I am a huge Christian Bale fan, I consider Batman Begins one of my favorite movies, and I highly anticipated the release of The Dark Knight. So why did it take me a month to go see it? For one, there’s the new issue of having to find a babysitter if I want to go to the theater. Mostly, though, I was waiting until I could get a good seat at an IMAX showing that wasn’t sold out. Even though the movie has been out for over a month, we still had to line up with about 100 other fans 30 minutes before the movie started, hoping for a chance at a prime seat. We ended up with a great view of the massive screen. But enough about the logistics of actually getting to the movie. On with my review…
My overall impression of the movie? Wow. Just wow. The prestigious list of actors. The acting. The characters. The special effects. The cityscapes. The story. The gadgets. The suspense. Bruce Wayne. Batman. The Joker. And, finally, The Joker.
Yes, Heath Ledger was really as good as everyone said he was. While Jack Nicholson’s Joker in 1989’s Batman was campy and diabolical, Ledger’s Joker was unsettling, disturbingly matter of fact about his criminal exploits, and fascinating to watch. Ledger was The Joker. He had the mannerisms perfected, from the smoothing back of the wiry hair, to the flicker of his tongue, to the lumbering walk. It was such a commanding performance that any scene he was in, everything else paled in comparison. He was funny at times, but in that nervous laugh kind of way where you didn’t know what to expect next. The writers left us with plenty of questions. We don’t know for sure how the Joker ended up with his freakish appearance, why he is psychotic, who he used to be. Hopefully some of these questions will be answered in the next movie.
With all the (much deserved) hype surrounding Ledger’s performance, some other actors have been somewhat lost in the shuffle. Let me praise them here:
- Christian Bale – I admit, this longtime favorite actor of mine could star as a lamppost and I would be thrilled. But seriously, I think he is the best Batman that has come along. I hope this man is eventually nominated for an Oscar, because he has done some amazing work (The Machinist, Rescue Dawn, 3:10 to Yuma, etc.). While Batman isn’t the kind of role that garners awards, he brings an intensity and fierceness to the part that deserves recognition. No question, he fills out that batsuit nicely, and looks intimidating and resolute as he battles the evil underbelly of Gotham City, and has the perfectly gravely, low voice to match the part. But the real magic of his performance comes as Bruce Wayne. He does a fantastic job of appearing to be a carefree, macho millionaire, while revealing his true inner turmoil through subtle glances and slight changes in his demeanor. So hooray for Christian Bale!
- Maggie Gyllenhaal – About the only thing people complained about with Batman Begins was Katie Holmes’ wooden performance as Rachel Dawes. So the powers that be made the right move by recasting the role. Maggie Gyllenhaal brought a needed combination of resolve and vulnerability to Rachel. I cared much more about what happened to her than when Holmes’ Rachel was in peril in Batman Begins.
- Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman – Their performances were solid, but didn’t differ much from what they were in Batman Begins. While The Joker mesmerized us with his twisted mind games, and Batman wowed us with his power moves and his fun gadgets, these guys were the balancing force that kept us tethered to our seats.
- William Fichtner – I must say, I was disappointed when I realized his role in the film wouldn’t be more than a cameo, because I think he is an excellent actor. I first knew him as Josh on As the World Turns way back in the ’80s. Since then he’s moved way up in the acting world, to outstanding roles in everything from Contact to Crash to the television show Invasion (let’s just ignore the ridiculous Prison Break). This might have only been a cameo, but he sure made the most of it. What a great way to start the movie, with him going from – spoiler alert – timid bank manager to gun-toting commando.
- There were plenty of other recognizable faces, but none as impressive as those I’ve already mentioned. Eric Roberts played his mafia bigwig with the required amount of toughness and sarcasm. Anthony Michael Hall was well cast as an opportunistic news reporter. The least believable role for me was Aaron Eckhart. He’s never been a favorite of mine, and I found it hard to believe him as the noble, idealistic Harvey Dent. (So it’s no surprise that I liked him better as Two Face.)
While the acting was impressive, the real stars of a movie like this are the action sequences, the special effects, and the cinematography. But a Christopher Nolan movie doesn’t short-change the audience on plot. This 150 minute extravaganza had more than enough stops and starts, sudden twists, and heart-stopping surprises. Although I guessed a few of the turns in plot, they had me fooled many other times. I was slightly disappointed with the open-ended ending, but maybe that was just because it meant that the movie was over.
So, back to the fact that this was a BIG movie. I am so glad that I saw it in an IMAX theater. The audience literally let out an audible, collective “gasp” when the opening shot of Gotham City’s skyline appeared on the huge screen. It was fantastic. And, of course, it only got better. Any time the camera panned over and in between buildings in the city, I felt like I was flying through them myself. But the most intense moment came during the Hong Kong scene, when Batman swoops off the edge of a skyscraper and floats on the wind (with his cape acting as makeshift wings) on his way to apprehend Lau, who is the key to nabbing Gotham City’s crimelords. Experiencing Batman’s flight through Hong Kong was simply incredible. At that moment, I thought to myself that I wanted to come back to see the movie again. There were many moments that made me think that.
Another “wow” moment is the scene involving Batman riding on his bat-motorcycle chasing after the Joker, who is having sadistic, destructive fun driving an 18-wheeler through the streets of Gotham. I wonder how the special effects guys achieved the realistic results when Batman ties the truck up with rope and causes it to flip over in one sudden, breathtaking moment. Not to be outdone by the damage he has caused, Batman proceeds to swiftly drive up the wall of a building, and just as quickly flip back over to drive back to meet the Joker face to face.
The Dark Knight is a movie that stands alone in many respects: the high caliber performances, the ridiculously good special effects, the non-stop intensity. In one way, though, it reminds me of Spider Man 3 – the high villain count. In Spider Man 3, there was New Goblin, Sandman, Venom, and even Spider Man himself, when he turned into Evil Spiderman/Beatnik Peter Parker. That was a lot to keep track of, and it didn’t always work. The writers did a better job of keeping things straight in The Dark Knight. The connections among villains were made clear, with The Joker as the king of the bad guys, basically manipulating the rest of them, including Maroni and the other mob bosses, and Two-Face. The only one that seemed unnecessary was Scarecrow. Cillian Murphy barely had any screen time in that confusing scene involving ferocious dogs, a quick fight, and a couple of Batman wannabes. But there were plenty of other fight scenes and tense moments to make up for that one. Batman racing to save Rachel, the Joker’s cronies targeting the mayor at the memorial for the Commissioner, Batman fending off the misinformed SWAT team to protect the hostages on his way to stop the Joker’s master plan.
I could go on and on. This movie was that good, as most people know by now. I would be thrilled if Heath Ledger is nominated for his acting role. It is just tragic that such a fine actor died so young, and that he won’t be around to reprise this amazing performance. I’m wondering how the movie crew will handle the next movie. Will they recast the Joker (seems impossible) or go in a totally new direction with a new villain? According to this article, Johnny Depp is rumored to be pegged to take the role of the Riddler. Seems like a good fit to me.