November 4, 2013

Movie Mondays: The Dark Knight

Lookin' good so far...

Lookin’ good so far….

Title: The Dark Knight
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer (Created by Bill Finger & Bob Kane)
Distributed By: Warner Bros.
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhal, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Eric Roberts
Release Date: July 18, 2008

Hey there Comic book fans!  It’s time for another installment of MOVIE MONDAYS!  And that means another look back at the big screen adventures of The Caped Crusader.  Last week, we examined Batman Forever.  After the huge financial success of that film, the studio decided that even more camp and even more goofy, silly family friendliness was the way to go.  In 1997, director Joel Schumacher and star George Clooney ratcheted up the kitschy campy antics to the Nth degree for Batman & Robin, a movie that was a pitch perfect send-up to the 1950s/1960s comics and the 1960s Adam West franchise.  It was also an unmitigated critical and commercial failure. 

After the huge disappointment that was Batman & Robin, it took the studio nearly a decade to reboot the franchise, and in 2005 Warner Bros. released Batman Begins, an angst-ridden movie about a hypocritical, ineffectual Batman who spends large chunks of the film disrespecting his family name and growling like a constipated gorilla.  The movie was well-received by many and a sequel soon followed.  A sequel pretentiously titled: The Dark Knight.  Apparently the studio likes the money Batman makes, but is embarrassed by his name.

Just a dog chasing cars

Just a dog chasing cars.

Overall, this film is FAR better than the mediocre Batman Begins, though filled with infinitely more plot-contrivances.  I still hate Christian Bale’s take on Batman/Bruce Wayne.  He spends the entire film not caring about his company, sleeping through meetings, letting Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) give him all of his gadgets, and growling in such an absurd voice that I honestly chuckled whenever he spoke.  And no matter what his character is feeling, Christian Bale just acts like a plank of wood, with ONE EXCEPTION: the interrogation scene with The Joker (Heath Ledger) features the most intense acting of Christian Bale’s career.  Not his best (that’s a tie between The Machinist and American Psycho), but his most intense.

Batman auditions for the role of RoboCop

“Dead or alive you’re coming with me.”

He’s also fairly poorly written.  For nearly the entire length of the film, Batman preaches against killing, saying it’s the one thing he’ll never do, even though he did the same thing in Batman Begins only to kill the lead villain and a TON of his henchmen, and then at the end of this film murders Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart).

I don’t mind a Batman that kills, or a Batman that doesn’t kill.  He’s been written both ways throughout the years.  But one way Batman has never been written is as a man who lacks conviction.  And Nolan’s Batman films tell the story of a whiny hypocrite.

Complaints about this incarnation of Batman don’t end with his portrayal.  The designs are a problem, too.  His costume for starters no longer looks anything like a Batman costume, aside from the pointy ears, instead resembling some combination of SWAT gear and RoboCop.

Caine is Alfred.  Freeman is... Freeman

Caine is Alfred. Freeman is…Freeman.

Don’t worry, there’s a lot to like about this movie!  The supporting cast was superb!  Sadly, these performances make Bale’s awful performance all the more unforgivable.  Michael Caine plays a charming, lovable Alfred tossing out quips and wisdom whenever needed.  And Morgan Freeman plays…”James Bond’s Q”, explaining each and every one of Batman’s toys, in one of many failed attempts to add “realism” to the film.

Just as with Batman Begins, Gary Oldman is THE BEST part of this film, giving a knock-out performance as James Gordon.  Both the hard-nosed police man and the loving family man, Oldman gives 110% in this movie, with a truly emotionally gripping performance in the film’s climactic showdown between Gordon, Batman, and Two-Face, which leads to Aaron Eckhart’s portrayal of Harvey Dent, which is simply wonderful.  Eckhart makes you care for Dent, and presents a fully realized character full of pathos. 

Gary Oldman IS James Gordon

Gary Oldman IS James Gordon.

Ledger’s performance as Joker is amazing, but flawed, though the flaw comes not from Ledger but from the script and the direction.  Ledger gives the greatest performance of his career, playing a character that is brutal, fascinating, and entertaining all at once.  Yet he’s not really the character from any of the comics.  This Joker actually hates any assertion that he’s crazy, whereas the character in the comics revels in his insanity. 

Here's my card

Here’s my card.

I wonder if that's ... oh look it IS The Joker

I wonder if that’s…oh look it IS The Joker.

As terrific as Eckhart was as Harvey, the script drastically alters the character of Two-Face to fit this film’s new portrayal.  In the comics, Two-Face is twisted, utterly psychotic, and a bit of a criminal mastermind obsessed with duality and chance.  In the film, he’s downgraded to an angry vigilante out for revenge.  Plus, while he still has his coin from the comics, his decision to use it as a 50/50 method of doling out justice essentially stems from the fact that The Joker basically convinces him that it’s a good idea.  Let’s not forget to mention, that he spares Joker’s life and decides to attack Gordon’s family because The Joker rather easily tricks him into doing it.  This all takes place during one scene, where The Joker, in full make-up, “disguises” himself as a nurse, murders a cop right in front Dent, who doesn’t figure out who it is until AFTER The Joker removes his surgical mask.  Did Harvey Dent lose all of his IQ points the second he started calling himself Two-Face?! 

