The Dark Knight (2008)

Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Ron Dean, Chin Han, Nestor Carbonell, Eric Roberts, Ritchie Coster, Anthony Michael Hall

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Expectations: High. Haven’t watched it since the theater.


[Editor’s note: I may spoil this movie, so if you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen it and you care, just watch it.]

Let’s just get this out of the way: Batman Begins is the better movie. I’m not trying to stir up controversy or anything, I’m just being realistic. Batman Begins sets up the world of Batman, sets up the character of Batman, sets up your attachment to this version of Batman. The Dark Knight plays off of that and builds on it, but the framework is already there. Also, The Dark Knight isn’t so much a Batman movie as it is a Gotham City movie, so with the focus shifted it allows for something completely different — and awesome — to occur, but I think it’s easy to be wowed by the machinations of The Dark Knight and forget how great that first Batman movie was. I know that’s what happened to me when I saw this in the theater, but watching them both at home in the space of a few days has allowed me to appraise them in a much more realistic way.

So as The Dark Knight is a movie about Gotham and its arc, it has a tendency to become detached from the things that made Batman Begins great. That character connection to Bruce Wayne/Batman is almost non-existent here, but it is replaced by the Joker’s wild brand of anarchy and the noble “White Knight” pursuits of Harvey Dent to finally clean up Gotham City once and for all. This makes The Dark Knight a harder movie to get inside of and feel connected to, but it doesn’t inherently make it a bad movie like it might in the hands of a different director. This is because Gotham and Batman are so closely tied together that in a way Gotham’s story is Batman’s story; Batman is an incorruptible symbol that will do anything necessary to help the city he lives in.

If Batman Begins was Nolan dipping his toes into Batman and attempting to pull off a great comic book film that felt realistic, then The Dark Knight is Nolan jumping headfirst into the lake. The Dark Knight is immediately different in its feel: where Batman Begins had overtones of comic wonder and fantasy (the monorail, toxic gas, etc.), The Dark Knight has a real city with not much else besides guns and giant explosions. It doesn’t even feel like the same city to me because the visual tone is so much closer to reality here. It gives the film its own heightened quality that lends an intensity to the action, and it’s probably a big reason this one is more popular than the previous film.

Nolan is also even less concerned with placing Batman in heroic situations in this film. It’s called The Dark Knight for a reason, and Nolan makes good on the promise of the title by delivering a very dark Batman film. It took balls to end a giant, highly anticipated Batman film with Batman running for his life from the cops, but that’s exactly what the city and this movie needed. I wanted to leap up in delight when I saw it in the theater and I fought the urge to do the same thing this time at home. I love a good dark ending, especially when it holds as much weight as it does here, and the end of The Dark Knight is nothing short of perfect.

But the movie is long, and while it’s certainly justified, I find the first hour a bit tedious and unfocused. It sets up everything to come, but I feel like there could have been a better way to go about getting there. While the opening bank heist is a fantastic way to blast into the picture, the following parking garage thing with Scarecrow and Batman feels so strange and unnecessary. Why is it even there? To set up that there’s copycat Batmen so that Joker can kill one halfway through the movie? To give Cillian Murphy a paycheck for a day’s work? The scene gives Batman an excellent opportunity to jump onto a van — creating one of the coolest looking Bat-moments in screen history — but the scene overall feels superfluous and strange.

The first hour is never boring, it’s just that so much is going on and being set up that it’s easy to start to lose track and wonder what we’re supposed to focus on. This all changes once Joker reveals that instead of the simple chaos factor he appears to be, he’s actually got a cascading effect of dire shit taking place and y’all just played right into his hands while you thought he was playing into yours. This type of moment happens a couple of times throughout the film and it’s masterfully done. I’ve seen the movie before and it still sideswiped me a bit as I had gotten all wrapped up in the story.

So speaking of Joker, he’s fucking awesome in this. Heath Ledger is brilliant, bringing to life the Joker like never before. I balked immediately when I heard of his casting, but boy did he prove me wrong! This version of the Joker is everything I could have ever wanted in a filmed Joker, regardless of the fact that it eschews many of the things most closely associated with the character. Things like his chemical burn origin, the lapel flower and all the gag weapons, but honestly does anyone lament the fact that this Joker doesn’t have those? I don’t. This is a redefined Joker for the modern era, and as the comic book feeling of Batman Begins was stripped from this film, the pure, over-the-top comic book elements of the Joker also had to go. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Once again, I found the hand-to-hand action to be somewhat poorly filmed. It’s definitely improved from what is seen in Batman Begins, but there was still quite a bit that bothered me. They are intense, though, and feature some excellent sound work that amps up every hit. This is most definitely my love of action choreography kind of biting me in the ass, but them’s the breaks. I’m a big Christopher Nolan fan, but I think I found one thing he should never do: make a martial arts film.

