Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight: Review and Analysis

I warn you now. This post will have major and pervasive spoilers for the movie. If you haven't seen the movie, you were apparently one of the few who didn't this weekend. Go fulfill your duty as an American filmgoer and see it. Then come back to this post. And I apologize in advance for the length of this post. As you might imagine, I have a few thoughts.

Ok. This is basically the best movie of the year. Hands down. People are going to be very tempted to write it off as a comic book movie. And it is, but it's much, much deeper than that. Yeah, I know that people always say that about comic book movies, but for this one it's really true. It's an examination of the human response to chaos and self-preservation and it's absolutely outstanding. Make no mistake, this movie is a tragedy in the Greek sense of it. The heroes have flaws which ultimately bring them down. And that's part of the brilliance of the film.

So, what was good.

Well, of course, Heath Ledger as the Joker was outstanding. It's interesting to watch a movie like Knight's Tale and then this one and recognize the masterful acting that he was capable of. Ledger's Joker is an all consuming vortex of chaos. And it's without purpose. In my mind, he's really only a criminal because that's how society views someone who sows chaos in the way he does. He's scary, because he's so unpredictable. You don't know what he's got up his sleeve, each time he comes on screen and that's what takes your breath away each time he does. You almost hold your breath waiting to see what he does.

I loved the shooting of this film compared to Batman Begins. I watched the first one just prior to seeing The Dark Knight and it was interesting to see how much was CGI in the first one and how the Gotham of this movie is basically Chicago. I liked how much they tried to make everything as realistic possible. The city itself almost became a character in the movie, and especially the citizens.

I thought the casting of Aaron Eckhart has Harvey Dent was terrific. He really did the White Knight very well and it made his transformation into Two-Face that much more tragic.

The overall story was good, if a bit convoluted. I'm definitely going to have to see it again (IMAX, anyone?) because I want to try and follow the Joker's plots. How much relied on coincidence? How much could he have known was going to happen or how people would react to certain situations? Could he have known that Gordon would fake his own death or did his plans just ooze around that bump in the roadmap?

Maggie Gyllenhal was a suitable replacement to Katie Holmes, but Rachel Dawes was still a pawn in the whole game. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman were stellar in their supporting roles, as usual. Nice to hear some of Alfred's non-butler-y background stories.

Not so good? Well, unfortunately, like the Burton Batman movies (who? Joel Schumacher? Never heard of him...), Batman himself can almost fade into the background on these. I think they did a good job over all of trying to counterbalance the seething serenity of Batman with the chaos of the Joker, but in the face of a whirlwind like that character, it's tough to be as memorable.

And while I liked the cameo by Dr. Crane/Scarecrow, it did make me wonder how they solved the issue of the escaped criminals in the Narrows and the fear toxin, but not too much. And the whole Hong Kong sequence was kind of pointless to me, even though the director might have been making a subtle commentary on American intervention in sovereign nations. He definitely made a not-at-all subtle commentary on technological eavesdropping.

However, one of my absolute favorite parts of the movie didn't involve any of the main characters. It was with the two ferries. On one, many of the regular citizens of Gotham; on the other, criminals being transported away from Gotham. The Joker has rigged both of them with explosives, but put the trigger for each boat on the other boat. And if one boat doesn't blow up the other in 15 minutes, he'll blow up both of them. There's a tense time where the civilian boat votes to blow up the prison boat and the prison boat is seeing this as a chance to escape. I was sure that they were going to give into the temptation of self-preservation, but at the last minute, one of the prisoners stands up and says that he'll do what needs to be done, since none of the rest seems to be willing to destroy the other boat. He takes the trigger... and tosses it out the window. And I'm might have been the only one in my theater who did, but I applauded that moment in the movie, because I knew that this was the fulfillment of the words that Harvey Dent spoke earlier in the movie: "The night is darkest before the dawn, but the dawn is coming." And when that prisoner (played by Tiny Lister) threw the trigger out the window, I knew that was the dawn that Chris Nolan (writer and director) was going for. The decision on the part of the people on each boat to not take lives, but be willing to sacrifice themselves. It was a beautiful moment in a dark, dark film. (For more analysis, check out this link: )

This is a movie that's going to be thought about and analyzed for years. This might be the pinnacle of comic book movie making and what pushes the genre out of the niche mindset and fully into the mainstream. This movie is Godfather II to Batman Begins' Godfather. The Dark Knight takes a larger scope on the whole thing and tells a deeper story than just Batman vs. the Joker. And that was the unexpected pleasure that came from it.

(Addendum 8/27) For further thoughts after seeing the movie a second time, click here.


Anonymous said...

Brent said...

I agree, Phil: Best film so far this year.

Great character development for a non-stop action film.

Very few "unbelievable" moments for a film of this genre.

