Monday, November 15, 2010

The Dark Knight Movie Review

One of my favourite films, as I reviewed it when it was released in 2008. I may have since changed my mind about some aspects of the film, but have a look nonetheless.

Movie Review                                                                                                                                  19/7/08


Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Released by: Warner Brothers Studios

            I was twelve years olds, staring wide-eyed at the screen as Batman Begins (2005) was coming to an end. Gary Oldman’s Lieutenant Gordon handed Christian Bale’s Batman a Joker card in the evidence bag, and bang! I had never felt so much anticipation for a sequel before. Three years later, The Dark Knight hit screens. And one will have to have lived in a cave for that time to not hear of the buzz the movie has generated.

            The film begins with a tightly directed and superbly-shot daring bank robbery masterminded by the Joker (Ledger). From the onset, the viewer is almost directly told that this is not an ordinary movie-watching experience. At the same time, the mob runs loose and copycats of Batman run amok. However, the new district attorney, Harvey Dent (Eckhart) enters as a new heroic presence and Batman’s well-forged partnership with Lieutenant Jim Gordon seems to be making a difference on the streets.

            The Joker, bold and anarchic that he is, comes in to take control of the mob. His prankster personality belies a twisted genius, and he convinces the mobsters to turn to him in order to eliminate the Batman. Elaborate schemes are laid, as the maniacal terrorist holds Gotham City at his very whim and fancy, frustrating the police and puzzling Batman himself. “Some people just want to watch the world burn,” Batman’s loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine) offers. And when it comes to the Joker, everybody realises all too soon that is the category he falls under.

            Of course, Batman keeps up his public front as Bruce Wayne, the billionaire playboy. From arriving at his own party late and by helicopter to inviting the entire Moscow Ballet onto his private yacht, he seems to be balancing both personas delicately but with ease. However, when his former paramour Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) finds herself in the arms of Harvey Dent instead, this provides a tinge of romantic tension.

           From interrupting a memorial ceremony to burning fire trucks (such is the warped sense of humour of the Joker) to his piece de resistance of blowing up Gotham General Hospital, the Joker grows ever more unpredictable, and it seems he will always have the one-up on the good guys.

            From every point of view, The Dark Knight offers so much more than the aimless pieces of fluff that pass as summer blockbusters these days. A thinking man’s comic book movie, the film offers detailed character studies and an exploration into the darkest of themes while serving up such action sequences as a semi truck flipping end-over-end, a police helicopter flying into a trip-wire trap set by the Joker and a Chinese mobster accountant (Singapore’s very own Ng Chin Han) being yanked out from his office and into a plane via one of Batman’s more interesting tools of the trade.

            And of course, Batman wouldn’t be Batman if it weren’t for his impressive arsenal of gadgets. The film showcases his odd-looking but speedy alternate-motorbike the Batpod, as well as his brand new and more agile suit, gauntlets with launching spikes, impact-absorbing cape and even fancy sonar imaging technology, more than enough to have geeky tech-savvy fans drooling.

            In terms of acting, everybody is in top form. In the film’s predecessor, its weak link was Katie Holmes’ vapid portrayal of Rachel Dawes. Now that Maggie Gyllenhaal has stepped in to fill the part, the ensemble seems to be one of the strongest this summer. After Batman Begins, Christian Bale got almost everyone’s vote as the best onscreen Batman-which some may argue is not saying much since the role was previously inhabited by Val Kilmer and George Clooney. Some might argue that Michael Keaton’s casting as the titular role in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) was misguided, but equally as many like it. But lest I digress, here, Bale continues his winning streak. Bruce’s parlays with Alfred and Wayne Industries CEO Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) are also filled with character and provide some respite from the overall intensity of the picture.

            However, Bale is outshone by a mile and a half by Heath Ledger’s Joker. While the young actor’s unfortunate death has cast an ominous shadow over The Dark Knight, his performance truly embodies the Joker like none has ever have. Inspired by the Joker’s portrayal in such dark comic book tales as “The Man Who Laughs” and “The Killing Joke”, Heath Ledger’s swagger, eerie vocal tone and nuanced evil smiles make his Joker almost officially one of the most disturbing film villains of all time. This is most palpable in the Joker’s threat videos, one of the many examples in the film of the torment he wreaks with such glee. One of my favourite moments is when the Joker interrupts a mob meeting with his twisted proposal. Shades of Malcolm McDowell’s infamous “Alex” in A Clockwork Orange (1971) and punk-rockers such as Iggy Pop and Sid Vicious are noticeable in Ledger’s stunning turn. Such is the power of his portrayal that talk of a posthumous Oscar nomination is already floating about. On the flipside, it is very easy to see how rumours that the role got too deep under Ledger’s skin and that it was the eventual cause of his death were birthed.

            Besides the film’s stars, its supporting cast also turns in performances that rise far above average. The always-reliable Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine inhabit their characters of the tech advisor and butler respectively with believability, which is important as their characters seem to be the only two who can truly relate to the titular tortured vigilante. Aaron Eckhart flashes his pearly whites as the idealistic but ill-fated District Attorney. As any self-respecting Batman fan would know, Harvey Dent turns into the disfigured bipolar villain Two-Face. With the aid of truly disturbing effects makeup, Eckhart also portrays this side of the character with brooding vengefulness. Cleaning up after Katie Holmes, Maggie Gyllenhaal lends much more realism to assistant-D.A. Dawes, even if her chemistry with the leading men seems lacking at times.

            Director Christopher Nolan’s vision of bringing the Batman film franchise back from the over-the-top camp and psychedelia of Joel Schumacher’s ghastly Batman and Robin (1997) (which reached its grotesque zenith with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s exclamation of “Let’s…kick…some…ice!”) with The Dark Knight’s predecessor Batman Begins in 2005 prompted cheers from fans and critics alike. This is very much expanded-upon in the film, resulting in the movie being not so much a comic book action flick as a highly intelligent action thriller and crime drama, albeit one with a relatively high budget. The powerful themes of absolutes, moral ambiguity and corruption are explored with much panache. This layer that belies the fisticuffs and explosions we all expect from a summer blockbuster is refreshingly thought-provoking.

            The Dark Knight is everything this reviewer has hoped for from this comic-book movie sequel and much, much more. While most second acts seem to be plagued by “sequel-itis” (especially those of the comic book movie genre), this picture is taut as the Batsuit, as intelligent as the Dark Knight Detective himself and offers action sequences like none other.


By Jedd Jong


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