Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Dark Knight Review


Overall Grade: A

It has been some time since I've walked out of a theater with a mix of depression, hope, exhaustion, admiration, and trepidation. Let me get this out of the way now, in my estimation, The Dark Knight is the best Super-Hero film of all-time. The experience of watching the film is something similar to allowing your emotions to run a marathon. Its a breathtaking and brutal affair, and I can't wait to do it again.

What The Dark Knight's director Christopher Nolan has accomplished is remarkable. Not only has The Dark Knight surpassed its genre mates, it has obliterated them. There are all the hallmarks of the superhero comic book genre here, but what Nolan provides us with, elevates the film into an epic crime saga between Greek Gods, where everything has implications not only for our characters but for humanity as well. The ideas of a costumed crusader and a villain with a flair for theatricality is squeezed for everything its worth. From these ideas spring a deep pool of themes ranging from what a hero really is, hope vs. despair, anarchy vs. civilization, and the basic goodness of humanity. We've left the simplicities of "I don't want to make weapons that harm our own soldiers" that we saw with Iron Man, and "With great powers comes great responsibilities" that we got with Spider-Man, and entered into a brave new world (not of the Aldous Huxley type).

Its as if the entire genre has come of age in one film. Nolan has given us a movie thats as dark as Zodiac, as nihilistic as No Country for Old Men, as dualistic as Heat, as noble as The Untouchables, as heroic and action-packed as Superman, Die Hard, The Bourne Supremacy, and as good hearted as The Lord of the Rings. One of the movie's tag lines is "Welcome to a World Without Limits", and it seems Nolan has taken that to heart.

I won't detail the plot here (its epic and its twisty), but I do want to take a moment from praising the film as a whole, to praising the film's individual ingredients, as they are all exemplary. The director and his brother Christopher Nolan co-wrote the screenplay and much props has to go to them. This is as layered a screenplay as I've seen since No Country for Old Men or Munich. Its equal parts engaging crime saga, as it is philosophical and symbolic. Its also the first adult, intelligent, and fair-handed dissection of the issues America deals with in a post 9/11 world. When Heath Ledger's Joker says to Batman, "You've changed things, there's no going back", its clear that there is more going on to this story than meets the eye.

Even though the film is a Batman film, it really is an ensemble piece. All the actors are given meaty parts, purposeful roles, and excellent lines. Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal (a welcome change from Katie Holmes), and Christian Bale all do exemplary work here. The real standout is Heath Ledger. What can be said? Ledger's Joker is spectacular. He is more than a villain, more than a nemesis for Batman to fight, Ledger embodies a Joker that in the end comes to represent chaos himself. While remaining completely human, Ledger transcends his character to create something of an archetype, a symbol of evil; much similar to the way Bale's Batman embodies Good in the end. Whether or not its nominated for any awards is outside the point, this role will be remembered for a long time to come. Its simply iconic.

I haven't mentioned the action yet, have I? Suffice to say, the film has some great action sequences that truly define grandiosity. I liked the sequences here a lot more than those found in Batman Begins because I felt like they served the story better as well as were just put together better. They are intelligent and smart, as well as pulse-pounding and fun. The technical aspects of the film are all top-notch. A special shout out to the score (Joker's theme is a revelation) and the cinematography, both are exquisite. The film has some minor flaws that I noticed, but they are easily forgivable flaws, and ones that never hurt the story or the central themes behind it.

Easily the best film of the year so far (will anything top it?). Blockbusters of this kind are the rarest of finds. Most of the time we are stuck with films that shoot for the usual and make it (Iron Man) or films that try to be ambitiously different and miss it (Hancock). The Dark Knight is that rare blockbuster film that dares to reach for the moon, and actually achieves it.

5 comments:

Peter Chan said...

all i read was your "A", just in case i catch some spoilers. glad you liked it.

Kyle Leaman said...

Don't think there are too many spoilers in the review. I stay away from any plot twists and detail. Any spoilers are merely by accident. can't wait to hear your opinion when you see it!

Julie said...

It says a lot when you have to wait til the end of a comic book action hero movie review to even briefly talk about the action scenes. I have almost gotten to the point where that is the reason why I go see comic book hero movies. I think there'll be some cool action sequences (Spiderman) or awesome little detailed work (Transformers and Iron Man). I stopped expecting great characters or story lines out of them. I expect there to be holes in the plot, I expect to find unrealistic characters. The Dark Knight does not have these issues. As you said, it does have its own set of flaws but one would have to work hard to focus on them.

Your description "similar to allowing your emotions to run a marathon" is very fitting. I went in expecting a great, creepy performance from Heath Ledger (which I definitely got times ten) and some great action scenes (which I also got). What I did not expect were all the themes and commentary on humanity. We have to talk about it later because I want to talk about specific scenes but I will not do that on here. Let's suffice it to say that I agree with everything you said!

Kyle Leaman said...

Having taken in all the early screening reports, early reviews, and nearly every single trailer and clip, I thought there would be little to no suprises or suspense in the film; and it still surprised me! Its own genre is not the only thing that it supercedes; it supercedes expectations as well

micahmcmillan said...

I'm a little late to this post Kyle, but I agree with your thoughts on this film. I really liked TDK but felt it was almost too much, kind of like the emotional marathon experience you described. I loved the fact that we were set up for the cell-phone sonar tech early on, but I also felt that the whole Hong Kong sequence was non-essential and didn't add anything vital. Other than just a general feeling that there should have been a bit more aggressive editing of minutiae, I am one with your review. I think the "hero they need/deserve" distinction at the end is also a point worthy of further discussion, hopefully you'll share your thoughts on that point as well. :)