Well it happened at last. Yes, I went to see The Dark Knight. At 10.45pm no less (we didn’t get out of the cinema until 1.30am after all the credits had rolled – I was hoping, misguidedly, for an extra teaser scene – now, that’s dedication!).
Before launching into what will probably be a cursory review of my initial thoughts etc (I’ll leave the big boys like Empire et al to provide the in-depth analysis, even if some of their tastes have left a bitter tang in my mouth of late… Iron Man, 3 stars only – please…) I think it’s just worth stating that I am a huge Batman fan (not unhinged like some, I admit, but I’ve dug the Caped Crusader since Burton’s ‘89 movie, a love cemented by the genius that is Bruce Timm and the early 90’s Batman: The Animated Series) and that I was massively looking forward to this film – I mean seriously looking forward to it. Both my esteemed work colleagues Christian and Newty had already seen the movie (I had to forestall to allow girl friend and friends to come with) and gave somewhat differing reports (both positive, just one that wasn’t overwhelmingly gushing).
I must say, it felt like an absolute age from Newty’s initial report to sitting down in my cinema seat wedged between my better half, Louise, and my buddy, Mike (who is a giant, incidentally). The overlong ads came and went, the trailers rolled and ended (very brief – there were only two, camouflaged within a swathe of dull generic TV-style ads) and then we had lift off.
From the get-go, there was something different about this movie to everything that had come before it – even Batman Begins (which I still absolutely love). Cue a bank heist and the Joker’s gang of clowns are knocking off the Gotham branch. William Fichtner of Prison Break Season Two fame makes a welcome appearance as a mob contact at the bank (it’s a mob bank), whilst the Joker et al (though Heath Ledger is just trussed up as one of the goons at this point – though, he’s easy to spot) bust up the bank and its employees. There’s a nice little twist already as the individual gang members are instructed to kill off one of their counterparts once their part of the job is done in order to increase the take for everyone. What they don’t realise is that have ALL been instructed to do this; the Joker effectively plays them against each other and drives off in a School Bus at the end of scene free as a bird and with the entire take. This sting in the tale is indicative of the Joker’s MO and is a resurfacing motif throughout the movie – you never really know what’s going to happen next and it never feels as if anyone is safe and beyond his anarchic wrath.
Props to the Joker’s introduction in the movie. He slides in like a refreshingly, razor-edged slice of fresh air so sharp it could cut through silk. He confronts a bunch of mob bosses (crime, unbelievably, is on the wane in Gotham, partly due to the Bat’s heroic efforts and a certain DA by the name of Harvey Dent – Jim Gordon even has a task force made up of mostly kosher cops… well, mostly) and effectively offers his services (after some invasive surgery with a pencil on a plucky henchman who makes the mistake of thinking can oust Mr J). It’s dark and dangerous stuff, and I for one was very surprised that this came it at a 12A certificate. Bad choice if you ask me.
Let’s make no bones about it, the Joker is a terrorist – pure and simple. He just has some theatrical flourishes that add colour and, dare I say, charm to his madness. He certainly gets most of the best lines (though Michael Caine as Alfred runs a pretty close second). There are no joy buzzers, no squirting flowers or comic gadgets that made Jack Nicholson so much fun to watch in the 1989 Batman, what there is though is substance. It’s chaotic and formless, but the flesh and purple suits this character inhabits, that Ledger so gloriously and menacingly articulates on screen, becomes something terrible. His is scary; actually pretty darn unpleasant. He’s like a car crash in human form at times; you want to turn away, but you can’t. The Joker is a wraith that drifts in and out of the scene and leaves destruction in his wake, physical and mental.
Entropy is a word I’ve seen used to describe him, and this couldn’t be more apt. He’s the product of a society that has dissolved into its basest roots, the symptom of all the bad that Rachel Dawes makes reference to in the first movie. ‘What hope is there for Gotham when the good people do nothing’ – with the Joker unleashed, Gotham will need more than hope; it’ll need grit and resolve too. Oh, and a flak jacket wouldn’t hurt, either.
