Unless you've been living under a rock since 20-diggity-5, I say diggity because I'm led to believe Iran stole our word "zero," you may have heard of a small art house film called The Dark Knight. This is a sequel to the wildly popular Christopher Nolan reboot of the Batman franchise Batman Begins.
It must be stated that this is a highly biased review. I have an unhealthy man-crush on Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan has done nothing short of awe me since I saw Memento in 20-diggity-1, back when I was convinced Saddam Hussein was trying to steal the word "zero" with WMDs. Thank the Almighty that Nolan's vision of Batman doesn't even resemble the Joel Schumacher homoerotic theatrical abortions of Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. The latter not only burned the franchise to the ground, but sprinkled it with salt in hopes no other movie could be made.
At the end of Batman Begins Wayne Manor was burned to the ground and a "better class of criminal" was on the loose. The Scarecrow as well as many other Arkham inhabitants were free and the Batman was synonymous with bad ass. This leads us to the opening of The Dark Knight.
Bruce Wayne has moved from a multimillion dollar mansion to a multimillion dollar penthouse and the Batcave has been substituted with a different hole in the ground, albeit one that's better lit and has fewer actual bats. There are Batman impersonators wreaking havoc in the name of justice. The Joker, which you learn from the elaborate and well executed heist scene in the first six minutes, is our main antagonist with support from Sal Maroni and a breadth of the best the Gotham underworld has to offer. Lieutenant Gordan has his own unit in the Gotham police department, Rachel Dawes still fills her role as love interest/conflict to Bruce Wayne, and a new District Attorney, former IA detective Harvey Dent, is on the scene promising a brighter tomorrow.
The kingpins of Gotham are getting sick of Batman ruining all their fun and the Joker stealing their money so they decide to pool it all together and send it to China. Things don't work out, as any viewer would expect, and the mob is forced to turn to the Joker for aid. The Joker requests the modest sum of half all of their money to kill the Batman. This is not even the halfway point of the movie. If I say anything else it'll spoil the movie and if you really want to know the goods, you can send me a message. Suffice it to say Aaron Eckhart has plenty of character development and no part of the story is out of place, each scene leads to the next. A few deaths and dark jokes later the movie ends on an incredibly uplifting and somber note.
The major themes of the movie are human nature, escalation, what it really means to serve justice, and being the hero. Not necessarily the hero Gotham wants, but definitely the hero Gotham deserves. Loose ends are addressed in a matter of fact manner, with a few nagging questions I'm sure will be answered in the unrated 3 hour edition released on DVD this coming Christmas. An example of this is how does Bruce Wayne get away with squandering millions of Wayne Enterprise's money on his toys without leaving a paper trail? Well... he doesn't.
In Brokeback Mountain fashion, people are tossing each other off over Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker. I'm certainly not the first to say it and will not be the last, but he does a masterful job. A true professional taken from society at the peak of his career. I guess now I'll have to ask for a seat in the massive circle jerk of praise coming from this movie, and no matter how many showers I have to take afterward, it was well worth it.
Not only does Heath Ledger do a fantastic job, but the entire cast wowed me. Eric Roberts played the part of Sal Maroni. It certainly plays to his type casting but you really need someone who knows how to play the part. Casting Michael Jai White as Gambol, William Fitchner as the Bank Manager, and Anthony Michael Hall as Mike Engel, each well known actors, in a combined screen time total of less than 15 minutes is a stroke of genius. They add depth to otherwise ancillary characters and make the whole experience that more believable. There's even a cameo by Tommy "Tiny" Lister towards the end of the movie. Needless to say type casting for him but a very pivotal role.
I watched this in IMAX. The first six minutes and roughly 20 more throughout were all filmed in IMAX film stock. There are stomach churning scenes that add real cinematic value to the action. On top of the slight vertigo, the IMAX I went to served beer. That's right. You could get tanked while watching a two and a half hour movie. Unfortunately the crowd combined with my misanthropic nature prevented me from leaving my seat, but it was the thought that counts.
The cast, the script, and the atmosphere were all positively sublime and merits a view, or two, from even the most jaded movie goer.
There is very little to complain about. Not to spoil too much, but there's a scene where the Joker throws Rachel out a window and Batman follows her. Don't worry she is saved, but what kind of gets me, is they don't show what the Joker does afterwards. We assume everybody else at the penthouse party is unharmed but that's just the thing, we have to assume it though we're given no logical cue as to what transpired after Batman jumps out the window.
It's little things like that that bother me. The cinematography is fantastic as well as the realistic approach in art direction, but I can't say for sure if emphasing IMAX film stock hurts the experience or makes any difference.
For some, certainly not me, the savagely dark tone is a turn off. I preferred this adult approach, which I remind you is based on adult source material, to something more lighthearted. It alienates the parents who want to take their children to a movie based on a comic book. If you want a comic book movie with a lighter tone, do us both a favor and watch Iron Man. It's a comic book based movie that has a sense of humor but not the same sense of humor wrought from watching a clown make a pencil disappear. Watch the movie and the term "disappearing pencil" takes on a whole new meaning.
A fantastic movie that deserves all the praise it has gotten. It doesn't feel like two and a half hours and it is not for children or the faint of heart. The actors and acting are A-list and if I see a better movie until Batman 3, I'll crap my pants where I sit. They'll have to clear the theater. I will be glad when it breaks the $600 million box office hold Titanic has had since 1997.