- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ver the last few years, Warner Bros. has botched just about every opportunity of bringing DC’s stable of superheroes to the big screen, but the one thing they did get right was hiring Christopher Nolan to reboot the Batman franchise. The British-born director has never made a bad film, and though he didn’t seem like the wisest choice to be handed the keys to the Batcave at the time, Nolan quickly proved everyone wrong. “Batman Begins” wasn’t only one of the best films of 2005, but is now widely considered the best comic book movie ever made. It should come as no surprise, then, that the one film to challenge that title is none other than “The Dark Knight,” a worthy follow-up that is as good, if not better, than its predecessor.
With Batman’s (Christian Bale) war on crime hitting a fever pitch in Gotham City, there’s not a criminal around who doesn’t know his name, let alone fear the sight of the Bat-Signal lighting up the night sky. The masked vigilante has become such a symbol of hope, in fact, that ordinary men have begun dressing up like him so that they, too, can stalk the city dealing out justice to wrongdoers. Batman’s not too excited by the prospect of helping hands, unless they belong to police Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) or recently elected District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who have joined the caped crusader’s fight to take down the city’s remaining criminals. Desperate to get the Bat off their backs and resume business, Gotham’s leading crime bosses hire a maniacal street thug named The Joker (Heath Ledger) to kill him. What they don’t realize, however, is that The Joker is a time bomb waiting to explode, and though they’ve promised him millions of dollars for a job well done, all he cares about is the fun that comes in wreaking havoc.
For all the Oscar buzz surrounding Heath Ledger in the past few weeks, there still aren’t enough hours in the day to gush about his knockout performance as The Joker. It’s beyond phenomenal – a villainous turn so good that you never know what to expect next – and it puts Jack Nicholson’s cartoonish rendition from the 1989 version to shame. Ledger’s Clown Prince isn’t a one-dimensional goofball who listens to bad 80s music while parading around a museum – he’s a diehard anarchist who’s both smart and incredibly dangerous. Dressed like a bum with dirty green hair, smeared-on white and red makeup, and a hand-me-down purple suit, the Joker truly is the wild card he’s supposed to be. One minute he could be playfully entertaining his guests with one of many versions of how he received the smile-like scars on his face (when in reality, he probably just did it himself), and the next, he’s a nightmarish psychopath with the laugh of a rabid hyena.
When you deliver a performance as remarkable as Ledger’s, it’s difficult to expect anything even half as good from the other actors, but while Christian Bale suffers a loss of character development in order to make room for the larger-than-life Joker, both Aaron Eckhart and Gary Oldman thrive from some quality material. Eckhart is the perfect choice for Dent (he’s both cocky and valiant), and should he return for a third film as Two-Face, he proves here that he has the range to play such a complex character. Oldman, meanwhile, is given a far meatier role than his limited appearance in “Batman Begins,” and though he disappears for a stretch midway through the film, he’s essentially the fourth-lead in a movie packed to the gills with movie stars. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Maggie Gyllenhaal (stepping in for Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes), Michael Caine (popping in only when Bruce Wayne needs some fatherly advice), or Morgan Freeman (who could have been purged from the film without anyone noticing), but when Batman himself is fighting for screen time, it’s hard to complain about the loss of these characters.
If you thought “Batman Begins” was dark and gritty, you ain’t seen nothing yet. “The Dark Knight” is the “Empire Strikes Back” of comic book movie sequels, and were it not for the fact that Batman always prospers at the end of the day, the film could have very well ended with the villains on top of the world. In fact, it comes pretty darn close, all while delivering some pretty brutal violence (albeit offscreen) along the way. Of course, that’s to be expected when you’re dealing with a movie as grounded in reality as this. “The Dark Knight” isn’t so much a superhero flick as it is a crime drama with Batman as its protagonist, and while comparisons to genre favorites like “The Untouchables” and “Heat” are probably unwarranted, the film is closer to being a masterpiece than those will ever be. With a runtime of 152 minutes, “The Dark Knight” may seem like it’s never going to end, but you probably won’t even notice. Nolan hits the audience with wave after wave of action-packed, suspense-drenched climaxes with nary a dull spot throughout, and if there’s ever a comic book film that outdoes this one, fanboys might just explode from sensory overload.
Two-Disc Blu-Ray Release:
When you’re the highest grossing movie of the year, fans tend to expect a little more bang for their buck when it comes to the inevitable DVD and Blu-ray release. “The Dark Knight” is certainly loaded with an impressive collection of bonus material, but the lack of certain extras seems to hint that an ultimate edition is already in the works. You never know how long you’ll have to wait for that, though, which makes the two-disc Blu-ray release the perfect distraction until it does. Headlining the list of special features is an 18-part, 65-minute collection of behind-the-scenes material dubbed “Focus Points” that covers everything from the challenges (and advantages) of filming in IMAX to the planning and execution of just about every major action piece in the movie. Some sections get more love than others, but in the end, it’s an excellent guide to the making of the film. Other extras include two TV specials – one on the practicality of “Batman Tech” and another on the psychology of the Caped Crusader and his villains – as well as a handful of fake news stories (“Gotham Tonight”), galleries for concept art, poster art and production stills, and a digital copy of the film. It’s not the best Blu-ray of the year, but you could do worse.