“Wanna know how I got these scars?”
The Scoop: 2008, PG-13. Directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Tagline: Why so serious?
Summary Capsule: Bruce is the dark knight, Harvey’s the white knight, and the Joker’s wild.
Justin’s Rating: The killing joke is no joke
Justin’s Review: For all that people raved and lauded and promised their firstborn to The Dark Knight in the summer of 2008, there was a giant blind eye turned to the fact that this was nothing much more than a gussed-up superhero sequel, strictly adhering to the superhero playbook:
- Superhero sequels have to be bummer trips where everything gets so incredibly dark and depressing, to the point which the superhero throws down his cards and decries, “I fold.” (See: Spider-Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Superman II, and most likely Iron Man 2)
- Then it gets even more dark and depressing, and the hero realizes that nobody else is going to step up and fix this mess, so he dusts off his suit and conscience, and saves the day – at great cost.
- One villain in the first movie? Well, you’re now legally obligated to have two here. Just thank your lucky stars for the Batman reboot, otherwise we’d be up to about seven superheroes and sixteen villains per Batman flick if Joel Schumacher was still in charge.
- The evil scheme grows so complex and twisted that a thousand nerds at a thousand flowcharts wouldn’t be enough to sort it out.
- Just about everyone in the city ends up learning your secret identity, because you have a nasty habit of taking your mask off constantly so that the audience remembers what actor is playing the part.
It’s some time after the events of Batman Begins, and apparently Batman’s making great effort in actually cleaning up Chicago… er, Gotham City. Unfortunately, whenever a superhero becomes successful in this sort of arena, it’s like they become a big magnet for crazy bad guys who don’t decide to take up crime in another town that’s not protected by a billionare with a flying rodent complex. Say, Cedar Falls or Omaha. You never see superheroes wandering around in Nebraska, is all I’m saying.
So enter The Joker, played by the late Heath Ledger, and I will say nothing bad about him here. As Christian Bale goes all mopey and absolutely ruins his throat by rasping his dialogue as if he’s a ten-pack-a-day smoker, Ledger steals, robs and plunders every scene he’s in with a type of psychotic lunacy that deftly avoids villain clichés. Keeping up his namesake, he’s also pretty darn funny – the “pencil trick” had our entire theater audience both laughing and wincing simultaneously – and comes closer to the true spirit of the comic book Joker than anything we’ve ever seen before. And that statement comes from a guy who used to worship Jack Nicholson’s 1989 Joker (“Bob… you… are my number one… guyyyyyy”).
Unfortunately, the Joker’s plan to seed chaos and mayhem throughout Gotham is just beyond stupid if you pause to consider all of the logistics and statistical odds from his point of view. Yeah, it looks all well and frantic as Batman’s trying to capture him, stop robberies, save people from explosions and whatnot, but the only way the Joker could’ve accomplished even a half of what he did is if he had a magic pocket genie named Abdula who would grant him a wish every hour. The plot keeps topping itself with ridiculous twist after twist until you’re not even questioning Batman using cellphones as a sonic locator (bat motif!) or how the Joker accurately predicted how Two Face would be born and react to his transformation.
Katie Holmes, perhaps wrapped up in attaining Operating Thetan Level III, was wisely replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal, the sacrificial lamb of all that is good and pure and innocent in Gotham. She, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman all clamor for second-tier billing, proving that too many awesome actors with too little screen time is sadder than the myth of global warming. You like all of these people, sure, but Ledger’s terrific turn as the Joker and the captivating tragedy of his passing pretty much made everyone antsy when he wasn’t on screen. “Get outta here, Academy Award Winners!” the audience would howl. “More Ledger!”
If I may speak for my colleagues at Mutant Reviewers here, one of the reasons why we took so long in reviewing The Dark Knight wasn’t that we didn’t enjoy it (I think it was more or less universally liked) or that there wasn’t enough to say – just that this was a monumental superhero movie that may just stand at the top of the pack of the decade, and that is a huge thought to tackle when you want to give the film justice. Obviously, I’m not the one to do that, so I’m just here to chew the fat.