After his magnificent introduction (my hat is off to Nolan and co for the excellent script writing and immaculate direction) there follows a stunning game of cat and mouse between the Joker and Batman. The wonderfully honed narrative (which does suffer a little with a tardy second act) flowing around and through them, echoing their later struggle that has so enthralled us fans for decades. This is hinted at towards the film’s denouement.
It’s tense: relentless in fact. The music really racks up the unease, the notion that the next atrocity is just around the corner. In point of fact, and one of my most favourite aspects on the movie/music, the Joker almost had his own theme/motif – an eerie, bone-chilling splice of strings that had me reaching for a blackboard to rake my nails down just to blot out the sound. It was great, a harbinger for terror, a herald that the man in purple was about to strike. The good thing about the Joker; no punches pulled, no leeway given, no half measures – he’s an absolute. There was something darkly gratifying about that, almost laudable.
I could go on about the story – it has more twists than a theme park roller coaster – but that feels like treading ground already trod, so I won’t bother. Let’s just say I love the fact that the Joker always seems to be one step ahead of Batman and the GCPD combined. What I’d rather discuss is characters. I’ve devoted a few words to the Joker, and Batman (albeit with a new story arc that fleshes him out somewhat and embraces the desire to hang up the cape that might have manifest in his early career, but that was inevitably ditched in favour of ‘The Mission’ (which doesn’t even get lip-service in the movie – a slight shame) and fighting crime is dark and moody as ever, so I’ll move on to another of my favourites from the lore at large…
Ever since the two-part story from Batman: The Animated Series I have been a big fan of Two-Face. Let’s just kick off by saying I don’t like the Harvey Two-Face appellation – he’s Two-Face, plain and simple – Harvey Dent is his other half. The former makes me think of the diabolical Joel Schumacher (may he forever be ridiculed, though his hapless direction did pave the way for Batman Begins, so it’s not all bad…) outing with Tommy Lee Jones (ordinarily a great actor, but not so much in this movie) that was Batman Forever.
In The Dark Knight, Aaron Eckhart pulls on the split persona of Dent and he is awesome. Vainglorious, a true-blue champion with a dark and dangerous streak, Eckhart pretty much pulls it all off perfectly. Personally, I lean towards the Timm interpretation of the character with Dent’s rage issues manifesting without too much provocation before the transformation. Don’t get me wrong, Eckhart has his dark moments, but he’s already been pushed pretty far by that point in the movie. Two-Face’s appearance, when it eventually comes around, is stunning. He looks great: some combination of make-up and CGI that I’m sure even the late Stan Winston would appl
Two-Face comes along a little too in proceedings to be anything other than a slightly tacked on villain, or rather the fitting jagged curve at the end of Harvey Dent’s story arc. It would be great to see Two-Face get his own movie. Perhaps, if I’m going to be critical, it would have been better to leave him on the loose. Instead, there’s a slightly crow-barred kidnap scene with Gordan’s family which is resolved with the Bat knocking Harv off the roof. Would it have been better, if we had to have this scene, for the Dark Knight to talk Harvey down from his madness, maybe give us a chance to see his two sides manifest in true Gollum-style – I honestly don’t know. It didn’t detract from what was a great performance by Eckhart and the realisation of a complex and wonderful character that washed away the bad stink associated with the Tommy Lee Jones version.
Incidentally, if you’re looking for good Two-Face stories look no further than Two-Face parts 1 & 2 from Batman: The Animated Series Season One (the only season that’s readily available on Region 2), and Judgement Day, the last episode from Season Four. A little known gem that’s available as part of the excellent Batman – The Complete History, published by Titan and written by Les Daniels, is Two of a Kind. This short story is penned and illustrated by Bruce Timm (he was destined to be a Batman god with the first name of Bruce, really, wasn’t he…). This is a dark tale that tells of Two-Face’s rehabilitation and subsequent, and devastating fall from grace, when he falls in love with his plastic surgeon, only to realise that she is an identical twin…
On to the supporting cast, and you couldn’t do much better than Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Sir Michael Caine. All three ooze class throughout and are masterful in their respective performances. All three also provide some moments of much needed, genuine levity (such the Joker’s lighter moments are often tempered by dark and menacing overtones). Oldman is blistering as Oldman, who sees a glimmer of hope for Gotham in the form of the city’s white knight, Harvey Dent. His dreams are shattered, of course, and there’s the added stink that surrounds his major crimes unit and the corruption within it. The shadow of Carmine Falcone still looms large it seems.
