Bale stars as Batman in Warner Bros.' summer film, "The
Dark Knight." (Photo credit: Warner Bros.)
Dark Knight’ an imperfect summer blockbuster
By Ben Saylor
Published July 30, 2008
Life isn’t easy
for a guy who puts on a giant bat suit and fights crime.
And it isn’t
always easy to watch that guy put on a giant bat suit and fight
crime, either. And while “The Dark Knight,” the second film in the
cinematic reincarnation of the Batman franchise, certainly has its
moments, it’s also a deeply flawed film.
installment finds Batman (Christian Bale) working with Gotham City
Police Lt. Jim Gordon (the chameleonic Gary Oldman) and crusading
Gotham District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, “The Black
Dahlia”) to stanch the blood flow caused by the new guy in town,
the Joker (Heath Ledger), a psychopath with no real interest in
money or power – only in chaos.
What is immediately
intriguing about “The Dark Knight” is that the Joker, along with
copycat vigilantes dressing in faux bat suits, is a byproduct of
Batman’s own war on crime. This theme of escalation helps give the
film some substance, even if it and the film’s other ideas are delivered
to the audience more times than necessary (although not nearly as
much as the overrated and didactic “Batman Begins”).
Ledger as the Joker in "The Dark Knight."
The trouble is, much of the rest of the film is a
mess. Working with a running time of about two and a half hours,
director Christopher Nolan moves his film along at breakneck speed,
presumably so that the audience not only has no time to catch its
breath, but also no time to question the movie’s sometimes-gaping
holes in logic. It’s hard to discuss them here without giving away
plot details, so I’ll leave you to figure them out for yourself.
The film’s sloppiness
frequently extends to its visuals as well. While Nolan has shown
some improvement over “Begins” when it comes to staging fight scenes,
“The Dark Knight” indicates that he’s still got a long way to go.
Nolan tends to shoot scenes from all manner of angles and cut them
together haphazardly, and the result is that many of these sequences
are ugly and confusing. A third act confrontation with the Joker
is particularly hard to follow, and the disorienting nature of this
sequence is further hampered by the introduction of a new sonar
device that Batman uses to track the Joker’s whereabouts.
A lot of this
won’t (and hasn’t so far) matter to people who go see the movie.
Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like a movie that has cost $180
million to make should have a stronger script and better action
It’s helpful, then, that the film boasts a stellar
supporting turn from Ledger. His Joker is all lip-licking menace,
and every time he’s on screen, the movie not only gets more interesting,
but it gets significantly more disturbing. Because the Joker has
no backstory (he doesn’t tell the story of how he got his facial
scars the same way twice) and, seemingly no other motivation for
his deeds than to cause death and destruction and turn good people
against their better nature, his behavior is completely unpredictable.
It’s a mesmerizing performance and a testament to Ledger’s skill
that whenever he’s offscreen, the movie just isn’t as interesting.
Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes in Warner Bros. Pictures' 'The Dark
With an attention-grabbing performance like Ledger’s,
the rest of the cast just can’t measure up. Bale is fairly one-note
as Batman’s alter ego Bruce Wayne, and as the Caped Crusader, he
still uses that silly voice that sounds like Clint Eastwood possessed
by the devil. He even uses that voice when he is alone with people
who know his true identity. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman lend
their usual solid support as Wayne’s manservant Alfred and head
of Wayne Enterprises, respectively. Newcomer Maggie Gyllenhaal does
her best with the role of Rachel Dawes, the woman who Dent and Wayne
compete for the affections of, but the role was underwritten in
the first film and is little better here. Also new to the party
is Eckhart as Dent. The actor does a very good job showing Dent’s
commitment to fighting crime as well as his willingness to bend
the rules to do what he feels needs to be done.
In an ever-burgeoning
field of comic book movies, “The Dark Knight” certainly stands tall.
I just wish that it could do the same among regular movies.
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