Heath Ledger pulled of the role of the Joker without the theatrics that Jack Nicholson or Cesar Romero envisioned or the silliness of other Batman characters like Jim Carey's Riddler. Ledger plays the perfect psychotic because he actually makes sense in a sick sort of way. He kind of reminded me of John Doe (Kevin Spacey) in "Seven."

I agree with you about the ferry scene but I have a few other observations. One - the sequence of the ferries coupled with the hostages in the unfinished building took too long. It should have been trimmed a bit. Two - I think that the Joker may have actually had the explosives rigged in the reverse of what he said. The group who decides to pull the trigger actually may have blown themselves up.

A favorite scene of mine was when the one guy went to Lucius in order to blackmail Batman. Very funny.

The scene with Gordan and his family being held by Two-Face was emotional.

I actually liked the Hong Kong sequence.

I thought I was watching "16 Candles" or "Breakfast Club" when the Joker first appeared with the red-headed wig. This was his funniest part of the film, IMO. It was also amazing how he got through to Dent at this point. By the way, how did Dent get out of the hospital in time? I must have missed something. I'll look more closely the next time I watch it.

Good review, Phil.

Phil said...

brent, I actually thought about Se7en as I walked out of the theater. TDK is obviously not as dark and nihilistic as that one, but there are some definite similarities between the two characters.

I don't doubt that the Joker could have rigged both boats opposite, but I still assume that his ultimate goal was to destroy both ships.

Jeff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff said...

So, did you like the movie or what?

We just went and saw it. I thought it was very good, and I really wondered if Ledger could pull the Joker off (since my favorite movie of his before this one was A Knight's Tale, and this seemed a stretch), but he was amazing. I don't know if I'm ready to say the best movie of the year. I've only seen Iron Man and Horton Hears a Who. Not a good selection to pick from, but I really like Iron Man.

I just want Christian Bale to clear his throat when he's in Batman mode. His voice really annoys me.

Brian said...

I thought the contrasts between the white knight (Dent) and the dark knight were very interesting. The whole concept of good and bad being present inside each individual is very Zen. Early in the movie, Dent made the comment "I make my own luck", which caught my attention as a statement that someone would make if they were willing to bend rules - the end justifies the means etc. Then we saw his coin flipping process for choices, and I wondered then if his coin was double headed to enable him to "make his own luck". As it turned out, it was. The two faces ended up reflecting his own character.

How did the Joker know what it would take to turn Dent? I'm not sure, but Dent's coin was central to it all - and the Joker loved it. The Joker's comment to Batman about Dent's fall being like gravity, just needing a push, was also very insightful.

I thought the movie strongly supported the premise that the layer of civility in society is as thin as the rules that govern it, and that anarchy is lurking in the dark corners of the human soul. In fact, this seems to be an underlying premise in a lot of comic books, and other movies. When Fox said of Batman's cell phone tracking system that "this is too much power for one person", I thought it significant that Batman knew this also, and gave the power to Fox instead of himself. (Something like Sam and Frodo in LOTR where Frodo had the ring and was initially seen as the pure one, but in the end, it was Sam who was purest.)

The ferry scene where neither group was willing to blow up the other, was interesting, and showed hope for the human soul. Suggesting that maybe the thin layer of civility isn't held in place by laws alone.

"Rachel Dawes was still a pawn in the whole game"
Yes and No. Sure she was the love triangle, but she had to choose between loving the illegal vigilante crime fighter, or the legal crime fighter. She chose the latter, in a decision that was based more on principle than emotion (as I saw it). I wondered what Chris Nolan was trying to say there. Interesting that Alfred burned the note, so Wayne never found out that Rachael chose Dent.

Karl said...

I just saw the movie last night. I liked it, and Heath Ledger did indeed play a great role! However, I also was very confused by the movie as it relates to the other Batman movies. In The Dark Knight, Wayne Manor is no longer due to the fire in Batman Begins, and Batman's "headquarters" is in a penthouse. So if The Dark Knight takes place after Batman Begins, why is Harvey Dent just becoming Harvey "Two-Faced" Dent? Wasn't Two-Faced in one of the other Batman movies? And why would he die in this movie, if he still has havoc to reap on Batman later? Also, didn't the Joker die in one of the previous movies? And why is Commissioner Gordon just becoming Commissioner when he also was Commissioner in previous movies? I'd love an answer: Thanks.

An said...

To answer Karl, it's pretty simple, the Nolan movies (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight) are a completely different continuity. In essence, in "this" reality this is all that has happened so far. None of the other Batman movies other than these two are relevant to this universe (ie the other movie with Harvey Dent/Two Face). Same for Jim Gordon, who at the end of Batman Begins had just been promoted from Sgt. to Lt. Now he has been promoted from Lt. to Commissioner.

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