Freeman as Lucius Fox is part tech-expert extraordinaire, part moral compass for Bruce Wayne as his desire to stop the Joker becomes ever more driven and obsessive. I remember watching an excellent movie from the Batman Beyond series called Return of the Joker in which Police Commissioner Barbara Gordan (it’s set about thirty years into the future and Barbara has taken up her father’s mantle after ditching the cape and cowl) remarks how ‘the Joker tainted us with deception and compromise’ and how true it is in The Dark Knight, too. Fox is the only one that sticks to his scruples, even going so far as to lay it on the line to Bruce Wayne that once he’ll quit should he continue with a certain facet of his efforts to track and find the Joker (you’ll need to watch the movie to find out precisely what that is).
Caine is a joy as always. He gets a lot of great lines (almost as good as the Joker’s, as mentioned earlier) and his steadiness is the rock that Batman needs to lean on when the chips are down. Strength and deference emanate from Alfred like a wave, who’s pearls of wisdom hold the key to taking the Joker down in many respects. He has a more militaristic feel that’s in keeping with the comic book character’s background than the doting uncle/butler that’s portrayed in the Burton/Schumacher movies by Michael Gough.
In short, this is a stunning film that delivered for me on pretty much every level. I’m very much looking forward to it and subsequent viewings are often necessary, I think, in order to provide a final analysis. My only qualm, why not provide a teaser for a third movie. Even if such a thing never comes to pass (and let’s pray it does) we all know as fans that the story goes on, so there’s no harm in my mind to leaving things open ended. No Harley Quinn either (despite some pretty convincing web rumours – that’ll teach me), which was a bit of a disappointment. Couldn’t we have gone back to Arkham and seen the freaks safely ensconced in their cages: Joker, Scarecrow and Two-Face (who may or may not be dead at the end of the film – I’m going for not, and all the blah, blah that follows his apparent demise as smoke and mirrors on the part of Gordan and Batman) glaring out from their padded cells, whilst a blonde, slightly demure, psychotherapist walks past with her clipboard, then roll credits – that would do.
I would ask, if there is to be a third movie, for more cute references to wider Batman lore. In Batman Begins there was the Joker card, of course, but I could have sworn two of the Arkham inmates in the scene where the Bat rescues Rachel Dawes looked just like Oswald Cobblepot (Penguin) and Edward Nigma (Riddler). Deliberate or not, I loved it. Let’s have more of that. Disappointing too that some of the GCPD in the movie were simply analogue versions of their comic book counterparts. There was a Detective Ramirez, who could easily have been Renee Montoya, and Detective Stephens who was every inch Harvey Bullock. Come on Nolan et al, don’t be afraid to slip these minor characters in on the sly; they’re cops after all, they don’t mess with the real world milieu you’ve got going, and they add to the lore and texture that is Batman.
Still, I don’t want to end on a negative note, as that would do a disservice to a great, great movie. These are just minor niggles from a dedicated fan.
Favourite moments – too many to name them all, certainly, but the ones that stick in the memory for me are 1: when the Bat-pod ‘appears’ out of the wreckage of the Tumbler and 2: when the scene juxtaposes between three of the Joker’s next intended victims – truly, edge of the seat stuff!
The Dark Knight is a true comic book tour de force that actually uses a lot of non-comic book movie techniques to make it so great (coincidentally, I watched Heat with De Niro and Pacino last night and the similarities were definitely there). This movie is one hard-boiled, relentless freight train of a beast whose two and half hours fly by. Personally, I wanted more. It’s dark in name, dark in nature, with a brutal sense of menace that never let’s up, but is tempered with the pyrotechnic grandstanding and jaw-dropping stunts that create a definite wow factor throughout. Stunning performances are given by all, and there’s absolutely no dead weight – at all.
With the Nolan at the helm, one can’t help feeling a certain glow that everything is going to be all right as far as Batman on the big screen goes. Let’s just hope he gives us all a third film.