Movie Review: The Dark Knight

**Updated with SarahG’s review at bottom**

By Ross Miller

It must be at least 18 months since the hype machine was started up for The Dark Knight. It may not have appeared on the average movie goer’s radar until a couple of months before the movie was actually released but for people who spend half their life on the Internet this was followed meticulously from photograph to photograph, new trailer to new trailer, and it got to a point where it seemed no matter how good the movie was, it wouldn’t live up to the hype and expectations.

Well, I’m here to tell you, like so many others before me, that The Dark Knightlives up to all of that, delivering the quality that everyone wanted and a plethora of unexpected aspects thrown in for good measure. This is expansive yet meticulous filmmaking; an epic, all-enveloping crime tale hidden under the disguise of a comic book movie.

Carrying directly on from Batman Begins, The Dark Knight sees Batman and Lieutenant Gordon join forces with newly appointed DA Harvey Dent to take on a psychopathic criminal known as The Joker. Simultaneously they have to combat other forces, such as the mob, which are still persisting as the core problem within Gotham City, whilst The Joker’s crimes grow more and more deadly.

With Batman Begins, director Christopher Nolan took a pretty much dead franchise and breathed fresh life into it. He managed to make people forgive the movie making industry for the atrocity that was Batman & Robin and we were free to have faith in the character and all it has to offer once again. It was gritty, realistic, and showed the true, dark nature of the character with none of the colourful candy layered on top that some of the previous films had. However, Nolan and company have done what I didn’t think was possible — they have surpassed the quality set by the predecessor and made not only the best comic book movie ever made, but a film that transcends the genre and could more accurately be described as an epic, expansive crime story that just happens to have a comic book character in it.

The Dark Knightcould be compared to Ang Lee’s take on the Hulk; it disguises itself as a regular comic book movie but it heads in such directions that it doesn’t feel at all like one. It is so much more than that, there’s so much detail in there, so much going on and just so many unexpected elements working simultaneously that it’s surprising it’s been welcomed as much as it has. It doesn’t function as expected — it’s almost as if it takes the expectations of the audience and twists and contorts them into only a mild resemblance of what they formerly were. But the key to this gamble is that what we get, although it’s different from what we might have expected, is all so good that it’s not just accepted but completely embraced. This is an example of the fact that you can take risks and do something different with a well-trodden genre and still make the fans feel satisfied with the result.

The cast are all back for Nolan’s second go at the character, with the exception of Maggie Gyllenhaal replacing Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes. And it’s most definitely a step up in every way; Holmes was probably the biggest problem with Batman Begins, dragging the scenes she was in down more than a few rungs on the ladder with her woodenness but this time around the very talented Gyllenhaal gives the character that much needed believability and compassion. Christian Bale is again excellent as the caped crusader and  Gary Oldman (in an expanded role from the one in the previous film), Aaron Eckhart, and Morgan Freeman are all predictably impressivein their respective roles.

However there’s one actor who is a psychopathic head above the rest, and I don’t really need to say who it is as you will already know. Heath Ledger is stunning, mesmerising, astonishing, and utterly astounding as Batman’s arch nemesis, The Joker. The way he gets every mannerism, every facial expression, and of course the infamous high-pitched laugh absolutely spot-on is a testament to how deep he dove into the character. No matter how good the rest of the cast are, Ledger is untouchable here and most definitely deserves that Oscar nomination people have been saying he’ll get. And when he does get nominated come next year it won’t be out of sympathy but because he truly deserves it, he really is that damn good. And anyone who states otherwise is wrong; it’s not often I say that flat out but this warrants such a brash statement. Ledger’s performance will go down in the movie villain history books alongside the likes of Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates.

Very often in films of this genre, no matter what happens, no matter the dangers our hero has to face, we know he won’t die because he’s the hero of the tale, right? Well, The Dark Knight is one of those rare cases where you genuinely fear for the life of the main character and the (innocent) people around him. It’s one of the key strengths of the film that no one is safe, no matter how established they may be within the story or in the hearts of the comic book fans; you just never know what will happen next and to whom. There’s a certain unpredictability at play here, the likes of which we’ve rarely seen in modern movies, especially those based on comic books.

Aside from The Joker, who I can’t say enough amazing things about, the biggest addition is Aaron Eckhart as “Gotham’s white knight” Harvey Dent. This goes to prove that you can have multiple storylines, or more specifically multiple villains, in the same film and make it work. It could be argued that they should have had the whole film about The Joker and left the character of Two-Face for the next one but I would argue that the two go hand in hand, at least in the way the story is handled here. Some very detailed problems with the conclusion of the two characters’ stories aside, as a fan of the characters and the whole mythology I was in utter heaven experiencing a film that includes three of the comic book universe’s best characters.

One of the complaints about Batman Begins was that the fight sequences weren’t done as coherently as people would have liked. Even as a fan I still can admit that there was a bit of the annoying shaky cam going on and it did draw you out of the experience of the scene rather than involve you as it should have. Well Nolan has successfully remedied that flaw here as the fight sequences are very much coherent, in full view and more engaging than you could hope for. It reminds us of the fact that Batman is supposed to be one of the best hand-to-hand combat fighters in the world and boy, does he show it here. It’s not only got all of these elements which are a lot more unique than you’d expect but there are also just the kick-ass action sequences to fall back on to.

