Christian Bale returns to the cape in The Dark Knight, this latest establishment to the Batman legacy. This time his Bruce Wayne goes toe-to-toe with the iconic Joker (Heath Ledger). The Joker is an upstart in Gotham. He makes an unforgettable entrance during a bank heist with all the gravitas of 1995’s Heat. Another new face is Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). He’s a hot-shot DA who is bent on cleaning up Gotham. Dent is off to a promising start in town, and it is because of this the Joker steps in to change the tide.
The most surprising thing about the film was that it brought my skepticism to an ease. Going in, I had seen promotional material, which constructed a prejudice against the film. I didn’t like Joker’s make-up. I didn’t like the “Batpod” motorcycle. I didn’t even much care for Batman’s new wardrobe. It is a satisfying feeling as a critic when a film is able to justify what you thought beforehand to be poor choices. All of the above found a comprehendible and reasonable explanation for being included in the final cut.
The stand-out of the movie is Ledger’s interpretation of the Joker. It doesn’t hurt that he is given great material either. Still the delivery of lines, mannerisms, saunters, and smirks are evidence of a transformation. It is a different kind of Joker than I had believed in, but it is every bit as effective.
The exposition comes in during the typical slower points in the movie; just about anytime that Wayne has a chance to talk. This slows down the action and it also makes it difficult to keep track of everyone. For instance, there is a very large amount of mobsters whose roles are only briefly mentioned and then major plot points are derived from them. I still can’t figure out what was happening in China. It is nice to see moments where Batman is making good on this role as a detective just as he did in the source material. Unfortunately, much of his support staff sees less screen time.
This movie highlights a flaw in the MPAA ratings system. I have a major problem with the violence in this film. With the kill-shots absent, it has managed to sneak into a PG-13 rating. The trade off also kept the language to a minimum. Jaws showed that with off screen horrors, the construction in our minds can outweigh the expectations presented to us. In The Dark Night truly disturbing things happen to people. What makes me take note of this is the serious context in which director Christopher Nolan has presented them. There isn’t a whimsical score, or camp grade sound effect. People die like they would in reality and the MPAA has failed to address the tone of violence in calculating their rating. The Dark Knight, with its PG-13, will misguide parents who typically find material of equal rating acceptable to their 4 year olds. Yes, I say 4 year olds; that was the age I was when I saw Batman in theatres. Do you really want to compare that film’s PG-13 with this one’s?
Some elements seem unrefined. Bale made a great Wayne in the previous outing, but here he is Batman more often than not; and his voice under the guise suggests laryngitis. There is a bizarre sense that you are witnessing the grand showdown, only to find no less than three more instances down the road. A sci-fi element is also introduced which took me out of the picture; disruptive because of the jarring point of view shots. These gripes must make their way onto this page. The good represented in the performances and the general entertainment value of the picture outweighs my points of negativity. Technical aspects are what you expect from a budget of this magnitude. It’s an added bonus to see solid use of practical effects and less CGI. Again, Nolan reaffirms praise as an auteur. This is the kind of movie that could be enjoyed by non-fans and fans alike. Parents, think twice before taking a child under ten as this isn’t the Batman you recall from TV Land. ***