Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Dark Knight (2008)

   In 2005, acclaimed director Christopher Nolan resurrected the long dead Batman movie franchise with his fresh and more grim/realistic approach.  BATMAN BEGINS revealed the origins of the legendary caped crusader of Gotham City by showing flashbacks of Thomas and Martha Wayne murdered in an alley in front of their only son Bruce.  Several years pass and Bruce Wayne decides to travel the world and learn how to fight against corruption and injustice. Bruce returns to Gotham seven years later and unleashes a masked avenger in the form of one of his childhood fears, a bat.  Batman uses his strength and a variety of high tech gadgets to fight the sinister forces that threaten Gotham such as Ra's Al Ghul and his League of Shadows, Dr. Jonathan Crane aka The Scarecrow, and crime boss Carmine Falconi.  At the time of release, not many people paid attention to BATMAN BEGINS due to the atrocity from 1997 known as BATMAN & ROBIN that pissed off many hardcore fans and destroyed the hope for a good quality Batman movie. BATMAN BEGINS did however receive good business on DVD and in rentals, which gave it a decent success.

     Since BATMAN BEGINS was doing good on the home video market, Warner Bros. knew that a sequel would be in the works. Many fans who saw the film were excited for not only a well told and very good quality Batman movie, but that BATMAN BEGINS ended with a reference to The Joker in the form of the Joker card.  When news broke that the next Batman movie would have Batman pitted against The Joker, fans cheered for joy. It had been about 19 years since the last time The Joker fought Batman on the big screen in the 1989 smash hit BATMAN that starred Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Jack Nicholson as The Joker.  The big question was, which actor would play Batman's arch nemesis this time around?  News finally broke in late 2007 that Heath Ledger would be starring as the clown prince of crime opposite Christian Bale as Batman/Bruce Wayne.  Fans immediately went into an uproar and bashed the hell out of this new Batman film. That is until the teaser trailer came out that featured Ledger's voice and laugh as The Joker. Then, pictures began to find themselves on the internet. Instead of a "permawhite" condition like the comics and the 1989 Tim Burton film, this Joker wore clown make-up and had his mouth cut, giving him a demented grin. Some fanboys hated it, but fans such as myself loved that Nolan was taking a villain right out of the comics and reworking him a bit to fit into our world.  Then, on January 22, 2008, Heath Ledger tragically died. It was and still is a major shock because nobody expected it and he was so young.  On July 18th that year, Batman fans and many other audiences around the world hurried to their nearest theater to see the new Batman movie titled THE DARK KNIGHT.  That day, the greatest Batman film of all time was unleashed after over 20 years of anticipation.  THE DARK KNIGHT is the ultimate Batman movie and has gone down in history as the greatest comic book film of all time.

        Batman has been cleaning up the mean streets of Gotham City and the criminals are running scared. There's also some wannabe Batmen that try to shoot the criminals rather than fight them and hand them over to the cops.  Meanwhile, some guy dressed as a clown and his goons have robbed a bank that is ran by Salvatore Maroni's mob family.  The mob meets during the day so that Batman can't bust them.  Desperate that the Police will get to the rest of their money, Maroni and his boys gets an Asian accountant named Lau to have their cash transferred out of the bank and to a safe place in Hong Kong. This way, the new District Attorney Harvey Dent and Lt. James Gordon can't track it to bring them down. Gordon and Dent decide to join together to bring down Maroni's mob. The problem is though that they need evidence to lock up the mob. Since Dent and Gordon can't go to Hong Kong to get Lau back to rat out the mob, they call on Batman.  Meanwhile, the man who robbed the mob's bank known only as The Joker offers them a deal in which he will kill Batman.   Harvey Dent begins to lock up the city's criminals by the hundreds, which causes billionaire Bruce Wayne to realize that Dent is the hero that Gotham needs more than his alter ego Batman. Also, he believes that he can finally live a normal life with his first real love Rachel Dawes, who happens to be working with and dating Harvey.

