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The Dark Knight
Stars: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Eric Roberts, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Cillian Murphy
Director: Christopher Nolan
Scriptwriter: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Composers: Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard
Warner Brothers
Rating: PG 13 for action violence and a child in jeopardy
Running Length: 140 minutes
The Dark Knight. This has been the most anticipated of any Batman movie and possibly the most anxiously awaited film of the summer. Even before the tragic and untimely death of Heath Ledger this film was on everyone’s radar. My fear was that regardless if the film was good or bad everyone would heap praise on it simply to honor the memory of Ledger. They would write about his genius as The Joker and not give a fair evaluation based on performance. And it is a hard thing to do, to ridicule someone’s last accomplishment. Especially someone as talented and gifted as Ledger was. So please be aware of this concern as you read my review. I hold by the first law of writing and that is to be honest and when I have to, brutally critical. That is the only way to be fair to those paying hard earned money to see a movie. So now that we are clear and you know where I stand, let me say that Heath Ledger as The Joker could be one of the best performances of his amazing and short lived career. The character made the film and elevated it to heights it could never have reached otherwise. He completely puts to shame any comic book villain before him.

The Joker (Heath Ledger) is one of the most eerie and cunning of all the Batman foes. He takes maniacal and psychotic to extremes. When he shows up in Gotham City and starts knocking over banks it is up to Batman (Christian Bale), Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) to stop him. Batman must try and decide if revealing his true identity, which is what The Joker is demanding, will actually be the answer or make matters worse. The problem is no one knows who to trust and who to watch out for and The Jokers killing spree gets deadlier and deadlier. The Dark Knight has every element you need in a film like this. The moodiness, action packed chase scenes, edge of the seat tension and suspense, topped by secondary characters that deliver. The cast is fully loaded with big names that bring solid performances. Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Eric Roberts and others are there for more than just a box office draw. They each play out their role as needed.

This has to be my favorite of all the Batman films mainly in the way it looks and feels. It stays true to the title and is very dark in the tone and theme. Director Christopher Nolan (The Prestige, Memento, Batman Begins) uses a filming style that never seems to stop moving. The scenes with The Joker are done with odd angles and a filtering that captures the essence of the character perfectly. The makeup too helps with the overall package. The white face and scarred, red, smile is rough and ragged and not cleanly applied. This makes The Joker seem more like a sadistic, twisted killer than a comic book villain. That is another thing about the Batman movie that sets it apart from others. All the characters, though able to do things most individuals can’t, are realistic in their design and actions. Absent are the real super powers that make Superman and Spiderman so unbelievable. If I had to pick anything in the movie I didn’t like, and this will probably seem trivial, it was Batman’s voice. Every time he spoke it grated on my nerves and I thought it sounded ridiculous. Sure he needs to sound different than he does as Bruce Wayne but the deep gravely almost on the verge of phlegm overload drove me nuts. But luckily he didn’t say much. 

The Dark Knight is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace. This is not your friendly neighborhood super movie. Parents should take the darkness of the character into consideration before taking any of their pre-teen movie fans. I will say that the physical violence and blood shed are kept to a very minimum. They allow the characters to make the movie tense and exciting without relying on a lot of blood and gore. But still, there is a crazed nature about The Joker that might keep a few youngsters up at night. All in all this is a perfect summer blockbuster and make sure you catch in on an Imax screen wherever possible. Gotham city truly comes alive in that setting. I give The Dark Knight 5 out of 5 smiles. It captures the genre, the characters and the essence of the writing as well as any Comic Book action film I have seen. 

Matt Mungle (7/14/08)

Matt is a member of the North Texas Film Critics Association (NTFCA) and hosts a daily online talk show along with a weekend radio feature, The Mungles on Movies, with his wife Cindy. For additional reviews, interview clips and great DVD giveaways, visit the website

Review copyright 2008 Mungleshow Productions. Used by Permission.

