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CLASSICS: The Dark Knight (2008)

July 18, 2011

(originally written on July 26, 2008….)


written by: Christopher Nolan & Jonathan Nolan (screenplay) and Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer (story)

produced by: Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, & Emma Thomas

directed by: Christopher Nolan

rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and some menace)

152 min.

U.S. release date: July 18, 2008 DVD/Bluray release date: December 9, 2008


Here’s the thematic question prevalent throughout co-writer/director Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to 2005’s “Batman Begins”, the excellent reboot that finally saw the classic DC comics character in a worthy film adaptation….

To what extremes can an ethically good person go to in the pursuit of justice before they themselves have committed crimes against their fellow-man equal or greater than the villains they sought to bring to justice to begin with?

….now you may think that’s pretty deep for a comic book adaptation, but actually that kind of question has been in comics for decades, especially Batman comics. Not only is Batman dealing with this question throughout Nolan’s sequel but so are Lt. Jim Gordon and the new virtuous District Attorney Harvey Dent. In fact, the three of them are trying to figure out the best way to bring all the various crime syndicates in Gotham to justice.

It’s an uneasy alliance, what with Batman being a vigilante and all but regardless a necessary one because both Gordon and Dent realize the need for such a presence in dealing with the notorious criminal presence. Little do they know they are about to embark on a pact that will challenge their moral ambiguity which will find them driven by convictions so intense it compromises their sanity.


Aaron Eckhart , Gary Oldman and Christian Bale in Warner Bros. Pictures' The Dark Knight


At the end of the last film, Gordon warned Batman of the inevitable crime escalation now that he has declared war on the scum and vermin of Gotham. He predicts that criminals will now try to one-up Batman and presents him with an evidence bag containing a Joker playing card,  indicating there is someone the police may need help with.

A year has passed since that rooftop conversation and all mob incarnations have become desperate under Batman’s watch. They know they have to up their game in order to compete with the caped crime-fighter, which requires they reluctantly deal with the devil. In desperation, they turn to one called The Joker (Heath Ledger), a murderous liar who recently stole their money. He makes an abrupt appearance at their secret summit meeting where he offers his services in dealing with The Bat. 

Meanwhile, Batman has to deal with multiple Batman impersonators, the Russian mafia and once again, the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy), as well as update his armor (so he can actually move his head). Bat-modifications like this are one of the many nuances that confirm the Nolan’s real world, which we once again see Bruce Wayne inhabit. Whereas, previous Bat-films just dealt with a rigid or ridiculous costume, Nolan gives us a Wayne that seeks practicality and efficiency in his masked endeavors.

Of course, this could not occur without his faithful supporters in tow and once again we see the trusted butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) and Wayne Enterprises CEO, Lucious Fox (Morgan Freeman) as Wayne’s voice of reason and gadget armorer, respectively.

Gordon and Batman plan to eradicate the mob’s hold on the city while giving Dent room to legally put away mob bosses which would give the citizens of Gotham the hope they need. It’s not easy for Gordon though, he not only has to deal with fellow cops who begrudge his alliance with a vigilante, but the undeniable fact that there’s police corruption all around him, as well. Batman obviously wants to eliminate it all: the corruption, the mob, the Joker….but then the billionaire side of him starts to see another opportunity. Wayne sees Dent, who isn’t afraid to stand up to crime, as the public hero that Batman cannot be. He’s a shining example of the good the dark knight detective has done, of the power Batman has given back to the populace.

Wayne is also hoping that supporting Dent’s rise to “White Knight” status could not only give him the chance to hang up the cape but also rekindle romance. Well, that is until he finds himself caught in a love triangle now that his muse, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is dating her hero, Harvey Dent. Ooops. He knew that Rachel couldn’t be with him as long there’s a Bat still in the room, so he hopes that Gothamites embracing Dent would in turn free her up. Then again, let’s face it, a guy dressing up as a bat isn’t dealing with a full deck so he’s kinda clueless as to what choice a woman would make. While that tension is in the air, Wayne is still impressed that Dent understands a guy like Batman and can’t help but buy him as a better savior for his city. It’s rare that you find a plausible, realistic love triangle in a summer blockbuster, then again that’s just another aspect of Nolan breaking the mold.  


Heath Ledger and Maggie Gyllenhaal in Warner Bros. Pictures' The Dark Knight 


Any plans that these men have are basically fruitless with The Joker around though. He is the agent of chaos in this story. The master manipulator who could care less about what harm befalls himself, as he terrorizes a city that doesn’t know where or who to turn to. Teetering insanely between a nihilist and an anarchist, he seeks to bring down everybody with him. He goes after the police and the mayor, but specifically Dent, since he knows he’s just too virtuous for his own good. He means to break Dent and everyone around him. In the words of Alfred, “some men just want to watch the world burn.”

The character of The Joker is almost as iconic as Batman himself, yet this is the first time he’s been accurately represented by an actor. He’s far from a clown or giggling buffoon. He’s not stupid. He’s a homicidal sociopath living without rules or any regard for life. That’s why he’s so attracted to Batman. They are complete opposites, yet one could not exist without the other. In fact, Batman’s presence invokes just that as The Joker’s tells our hero, “you complete me.” He knows Batman is incorruptible and to him, that’s why he’s so much fun. His goal is to show Batman that his dogma will get him nowhere, that people will inevitably destroy themselves and each other.


