By Josh Krubner
and I say “Woah there little buddy! I never said I didn’t like The Dark Knight!”
And though it unfortunately rarely comes up in conversation, not since my original review way back in July of 2008 have I written extensively about it.
As I often do, I will offer up two reviews that you, the reader are free to do with as they please:
The first, a review from an unbiased popcorn shoveling amateur critic movie-goer who has never seen or heard the word “Batman” outside of the only other [at the time] previous entry in the Nolan lineup; and the second from the “sweaty” perspective of a through and through fan- well, a comic book fan anyway.
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, the highly anticipated followup to his widely acclaimed launching pad, 2005’s Batman Begins comes out of the gate hot and continues to fire on all cylinders. From the stellar ensemble lineup of Bale, Caine, Freeman, Murphy, and Oldman, to added players Eric Roberts, Aaron Eckhart and oh yea… Heath Ledger, and the “blink and you’ll miss it/you’ll prefer this one anyway” switcheroo of Maggie Gyllenhaal filling in for Katie Holmes’ “Rachel Dawes,” The Dark Knight keeps you glued to the edge of your seat from the chilling opening frame.
The Dark Knight follows the Bale Batman into his sophomore outing, chasing down the lead from the ending of the first movie- an ominous “joker” playing card- while trying to keep the peace in Gotham. We clearly see that some amount of time has passed, the Batman has built a legacy, and everyone from bad guys declaring “it’s not a good night” [for a drug deal] to the local law have taken notice of the Bat in some fashion.
Bale is actually not the key player this time around, as the spotlight shines two-fold/almost evenly (pun-intended) on Oldman’s Jim Gordon and Aaron Eckhart’s show stealing Harvey Dent. Bale’s Batman and “what’s next for Gotham’s most elligble billionaire bachelor” takes a backseat to the crusade of singlehandedly bringing down the entire mob, spearheaded by Gotham’s daytime Bright Knight hotshot DA, Harvey Dent.
Following his own mantra of getting caught up in trying to do the right thing so hard that he “either dies a hero, or lives long enough to see himself become the villain”, this is Harvey’s crucible. The buzz is of course all about Ledger’s Joker, who is memorable and fantastic, but it’s very clearly Harvey’s coin toss to win- or to lose.
It is a comic book movie, and a Nolan movie. You can’t expect through and through perfection- though it comes pretty damn close. Aside from some VERY minor “wait…that can’t happen/this doesn’t make any god damn sense” moments FEW and far between, the movie goes off without a hitch, and is filled with enough frights, thrills, and heroic spots to entertain fans of any age.
The Dark Knight very easily gets an A+ or a 9.6/10.
On the off chance you’re one of the few who has missed my dirty little secret, I’ll bring it out in the open again… I kinda hate Batman. No, not the amazing cartoon or the 1989 movie, the character. Being born in the wrong era, im pretty partial to hokey and campy as fuck 40s and 50s Bats, but even my fleeting admiration for the Caped Crusader doesn’t come close to appreciation for essentially the ENTIRE bat family (not Jason and damian of course, definitely Dick, can’t ever have enough Dick!) in terms of The Dark Knight… not a fan. He’s “OP as fuck”, full of himself, and entirely full of shit (see, they got me giving props to fucking JASON!) as evidenced by the masterful Under the Hood storyline… or if you wanna go more recent, Death of the Family… or any of the millions of other times, he didn’t pull a Batman Begins and realize “I’m not gonna kill you, I don’t have to save you either”. Get over it, and get over yourself Bats. Even Superman has killed! And I swear, if I hear “prep time” or “because he’s Batman!” (not coming from HISHE, that one im fine with) ONE MORE F-ING TIME…
While I can see you all sitting there seething, I’m about to make it SO much worse. I know, I know, “I don’t like Batman” is a pretty serious statement to have out in the open, claiming to be a lifelong comic fan no less, well guess what, I really HATE the Joker. Yup, I said it… it’s out there. I not only HATE the Joker, I don’t get the Joker. You don’t get the Joker, no one does… and do you know why? Because it’s the SAME bullshit answer as “because he’s Batman!”
*I don’t hate Hammil’s Joker, but he doesn’t make much sense either.
Yea, I get it, “it’s a comic book! It’s not supposed to be realistic!” and yet, even Barry was able to avenge his wife’s [then murder] and save the life of his new fiancé by super-speed choke-holding the Reverse Flash until his fucking neck snapped! Then, like a real person, he stood trial for it! They even found him acquitted. The fallout tested his relationship with Wally, who had legit testified against him. Then he died saving the world from a multiverse ending Crisis. That’s reality…sort of.
So how is it that someone can hate “the greatest villainz everz?” Because, like I said, he’s inconsistent and bullshit.
Pre Crisis (and even during) the Joker was not much more than a gimmicky bank robber. That all changed with the book that every comic “Fan” loves to jerk off to, the Killing Joke- I’ll have more on just that book at a later time, as we’re five tangents deep in a movie review and that would just go on forever. Just remember Jim Gordon, midgets, bondage. That’s a thing. It happens. NO ONE ever so much as brings it up to the point I wonder if people actually read this book, or just say they did to look like they’re in the know.-
Finally the Joker got an origin…kinda/maybe. It still doesn’t explain how the fucking Joker, a 130lb psychopath/possible genius is essentially the bestest chemist, martial artists, demolitions expert, and (magician when the plot needs him to be) that ever lived. All those formulas, taming and mind-controlling hyenas, various amusement parks tricked out with smiles, landing a babe like Harley (a PHD mind you) getting the drop on literally EVERYONE and everything – hell in just Death of the Family, he gets the drop on every single member- ie the members wearing bullet proof Iron Man armor lite, who have a combined 355yrs of martial arts training from everyone from Deathstroke to Lady Shiva, to the League of Assassins.