The first thing you notice is the absence of Danny Elfman’s brighter “Batman” theme. The second thing is how much this soundtrack resembles “Backdraft” (Hans Zimmer). The third thing is that you don’t care because you are now into a Gotham City that questions whether hero’s have clay feet. A good question, considering the public tends to place anyone who does a heroic deed on a pedestal. Pedestals can easily be toppled and sometimes by words rather than deeds.
The Dark Knight revisits old territory. The Caped Crusader (again, Christian Bale who is more stone-faced than anything on Rushmore) meets an old foe, The Joker (Heath Ledger), and a new one, Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart). Alfred, the Wayne butler (Michael Caine) is here with more dialogue, plus Rachel Dawes (played now by Maggie Gyllenhaal), Lt. Gordon (not Commissioner yet and done with quiet mannerisms by Gary Oldman), and the mayor of Gotham City (played by Nestor Carbonell who wandered in from “Lost.”). Morgan Freeman is the inventor, Lucius Fox, who keeps Batman in gear, while Eric Roberts is the gangland foe, Maroni and Cillian Murphy is Scarecrow. That you have to find out from the credits, as he doesn’t register as more than a thug. With the cast now in place, director Christopher Nolan (who also did the last Christian Bale-Batman movie) moves the players across the chessboard of a darkening-in-spirit Gotham City, and a heightening awareness that the Joker is just plain nuts.
The story begins with Batman not being in action for a bit. He’s in a reflective period and only a few people know his true identity. Harvey Dent (Eckhart) is the new district attorney and a white knight who is just too good to be true. With his chiseled jaw usually in profile, Eckhart looks like a Roman coin. Rachel Dawes is falling for him, because she is tired of waiting for Bruce Wayne, who, of course, can’t give up Batman. The Joker goes to a group of mobsters, lead by Morani, and suggests that to increase business they give him the contract of getting rid of Batman. Thus, the story goes along with the Joker trying to take out our guy, and ending up demolishing a great part of Gotham City and residents. Nothing subtle here. For every step ahead Eckhart gets, the Joker isn’t far behind. Batman has his tools of the trade including the tough Bat-suit, and a car that converts itself into a Batpod (think motorcycle) complete with guns. There are plenty of chases and narrow escapes and when someone tells someone else to be careful, you know there is a target already on their back.
It takes awhile to get Heath Ledger as The Joker. Each time he tells the story of his scarred smile, there is a different version. He has an affectation, presumably from scarring, of licking his lips. Guard dogs are in residence in the film, too, and this leads to the comparison between the Joker’s mentality and that of a mad dog who is let off a leash. In the meantime, the mobsters are lurking in the background and Lucius Fox has to work hard to keep ahead of the game with new weapons.
Christian Bale is a stoic Batman. There is so little expression here that any actor could have been in the Batsuit. All we see the Bruce Wayne character do is entrance and exit a room. On the other hand, Michael Caine’s butler has clever banter and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s appearance is that of a weary woman, whose wardrobe does nothing to help.
The film runs almost two and a half hours long, and it takes at least an hour to get into the story. After that, Ledger’s Joker gains momentum and toward the end of the film, gets a life of its own. In one particular scene, you see how tall and lean Ledger really was. In hindsight, had the script been different with the Scarecrow as a prominent villain, plus Ledger in that role, one wonders what he would have done with that.  Eckhart, also, has a transformation from gorgeous man to badly scarred man and into Two-Face. This make-up job is not first-rate for this film and disappoints.
There are plot twists, narrow escapes and scenes where you think the movie is over, but it begins again. Stunts were done live and with little computerization. This bring the full effect of action into the theater as “The Dark Knight” is also in IMAX.
When all else fails, there is always something to blow up and with the loud music and explosions, audiences may have a headache at the end of 140 minutes. The script tries to make a point about good and evil in a sequence about ferry boats and this is reminiscent of “War of the Worlds.” Plus, another scene has an escape device that was used in television’s “The Unit.”
Actually, I was satisfied with the film. There is enough psychology thrown around to keep film classes in business for years. Will there be another “Batman” movie? Who knows, if The Joker can be resurrected, so can The Penguin.

Copyright 2008 Marie Asner




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