Review: The Dark Knight

Continuing the “Batman” saga as the title masked crime-fighter AKA Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is getting a handle on Gotham City’s criminal underworld with help from Commissioner Gordon (a glum Gary Oldman) and crusading DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who is dating Bruce Wayne’s ex, Rachel Dawes (the immensely likeable Maggie Gyllenhaal). Throwing a great big bloody spanner in the works is a demented young bank robber in a bad grease paint makeup job called The Joker (a lip-smacking, tongue-lashing Heath Ledger), whose stock and trade appears to be chaos, and sick little mind games. Eric Roberts plays a Mafioso, Tiny Lister is a prisoner, Cillian Murphy turns up briefly again as The Scarecrow (I actually thought it was an imposter, the scene was so badly handled), and character actor Ron Dean plays a cop (a profession he was seemingly already too old for back in the early 80s when he would play one in Chuck Norris films). Meanwhile, Wayne Enterprises gadget man Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), and loyal butler Alfred (Sir Michael Caine) are also on hand to lend support/advice to the somewhat tortured Wayne.

I was no fan of the previous “Batman” film from Christopher Nolan (“Batman Begins”, “Memento”), mostly because it seemed to have been made by someone who had no idea what a superhero movie was supposed to be like, nor did he seem to have much love for the genre. It stripped “Batman” of everything that made him...well, “Batman”, and aside from a few good performances, I found the film unmemorable. Sadly, things didn’t change for this 2008 sequel. Is it too much to ask for a damn comic book superhero movie for cryin’ out loud? In most cases, yes apparently it is too much to ask. Is it too much to ask for Gotham City to look like Gotham City and not Anytown USA? Obviously, for Nolan, it is indeed too much. Half an hour into the film I reflected on the fact that we had a film about bank robberies, police corruption, and various corporate dealings. WTF? Where’s the dude in the cape?

This is going to make me sound incredibly stupid (and full disclosure- I’ve never read a “Batman” comic or graphic novel in my life), but the main reason I haven’t really gelled with the more recent crop of comic book films in the wake of “Batman Begins” is because I don’t necessarily want a whole lot of depth to my comic book movies. So sue me! 1989’s “Batman” and to a lesser extent “Batman Returns” worked fine without it, “Superman” (the greatest comic book film of all-time) most certainly didn’t need it either. I don’t want much complexity in this genre, black & white, good & evil is the genre’s bread and butter. Save the shades of grey for the real world, comic book movies should never enter the real world- something Nolan (and most moviegoers, it seems) clearly disagrees with me on. Credit where it’s due, Nolan does employ more colours than amber this time, getting the dark blue hue to Gotham quite right here, but that simply makes it a blue New York, not Gotham City! Yes, I know from where the name Gotham is derived, so what?

Overall, the film is slightly more traditional than its predecessor, but still not very interesting or entertaining outside of two supporting characters and the actors playing them (whom I will get to in a minute). It’s as if the director has decided to focus on the least interesting aspects and forgotten about the action thrill-ride aspect, and that is an important and underrated part to the success of a comic book film (and a part that Nolan is clearly not good at providing, the film’s few action scenes are pretty dull). If that makes me a simpleton or a philistine, so be it. I want fun in a “Batman” film, and if I get extra stuff, that’s cool too, but this film was all extra and no damn fun, none of the basic materials are here (Oooh, The Joker’s forcing Gotham’s finest to make difficult moral decisions...who cares? Where’s the camp? The excitement?). Speaking of basic materials, the film’s composers James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer should both be taken out and shot for providing a singularly uninteresting, unremarkable score. It took two guys in 2008 to fail to provide what Danny Elfman perfected back in 1989? Oh dear.

So who were the two exceptions I was referring to earlier? Even though I saw this film long after its cinematic release and much hype (not to mention Ledger’s death), I was still able to marvel at what a terrific and versatile actor the late Heath Ledger (who earned a posthumous Oscar for his work here) was. How this talented and sadly departed man could go from “Brokeback Mountain” to playing a psychopathic, completely anarchic takes one helluva actor, I must say. He gives an absolutely spot-on performance that was certainly worthy of praise. And that bit with him in the nurse’s uniform: priceless. Aaron Eckhart, however, is the big surprise. His interpretation of initially super-dedicated DA Harvey Dent is perhaps the best work I’ve seen of his to date. In fact, his character’s arc is like a more fascinating version of the character arc of Batman/Bruce Wayne in the previous film, and is the one character in the film whom I felt some attachment to.

As for Bale, he still adopts that ridiculously phony, raspy voice for the Batman role, but fares a bit better as Bruce Wayne than last time. He’s not even close to touching Michael Keaton (the greatest Batman/Bruce Wayne of all-time), but at least this time, he seems to be having a little more fun as Bruce. Unfortunately, with Dent and The Joker around, not to mention a spunky (but wasted) Maggie Gyllenhaal as this film’s Rachel (replacing the pissweak Katie Holmes), Batman and Bruce Wayne pretty much evaporate on the screen. And once again, I found noted scenery-chewer Oldman tragically and boringly miscast as the cinema’s least vibrant Commissioner Gordon. The guy should never be cast as nice, normal, and/or virtuous people. It’s not in him to do it. Freeman, however, is still good to have around as Batman’s version of Q, and is twice as fun as Caine’s rather unnecessary, cockney-sounding butler Alfred (Alfred’s an important character to the series, but as Caine plays him rather uninterestingly, he fulfils much the same function as Freeman’s Lucius Fox).

Overall, this film’s not much better or worse than its predecessor (though it is incredibly, ridiculously overlong at almost 3 hours!), and if you loved that film, you’ll love this. There’s nothing wrong with it except that it goes against everything I believe a comic book film should be. I simply could not enjoy this film much, despite strong work by Ledger and Eckhart. I’m not saying I wanted Joel Schumacher’s dopey interpretation of the character, and I have no idea of the comics interpretation, but I just wanted a damn superhero movie, OK? Your mileage may be (wildly) different.

Rating: C+


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