>> The Dark Knight (9/10)

The Dark Knight

I was fourteen years old during the Summer of 1989, and I absolutely could not wait to see Batman.  When the first rumblings were made that Michael Keaton, then known for his comedies, and Jack Nicholson were teaming up to star in a Batman movie by the guy that directed Beetlejuice and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, everyone I knew assumed it would be some kind of wacky reworking of the 1960’s television series.  I saw the trailer attached to Rain Man almost a year before Batman was released in theatres, and it was not what I was expecting at all.  It was everything my fourteen year old brain could want from a Batman movie.

That Summer changed the course of my life in many ways.  I saw Batman five times in the theatre that Summer (I’ve only done that one other time since then, managing to see Pulp Fiction five times on the big screen in the span of a year), and it was the start of my mother allowing me the independence to see movies on my own.  I would walk or bike to the Alvin 6 and watch movies.  It didn’t matter if I had anyone with me or not.  I even started to read newspaper reviews (Jeff Millar in the Houston Chronicle, R.I.P.) to inform my movie-going decisions.

Tim Burton’s Batman was the first thing I could point to and say “See?” when people would wonder why I liked comic books so much.  It was darker and more serious than any other comic adaptation to date, and absolutely kick-started the superhero genre of film–a genre that is alive and kicking, now more than ever, nineteen years (!) later.  The experience was big and bold and changed the way I considered films.  It also validated my hobby with loads of mainstream acceptance.

Oh, to be fourteen years old in 2008…

The Dark Knight is like 1989’s Batman all over again, in a way that makes Batman Begins feel like distant memory.  If Batman made superheroes acceptable action templates for cinema, then The Dark Knight makes superheroes acceptable entertainment for adults.  This is the next evolution in comic films, and it’s interesting to see everything becoming 1986 again, to reference another year.

In 1986, the comic world was dealt the one-two punch of The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, both of which elevated comic readership from the corner shop geeks and comic rack kids to the literate press and curious adults.  Both comics challenged the readers with mature themes, moral questions, and difficult, decidedly adult challenges, and changed the comic landscape forever.  While The Dark Knight is not an adaptation of Frank Miller’s classic work, it is without a doubt the first grown-up superhero film, recognizing that the character has been around long enough to have adult fans.  (Look for the Watchmen movie in 2009.)

This film will influence the landscape of superhero films to come, and if they can come close to capturing a fraction of this movie’s dense complexity then we are very lucky viewers.  The Dark Knight is a crime thriller in every sense of the word, humming with palpable dread, taut suspense, and richly drawn characters.

I’m not going to get into any plot summaries here.  If you want details, I’m sure there are plenty of “spoiler”-filled reviews already up all over the web.  Here’s all you need to know–It’s better than you think it is.  Heath Ledger IS the Joker–the version I’ve been reading in my head all these years and have never seen on film until now.  Never heard of Aaron Eckhart before this film?  Well, you’ll surely remember him now.  Gary Oldman continues to be my favorite bit of director Christopher Nolan’s Batman ensemble.  He’s simply Jim Gordon; the same way that J.K. Simmons is simply J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man movies.  I literally can not envision any one else in this role.

I guess now is as good a place as any to mention the interrogation room scene.  This bit of one-on-one between Batman and the Joker is as perfect a scene as I’ve ever seen in my life; so chillingly spot-on and well-done that I had goose bumps.  I loved it; like, I am in love with it.

Hype yourself up, and you’ll still have your expectations exceeded.  Maybe it’s too long.  Maybe Batman is almost a bit player in this grand drama set against a very real, relevant Gotham City.  Maybe it will be too heavy for some; certainly too heavy for families expecting a Saturday morning cartoon hero come to life.  It plays rough, and elevates the entire genre while doing so.  If you liked Batman Begins at all, then you are absolutely going to go wild over this.

9 on a 1 to 10 scale

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6 Comments

  1. “Heath Ledger IS the Joker–the version I’ve been reading in my head all these years and have never seen on film until now”

    I had never officially read a Batman story until I worked at Gamefellas, and Colunga made me read The Killing Joke. After reading that I got a better sense of what The Joker character was intended to be.
    A few years after that I saw A Clockwork Orange for the first time, and thought Malcolm McDowell’s Alex character was the best portrayal of The Joker put on screen, even though he isn’t The Joker. The main difference being though, that you get the sense that Alex is nothing more than an anarchist and not a criminal mastermind. But the attitude and personality seemed more in tune with a Joker-like character than anything else I’d seen.
    I guess I’ll see on Thursday/Friday if McDowell is supplanted, which I guess he will be according to everyone that has already seen this.

  2. Must you forget that you saw this film in IMAX, John? I can’t wait to see it again at the drafthouse, but it was undoubtedly a huge treat to see it the way we did.

  3. This is one of the worst reviews I’ve ever written, from a technical standpoint. Please forgive my rambling praise.

  4. It’s hard to really delve into a good review without going into to too much detail. In fact my only criticism is that it was an R-rated film trapped in a PG-13yr old’s body.

  5. this movie was incredible, that Watchmen trailer was fairly cool, if you’re wondering.

  6. I just watched it. Alex is not The Joker…


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