Review: The Dark Knight

The mere mention of ‘Batman’ and anyone would associate it with the likes of ‘Spider-Man’ or ‘Iron Man’ that are more crowd-pleasing and eye-candy. That is true if it’s ‘Batman’, but not Christopher Nolan’s ‘Batman’. Nolan injected this legendary comic book character with so much style, so much charisma, so much life that it instantly establishes itself way apart from all other superhero films as well as all other ‘Batman’ films in the past, into a sprawling epic that is infused with so much drama even the likes of Michael Mann or Martin Scorsese will be proud to call their own. Christopher Nolan’s ‘Batman’ is no child’s play, it is a gritty crime saga that is densely layered with gripping tales of revenge, corruption and of course, heroism. Multi-dimensional characters that are irresistibly intriguing and spectacularly play-out by award-winning actors litter the screen so abundantly that such an assemble cast will make even ‘The Sopranos’ hide in envious jealousy. ‘The Dark Knight’ is not just any superhero film, it is a film of masterful story-telling infused with spectacular style that is brought to life by stirring performances by its talented actors.

For a film with such high commercialism, one would rave rabidly about its action sequences or special effects. Not in this case. The highlight of ‘The Dark Knight’ (besides Heath Ledger’s take as ‘The Joker’, I’ll go there pretty soon) is the quality of the story. Co-written by director Chris Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan, the screenplay is the closest to a masterpiece of a crime saga not seen since ‘The Godfather’, and what is remarkable is that they pulled it off with a caped crusader and not with Marlon Brando. Now THAT is an extraordinary achievement. I’m not going into the details of the story as to avoid spoiling this incredible effort of story-telling for you, but I must mention that this is a giant leap from its first film and the story is densely intertwined with drama, humor and action pulled together with perfect chemistry. And the ending, you shall be enlightened as to why our hero is called ‘The Dark Knight’…

Now for Heath Ledger as ‘The Joker’. He is absolutely stellar and compelling played to such delicious extreme, he literally takes command of everyone’s attention whenever he appears on screen. You just cannot take your eyes off him, he is simply magnetic. His every move, his every theatrics, his every crumbling make-up and his every lick of his lips are stunningly portrayed to perfection as a sadistic villain with a morbid sense of humor that brings new meaning to the word terrorist. The true strength of ‘The Joker’ is not those one-liner quips or smart-ass poses, but what completes the character is his much longer monologues that are infused with eccentric body movements and fits of fanatical laughter. His words weaves layers upon layers of havoc and madness on Gotham City, truths and lies overlaps and are unclear, every manipulating scheme are unveiled only at the very last effective moment and whenever he finishes any of his maddening speeches, he actually ends up as the smartest guy in the room. He lets you think he is insane, which is equal to reckless and un-intelligent. He is however neither. He embodies every essence of anarchy and villainy, and one would easily think that he is simply not just ‘The Joker’, but in fact The Devil himself.

Heath Ledger’s portrayal of ‘The Joker’ was so tremendous, it actually made me feel angry and ashamed that Jack Nicholson did not push his version far enough (in Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’). I used to think that Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of a villain was the benchmark for all actors to seek manic badness from. But now, it dawned on me that Jack Nicholson and Tim Burton made ‘The Joker’ a laughing clown. Instead of being a true maniac, Heath Ledger made me dislike the Jack’s portrayal of a villain that I once enjoyed. Call me disloyal, but I call it a testament to how fantastic Heath Ledger did his job as being ‘The Joker’, and it’s no laughing matter. The status-quo of villainy has been redefined by Heath Ledger and Christopher Nolan, and now every over-reacting and moustache-twirling cheapskate that simply thinks by wearing a black suit with gelled-back hair will pull it off as a bad guy, well these cheapskates can think again. Watching Ledger’s every animalistic movement, every devilish speech and every serpent lick of his lips is something to behold and admire as it is something that is not seen before on screen, and I think we will never ever see again.

Not to down-play the performances of other actors in this film, but the performances of Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne aka ‘Batman’ are commendable, and we get to see an equal amount of screen time between Bruce Wayne and ‘Batman’. The only downside I find is that of ‘Batman’s awkwardly deep voice whenever he is ‘Batman’. I understand that he needs to hide his true tone of voice from identification purposes, but his deep-toned voice is sometimes distracting and fake. Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent aka ‘Two Face’ also is praiseworthy for successfully portraying the dual personalities of the character. However, my annoyance with ‘Two Face’ was the repetitive flicking of his coin to decide the fates of individuals that confronts him. I understand that this is his distinctive practice of his character, but I think it has been over emphasized way too many times and should have been toned down a little. But I guess I’m no Chris Nolan. Other actors such as Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhaal and particularly Gary Oldman as ‘Commissioner Gordon’ all delivered solid performances that successfully provided additional drama and emotions whenever needed. Oh, and for Hong Kong film fans, do look-out for Edison Chen’s very brief cameo in the film as well. I’ve never seen him since THOSE incidents…

As for technical aspects of the film, everything is done to stunning perfection across the board. Wally Pfister’s cinematography is richly textured and moody, and with the used of IMAX cameras for a few of the action sequences, every detail is captured and shown to the audience in grand magnificence. The editing is also smooth and seamless, as the film flows from scene to scene without feeling confused. The visual effects are done to a minimum without over saturating the film with too much CGI and that successfully manages to maintain the realism of Gotham City. As for the music by multi-Oscar winning composers Hans Zimmer (Gladiator) and James Howard (The Sixth Sense), the over-dramatic orchestra compositions are utilized to an effective minimum. In fact, the most memorable and eerie moments with ‘The Joker’ was accompanied by simply pulling a high-pitched note from a violin.

‘The Dark Knight’ is intriguing from start to finish, climaxing to a gratifying but daring conclusion that leaves the saga with just that little piece of cliffhanger that hints of a third film. Of course, the hint is indeed a no-brainer as all the major actors are signed up for 3 installments. In the end, this film is easily the most satisfying of all wide-release films thus far (even ‘Iron Man’ pales in comparison to this). A film that not only meets all expectations but also surpasses well beyond anything we came to imagine from a film of this genre. It is definitely re-watchable for multiple times, especially to admire the work of Heath Ledger that had left us at the most inappropriate of times as he was only starting to turn into a really great actor. He already got nominated for an Academy Award for his part in ‘Brokeback Mountain’, and I really hope he wins ‘Best Supporting Actor’ this time as ‘The Joker’ (‘Best Actor’ may be a bit pushing it). It sounds crazy I know but if George Clooney can win it in 2005 with the film ‘Syriana’, then why not Heath? My heart goes out to Heath for this remarkable contribution and my fingers are crossed when Academy Award nomination time comes… Oh c’mon Mr. Oscar, if you have any decency in you, just do this for Heath…

Verdict: 10 / 10 ... Heck, make it 20 /10 ... No no, wait it's 200 / 10 'coz this movie is off the freakin' charts!!!

Reviewed by: Raymond Choy

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