         Things get ugly when The Joker starts killing various people in Gotham City and tells Gotham that he will kill people unless Batman takes off his mask and turns himself in.   The Joker's murder spree gets more intense as he begins to thrust Gotham City into a city of chaos and anarchy.  Lives are lost, dreams are shattered, and Gotham's D.A. becomes a tragic mixture of order and chaos. This leaves The Dark Knight of Gotham City to make a decision that will affect them all.

         It's really no surprise to those that know me that I'm one of the biggest Batman fans ever. Don't believe me? Just check out my review for BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD.  The character of Batman has been a huge part of my life ever since I was 3 years old after watching BATMAN starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson.   Batman has gone through so many different variations from when he was first created by Bob Kane in 1939 and all of the way to where he is today.  The thing that attracts me to the character Batman is the fact that he is Human. Here's a guy with no super powers whatsoever and yet he is larger than life.  Now, everyone of course has their own preference of what Batman should be like. Some people love the more gothic and mythic take such as the Tim Burton films BATMAN and BATMAN RETURNS.  Some prefer the more campy and comedic Batman such as the Adam West television series from the '60s or the 1995 Joel Schumacher film BATMAN FOREVER. And then there's the fans who prefer the more grim and realistic take such as some of the '70s/'80s comics and of course the modern Christopher Nolan films.  Regardless, there's many different ways to tell Batman as long as you stick to his origin and his mythology.  The Batman movies have gone through many changes from 1989-2008. BATMAN and BATMAN RETURNS told the mythic portrayal of Batman and was more about how Gotham saw the character as well as his villains that was taken from the early '40s and the early '90s comics. Then, Batman became more campy and comedic with the Schumacher film BATMAN FOREVER that took bits from the '50s comics with its over the top foes. The 1997 atrocity known as BATMAN & ROBIN was obviously taking bits from the '60s camp fad that began with the Adam West series and killed the profitable Batman movie franchise. Chris Nolan and David Goyer decided to go in the opposite direction of the original four Batman films and start a clean slate with their 2005 franchise reboot BATMAN BEGINS.  Nolan was highly inspired by the comics of Jepth Loeb from the '70s and '80s era, especially THE LONG HALLOWEEN.

      And now we are at Nolan's follow up to BATMAN BEGINS, THE DARK KNIGHT.   I remember being highly excited to see this film two years ago when it was released.  I knew from all of the posters and trailers that it was going to be great, but I didn't realize until after seeing it that it was much more than just a great movie. I've never in my whole life have had a Batman movie hit me like this film did.  THE DARK KNIGHT is a film about order going up against chaos. It's a film about real people and what it takes to be a hero in a city full of corruption.  It's about the consequences that come with being a hero.  There's no question that Chris Nolan and his brother Jonathan have written the best Batman film ever made. There's no question that THE DARK KNIGHT is the best Batman and comic book movie ever made. And there is sure as hell no question that the late Heath Ledger has brought DC Comics' most menacing and terrifying villain right out of the comics and onto film in a way that nobody has EVER seen The Joker before!

      The story and script for THE DARK KNIGHT is nothing short of brilliant.  While I still really like Tim Burton's two Batman films, I love that Nolan has Bruce Wayne/Batman as the main focus rather than the villains and those surrounding Batman or Bruce.  The way I look at Burton's two films is more of looking at Batman from Gotham's point of view. Nolan shows his movies from Bruce/Batman's point of view, especially in BATMAN BEGINS. With THE DARK KNIGHT, both Bruce/Batman and Harvey Dent are the main focus.  THE DARK KNIGHT really tests Batman and pushes all three men to their limits thanks to The Joker's reign of terrorism.