This scene is a good example of a lot of the problems this movie has.  An expression I’ve always been fond of is “stupidity keeps the movie going.” Now, this is true of most movies, but it’s downright mind-boggling at times in this film.  For instance, the film’s opening scene features The Joker robbing a bank, and getting away by driving off in a school bus that has just crashed through a side of the building, speeding off into a huge line of buses, with debris flying everywhere, and nobody bats an eye.  None of the bus drivers who clearly witnessed the “getaway bus” join their little convoy slam on the breaks or react in any way.

How does nobody notice?!

How does nobody notice?!

If they had reacted in any way, the script practically falls apart.  The movie is full of little plot contrivances like this.  At one point, Batman goes to rescue his would-be girlfriend who just got thrown out of the top floor of his skyscraper, only to fall spine-first onto a taxi cab, completely unharmed.  In the process, he leaves The Joker in a room full of soon-to-be hostages that he has every intention of killing.  Is this scene ever resolved?  Nope.  The movie chugs right along with nary a thought to the situation it just created.

Let’s not address the flaws in the story line, otherwise we’ll be here all night.  Let’s move on to positive subjects, like the music.  The musical score was spectacular!  James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer craft a score that is equal parts experimental and edgy, while traditional at the same time.  Dissonant and eerie sounds form a leitmotif for The Joker filled with screeching strings that resemble nails on a chalkboard, coupled with harsh percussive sounds that bring to mind the sound of a dog barking.  Two-Face gets an elegant and somber theme full of brass.  The music masterfully emphasizes the emotional chords struck in every scene.

The cinematography is a step up compared to its predecessor insofar as the use of shaky-cam has been greatly reduced, so that the audience can actually see most of the onscreen action of Batman’s numerous fights.  While on the topic of visuals, I can’t stress enough how impressively detailed the visual effects are.  The combination of prosthetic and CGI makeup used for Harvey Dent’s transformation into Two-Face is quite remarkable.  Furthermore, the pacing is top-notch, never allowing any scene to drag on for a moment longer than it needs too.

One final flaw of the film that needs to be addressed is that of the dialogue.  The lines in this film are some of the most heavy-handed, melodramatic, pretentious bits of verbiage to grace the silver screen.  Harrison Ford was once quoted as having told George Lucas: “You can type this shit, but you sure as hell can’t say it.”  If only someone had the guts to say the same thing to Jonathan and Christopher Nolan.  The final monologue of the film, where James Gordon is forced to name-drop the actual title of the film, was the last straw. 

This hollow monologue basically explains to the audience that Batman HAD to frame himself for the murders Two-Face committed to keep Harvey Dent from being seen as a villain.  This leads to a bigger problem, going back to issues with the story (last time, I promise).  Why did Batman have to take the fall?  Why not just pin the murders on Joker?  Technically, Joker created Two-Face, so technically Joker IS responsible.  So, the film ends on a pointless plot-element presented with a pointless speech.

Amazing CGI make-up!

Amazing CGI make-up!

That being said, most of the film is still enjoyable, and although not my favorite entry in the franchise, it’s still an entertaining movie full of great acting from everyone except for its leading actor.  As a movie on its own merits and as an adaptation of the comics it’s based on, The Dark Knight scores a 7.5 out of 10.

CLICK HERE to read about the sequel, The Dark Knight Rises

Aaron Nicewonger




  1. Kristin

    Thank you for being one of the very few reviewers I’ve seen to criticize Bale’s awful portrayal of both Bruce Wayne and Batman. He completely kills these movies for me. I won’t watch Batman Begins (past the first time I sat through it), I only tolerate The Dark Knight for Ledger’s performance, and I’ve yet to bother with the final film (though I will probably give it a whirl for Anne Hathaway).

    • You’re welcome.
      I’m surprised I’ve not had death threats like a lot of critics who have anything negative to say about Nolan’s Bat-films. Though I have had PLENTY of people go into angry tirades toward me because of my opinion on the matter.

      I try not to call them Batman movies or call that character Batman. It’s Bale-Man. He acts NOTHING like Bruce Wayne. He’s not smart. He doesn’t make his own gear. He constantly disrespects his family name in the public eye. He lets Lucius run his entire company. Then in the 3rd film, he bankrupts it, running Wayne Enterprises into the ground.

      Speaking of the 3rd one. Yeah. Give it one watch because Anne Hathaway is AMAZING. And Cillian Murphy’s cameo as Scarecrow in that one is awesome.

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