Al’s Rating: So, this movie came out that you may have heard of…
Al’s Review: Or, actually, if you read this website, maybe you didn’t. Some of you have no doubt noticed that, since July 2008, The Mutant Reviewers from Hell has been curiously lacking in the Batman department. Now, I have not consulted with the other Mutants in the office, but I feel I can say that it’s not for a lack of trying. After all, The Dark Knight was fantastic. The new characters are complex and layered. The returning characters are pushed in interesting directions. The plot is involved but rewards those who pay attention. All around, it is simply a masterful film and everybody (excluding a handful of misguided souls) knows it. So, really, the problem becomes, what else is there to say?
Right now, the database at mrqe.com lists 270 reviews of The Dark Knight. I will sum them up for you here: The Joker was awesome. Two-Face was creepy. Maggie Gyllenhaal was okay. Batman’s voice was stupid. They are the same things I was going to say and the same things you probably already know. But let’s talk about ‘em anyway.
1) The Joker was awesome. Seriously. Heath Ledger deserves every bit of praise that the talking heads have thrown his way. He is brilliant, terrifying, and absolutely insane. Make no mistake, Jack Nicholson played a truly great Joker. The difference is that Jack Nicholson would never blow up a hospital in a nurses’ outfit; he had too much style. There’s no style in this monster. There’s no self-control. There’s no forethought and no afterthought, or perhaps there is so much of all of it that it just seems that way. Nicholson played the Joker as the Clown Prince of Crime. Ledger plays the Joker as an id with a machine gun.
2) Two-Face was creepy. Traditionally, Two-Face’s disfigurement had been limited to a bumpy, discolored face and maybe one bulging eyeball. You might want to walk the other way rather than pass him on the street, but it didn’t really strike fear into your heart or anything. This Two-Face, however, is the stuff of nightmares. Blackened skin, bits of bone, muscles and tendons that are bare and oozing. Its repulsiveness is in its realism. It’s the kind of thing that screams ‘infection.’
On top of it all, the film made him make sense. I mean, I’ve always understood Two-Face’s motivation, but until this movie I had never realized that I didn’t buy it. I accepted it, but that’s really not the same thing. Aaron Eckhart made me believe in the allure of letting a coin flip solve your problems, and that creeps me out even more.
3) Maggie Gyllenhaal was okay. I was one of those crazy people who thought Katie Holmes did a pretty good job in Batman Begins. I was disappointed when she didn’t want to come back for the sequel, although Maggie is certainly a great choice to replace her. In the end, though, it turns out that the switch is pretty much a non-issue because Rachel Dawes doesn’t really have a lot to do in The Dark Knight except get captured and be thrown off of buildings. She’s important, sure, but it seems the concept of Rachel Dawes matters more than the woman playing her. That’s not to disparage Maggie’s performance, of course. There just isn’t enough of a role there to be worth mentioning.
4) Batman’s voice was stupid. Batman Begins didn’t feature a lot of talking by our hero while he was in-costume. He’s still reasonably quiet in The Dark Knight, but Batman definitely has a lot more to say this time around and that means we hear a more of his Gravelly Batman Voice. It makes sense that Bruce Wayne would have a Gravelly Batman Voice for when he was under the cowl, but a little goes a long way and The Dark Knight simply had too much. Of course, they could’ve taken my suggestion and just let Kevin Conroy dub the whole thing, but that’s another conversation altogether.
Obviously, there is plenty more that is worth talking about. The bat-gadgets. The sweeping cityscapes. The way the Joker manages to look even more disturbing without his makeup. It’s a conversation I could have for hours. But instead, I think there’s an easier way for me to sum up my feelings on The Dark Knight: Me too. “I loved the interrogation scene.” Me too. “I thought the score was brilliant.” Me too. “I’m really surprised Batman jumped off a building then fell several stories onto taxi cab and walked away.” Me too.
All the good stuff you’ve heard? Me too.
Most of the bad stuff you’ve heard? Me too.
And you know those chills you get when you think about a sequel? Me too.
Lissa’s Rating: Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight? Oops. Wrong Joker. Sort of.
Lissa’s Review: Of all the solo superheroes, Batman appeals to me the most. I think mainly because he’s not so super strong that he’s invincible. There’s a level of “hey, I could do that!” in him. He’s not so much a superhero as he is someone with really, really cool technology.
But still, I just can’t seem to get too into Batman, even though he’s the best of the superheroes. Well, maybe Spider-Man. I don’t know. It depends on my mood and whose girlfriend is being less annoying.
