By Clay W. Ginn Since the events of Batman Begins, Gotham City has experienced a resurgence. Crime has become less rampant, the mob is losing power, and citizens are treating Batman as a hero, even to the point of attempting to emulate his methods. On the horizon lies a new threat to the city, one that will touch every citizen of Gotham, from those in the highest halls of power to the powerless children. The Dark Knight tells the story of a group of men fighting to either keep the city together or to cause it to fly apart. Gazillionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), who moonlights as the hooded vigilante Batman, is hoping to set up newly elected district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) as the heir to Batman’s “hero of the people” throne. Those plans are put in jeopardy by a maniacal villain, the Joker (Heath Ledger), who terrorizes all of Gotham, even the mobsters and jailed criminals. Dent is aided by his paramour and assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a former flame of Wayne’s. Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman), Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) all lend a hand to Batman.
This movie is dark. The lighting is dark. The tone is dark. The humor is dark. The Knight is Dark. Directed by Christopher Nolan, who also directed Batman Begins, The Dark Knight continues down the path so many recent comic book and science fiction movies have taken over the last few years. It is a gritty, no-hold-barred attack on your senses, your ears, and sometimes your stomach. Where Iron Man was sometimes comical and light-hearted, The Dark Knight is equally heavy and serious. Each of the actors eat up the screen, giving almost no downtime to the viewer. There are surprising twists and turns, including the death of a major character. The dichotomy of good versus evil and the gray areas that must sometimes be breached to defeat evil are well portrayed in this film.
Heath Ledger proves that someone can do a better Joker than Jack Nicholson (Batman, 1989). As the Clown Prince of Crime, Ledger descends into the lowest circle of hell to bring out one of the most evil, sadistic, and brilliant characters put into a superhero movie. The Joker has no rules, no sense of self-preservation, no fear of the Batman. He is anarchy in it’s purest human form, and he hands out passes to view that anarchy to everyone he comes in contact with. Ledger plays the Joker as one who enjoys making everyone (including the audience) squirm. For me, one of the most uncomfortable things about Ledger’s performance is his constant need to lick his lower lip and the sometimes watery quality of his voice. Those touches bring out more of the manic psychotic in the Joker. Ledger is far and away the star of this film, his penultimate role due to his death in January 2008. Heath Ledger has been receiving some Oscar buzz for his role, and deservedly so.
In playing the dual role of Bruce Wayne and Batman, Christian Bale offers a well-rounded performance. He is engagingly witty and smooth while playing the millionaire playboy, but gruff and course when dressed as Batman, including a low, gravelly voice. Micheal Caine and Morgan Freeman bring playfulness and presence to their roles as butler and CEO, respectively. Aaron Eckhart portrays Harvey Dent as the upright, noble D.A., willing to take on the worst of criminals to clean up the city, something that backfires on him dramatically. Gary Oldman, given much more screen time as compared to the near cameo role he had in Batman Begins, brings a mix of strength and insecurity to the police lieutenant. In the part of Rachel Dawes, Maggie Gyllenhaal has more presence and poise than Katie Holmes, who portrayed Dawes in the previous Batman film. She effectively demonstrates the tug from both her current love and her former, and her character remains relevant throughout the story. She’s not just the damsel in distress, she is one of the turning points of the film.
Though the environment is understandably dark, there are times when it is too dark. Action scenes are shot so close to the actors and with such sparse lighting, that it is sometimes difficult to make out what is going on. Granted, all you are really missing is somebody getting another butt-whooping, but it would be nice to see the moves Batman uses to administer said butt-whooping. The music is quite over the top, occasionally venturing into a long, drawn out screech that slowly crescendos upwards during scenes of intense drama. It’s a long film, and does leave some things unresolved, most likely setting up the next film in the Batman series.
The Dark Knight is rated a heavy PG-13 for a great deal of violence and threatening situations. This is not a kids movie, and may not even be a tweens movie. There are times when it seems close to stepping into R territory, but it was probably given a pass due to the nearly complete lack of swearing and sexual situations. It is also showing in IMAX theaters nationwide, which could be an interesting show with the plethora of tall buildings and swooping flight scenes. Overall though, it is an excellent film and well worth seeing.
Clay W Ginn My real job is as a software developer for a small company in North Texas. I’ve been married for nearly 12 years and am the father of three. I’m an avid reader, weather nut, and love playing my guitar and singing. My wife and I are huge fans of Walt Disney World, trying to get there once every couple of years. I grew up on a farm in rural Kansas, and attended seven different colleges before completing a Bachelor’s degree in Business Information Technology and a Master’s degree in Information Systems. In the past I’ve been a youth leader, worship leader, police dispatcher, accounting clerk, customer service representative, and a gumball machine builder. I love writing anything, from movie and music reviews to political screeds to comparisons of culture and faith. I’m even working on a novel as well.