Had to check out the new Batman movie and decided it was time for a new review. I could come at The Dark Knight in a couple of different ways, honestly. Given the amount of hype and hyperbole spilled in internet ink before and after the films release, I would have to say it could be considered a let down. But when you come right down to it and see the film for what it is, it is a damned good movie. However, it remains a popcorn flick and those that would have you believe it is Oscar-worthy are engaging in that very same hyperbole mentioned above. I'm sure they'd like it to be as it is rare that a movie like this gets such consideration but this is not a four star film. In truth, I'd give it three and half out of five.
What's good? The performances by everyone but Christian Bale, though even he shines in a few moments. His Batman is overshadowed at nearly every step of the way by his co-stars. Even the limited screen time given to Michael Caine shows that the elder actor inhabited his role with more meat and skin. I'm not sure if this is due to script, though it must be, as Bale is an excellent actor. He was not given the words to build on. There is one scene showing what a playboy lifestyle Bruce Wayne lives that gave Bale something interesting to do but for the rest of the film, Bruce Wayne/Batman seems to be reacting to events and characters around him. But as the star of the film is the Joker, then perhaps that was exactly as Christopher Nolan meant it.
And let's go ahead and get to that star turn - Heath Ledger's Joker is a marvel (pun not intended as this is a DC comic) as the agent of chaos with no desire for form or structure. He has a scene in which he explains himself and it is note perfect as is his entire unhinged performance. It is impossible to separate this role and what he does with it from his accidental overdose that occurred just after wrapping production on this film. It can easily be seen that Ledger put his all into the role and given what he does with it, unfortunately I don't think he was able to leave it behind as easily as one might expect. His Joker is one of the most evil and unpredictable characters ever presented on screen and to see him inhabit that skin (and perhaps knowing something of the events surrounding the film) it is actually a bit hard to watch at times. If there is one bit of hyperbole going around that actually is no such thing it is the chance that Ledger might receive Oscar consideration himself. Even had he not died, I still think he'd receive such consideration. He is that good.
The other actor receiving much adoration for his role is Aaron Eckhart. While I generally love the man's work, I just didn't think this was as excellent as so many have suggested. He's not bad in the role and does much with his later turn (if you know anything about the character of Harvey Dent then I've spoiled nothing here for you.) But while many have suggested he was the embodiment of good guy with a perfect moral compass, I didn't really see it. He didn't seem such a "White Knight" that is supposed to compare to Batman's darkness and moral ambiguity. I just didn't buy it. Maybe because I know of the eventual nature of the character or that I saw potential for that early on (which may be a credit to the actor) but the turn seemed to occur too easily for me and should have been more of a struggle.
If there was a true weak link at all it was once again in the female love interest though I will readily admit that Maggie Gyllenhaal was much better than Katie Holmes in the previous film. Gyllenhall's performance wasn't bad so much as they did not give her much to do but be the girlfriend, save for one large role midway through the film. While the payoff is there for her presence, the presence itself seems superfluous for two films.
There has been much said about the themes presented in the script, especially the duality between The Joker and Batman as well as between Dent/Two Face and Batman. One might even also include Gary Oldman's superb turn as Jim Gordan vs Batman. Each of the roles plays off what we see in Wayne's Dark Knight in different ways. In truth, if there really was a true "good guy" it would be Gordon. But limited as he is to combat crime in Gotham, the policeman requires the assistance of the vigilante/caped crusader. One must hand it to the writers and the director that they include such complicated themes into what many would consider just a super hero movie. But often the super hero world is full of such complicated themes and helps explore real life issues. This should be no different.
There has been some discussion that Batman is a cypher of some sort for George W. Bush. I don't know that I buy that as implicit in Nolan's vision, but it is not untoward to consider such an idea. In truth, Batman must do the unpopular and be comfortable in a less than positive light in order to get accomplished what needs done. That he takes on the heavy burden of being not just the hero but so too perhaps the villain to some is not far away from what the President must endure to fight his war against terrorists and what is the Joker but terror wrapped in man?
This isn't just a super hero movie, that is for sure. Many have considered it a crime film wrapped in a super hero cape, and often they consider it one of the best ever made. Once more, I might consider that hyperbole but to be honest, I need to see the film a few more times before I can make such a judgment. The movie theater I saw this in did not have the right sound levels, if you ask me, and I missed a decent amount of dialogue at times. And the run time suggests that there is much to ponder written into the movie. The themes and denouement require further reflection. I could easily come back in three months time and give you either a two star rating or bump it up to the full five. In truth, simply while writing this review, I have convinced myself that it is solidly a four. See what change a little thinking can bring?
Certainly go see the film, though it has some major violent scenes and this Batman is not even close to the one presented in the previous film Batman Begins. He is much darker as the title suggests. While I could do without Bale's raspy voice (at times, it was really quite grating), the full effect of each character working off of each other and in and around a much more fully realized city (in old Chicago) makes for a delightful two hours and change. If anything, I would suggest not going in with heightened expectations. Assume you'll get an enjoyable film and then be suprised at how much you really like it. I might have enjoyed it more had I done so rather than assuming it to be true art and being slightly let down. But it was still a fun ride and Heath Ledger's Joker is reason enough to see it. That is all.