STARRING: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Eric Roberts, Anthony Michael Hall, Nestor Carbonell, Melinda McGraw, Nathan Gamble, Michael Jai White

2008, 152 Minutes, Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Description: The follow-up to the action hit Batman Begins, The Dark Knight reunites director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale, who reprises the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne. In the new film, Batman raises the stakes in his war on crime. With the help of Lieutenant Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent, Batman sets out to dismantle the remaining criminal organizations that plague the city streets. The partnership proves to be effective, but they soon find themselves prey to a reign of chaos unleashed by a rising criminal mastermind known to the terrified citizens of Gotham as The Joker.

There is no other way to put this: The Dark Knight is bloody brilliant, and there is no way you should miss it on the big screen. The bigger your screen and louder your sound system, the better. This is the sort of thing that will be simply excellent on IMAX. Don’t wait for this to crop up on DVD one day.

Sure, the movie pummels you into submission. But it’s a good kind of pummelling – not the Michael Bay sort of pummeling in which scenes are edited in such a way to indicate that something important is happening, even though it isn’t, with enough swirling camera movements so as to induce motion sickness. Like Batman Begins the action is fast and furious, but it is never the hyper-stylized and uninvolving computer game violence of, let’s say, an Ultraviolet or even a Wanted. There is always a gritty realism to the proceedings even when what is happening is patently absurd. So, yes, it is more of the same: except for the absence of Mrs. Tom Cruise (and with Maggie Gyllenhaal standing in for her, who cares?) Dark Knight follows seamlessly upon the events of Batman Begins. To paraphrase Batman himself, if you liked Batman Begins, you will love The Dark Knight.

"Many action movie directors should worship at Nolan’s feet . . ."

To be honest I wasn’t always converted to the Christopher Nolan way of doing things with Batman Begins. After all, I kinda missed Danny Elfman’s Batman Returns score and some of Anton Furst’s architectural designs for Tim Burton’s Batman movies the previous time around. Not with The Dark Knight though. But in retrospect re-inventing the Batman franchise as a tough-as-nails action movie set in as much of the real world as possible was the best decision they could have made. (That plus removing those damned nipples from the Bat suit of course!) Moving the franchise away from Tim Burton’s noir surrealism and Joel Schumacher’s camp day glo was the right thing to do. I didn’t miss any of it with The Dark Knight.

The Dark Knight features two villains already featured in previous movies, namely Jack Nicholson as the Joker in the 1989 Batman and Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face in 1995’s Batman Forever. The reinterpretation of the two villains in Dark Knight beats both previous incarnations hands down. Whereas Nicholson played the Joker as a portly, slightly menacing clown, the younger Ledger plays him as a dangerous psychopath with makeup by Francis Bacon. Ledger is all unpredictable brooding menace and psychosis with none of the cartoonish maniacal laughter and other clichéd hammy mannerisms of Nicholson’s Joker.

Aaron Eckhart’s Two-Face is also light years removed from Tommy Lee Jones’ loud and overbearing Two-Face. Does the sadly deceased Ledger deserve an Oscar for his performance as some has suggested? Perhaps, perhaps not. But the Academy has done worse and it would make a nice gesture from them to honor the actor’s memory this way to be honest. (In-between all of this Christian Bale as batman / Bruce Wayne himself tends to get a bit lost.)

But it is the intense action sequences – in particular an extended chase featuring Batman’s new “bat pod” motorbike - that make Dark Knight the adrenaline-fuelled ride that it is. That plus the few philosophical tidbits involving human nature and vigilantism that gets thrown around along the way. (Action plus Philosophy 101 – what more do you want in a movie?) The Joker for instance contends that most people will behave badly in a bad situation. Being a murderous psychopath he is just “ahead of the curve” as he says, and he brews up his own little psychological experiment to prove his point. One suspects that the Joker is right. History bears him out and so does some dodgy behavioral science experiments from the 1970s (in particular Milgram’s 37), but for the purposes of the movie he is proved wrong – something which strikes a bit of a false note to be honest, but makes sense for the movie. After all, The Dark Knight cannot be all dark now can it?

Nope, this Dark Knight is not your father's Batman. If anything counts against it though, it is its running time. At two-and-half hours long The Dark Knight is too long and too short at the same time. After the stunning bat pod chase sequence, the rest of the action scenes in the movie seem anticlimactic in comparison. Also the film tries to squeeze in too much plot in the remainder of its running time and things seem a bit rushed almost. Some action scenes are also too under-lit for their own good and filming them in medium shots adds to the confusion. Still, many budding action movie directors should worship at Nolan’s feet. The Dark Knight works fantastically well as an action movie and when it comes to comic book stakes it kicks both metal and green butt this summer . . . if you know what I mean.


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