However, for all that I’m finding solo superheroes kind of boring, I fully support the new, grittier versions of them. You know, the ones where they actually get tired and have moral dilemmas and dislocate shoulders and stuff. Batman Begins started that for this franchise, and The Dark Knight certainly continues it.
That said, I was underwhelmed.
I KNOW. Shock of shocks, and stone me and throw me into a pit today, for I have foresaken my geekdomness. I’ll hand over my badge, okay?
Look, I’m not calling it a bad movie. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But I was expecting something really twisted and really off the wall, I think just from all the hype. I was expecting not to be able to sleep after this movie, like I couldn’t sleep after Blood on the Scales or Schindler’s List.
I slept just fine.
And it wasn’t that the movie was bad, or the acting was bad. Christian Bale still is my favorite Batman of all time, with his brooding moodiness and tortured what-the-hell-am-I-doing-running-around-in-a-costume-ness. And Heath Ledger did deserve his Oscar, because he totally knocked it out of the park with the Joker. Even moreso if you’ve seen Brokeback Mountain, because I seriously cannot imagine two more different characters than Ennis del Mar and the Joker. And the one who really got me was Aaron Eckhart, playing one of the most understandable, sympathetic, no-don’t-go-there! villains ever. Seriously, I don’t think I’d ever seen much he’s done before now, but I was totally sold. Add in Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman (do either of them EVER turn in a bad performance?), and Maggie Gyllenhaal, and you’ve got some excellent acting all around. Excellent effects, good plot (albeit a bit on the long side), and some decent dialogue… it’s not like I can say “this part SUCKED and ruined the movie for me.” And really, the movie wasn’t ruined for me at all. I enjoyed it. I was just expecting to be thoroughly depressed after it, and I wasn’t.
Oh well. Such is hype, I suppose.
But for the most part, The Dark Knight did a pretty good job living up to the positive reviews. I won’t say it lived up to the hype because few things ever do, but it was a pretty darn good movie. And yet, I just can’t get into jumping up and down and telling you you absolutely MUST see this movie NOW. Maybe it’s because you already have. Maybe it’s because it’s Batman. Maybe I’m just lazy today, I don’t know. I think the truth is that you know going into this one if you’ll like it or not. If you like Batman, you’ll probably like it. If you don’t, you won’t.
So take that for what it’s worth.
- William Fitchner in the William Fitchner role?
- The Scarecrow? Yay, a rogue’s gallery!
- “Here’s my card.” Heh.
- Lucius Fox mentions the new suit should do fine against cats? Maybe a little bit of foreshadowing?
- Senator Patrick Leahy at Bruce Wayne’s fundraising party?
- Anthony Michael Hall as the host of Gotham Tonight?
- The Jerry Maguire reference?
- The “I believe in Harvey Dent” sticker on Joker’s nurse outfit?
- That The Joker apparently rigged an entire hospital with explosives and no one noticed?
- That headache you get when you look at Bat-sonar for too long?
- This is the first Batman film not to incorporate the word Batman in it’s title.
- While developing the style and mannerisms of the Joker, Heath Ledger relied on the look of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and Malcolm McDowell’s portrayal of Alex De Large in A Clockwork Orange.
- This is the last film role Heath Ledger completed prior to his death on January 22nd, 2008.
- Ledger won 32 posthumous Supporting Actor awards for his work on this movie.
- Much of the script sprung from the Batman stories “The Long Halloween,” “The Killing Joke,” “The Man Who Laughs,” as well as some early appearances of the Joker in the 1940s.
The Joker: Wanna know how I got these scars?
The Joker: I believe whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you… stranger.
The Joker: How about a magic trick?
Harvey Dent: The famous Bruce Wayne. Rachel’s told me everything about you.
Bruce Wayne: I certainly hope not.
Harvey Dent: You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
The Joker: Do you want to know why I use a knife? Guns are too quick. You can’t savor all the… little emotions. In… you see, in their last moments, people show you who they really are. So in a way, I know your friends better than you ever did. Would you like to know which of them were cowards?
The Joker: Do I really look like a guy with a plan?
If You Liked This Movie, Try These:
- Batman Begins
- Batman (1989)