling at and pummeling criminals, Bruce Wayne is humanized by his interactions with his allies, gadget man Lucius Fox and faithful butler Alfred. He also longs for the day that Gotham no longer needs him so he can be with his unrequited love, Rachel Dawes. And with Maggie Gyllenhaal stepping in for Katie Holmes as Rachel, just like that, one of the biggest problems of Batman Begins has been rectified.

Villains presenting the hero with a choice of saving one or the other is not an unfamiliar plot device in comic book movies. Spider-Man, Batman Forever and others have featured such a scenario, which typically symbolizes the hero having to choose between his two lives. And every time, the hero always manages to defy logic and save everyone involved. But this is not the case in The Dark Knight. Because the Joker isn't playing by the rules, Batman's choice is ultimately futile. As a result, Rachel dies, and Harvey Dent is left a deformed and broken man. Batman must learn the hard way, as Alfred points out, that "some men just want to watch the world burn."

You may have noticed this review isn't quite as humorous as some of my other installments, but this is a serious film. There are some moments of humor mind you, but you almost feel guilty for laughing. I should clarify, these are not guilty laughs as in cheap, but rather you feel guilty for allowing yourself to laugh at some of the horrific things the Joker does.

I'll admit that when I heard that Heath Ledger had been cast in this role, I found it to be a bit of a head-scratcher. It was definitely not what I was expecting, but at the same time, I trusted that Christopher Nolan knew what he was doing. And my faith was rewarded, as Ledger's performance is quirky, terrifying, and yes, funny—usually all at the same time. Perhaps most importantly though, this Joker wouldn't be caught dead galavanting around to any Prince songs.

Badly dated pop music is one thing, but Tim Burton also made the mistake of killing the Joker off. Nolan, on the other hand, wisely keeps Batman's greatest doppelganger alive in the end. Unfortunately, the Joker's promise to Batman after he is finally captured that they are "destined to do this forever" will be left unfulfilled. For a film already built on tragedy, knowing that Ledger will never get to follow up his transcendent performance brings an even greater sense of loss to the proceedings.

While Batman and the Joker command a lion's share of screen time, the true emotional core of The Dark Knight is the rise and fall of Harvey Dent. Known as Gotham's White Knight, Dent is the reason that Bruce Wayne has allowed himself to hope that Gotham will soon no longer need Batman. Anyone remotely familiar with the Batman mythos knows that Dent is destined to become Two-Face. But when he descends into madness in the wake of Rachel's death, there is a genuine sense of remorse, rather than merely relief that Two-Face has finally hit the screen.

Two-Face's assumed death brings a dark film to a bittersweet culmination—a finale I never expected. Batman knows what Harvey Dent stood for more than anyone, and that Gotham can't afford for the Joker to be validated. In order to keep the public from finding out what their White Knight became in the end, Batman offers himself as a scapegoat. He does what nobody else can because "sometimes the truth isn't good enough." While Batman makes his escape, Commissioner Gordon is left to explain why they must chase him to his son, thus providing the film with its coda:
Because he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now...and so we'll hunt him, because he can take it. Because he's not a hero. He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector...a dark knight.
The final scene of Batman Begins gave the viewer a clear idea of what to expect in the sequel. The theme would be escalation, and it was going to feature the Joker. So what's in store after The Dark Knight, and realistically, will anything be able to top it? I honestly have no idea. All I know is that as long as Christopher Nolan is involved, I have reason to hope.

Grade: A+

3 comments:

Team Ritz! said...

The only thing that would have given this movie an extra + is if they had kept Katie Holmes as Rachel just so they could kill her off!

movie junkie said...

i still wish Katie Holmes had stayed on board as Rachel Dawes in the Dark Knight...

ScottBoomer said...

Why ya'll gotta hate Katie Holmes so much?
Loved the movie.
"You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villan."
Wish Heath hadn't had a drug problem so he could do another.