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The Dark Knight (2008)

From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews The Dark Knight (2008)

My excitement is building for The Dark Knight Rises, which opens today!  I hope to be seeing it soon, and of course I’ll be posting my thoughts right here as soon as I do.  In the mean-time, let’s continue my look back at Christopher Nolan’s previous two Bat-films. Last week I wrote about Batman Begins. Of course, after re-watching that film, I was eager to dive right back into Christopher Nolan’s first Bat-sequel, The Dark Knight.

I have written about The Dark Knight before on this site.  Here is my original review of the film, which I wrote soon after having my brains blown out the back of my head by my first viewing of this magnificent film.  I stand by my rapturous review.  Having now seen the film several times, I think it has held up extremely well.  When I first saw it, I was continually shocked by the film’s plot developments, but even knowing what is going to happen I think the film still totally works.  In fact, knowing what is to come, there’s a powerful sense of additional dread watching the story unfold.  You know it’s not going to end happily.

I have read this film described as “Batman Loses” and that pretty much sums up the story.  Bruce Wayne gets smacked around for pretty much the entirety of the film’s long run-time.  This is the way a super-hero sequel should be.  Once you’ve established your super-heroic character, you need to really stack the deck against him/her.  It needs to be nearly IMPOSSIBLE to conceive of a way that your hero can overcome these tremendous odds, and boy oh boy does The Dark Knight do that in spades.

Key to this, of course, is the incredible success of Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker.  Everyone went crazy, back in 1989, for Jack Nicholson’s performance as the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman, and rightfully so.  It’s a spectacular performance, and one that was long-deemed un-toppable.  But Mr. Ledger’s work absolutely blows Mr. Nicholson out of the water.  This Joker is DANGEROUS in a way that Nicholson’s never really was.  Ledger’s Joker is creepy and weird and scary.  He clearly has a brilliant tactical mind (a point driven home by the film’s terrific opening sequence, an intricately-orchestrated robbery of a mob-controlled bank) but also a wild unpredictability.  Pretty much every single Joker scene in this film is instantly iconic, from his magic trick making a pencil disappear, to his various stories about how he got his scars, to his taunting of Batman in the police station’s interrogation room, to his conversation with a scarred Harvey Dent in his hospital room.

Which brings me, of course, to Harvey … [continued]


The Dark Knight Returns: Spoiler-Free Review!

I am almost speechless.

For the past two and a half hours I had my brains pretty much blown out the back of my head by the The Dark Knight in IMAX.

This is a SPECTACULAR film.

It is dense. It is dazzling. And boy oh boy it is dark. It is SHOCKINGLY dark — not in terms of gore but in terms of how brutal it is towards all of the major characters in the film. I’ve heard people compare this sequel to The Empire Strikes Back (sort of the geek Mount Olympus in terms of a sequel), and one way the two are very much alike is that both films are not afraid to pretty much beat the hell out of “our heroes,” both physically and emotionally, for pretty much the entire running time.

This is a Batman story. And the best Batman stories, in my opinion, are the downbeat ones. But the Batman movies to this point, even the very excellent Batman Begins, have always seemed to be rather afraid to veer too far away from the happy ending. In the films we’ve seen previously, Bruce Wayne and co. always seem to be able to find fairly painless ways out, narratively, of the troubles they find themseves in. But not here. Time after time in The Dark Knight, our characters are faced with difficult situations and impossible choices, and no easy exit is presented to them. This makes for an extraordinarily compelling film.

There’s great action in this movie, no question. But this movie isn’t driven by action set pieces. It is driven by STORY, and by CHARACTER. The scenes that I can’t stop thinking about aren’t the car chases (they are awesome) or the fight scenes (they are bone-crunching). Its moments like the scene in which Batman and Jim Gordon must confront a deranged, hopeless man with a gun to the head of an innocent. Or Bruce Wayne’s dinner with Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent. Or the Joker talking about his scars. Those are the scenes that are staying with me long after the lights went up in the theatre. And it is those sorts of intense emotional moments that propel the plot forward, rather than just fight scenes leading to more fight scenes.

Its a long movie, but I was on the edge of my seat right from the opening bank heist through to the absolutely note-perfect ending. Seeing the movie in huge, loud, glorious IMAX certainly enhanced that, but I simply cannot imagine anyone watching this movie in any sort of movie theatre not being intensely gripped by this film. I suppose some might complain that the film is too downbeat. But for … [continued]