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    Thursday, 17 July 2008

    Review: The Dark Knight

    Wow. Just... wow. The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan's sequel to the 2005 film Batman Begins, blew my cotton socks off. In general, sequels tend to fail to match the quality of the original but Dark Knight takes the original, gives it an atomic wedgie and steals its lunch money.

    Batman's first year of crime fighting in Gotham City has done wonders: The criminals are too scared to venture out at night, police and lawyer-types are actually beginning to enforce the law and Gotham's citizens are once again living in the light. In fact, things are going so well that Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is actually thinking about hanging up the bat ears because Gotham's new District Attorney and resident white knight, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) is doing what Batman can't -- take down scores of villains at a time, in the daylight.

    Unfortunately for Batman and Gotham City, the Joker (Heath Ledger) has other plans. He believes the city deserves, "a better class of criminal" and that's his specialty. The Joker is anarchy incarnate and that's what he intends to visit on Gotham City. Only Batman can stop him but he might have to break his "one rule" (He never kills) in order to do it. Of course, this is the delicious irony of the Joker's plan - it's a win/win outcome because either Gotham will fall into chaos, or its greatest hero, Batman, will break the rule and become the very thing he despises.

    Christopher and Jonathan Nolan have done an amazing job with the screenplay, crafting an intricate tale that explores the impact of Batman's existence in a real world setting. That's what makes this movie so excellent: rather than going for big comic book action and lots of special effects, The Dark Knight constantly grounds its characters in reality (apart, it must be said, from some uber Sonic technology used late in the film).

    Nolan's direction is also outstanding. This film has many more day time scenes than the last one, yet the overall tone is still dark and ominous. Although the film is long at 152 minutes, it still feels exceptionally well-paced, with virtually every scene essential to the plot. The action sequences are of a much higher standard than in the prequel, actually allowing audiences to see Batman throw down with scores of bad guys (though sadly, he's a bit less martial arty in this film). There are also some great Batmobile and Batpod (i.e. Batcycle) sequences. The sequence involving Batman and the Joker's pursuit of a police convoy escorting some very special cargo is particularly gripping.

    Nolan raises some deep and important questions in the film: Can vigilantism ever be justified? How far is it acceptable to go in order to stop "evil" of any kind? And finally, what is the true measure of a hero? Is a hero what a city, a country or the world wants, or what it needs?

    The Dark Knight's characters are rich, interesting and thoroughly engaging. Christian Bale is again excellent as Bruce Wayne/Batman, portraying the dual character believably and intensely, but he does suffer slightly from lack of screen time. My one complaint with the movie was that I would have enjoyed seeing more of both the billionaire playboy and the Batman. Aaron Eckhart is very good but not incredible as Harvey Dent. He plays the go-getting and passionate DA very well but falls just short of the intensity required of his character in the film's final act. At last we come to Heath Ledger's turn as The Joker. Two words: Fucking Amazing. If acting success is judged by how much an actor transforms into a new character, shedding their own skin and becoming the character, then Heath succeeds admirably. If he were to receive a posthumous Oscar for his performance, it would be well-deserved.

    The supporting cast are all superb, given the amount of screen time they have. Returning from the previous film, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman add credibility and weight to the film. Each plays their character in a very understated, professional manner that will leave you remembering key scenes involving each of them. The stunning Maggie Gyllenhaal brings warmth, grace and pathos to her role as Rachel Dawes. Her performance in a pivotal scene of the film involving a two-way radio conversation is particularly moving.

    I feel that I'm not doing this film enough justice in writing a review having only seen it once. It's the first movie in quite a while that I've walked away from thinking, 'Man, I don't know where to start.' I'm definitely going to have to see it again... possibly a few times. I'm going to agree with some of the other reviews I've read and say that this is the best film I've seen this year.

    What happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force? Go and see The Dark Knight and find out. You won't be disappointed.

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