Like 99% of films out there, The Dark Knight has its flaws. But they’re very specific and very easy to overlook in lieu of everything else. The ending isn’t handled as well as it could have been and there are a few moments where you have to suspend your disbelief but they amount to nowhere near the level needed to weigh the film down as a whole.

The Dark Knightis a wonderful piece of filmmaking; it works on a purely entertainment level where you can just sit back and enjoy the kick-ass action sequences and the bringing to life of some famous characters. And it also works as much more than that; the magnificent performance of Ledger as The Joker coupled with this all-encompassing crime element gives it those extra layers of creative complexity. For me this sits comfortably not only as one of the best of 2008 so far but as a testament to just how good a film can be when the maximum amount of effort, passion, and determination gets thrown at it. The hype may have been magnanimous but The Dark Knight lives up to it; and that, my friend, is no joke.

(Originally posted at Blog Critics and Movie World)

Review by Sarah G

Batman and James Gordon join forces with Gotham’s new District Attorney, Harvey Dent, to take on a psychotic bank robber known as The Joker, whilst other forces plot against them and Joker’s crimes grow more and more deadly.

After a year and a half long wait, the sequel to the brilliant Batman Begins, is finally here and boy did I enjoy it! It surpasses all my expectations and is far superior to Begins, and it will be remembered for being so. If you thought Begins was good, you will be pleasantly surprised. The Dark Knight is as great as everyone says it is and more; I’m still finding the words to describe it even several days after watching it.

Yes, before I started watching the film, I knew Heath Ledger’s performance would be amazing in the role of the Joker, and I was right – I have to admit that it didn’t surprise me one bit. The time that he took to perfect his role and the perfection in his voice, mannerisms and behaviour is just outstanding. He’s created a character that’s incredibly menacing and even in a 12A film, scary to watch. I’m sure he’ll receive a posthumous Oscar nomination; winning it I’m not so sure. It’ll be down to whether the Academy can avoid the snobbery that they have over blockbuster films winning any Oscars. The character was very funny and had several one liners, which I did laugh at. I don’t think I’ll ever forget his performance, it’ll always be in my top five of all time.

Christian Bale reprises his role as the caped crusader and has obtained a far huskier voice, which was great to hear. He is now my favourite Batman and I’m sure others would agree, even as Bruce Wayne he oozes coolness in every scene he’s in. His Batman is far darker than many previously and makes for a great character to watch. Bale also plays his character tremendously well and should be given credit for that, and also worth mentioning Aaron Eckhart’s tremendous performance as Harvey Dent who I didn’t think would be good at all. Worth as well mentioning Gary Oldman’s Lt Gordon, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Morgan Freeman as well, who all delivered fine performances. But overall I’d really like to see Bale get some sort of credit for his performance, as it really was great.

The Dark Knight’s cinematography was absolutely breathtaking to watch. In particular the sublime, opening sequence, which I think was inspired by Michael Mann’s Heat. The colours, and sequences filmed just added a little realism to the film, giving it that post 9/11 feel. and which also adds a little fear for the viewer to feel. And It draws upon real events, which is just superb One of my favourite shots was one of The Joker, in the middle of the street, in almost a God like stance, everything in the scene is quite shocking to watch. The Joker and his henchman don’t just feel like characters in a film – where you can just write them off – these characters really feel real and the sounds of the guns shots, in this scene particularly only empathises this.

I believe what doesn’t kill you simply makes you….stranger…

The screenplay in The Dark Knight has to be one of the finest that I’ve seen for a summer blockbuster…since…well, forever. It is obviously responsible for some great lines in the film. The scenes with The Joker and Batman, for instance -the interrogation scene. I’m sure the screenplay will be up for an Oscar and it is one of the best parts of the film for me.

Some men just want to watch the world burn.

Nolan has now set the bar for great summer blockbusters, everything in the film is flawless. The running time of nearly 3 hours just flew by, down particularly to Nolan’s direction which absolutely outstanding. I just hope BAFTA award him with a Best Director nod next year.

The Dark Knight contains some amazing camera shots. For instance, as I mentioned before that opening shot of the Jokers – wow. One sequence towards the end was just sensational to watch too; I just hope this is the start of great summer blockbusters to come.

The score by Hans Zimmer is just sensational to hear. Every single piece of music livens up every scene and just get an absolute buzz when you watch it. You can’t help but cheer and smile when you hear part of that score, it’s just mesmerising. I hope it gets awarded at next years Oscars as well.

I really think the editing is one of the success points of the film. The pinning together of some scenes, two or three at some stages really adds tension to it and provides sheer joy for the viewer. This adds to the experience and really makes it one hell of an enjoyable one.

Overall The Dark Knightis an absolute masterpiece. Filled with sublime acting, cinematography, excellent editing, and screenplay. Expect the film to receive several BAFTA noms and some Oscar noms too. I can’t tell you how great this film is and how much I enjoyed it. You must go along and see it for yourself.


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