            I was highly impressed with how well the characters were written here.  Bruce sees a great hero in Gotham's new D.A. Harvey Dent and wants Dent to take up his mantle and be the true hero that Gotham deserves. One who doesn't have to wear a cape and mask, a hero with a face.  Harvey Dent is determined to keep Gotham safe and believes in what Batman represents. Batman is a symbol of hope. Bruce Wayne took a symbol that used to represent a demon/monster and took ownership over it and turned it into the symbol of the Dark Knight. He became the crusader who used the night to inflict fear in the criminal underworld and stop crime. In comes a man who is just a D.A., yet putting away criminals by the hundreds that is actually by the law.  Bruce sees Harvey as the light that Gotham needs to get them out of the darkness.  And then there is Rachel Dawes, the love of Bruce's life. She has been his friend since childhood and he may actually be able to have a real relationship. The trouble is that she is currently dating Harvey. Truthfully, Rachel told Bruce that maybe they could be together once Gotham no longer needed Batman, but that was before she fell in love with Harvey. I think that she wants Bruce to believe that she will be there for him so that he will have the confidence to continue on as Batman.  I think she really does love Bruce, but more as a best friend. They're soul mates, yes, but a soul mate is not always the same person you end up in a relationship with. I truly believe that her love for Bruce goes beyond the romantic kind.  She loves Bruce, but wants to be with Harvey. Rachel and Harvey have more in common and the same goals. Plus, truthfully, I thought Harvey and Rachel made a better match romantically than Bruce and Rachel would.

         Lt. James Gordon is the only cop that Batman truly trusts. Truth be told, Batman is the only person in Gotham that Gordon trusts too until Harvey Dent comes into the picture.  I really think that Batman, Gordon, and Dent really worked well together as Gotham's true heroes.   Alfred of course helps Bruce by continuing to give him advice when he is down as well as helping him out with tracking down The Joker.

     The Joker is hands down Batman's most threatening and complicating villain yet. Here's a guy who has no desire for money and no rules whatsoever. The Joker is a character that is only after watching the world burn.  He's a character that has no morals, no conscious, and is the embodiment of chaos.  The Joker is disguised as a clown, but is a demon within. He is an anarchist, a terrorist, a narcissist, but most importantly, the complete opposite of Batman. That's why I believe Joker is the perfect villain for Batman. He's chaos. Batman is order. The character has been portrayed as a pranksterish villain with some murderous potential in past incarnations such as BATMAN (1989) and the infamous BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES.  As former comic book editor/writer Denny O' Neil said, "The Joker is the best trickster character ever."

      The thing that I've always loved about The Joker as a character and as a comic book villain is that he is totally unpredictable.  I can remember in THE BATMAN/SUPERMAN MOVIE when Batman tells Superman that with Joker to expect the unexpected and then Joker throws some marbles down that turn out to be grenades. Joker has a fascination with dynamite, guns, bombs, knives, and anything that will take lives. He is the man who will kill you with a smile on his face and a song in his heart.  Joker will gladly burn to death as long as he gets the last laugh and takes a bunch of innocent people to their graves.  He is the Devil in the form of a figure that is supposed to be happy and safe. While Bruce Wayne disguises himself as a bat, a demon, a symbol of darkness, he is really a symbol of hope, order, and good. The Joker does the total opposite. He takes the symbol of a warm and loving clown and turns it into a symbol of chaos, tragedy, and pure evil.  This is where that whole saying of them being the flip side of the coin comes into play. And that my friends is why the Bat and the Joker have always been the perfect hero and villain rivals. They represent the complete opposite from each other. You can't have Batman without The Joker and you sure as hell can't have The Joker without Batman.

     I love all of Joker's sick and evil schemes in THE DARK KNIGHT.  The whole pencil magic trick was probably my all time favorite. I also love it where he cuts smiles into his victims' mouths and paints their faces to look like his own. He also loves to tell Gordon and Batman exactly who he is targeting by supplying clues much like one of Batman's other villains known as The Riddler.  From forcing mob members to kill each other with a broken pool stick, blowing up a hospital, manipulating our heroes and fellow Gotham citizens, killing the judge and Police Commissioner Loeb, killing an important female character, and being the cause of Harvey Dent's fall and transformation into Two-Face. Joker is a force to be reckoned with and the only person who has what it takes to truly stop him and match him is Batman.  I personally love the interrogation scene between Batman and The Joker. It was like right out of the comics. I also love it when no matter how hard Batman punches The Joker that Joker laughs in his face and is not scared of him like all of the other criminals have been.  Batman has finally met a villain that he can't intimidate with his aggressive use of violence or really deep monstrous voice.

