July 25, 2008

‘Dark Knight’ Exceeds High Expectations

By Jesse B. Gill

Not only is "The Dark Knight" the best film of 2008 thus far, it's the best film I've ever seen.

I'm one of those guys who has been watching the Internet for any little bit of news surrounding this movie. I had the release date checked on my calendar and I was counting down the days like a kid counts down for Christmas.

I've read the reviews. Just about everyone has raved about this movie. I had friends tell me, "Now, don't let your expectations ruin the movie." Going in, my expectations were very, very high.

And "The Dark Knight" completely blew them away.

For Batman neophytes, "The Dark Knight" is the sequel to 2005's "Batman Begins," a film that reinvented Batman and brought him back from the hell he was banished to after the Batman films of the 1990s.

"Batman Begins" puts the title character into a world that could exist. "The Dark Knight" gives us more of the same.

In "The Dark Knight," we get to see the consequences of Bruce's Wayne's one-man war on crime. As the old Chinese saying goes, "You can't dress up like a bat and fight the mafia and just expect that nobody's life is going to get totally ruined."

"The Dark Knight" deals with escalation and how the criminals of Gotham City become more bizarre and more dangerous after Batman fights crime by wearing a mask and jumping off rooftops.

The film finds Bruce Wayne trying to imagine a Gotham City that doesn't need a Batman when a white-faced, green-haired psychopath named The Joker shows up and screws everything up. An earnest district attorney named Harvey Dent struggles to make Gotham a safer place, despite his hidden dark nature. Lt. Jim Gordon struggles to just do his job as the only honest and competent cop in Gotham City.

I don't want to discuss the plot too much because I could really ruin things for readers who haven't seen this masterpiece yet. I worked hard to avoid Internet spoilers about the movie, and I'm glad I did.

I will say that the film's best attribute is its story. The movie is two and a half hours long, and not once did I hope to see an end in sight. The plot has action, emotion and everything in between.

The characters are all very well-rounded and expertly portrayed.

Batman (or Bruce Wayne - whichever viewers prefer) is struggling with the weight of responsibility. Is he the reason Gotham City is getting worse and not better? Will he ever see a time when he can give up the mask and cape in favor of a wife and kids?

Christian Bale returned to the role of Batman and he has again proven himself to be the best Batman to ever don the cape and cowl. He's relentless and fierce in the role. He convinced me that a guy in a bat suit could be frightening.

As much screen time as Batman has in "The Dark Knight," we still get to see a lot of Bruce Wayne. I thought Bale invoked his Patrick Bateman character from "American Psycho" in a really tasteful way when playing Gotham's favorite billionaire playboy.

The Joker exists only to cause chaos and to force people to make terrible choices.

And yes, Heath Ledger deserves an Oscar for his portrayal of The Joker. Viewers will forget that this is the same guy who played the gay cowboy in "Brokeback Mountain." Ledger plays a Joker who isn't funny at all, he's sadistic and absolutely terrifying. And he does a cool magic trick with a pencil that was my favorite part of the entire film.

Aaron Eckhart plays Harvey Dent, the conflicted Gotham district attorney. Eckhart's performance will probably be overshadowed by Bale's and Ledger's, but I think his performance gives "The Dark Knight" most of its emotion and poignancy and honestly, readers would hate me if I wrote any more about what happens to his character.

The supporting cast, Gary Oldman as Lt. Jim Gordon, Michael Caine as Alfred the butler, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and Maggie Gyllenhall as Rachel Dawes, all turn in memorable performances while developing their characters beautifully. I'd write more about them, but the Daily Facts editors didn't want me to take up the entire Arts & Entertainment section with this single review.

I'd like to sit here and break down all of the thematic elements of "The Dark Knight," but I have to be honest - I don't think I understand them all yet. This film is so long and so dense with meaning, I don't think I've even come close to understanding its many nuances.

As a comic book fan, I appreciate director Christopher Nolan's respectful and artistic approach to a character that most people associate with Adam West. Nolan's dedication to presenting a realistic Batman has finally given this character a film he deserves, not the cheeky garbage films of the 1990s.

I have a fear that there will be no way Christopher Nolan and company can top "The Dark Knight." The film is so exciting and profound and masterful that I don't see how it could be improved upon. Nolan and his crew still haven't announced that they'll make a third film, so I'll be spending a lot of time in the next few months watching for Internet rumors and hints that it will eventually happen.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a huge Batman nerd (Editor's note: It's true. He's a HUGE Batman nerd.). So obviously, "The Dark Knight" is going to be right up my alley. My wife, on the other hand, is not a Batman fan. In fact, I think she gets jealous of my love for Batman at times. Still, she loved the film even though she's never read a comic book without falling asleep. My point? "The Dark Knight" is a great movie for those who couldn't care less about comic book superheroes. It's just a great action flick, whether you love Batman or not.

I could write and talk about this film hours on end, but I'm too afraid of giving away crucial plot points to those who have not yet seen it. In conclusion, see "The Dark Knight." Batman fan or otherwise, it will blow your mind sideways.