Joker is free to move about, kill thousands, and do whatever the plot needs him to do, with little to no ramifications or even a change to the status quao since Jason came back to life. What does this have to do with The Dark Knight? The number one thing people wouldn’t shut up about –and still wont, now that I think about it- is Heath Ledger’s Joker.
So there’s me, a guy who pretty much “didn’t enjoy” Batman Begins, sitting in my chair circa 11:30pm on either July 17th or July 18th 2008 pending the midnight showing. Aside from the Watchmen trailer I wasn’t expecting, it was pretty standard fare. “Oh great, another REALISTIC batman movie. Heath’s Joker is new and quirky..yay” and then…it happened.
I saw for the first time, a movie I’ve now seen at least 351 additional times since.
The movie opened with a silent eerie zoom over rooftops and set up one of the most fun and ingenious (even if looking at it now, it’s incredibly risky, pretty stupid, and impossible to pull off) heists I’ve ever seen on film.
This of course culminates with our first reveal of Heath doing the “simply makes you…stranger” line, and the theater erupted.
“Not bad” I thought.
You can think Heath Ledger’s Joker is the “bees knees.” I’m not gonna take that away from you or from him. He was “great” at the role he played. Looking back now, it makes sense he was a disgruntled Iraqi War/Afghan War vet (Jim still doesn’t agree with me on this one/the highly speculated fan theory) but he wasn’t playing ANY kind of “Joker”, he was playing “Jigsaw”. It was 2008, I was able to make this comparison.
The standout breakaway hit of the movie, my favorite character and aside from Gordon or Alfred the only one I cared about, was Harvey Dent. I was going absolutely apeshit- having not really been that big a Two-Face fan previously. And yes, I realize he didn’t play any kind of traditional comics [Two-Face] either, but holy shit what a character! What an arc!
I found myself wondering after two fake-outs if they were really gonna go through with even making him Two-Face, and more importantly if he’d make it out of the movie alive. Remember those words “if he’d make it out of the movie alive”, they come up not to far ahead.
The Dark Knight, despite having very little Batman, (and even then less Batman one could understand in it), is pretty much a masterpiece. Aside from the insane complexity of the cell-phone bomb, the only scene that years later rubs me the wrong way is when Bruce throws himself out the window after Rachel… he’s left the Joker with 200+ unarmed civilians. What happened? Did Joker unmask and leave? Did he kill all those people? Did they forget? Not important still a great a movie. Great action, great themes, not “too Nolan” (at the time, it retroactively becomes so, but through no fault of this movie) and you get amazing lines like “the size…of a tangerine”
It wasn’t until openly talking about the movie on and on after hundreds of re-watches years later that I realized the most subtle yet still in your face aspect delivered in true “I’m smarter than you, look how fucking smarter than you I is” Nolan exposition (which almost always comes via Michael Caine).
The Joker had to win. Every single character- willingly/knowingly or not- playing the Joker’s game, had to completely compromise their own values to even make it out of the movie alive. Those that didn’t, well they didn’t make it to the credits. Let’s run down the list shall we?
Bruce Wayne/Batman- he wants to be a symbol to the people, but he also wants a civilian life with Rachel. He can’t commit fully to either one, and when he makes the definitive choice of Rachel going against his crusade, she’s ripped away from him and he’s left on the run; the people burning his legacy in effigy. “The hero we need”, etc etc.
Alfred Pennyworth- Alfred wants to be loyal to Bruce, and do what’s right for Bruce as Batman, keeping his head in the game for saving Gotham. Alfred burns Rachel’s letter, setting Bruce on the full-steam ahead Batman path, beginning the eventual end of their entire relationship, losing him in the process, and forsaking the human side of the man he’s trying to be loyal to in the first place.
Lucious Fox- Fox doesn’t feel comfortable spying on everyone. He has to go against his own views and carry out the “brother eye” operation, only learning in defiant defeat, that the man he didn’t trust, trusted him all along.
Jim Gordon- Gordon wanted to believe the good in his cops, because they were fucking HIS! Despite a bizarre murder plot, in doing so, he gets a shitload of people killed, almost loses his son, loses Gotham’s White Knight, and Gotham’s Dark Knight, having to destroy the very legacy of the one man he looked up to.
Hell even Mr. Reese compromises his values and buries Bruce’s secret, foregoing his extortion payout and letting the people know the truth.
Then, we have Harvey and Rachel, two people who refuse to budge, and get blown to shit as a result.
Rachel makes a very clear choice. She’s going to stay within the law, give up on Bruce, and have a life with Harvey- and it gets her killed.
Harvey doesn’t trust Gordon’s cops. He wants to crush the mob, and he even wants to take the fall for Batman. It nearly gets him killed. Harvey continues to refuse to outright kill, not forsaking his values, merely amending them, and letting the coin decide, and it gets him killed.
It’s genius really.
As great as this movie is, and it is, it was almost COMPLETELY undone by the opening scene of Dark Knight Rises…and definitely every scene they tried to redo successful story and emotional beats from this one “eight years later, and with a fraction of the effort” or how they tried to convince us that Bruce still gave a fuck about Rachel and went into retirement/seclusion, not just as Batman…but as billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne due to her death.
You can read my thoughts on that POS here, if you haven’t already:
From the fan perspective, The Dark Knight gets:
an A+ or a 9.6/10.