    This is also the first time in any of the Batman movies that the potential love interest of Bruce Wayne gets murdered by his villain.  One of the most intense scenes for me as a movie goer was when Joker's goons kidnapped both Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes.   Both Harvey and Rachel are tied up in separate warehouses that are rigged with lots of explosives. Batman can only chose to save one of them. Anyway, Joker switches the addresses where Batman will end up saving Dent thinking he is saving Rachel and Gordon will show up where Rachel is at, but that certain warehouse is timed to go off a few seconds before Dent's. The two buildings explode, killing Rachel and blowing off half of Harvey Dent's face.   It's truly sad when Harvey finds out that Rachel died by seeing that the other half of his two sided coin is burnt after he gave it to Rachel for good luck.

          Harvey warned Gordon that he had some untrustworthy cops on his force, but Gordon didn't acknowledge it at the time. Now, Harvey blames Gordon, Maroni, Batman, and Gordon's cops for Rachel's death. The Joker pays Dent a visit and shows him that in a world of chaos,  everything can be fair. It is then that Dent decides to throw morality and being a good guy out the window and get cold blooded revenge for Rachel being taken away from him.  Dent now determines his actions by chance with the flip of a coin, giving him the nick name Two-Face.   Now, Two-Face begins to kill those he claims are responsible and ends up holding Gordon's wife and kids hostage.

         After Batman stops The Joker from blowing up two boats full of people, he arrives to stop Harvey from killing Gordon and his family. Batman ends up having to charge Harvey over the edge of the stairway in order to save Gordon's son, leaving Gotham's White Knight dead.   I love the ending where Batman decides to take the blame for Two-Face's murder spree to save Harvey Dent's good reputation since nobody except for himself, Gordon, and Gordon's family knew what he did. If Batman hadn't became a criminal in Gotham's eyes, then all of the hundreds of criminals that Dent helped put away would have been released, The Joker would have won, and the good citizens of Gotham would lose hope.   Gordon's speech at the very end where he explains to his son what he sees in Batman, why he has to chase him, and then crowns him The Dark Knight is both great and very heart warming.

          I love the music by Hans Zimmer for both THE DARK KNIGHT and BATMAN BEGINS.  I think both Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman (BATMAN and BATMAN RETURNS) have made some amazing Batman scores that work extremely well.

       The direction by Christopher Nolan is absolutely stunning and leaves me speechless.  Nolan is great at showing atmosphere, tension, character development, and always amazes me with great stories.  The guy is definitely the kinda filmmaker you want to make a Batman movie.

         The acting is absolutely amazing. Christian Bale is a great actor and has become a favorite of mine in both roles of Bruce Wayne and the caped crusader of Gotham City, Batman.  I know that many people hate his raspy Batman voice and I used to hate it myself. I guess after watching BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT about a billion times, the performance just grew on me and I adapted to his rough beastly voice. I do admit that it is too rough in spots, but it no longer bothers me like it used to.  Michael Caine is fantastic as Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne's butler and quite frankly his only bit of family. Alfred has raised Bruce as if he were his own son and has guided him through his childhood and on through his adulthood. Alfred is the guy that Bruce always turns to for advice, help, and guidance. I think that Bale and Caine definitely represent the Bruce and Alfred relationship extremely well on screen in both films.   Michael Caine is the best actor in my opinion to play Alfred. In the first four films, Alfred was portrayed more as the sweet and nice butler. Here, he has acted more like a father to Bruce more than I've ever seen him.