Christian Bale as Batman and Heath Ledger as the Joker in Warner Bros. Pictures' The Dark Knight


Ledger’s work here deserves all the praise bestowed upon him. It’s not just due to his untimely death either, that line of thought holds no ground. The fact is, Ledger is excellent and gets better each time he appears on-screen. He’s absolutely lost in the role in every way. From his vaudevillian cadence to his eerie voice to his lip-smacking, there is literally no trace left of the late, handsome actor. That’s a sign of bravery and balls.

Credit also has to be given to the writers who not only gave him great lines that give laughs, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free,” but also for not giving The Joker an origin. Instead, he spits out a handful of different tales about how he got his scars, never giving the audience anything but strange and twisted stories. That’s it though, there’s no back story needed. That would ruin it, in fact, it would be counter-productive to the elemental aspect of who he is. He just exists (like any classic mythological evil character) to torment any hope for good, justice and order.

The best thing about The Joker in this film is that he doesn’t wind up taking the story away from any of the other characters. Unlike 1989’s “Batman” where Jack Nicholson hammed his way into top-billing and overshadowed half the movie (they shoulda called it “Joker” instead). Here, Nolan knows that less is more. The amount of Ledger’s Joker is just enough to disturb us, to make us think, and most of all leave us wanting more. It’s a smart move that services the story instead of explosions and also gives the time for an ensemble to give purpose and meaning to their roles.

Less Joker also gives room for Harvey Dent, the character with the most emotional arch in the film. His goodness and assuredness eventually becomes his undoing and it’s not just due to The Joker’s domino effect. Eckhart shows us hints early on that there is something underneath Dent’s shining armor. He is very likeable as the confident “good guy” that you want to succeed but you just know something is gonna happen to him. What does wind up happening turns out to be a pretty brave story arch for a comic book film. Which is one of the many reasons why this film is being compared to crime dramas like “Heat” and “The Departed”. It makes sense, although there are occasional laughs and amazing action sequences what really grips you in this story.


  Christian Bale as Batman in Warner Bros. Pictures' The Dark Knight


Seeing Chicago as Gotham once again was a reel treat. Nolan broadens Gotham this time around going behind the slum of the Narrows, focusing more on buildings and various street scenes that make the city feel more lived in this time around. The action scenes on LaSalle where Joker in his semi and Batman in his Batpod go mano y mano was exhilarating! It was quite refreshing to see very little CGI work throughout the movie but especially here where they actually flipped forward a real semi.

Does the film have any flaws? Well, as it turns out my role as a prisoner was cut from the evacuation scene. That kinda sucks for me but Nolan knows best, I guess. Seriously, there was a bit of a plot hole in the aftermath of one particular scene where Batman rescues Rachel after Joker pushes her off a penthouse. Sure, he saves her, but we don’t see him deal with The Joker. Huh? Ah well. I also thought that Batman’s gravely voice felt a lil too forced. I know he’s trying to disguise his voice to distance himself from his alter ego but this was even moreso than the first film. It seemed distracting and his lines were at times difficult to understand. Overall, these are few complaints and are not enough to tarnish my rating.


Heath Ledger as the Joker in Warner Bros. Pictures' The Dark Knight


Bale is once again great at playing the brooding anti-hero with the seething undertones. It’s great to see Bruce Wayne getting some action and not just the playboy kind. I was also happy (as were many others ) to see another actress portray Rachel. Katie Holmes seemed too girly in the last film whereas Gyllenhaal comes across as a strong and confident woman. I also liked the fact that she’s not this babe, she’s average-looking which made her feel more like a real character as well. It just seems like her role serves a greater purpose this time around.

The film is easily one of my favorites of the year. It’s tone is deservedly dark and overall quite bleak, but that’s how the comics are. The title should say it all. Some critics have said that the violence here is too sadistic but I disagree. What violence is shown actually serves the story, whereas in a comic book-inspired movie like “Wanted”, it is the story. This isn’t just a gratuitous Xbox game, there is a gripping story here amid the pathos, mayhem and despair. The film also makes an interesting statement on how far one can be pushed to be a defender of justice and how close you can come to being a killer. I have not been able to stop thinking about it, since I saw it opening weekend and I can’t wait to see it in IMAX.


RATING: ****

Keeping It Reel CLASSICS is a feature that showcases movies that we deem as simply, classics.  Old or new, they somehow resonate and stand out in our cinematic memory. We invite you to discover them yourselves, again or for the first time. Here are some others….    
I’m Not There (2007)
Once (2007)                                                                          
No Country for Old Men (2007)
The Fountain (2006)
Let the Right One In (2008)
Predator (1987)
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Iron Man (2008)
North by Northwest (1959)
The Departed (2006)
Rachel Getting Married (2008)  
6 Comments leave one →
  1. windi noel permalink
    July 25, 2011 9:03 am

    seeing this re-posted makes me that much more excited for the new movie! I saw a preview when I took the boys to HP:7 and I was geeking out so much that Trevor leaned over and asked me why I wanted to see the movie so bad! hahahaha Between this one and Cowboys and Aliens, he’s thinking I’m totally over-reacting at the previews! He also asked me why I was so excited for Cowboys and Aliens, and of course I had a hard time explaining to him the uniqueness of the film. I’ve grown up watching movies about invading aliens, and he hasn’t, so I guess he doesn’t realize how different this idea is.


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