I got an email from Scott L. requesting a review of THE DARK KNIGHT, because he’s seen all these HYPERBOLIC!!!!!!!! reviews that have been springing up on all the websights and thought I might be a good outsider perspective to temper his expectations. I was happy to oblige because I liked the BATMAN BEGINS movie so I was already planning to see this one at a midnight show with a bunch of kids dressed up as the joker and jacked up on Monster and Mountain Dew High Voltage.
This story is about Batman, the caped vigilante of Gotham City, who is trying to stop some crime. There are many other characters such as Bruce Wayne, etc. I won’t give away who is Batman because I’m gonna try not to have spoilers. Also if you were a little confused because “Batman” is not in the title you are not alone. I kept wondering “is this a Batman movie?” Pretty weird.
Okay, disregard that last paragraph, that was just typing practice. Scott L., I have failed you. Although I haven’t read too many of the other reviews, I’m guessing I loved it at least as much as those weiners. THE DARK KNIGHT is a hell of a movie. It’s not so much a comic book movie as a super hero procedural. They took Batman and the Joker and put them in an epic crime drama – I thought Michael Mann more than I thought Tim Burton. Hell, Batman even talks like Clint Eastwood. It’s only slightly about people in funny costumes punching each other – mostly it’s about a cooperative effort between the well-funded vigilante, the head of the Major Crimes Unit of the police department, the district attorney’s office and the mayor, with the goal of breaking the back of organized crime and giving hope to the citizens of Gotham, showing them that not everything is corrupt and broken.
Even BATMAN BEGINS, which was so smart about being a reality-based character drama, turned a little “comic booky” as it got to the end and had a big special effects based monorail/bomb-to-destroy-the-city thing going on. For this one they got out the mops and scrubbed clean every last drop of that “comic book atmosphere” that Tim Burton did so well back in ’89ish or whenever it was that Batdance came out. The opening is like a ’70s caper movie, the city is always shot like a real city, no gothic exaggerations. Lots of epic overhead shots of the buildings and most of it even takes place during the daytime (which is when the mafia comes out because they’re afraid of Batman).
In BEGINS I thought Bruce Wayne was a great character but I was a little less into it whenever he actually turned into Batman, partly because that armored costume (as great of a job as they did explaining it) looks kinda stupid. So although the little tag at the end left me excited for the next chapter there was also part of me thinking maybe a second one wouldn’t be as good because he’d have to be Batman more. Well, luckily this Batman has stepped up his game. The costume is still goofy but you almost don’t notice because what he’s doing is so exciting.
All super heroes have one weakness. Superman is allergic to Kryptonite, Captain America is afraid of mice, Wonder Woman has horrible B.O., Popeye once got E Coli from spinach and Blade alienates friends and loved ones by being too awesome. Oh yeah, and Spider-man will start dancing if you put a chair near him. In BATMAN BEGINS Batman’s weakness was not-good-enough staging and photographing of action. I mean there was that great car chase, but I didn’t like how the fights were close-up and handheld, you couldn’t really tell what was going on, plus they committed the all time number one movie sin of having a scene where the hero betrays an entire clan of ninjas on top of a mountain in a burning temple and then not going into an awesome martial arts battle royale. I mean come on, who does that?
For this one the style is similar and occasionally confused me but they upped the ante so much that it almost didn’t matter. Sometimes the disorientation is intentional, because Batman is this force that appears out of nowhere behind a guy or all the sudden comes through the window like a man-sized brick and the note attached is a serious ass-whooping. He glides on his wings, he jumps off of skyscrapers, he goes to Hong Kong to kidnap a guy, he takes a guy’s rifle and dismantles it as he continues down the hall. (That seems like a good approach to gun control.) And the car chase scene in this movie is jawdropping. I’m not sure the one in the last movie will seem as cool anymore, this one is so good.
I’ve seen a bunch of reviews saying Batman’s not in it enough or is overshadowed by the other characters, but I don’t agree with that at all. This is by far the smartest and most capable Batman I can remember seeing. He does detective work, he does cutting edge forensics, he uses his business deals as undercover missions to ferret out crooked companies, he plans and executes complex operations with soon-to-be-commissioner Gordon.
He also goes over the line, beating the Joker in a police interrogation room, illegally wiretapping the whole city (whole world?). Usually Batman has these batplanes and shit but you don’t really question the ethics of how far he should go. This one intends to make you wonder where he should draw the line with the technology he creates. But the movie is so awesome the relevance doesn’t set in until later.
