Batman - The Dark Knight review by The Grim Ringler


In reading any of the reviews for this film I am sure you’re like me and had to wipe the hyperbole off your chest. Since the unfortunate death of Heath Ledger we’ve heard how amazing this portrayal of the Joker is and how great this film was going to be. Heck, you even had the talk of a posthumous Oscar for Mr. Ledger. It was hard to imagine how this film could ever live up to the hype. Ah, to oppose the fan-boy rantings of OMGs are those that will hate anything and everything that has buzz or is popular. By god, if it’s said to be big then there’s no way these folks will join anyone else in praising a film. With all the hollering it’s a wonder that any movie can be as good or as bad as people are saying. For me, the answer to the question of how good The Dark Knight is is this – wow.

Batman has been watching over Gotham for several months when TDK opens and this is having a visible effect on Gotham, a city that once feared the night. The criminals of the city now fear Batman and each tells a different tale of what or who this person could be, though they all agree on one thing – you don’t want to face him. While outwardly the police say they want to find Batman and hold him responsible for his vigilantism, they secretly work with him in helping make sure that Gotham is kept safe. Things are not good, but they are getting better in the city. In the criminal underground though there is a new face that has been making a name for himself, a scarred sociopath who uses no apparent logic in his actions and seems to act merely out of impulse. With Batman making it all but impossible for the criminal families to survive the Joker offers himself to them as an assassin, claming he will kill Batman for a fee. At first the families laugh him off, believing he is just another madman but, as he starts terrorizing the city on his own, they begin to see that he may be their best chance to return to city to their power. While Batman patrols the nights it is young district attorney Harvey Dent that is protecting the day as he hunts down the crime families and seeks to put them all on trial and to end their reign over the city. The Joker sees this all too well and targets not just Batman but everyone who stands in the way of the crime families in the city and one by one he kills them and uses them to spread fear and mistrust in the city. When things begin to get out of hand with the Joker though the families realize there is no ‘turning off’ someone like the Joker, someone who lives to destroy, and even they must trust that Batman will be able to stop him, which may prove something even the dark knight cannot do.

There is a LOT I am leaving out of my synopsis, if for no other reason than because if you have been lucky enough not to have it ruined thus far, I am not going to be the guy to blow all the fun surprises in store for you. Needless to say, this is a DENSE film and there is a lot going on here. It is not just about Joker and Batman, though they will get all the ink. This is a true ensemble piece, in every way, though you have to give credit where it’s due and here, it really is Heath Ledger that all but steals the show. What’s interesting to note is that it could be argued that many actors could play the role of the Joker and do it well as it’s written beautifully but the thing for me that Ledger is lost in the role. He doesn’t become the Joker, not at all, but he breathes life into the character and brings him to life. It’s almost like a deal with the devil, and he channeled the Joker from some place else. This is not what we have been shown in the films before. The thing about the Joker has always been that he told jokes that only he’d find funny, and would find them funny because they were cruel or horrible. It isn’t that he wants to kill people as much as he wants to break them. He wants to destroy Batman not out of hatred or feelings of revenge but because he can. He is, as he says in the film, an agent of chaos. There are two scenes in which you see this clearly, where Ledger becomes this man and where the Joker comes to life. He is a brilliant villain because he cannot be bargained with or understood. All you can do is kill him or lock him away. There is nothing in between. If this portrayal was a deal with the devil though, the devil came in the form of the writers, the brothers Nolan, who penned a horrifying villain. What’s funny is to look back at the awful portrayal Jack Nicholson did in the original BATMAN film and to see how he misunderstood the character. In his hands Joker is a clown still, but one that laughs at cruelty. Ledger’s Joker laughs, sure, but the laughter is hollow, a mockery of life and everything someone like Batman values. Joker is what happens when someone starts taking the law into their own hands. Scarecrow was the beginning – a criminal who hid, as Batman hides, behind a mask to do his crimes but the Joker, the Joker has no mask. He is the ugliness in the human heart unmasked and revealed and is a symbol for criminals as Batman is a symbol for good people. He represents match that will light the city ablaze and the hope for the criminals is that there will be something left to plunder when he’s done destroying things.

Praising Ledger is something you’ll see a lot of, and it’s well deserved. I won’t say he deserves an Oscar but you have to talk about it because there is no actor here, there is just a character. The rest of the cast is good as well and it’s refreshing that actress Maggie Gyllenhall is here as Rachel Dawes. She brings a much higher caliber of acting skill and it shows. As good as all the cast is though, the writing is what is so amazing here. To look at the previous BATMAN films you get a feeling of sadness that three of those films (save, in many ways, BATMAN RETURNS, which was a solid entry) missed what makes Batman who he is. It wasn’t that the movies weren’t dark enough because I won’t tell you that there has to be tragedy and pain to make these films good but there has to be more psychological depth than we got before. I always liked the first four because they were an interpretation of who and what Batman was but these two films, BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT are truly works of art in many ways. Batman is used as he was meant to be used, as a symbol – a martyr. This film does what none of the earlier films did and that is that it works from the characters outward, not the set pieces inward and that is a credit to director Nolan who has proven himself a master storyteller. As much as I want to see him and Bale continue this series part of me doesn’t mind if they leave because they left it all on the screen and I don’t know what else they have to say.

THE DARK KNIGHT is one of those rare and glorious blockbusters (as HELLBOY 2 is, as well) that deserves to do well, not because it was meant to, or made to, but because it is so carefully crafted. And have no doubt, this was indeed crafted. This is a real world, with real madness, and with real people reacting and acting on that madness. It’s a hyper-real version of life as we know it and one where, as ridiculous as it seems, madmen don’t just hide behind desks and pens. There are moments that are a bit over the top (could Bats push his voice any more in this thing?) but I think that’s to be expected in something like this. This is meant to be a big film, an epic film, and it is, and as such, not every moment works but, my god, so much is good and right here that it’s a work of real brilliance. The thing too is that I am intentionally leaving a LOT out. There is a twist in the film I had wondered about but didn’t dare think they’d do and, my god, it works wonderfully and, if the Joker is chilling, what he creates is even more so. There is no winning in this film, there is just enduring, much like real life itself.

I’d never put this film against something like CITIZEN KANE as far as where it stands in the ranks of films but this truly, in every way, raises the bar in what superhero films of this ilk should be. What’s interesting is that IRON MAN was so wonderful and beautifully done and yet, this is better. What an amazing summer for all of us. If Mr. Ledger had to die so young, we are all the better for having been left with such a haunting and brilliant performance and one which will quickly become the stuff of legend.


9 out of 10 Jackasses
blog comments powered by Disqus