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Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Dark Knight (2008) Retro-Review

My jaw dropped. My jaw LITERALLY dropped. There is one moment in this film that is so powerful I reacted to in a way that I do not think I ever had before – a reaction of jaw dropping astonishment. This moment assured that The Dark Knight would be on my list of best films of the year and was is on my short list to possibly be the best super hero movie I have ever seen. Of course I will not reveal what or when this moment takes place, but you should most certainly know it when you see it.  It is in that moment that Christopher Nolan makes most of the superhero movies of the past 3 decades look just plain silly.

Superhero movies have always been plagued by men in tights, campy dialogue, hokey poorly developed villains but most of all by formulaic cookie-cutter screenplays that failed establish a unique experience for the viewer.  Hollywood's shortsightedness has prevented the genre to mature - they were focused on producing easy to consume cash grabs that did not take chances - same old stories, different hero.  Christopher Nolan has finally broken the old superhero mold.  He has combined elements of the superhero alternate reality and real as we know it, in a way that will attract more than just the sword wielding, comic book collecting geeks traditionally targeted; instead the scope of the target audience is much larger - film lovers.  Nolan's Batman plays is more than a superhero story, it is also a great crime film.

The Burton Batman franchise, after a great start, lost some momentum during the third and fourth films...okay, that would be a HUGE understatement - the franchise came to dead screeching halt.  Joel Schumacher (look for him on imdb.com under the job description: hack) did made just about every wrong move in what seemed like a hit on our beloved hero (seriously, bat nipples and Alicia Silverstone!?!?)  Nolan not only resuscitated the character from the death bed, he breathed new life into the entire genre.  A great story is there (always a good start,)  the characters are there and the acting came along for the ride too.

I will not give too much away about the plot other than by saying that things are normal as can be in Gotham, corruption rules the day- that is until The Joker (Heath Ledger) shows his scarred face. Upon his arrival the balance of power is certainly altered, no one knows how to deal with the new threat, neither the good guys nor the bad. With a few powerful moves The Joker transitions from the new guy on the block to the one calling the shots.  Unlike many villains, this one is willing to kill with the simplest of ease.  And kill he does.  His total disregard for human life is what makes him one of the scariest on-screen villains in awhile.  The great performance of Ledger, combined with the haunting score will send more chills down your spine than all of those crappy Saw movies.  This a calculated film – the characters seem real, the plot is that of a classic crime thriller not a thin-plotted comic book transplant - the music, the lighting, the direction all are used to tell a good story, not just rake in bags full of cash.

Most the talk about the film is Heath Ledger and his portrayal of the Joker.  I am not going to go off on this subject; the portrayal is incredible and should be rewarded with an Oscar nomination.  Every moment he was on screen I forgot Ledger and could only see the Joker.  It says a lot about the performance since I came in unwilling to accept the passing of the torch from Jack Nicholson.  The rest of the cast does more than hold their own – Gary Oldman, Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Michael Caine all make the most out of their time on screen. With all the exposition taken care of in the first film, this film gets to focus on relationships between characters, rather than just moving the plot.  The best additions are Arron Eckhart as the new DA, Harvey Dent and the Katie Holmes replacement for Rachel (Batman’s chick).  Gyllenhaal is a vast improvement in the acting department, but lacks the looks to make you believe Bruce Wayne would pass up his entourage of beauties for her.  She seems miscast, but acts her way out of it.

I can discuss this film for hours, but not without taking away from your viewing pleasure. If you have not seen this and are a Batman fan you should have run out to see this already – (shame on you), if you are not a fan of the Bat, but do like crime thrillers then this may also be up your alley if you can ignore the bat costume and gadgets. There may be plenty of trash in theaters now that easier to consume, none that will entertain or surprise you as much as The Dark Knight.

9 stars out of 10

(originally published  8/19/2008)

Check out the other Batman reviews:
Batman Begins
The Dark Knight Rises 

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