It was five o’ clock when Eims & myself went to see The Dark Knight and we staggered out into bright daylight two and a half hours later as if we had awoken from cryogenic sleep. The second of the new iteration in the Batman series is an exhausting experience. For starters, the film is long. Normally this would be a sign of a flabby vanity project full of pointless exposition but the pace never lets up in The Dark Knight, which brings me back to why the audience stumbled into the cinema foyer at half seven wondering why it was so infernally bright. This is a demanding film. Usually a film with a high quotient of action means you can switch your brain off and enjoy the fireworks. The Dark Knight isn’t like this. It takes a number of twists & turns and has characters more than paper-thin caricatures so you have to pay attention to follow what is going on.
It’s not a perfect film by any means. The “Batman voice” will probably get on your nerves. It got on mine and I haven’t come across anyone who did like it (see video below for an idea of what the reaction has been). Some of the action scenes veer into the silly. The Batbike is something of a repeat offender here. As mentioned above, it’s also long and while it’s a very ambitious film and has a lot of story to get through, it’s too long really. There’s also a special effect regarding one character that had most people giggling and took some getting used to.
That’s the bad stuff out of the way and there’s plenty to enjoy. Highlights include the fantastic cinematography. Some of the scenes were filmed in IMAX so if you can see it on that format, you really should. The Hong Kong scene is a particular highlight and having seen the skyline there earlier this year, it was great to see it on the big screen again. For a film that is shrouded in darkness, there’s no end of eye candy, whether it is the griminess of Gotham city or the surgical ward sterility of Wayne towers.
The performances are excellent. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s spikey Rachel Dawes is a huge improvement on the bland Katie Holmes. It’s hard to imagine Holmes pulling off the scene where she confronts the Joker but Gyllenhaal does it with ease & conviction. Aaron Eckhart has a role that could have been schmaltzy central but he works hard enough to make us care. Bale himself does a sterling job. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the role as I don’t think there’s any actor out there who can wear a suit like he can (important for Bruce Wayne-ness), let alone play the somewhat psychopathic character that is Batman. I’m not a huge fan of Michael Caine but he is good in this in a role that fits him like a glove.
Now to Heath Ledger’s Joker…
The wave of sentiment in the aftermath of Ledger’s unfortunate death meant that an objective look at his performance was always going to be difficult. Is the performance “oscar worthy”? No it isn’t but don’t let that put you off because it is still a powerhouse display from an actor who started off in upmarket rom-com films and graduated to serious & demanding roles. Based on this performance, his legacy is secure as this Joker is far superior to the self-centred limelight-hogging of Jack Nicholson’s version. Ledger actually plays the role. Nicholson merely played a variation of the same lunatic he’s been playing for much of his career. Ledger is unrecognisable in the role and that is more due to his total immersion in the character than any amount of make-up applied. There are some lovely light touches like the nurse costume and the somewhat clownish playing with the buttons on a detonator but when required, Ledger reminds you that this character is essentially a repulsive freak and doesn’t hold back when it’s time to lose the luvviness.
Is it a fitting epitaph for Ledger? Definitely.
Some of the action scenes are a little silly but most are not, despite the inherent implausibility of many of the stunts. Particular standouts are the armoured car chase and the Hong Kong sequence.
It’s amusing that after the accusations of WALL-E being “liberal propaganda”, that The Dark Knight should be accused of being apologetic for the “war on terror” but you could easily make a case that it takes the opposite side as well. Bleurgh. Just enjoy the film and leave Fox news do what they do.
Is it the best film of the summer so far? No. That title goes to the rather bright & joyous WALL-E but it’s still a very good film and simply must be watched on the big screen to get the most from it. I give it a 4/5. In the meantime, enjoy the post-credits sequence below.