Originally Reviewed – 7/21/2012
When Batman Begins hit theaters, it was a revelation. Dark, gritty and visceral, the Caped Crusader had made a grand return to the silver screen and fans like me loved it. As soon as the credits rolled on the initial film in the Nolan trilogy, I wanted more. The only reservation I had was in the movie’s final frame, the one where the sequel’s villain was revealed. Joker. I remember thinking how could they possibly do another Joker. Jack Nicholson was Joker and even if they found a suitable replacement, how could Batman theatrically stand up to such a strong character. My fears, as everybody on the face of the planet knows by now, were unfounded. Not only did The Dark Knight exceed the original film in storytelling, action and grandeur, it’s one of the finest superhero movies ever made. In fact, in re-watching it for what seems like the 1000th time for this review, I hesitate to call it a superhero movie at all.
Much like the first movie in the new series, The Dark Knight revolves around a central theme. This time around, it’s idea of anarchy balancing order. Much like the ying and the yang, one cannot exist without the other. And what better way to illustrate that point? Have a maniacal clown (Heath Ledger) spin chaos in the streets of Gotham. Hot on his tail is the new district attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the Man in Black himself (Christian Bale). Everything in the second film is bigger and more grandiose than it was in the original. The action is better paced, the role of Rachel Dawes was replaced by a better actress (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and there even more Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). And let’s be honest. More Morgan Freeman is always a good thing.
Bale once again cements himself as this generation’s Batman, even though his character has less of an impact than he did in Begins. Batman is still an easy character to root for but the story of TDK runs into the classic, “the villain is more interesting” trap. Heath Ledger’s Joker, a role he won a posthumous Academy Award for, is fascinating and terrifying. While many fans latched onto the Nicholson / Ledger debate, I remain Switzerland in my opinions. The two did very different interpretations of the character, making a side by side comparison near impossible. Nicholson’s Joker was more fun, Ledger’s was more controlled and interesting, thanks to a fantastic script by David S. Goyer. In the end, Ledger’s Joker stole nearly every scene he while it does come off a little over the top at points, it’s the Joker. He’s allowed to be a little unhinged.
The rest of the cast follows the exact same beats, thanks to the fine direction of Christopher Nolan. The film is visually spectacular, with more involving action sequences, clever nods to the first film and the further development of the Batman character. This time around, the hero doesn’t always triumph and like any good “second act” movie should do, sets a dank and almost depressing tone for the third installment. Nolan’s direction is much more focused this time around but the screenplay is so jam packed, the film feels much longer than its 152 minutes. Other minor issues include pacing problems in the third act and a Dawes / Wayne / Dent triangle that provide little tension but when my internal critic starts yammering, there’s another jaw dropping set piece to shut it up.
At this point in the review, I have little else to say that hasn’t already been said. The new film opened this weekend, critics are going nuts for it and releasing a Dark Knight critique may be like throwing a coconut into a pack of feeding animals. I doubt they’d have any interest. Much like the final image of Batman riding into the night, The Dark Knight is all about looking forward to the final feature, a film that would take 4 years to eventually reach us. It stands alone as one of the best superhero movies ever made, but the film’s real success is going to depend on how well the Jedi of the trilogy maintains that momentum. As is, The Dark Knight is a gripping, fun filled and chaotic ride that gives us more insight into the Man in Black than any other feature to date. Batman’s second modern day adventure is the archetype for modern superhero movies, giving the most cinematic comic character in existence the series he deserves. The third and final movie awaits and I doubt it will disappoint.
Score – 90%