I have one major complaint, and that is the character of Two Face, the half-scarred villain that Aaron Eckhart’s district attorney Harvey Dent turns into. Unfortunately this new version is not very faithful to the original version played by Tommy Lee Jones in BATMAN PART 3. For some reason this one is half normal and half burned, half good and half vengeful. That is not at all true to Tommy Lee’s version which was half normal, half purple-zebra striped. He would flip a coin and if it landed on the bad side he would turn into a totally outrageous party animal. But if it landed on the good side he would re-flip it. That was way better.
Nah, just fuckin with you. Actually he’s one of many great characters in this movie, even (maybe especially) before he turns super. You’ve already heard how amazing and scary poor Heath Ledger is in it, and they ain’t lying. Such a great twist on this type of villain too. It used to be cool that they would have some tragic backstory, but now it’s such a part of the formula that they were smart to avoid it. This Joker tells more than one story about his origin, so you realize he’s lying and you’ll never know where the fuck he actually came from. And he’s real smart and devious but his schemes don’t seem like your usual super villain scheme. Even Liam Neeson in the last one had some silly machine involved in his plan. The Joker is more like a terrorist or a serial killer. He made me think more of the Zodiac killer, or at least Scorpio in DIRTY HARRY, or the threat to blow up schools in DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE.
The city is in a total panic, complete post 9-11 bedlam, and the beauty of it is that it’s kind of Batman’s fault. At the end of BEGINS Gordon talked to Batman about “escalation,” and it seemed like a clever way to explain the use of cartoony characters like The Joker. But it turned out to mean alot more than that. There are numerous copycat Batmen in home made suits trying to help, and when the real Batman tries to stop them they question why he should be allowed to do it and not them. The various gangs have to team up and follow the Joker’s plan in order to stay in the game with Batman on the scene. Cops and loved ones get killed, lives get ruined, buildings get destroyed. He’s rich enough to create all these weapons, and smart enough to use them well, but is he really just fanning the flames? The movie seems to lean in that direction. Poor bastard is trying to make things better but he’s making them worse. But he’s still a beginner. Stick at it, Batman. I had to write reviews for years before most people stopped calling me illiterate.
I want to mention the score. It’s perfect, even more minimalistic than the first movie. Sometimes it’s just simple keyboard riffs or drones, sometimes a violin squeal that goes on uncomfortably long. About as different from Danny Elfman as you could get, so it’s not what you expect in a movie about a guy in a cape.
I would also like to point out that this is a $180 million movie that features Michael Jai White, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Eric Roberts and Anthony Michael Hall, and all of them do a good job! So there’s hope for Dolph Lundgren in my opinion.
My colleague at The Ain’t It Cool News Mr. Beaks described the movie as “devoid of hope.” He meant it as a compliment, but I gotta disagree. There’s a very important scene showing that the Joker is wrong and that people are not inherently cruel. And unlike many movies (including HELLBOY II) where the people turn on the hero for no reason, Batman makes a conscious decision to not be seen in a good light by them. (hard to explain without spoiler). The movie is all about giving people hope even if it’s not by believing in Batman. And if the text of the movie isn’t enough how about the fact that it only took 11 years for this character to go from literally one of the worst movies ever made to a triumph like this that people are seriously talking about as a best picture contender? Doesn’t that give you some hope, Mr. Gloomypants?
This is a movie I think most people would like – except maybe not kids. It’s kind of a miracle that they even got to make this movie. Not so much because it’s disturbing and scary but because it just never seems like it even occurred to them to make a movie that a kid might watch. This is squarely aimed at adults who don’t mind if the one guy happens to have bat ears. It never feels like they’re following a marketing plan or even a comic book movie formula. It honestly feels like it’s a story that’s about something, that happens to have a Batman in it, and not the other way around.
When the movie ended I had fuckin goosebumps. The guy sitting next to me told me it was “a triumph,” so I re-used his word in this review. As I was leaving the theater I did hear one guy listing off the things he was disappointed in, such as “the appearance of the Joker.” Man, I get nitpicking but this is minutes after the movie ended and he’s already in talkback whiny mode. I should’ve told him to give it up because, sorry dude, a movie this good is one in a million. If that direct shot to the heart doesn’t get you high then you are immune. The movie you want will never be made. Time to head to the mountains or somethin. Forget about comics and movies and learn to grow organic fruit and vegetables to sell at the farmer’s market.
In my expert opinion this is probaly the best comic strip movie ever made. Yes, better than POPEYE. Yes, better than BARBARELLA, although if I was stranded on a desert island please forgive me for choosing BARBARELLA, for personal reasons. And yes, there is a vague possibility that it is even better than the BLADE movies, although that has not been proven in clinical trials and probaly is better left unexplored. Anyway, the point is I never expected a movie this good. I don’t care what anybody says, this is the best movie summer in fuckin forever. I don’t know what we did to deserve it, but I accept.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.