The Dark Knight is a phenomenal film, filled with every kind of awesome you could possibly want for. It’s got awesome chases, it’s got bone-crunching fist fights, it’s got Batman literally catching a plane. I still think that Batman Begins is the best cinematic version of Batman the hero, but The Dark Knight is by far the best filmed version of Batman the Dark Knight.

12 comments to The Dark Knight (2008)

  • Good review Will. Obviously everybody loves this film, as do I, but I still think that The Dark Knight Rises is just a tad better because it’s on such an epic, grand-scale. More so than this one, but at least this one has the stellar performance from the late, great Heath Ledger who is still missed.

    • Thanks! Wow, so you like the latest the best? Interesting. That one is definitely playing on a grander scale, but I found it to be less enjoyable than the first two. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but I think that one is the easiest to rip apart if you really wanted to get critical of it. It’s fun as shit, though. Review of it up tomorrow!

      And yeah, Heath Ledger was absolutely incredible here. Just perfect.

  • Stephen

    I think I have to put this one ahead of Begins, but only slightly, and pretty much because of Joker. I did have some slight misgivings about this film, but then I had some slight misgivings about the first one, too. In the end, Dark Knight had more moments that made me go “Holy shit! That was awesome!” Batman Begins might be better made, but I had more fun with Dark Knight. They are both superb films, though, and I hesitate to put either one ahead of the other.

    I am a bit torn, though. I really loved Two-Face in this movie, and I really wanted to see more of him. I wished they had made this movie a bit shorter, dealing with just the Joker, and made the third film with Two-Face as the villain. But like you said, the ending is perfect for this film and this version of Gotham. If we got more Two-Face, then the ending wouldn’t have worked. See why I’m torn? I can’t have it both ways, so I have to accept it the way it is. But damn it, I loved Two-Face’s antics every bit as much as I loved Joker’s, and I wish I could have gotten more.

    I can’t wait to hear your opinions on Rises. I have plenty of my own. I was contemplating watching it again to do a review in tandem with yours, but you dropped these Nolan reviews so fast after Ice Fest I didn’t get a chance. I’ll just have to put a huge rant in the comment section of your review.

    • Yeah, Joker is so great in this! There’s tons of awesome moments; I think my favorite was when he catches the plane mid-flight. I was going apeshit in the theater the first time I saw that.

      Two-Face is great here, and I think the amount we get him is just right. It’s probably possible to make a good movie with him as the main villain, but I think he’s far less interesting than Joker or Bane or Ra’s al Ghul. He busts in, serves his purpose and is gone. It’s another of those ballsy moves by Nolan where he doesn’t give a shit about respecting Batman’s comic world. In his Gotham, Two-Face is a maniac that burns bright and then quickly burns out. I think if there were more Two-Face I’d be far less satisfied with the movie, and I’m firmly against the idea that Two-Face could have been expanded into a good third movie. It could very well be the case, but I just can’t wrap my brain around the idea.

      Well shit that would’ve been fun to bust dual reviews. Oh well, some other time I guess. I eagerly await the lengthy rant, and I’m assuming by using “rant” that you disliked it, at least in a few key ways?

      • Stephen

        I did love catching the plane, but I felt Fox tipped his hand a bit too much describing the CIA plans, so it didn’t take me by surprise. If Fox had just said, “Hmm… let me see what I can find,” I probably would have been going apeshit myself. My favorite surprise was the boat scene. I totally expected someone to set off a detonator only to find out that it blows up their own boat. Nolan was a step ahead of me there, and he knew doing the same trick would be too predictable. I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.

        You’re right that the way Nolan developed Two-Face would have been difficult to expand in a meaningful way. For what he is in this film it works perfectly, but he’s fairly one dimensional without his multiple personalities. He could have been given more depth than he has here. You mention Nolan making ballsy decisions, and Two-Face is every bit as ballsy with his own. I think I would have loved a movie full of those unconcerned actions, like shooting the driver of the car he’s riding in, or putting a gun to his own head without the slightest hesitation. Those were the parts that really had me going apeshit in the theater.

        Hey, Expendables 2 is coming up, maybe we can carry on the tradition of multiple reviews for that one. And wouldn’t that be ridiculous to have Jasper on board for a triple review?

        • You’re definitely right that Fox says too much about the plane, but I must have missed it in the theater because it took me by complete surprise. When I heard Fox talking about it this time around, I was surprised at how much he does give away. It seems like a moment you’d want to hold back and let the audience experience without any prior knowledge… like my wandering brain did to me!