       Gary Oldman IS Police Commissioner James Gordon in my eyes. He is perfect as the character and actually looks exactly like Gordon from the comics and the animated series. I thought Pat Hingle was decent in Burton's two Batman films as Gordon, but he never really truly captured Gordon like Oldman does in BATMAN BEGINS and here in THE DARK KNIGHT.  Plus, Gordon has that great friendship with Batman and the two guys work well together. He's the only honest cop that Batman really trusts.

        Maggie Gyllenhaal was decent as Rachel Dawes.  I thought she played the character a lot better than Katie Holmes did in BATMAN BEGINS. Personally, I'm not the biggest fan of the Rachel character. It's not that she is a bad character, but I just prefer the characters of Vicki Vale or Selina Kyle aka Catwoman as potential love interests for Bruce/Batman.  But, the character did serve a big purpose in this film. I do like that Nolan created a character that knew Bruce before his parents were murdered and he became Batman.

       Aaron Eckhart was amazing as Harvey Dent in this movie.  I like that Dent is such a great guy for most of this movie, so that when he does in fact turn into Two-Face that you almost don't want him to.  That just shows how great Eckhart played Dent and how well the character was developed in the script thanks to the Nolan brothers.  I love Aaron Eckhart's take on Two-Face and that he just played him as a fallen hero who wants to get revenge for the wrongs that were done to him rather than the split personality ordeal from the comics and the animated series. Two-Face also looked fucking gruesome and totally awesome. That's one hell of a damn make-up job and the whole eyeball thing freaks me out. Plus, it was nice to see Two-Face justified so that we could forget that goofy Tommy Lee Jones version from BATMAN FOREVER.

         Morgan Freeman returns from BATMAN BEGINS as CEO of Wayne Enterprises, Lucius Fox.  Fox basically builds the bat suits and makes Batman's nifty gadgets.  I also loved it when Fox told Bruce that the new suit can hold up against cats. At first, I figured this was a Catwoman reference and now I'm sure it definitely was since it has been announced that Selina Kyle aka Catwoman will be in Nolan's next Batman movie titled THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.

     And then there was Heath Ledger who played Batman's arch nemesis and most vicious villain yet, The Joker. Hands down, this is Heath Ledger's best performance of them all. It's a real shame that Ledger died because this was the performance of a life time and he nailed The Joker in every way possible.  He's one of a few actors that I can think of that totally disappeared into the role. There's a few moments where you almost forget that it's Ledger behind the make-up and smile.  He's THAT great!  From his body movements to his facial expressions and all the way up to his voice and laugh, he IS The Joker. I actually think him wearing make-up is creepier than having his skin bleached.   He was both scary and unintentionally humorous as The Joker.  That whole hospital scene and interrogation scene was nothing short of brilliant. He also had the best lines of dialogue in the movie. My personal  favorite Joker scene was when he's in the interrogation room and trying to get a rise out of the cop who's guarding him.

    " Do you want to know why I use a knife? Guns are too quick. You can't savor all of the little emotions. You see, in their last moments, people show you who they really are. So, in a way, I knew your friends better than you ever did. Would you like to know which of them are cowards?"

    Heath Ledger deserved that Oscar and I'm more than happy that he got it. It wasn't because he's dead now, but because he gave one of the best fucking performances that I've ever seen in my life.  He is the definitive Joker. I still love Jack Nicholson and Mark Hamill as the character, but Ledger is the true definition of what The Joker is all about. He is the clown prince of crime.

   I also enjoyed the performance of Eric Roberts as mob boss Salvatore Maroni. The cameo appearance by the great Cillian Murphy as The Scarecrow was great. I truly wish that Scarecrow was a bigger character in this franchise and hopefully the character and actor possibly return for the next chapter, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.  Everybody else was great too.

        Overall, THE DARK KNIGHT is hands down the greatest Batman film ever made. It's a film that went beyond the hype for it in 2008 and has become a classic in many Batman fans' opinion.  With a great epic story of what a true hero is and one of the greatest villains of all time, THE DARK KNIGHT truly reveals that you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.



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