          Your points on Two-Face are interesting and they would probably make for a fun movie. When you consider the character in this way, outside of his part in The Dark Knight, he could be given more depth and have it carry a whole movie. I doubt we’ll ever see that, but you never know what they do in 10 years or so, because you know that they will continue the series. I just hope they don’t use the ending of Rises as their jumping off point, because I see that as a definitive ending to this storyline and not at all as the common “leaving room open for a sequel.”

          Expendables 2 is out already! I was gonna try to get out to see it this weekend if I can, and I’m all for a double review of it if you’re down. I don’t know if Jasper would be on board, but that’s a great idea. I’ll ask.

        • Stephen

          Yeah, they better leave this alone now. I’m afraid it has just enough of a cliffhanger ending that some idiot will try to follow it, and there’s no way to make a good sequel to this trilogy. I can only hope that since they’re rebooting Superman, they will also want to go the Marvel rout and revamp a bunch of their characters into a huge Justice League series. Will it be as good as Avengers? Maybe, maybe not, but at least rebooting Batman will keep someone from messing with what Nolan created here.

          A double review would be fun, and give me a good excuse to see it, too! Just send me a deadline, and I’ll get it done.

          • Yes, if they know what’s good for them they’ll just leave it alone. If that new Spider-Man movie is any indication than studios are A-OK with rebooting franchises when they don’t need it, so let’s hope they reboot it when they do! I guess Superman is getting a reboot, directly after a reboot, so there’s hope. And speaking of that Superman, what did you think of the trailer? I liked it a lot, but I kinda hate the director Zack Snyder (he also made Watchmen & 300) and I doubt it’ll live up to these Bat films. I’m not the biggest Superman man fan though either. Anyway, they actually got me excited for the new one so that’s something. They announced a Justice League movie was going into production too, so it looks like it’ll definitely happen, but I’m unsure if they’re actively going to tie everything together like Marvel did, or if they’re just gonna bust an unrelated Justice League movie, if that’s even possible. I think you would know better than me if they would even consider something like that.

            I’ll email you about the Expendables double.

            • Stephen

              I’m not quite sure what to think about the new Superman. Partially because I wasn’t paying any attention to the trailer until halfway through when I suddenly heard someone say “Kent, ” which was my first clue that that it was Superman. By then I had missed out on most of what was going on. I’d heard about the contrails, and I wasn’t fond of the idea, but it didn’t look as stupid as I thought it would. It still makes no sense, but I think I can overlook it. I’ll have to see more before I make any judgements. My first thought is that there is no way to make Superman without huge amounts of CG, but then it worked out fine for Avengers, so who knows.

              I’ve never been that interested in Superman either, so I’m not really concerned about it. If they do go for a linked together Avengers style series, then I’ll have to track it down, but otherwise I won’t worry about it too much. It would become the first live action Superman movie I’ve bothered seeing, which should give some idea of my interest in him.

              • Wha? Really you never saw any of the Christopher Reeves movies as a kid? Wow, I’m genuinely shocked. I was all about those when I was a kid (including the generally hated Supergirl movie), but as I got older and I discovered better heroes, Superman fell by the wayside. I’ll probably do them all before the next one, though, like I did with Bats here. That’ll be fun… maybe. Who knows how those movies hold up.

                It’s a good trailer because it shows a similar realistic lean like the Nolan franchise, but they can do anything with a trailer, especially one as detached as that. I think the CG can be fine, because like you say, Avengers was great despite being an absolute shit-fest of computer images. I have hope anyway, something that I never did for the last Superman film (which I never saw).

  • Nah, this one beats Begins with one simple aspect – the Joker. Begins had about fifty key villains, while TDK has only a couple – the Joker being front and center. But Heath Ledger towers head and shoulders over the entire Nolanbat franchise, including TDKR earlier this year, and although the addition of Two Face and Eric Roberts (Nolan struck casting gold there…. didn’t he?) add a counterbalance to the Joker’s insanity to a certain degree.

    Well written review, Will, as usual, but I’m disagreeing with you on this one.

    • I agree that the Joker is the best villain of the series, and makes this movie absolutely riveting, but I still like the character building of Bruce/Bat better. For me it’s something of a Godfather I & II argument because the 2nd film can only be as good as it is because it has the entire first film’s foundation to grow on.

      I’m also glad you brought up Eric Roberts. This entire trilogy has a bunch of these type of roles going to unsung actors like Roberts, Rutger Hauer, Matthew Modine, Tiny Lister, etc. I love it and I wish more filmmakers would get creative with their casting like this.

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