Summer Film Series – Vol. 6, No. 6: THE DARK KNIGHT
July 18, 2008 at Movies 14, McKinney, Texas
In preparation for the next chapter in the Batman saga, I rewatched Batman Begins last night, wanting to remember all the key points that might be referenced in the new film. What I failed to realize was just how great is that film. Sure, I enjoyed it a great deal upon first viewing three years ago, but somehow the intensity of the drama did not seep past the surface. Instead, I simply treated it like any other summer blockbuster: a thrilling ride and money well spent. It wasn’t until just last night that I understood how brilliantly director Christopher Nolan laid the foundation. The very minute Begins concluded, I was energized with anticipation for more of the story.
The Dark Knight is far more than a blockbuster. Nolan has expertly placed layer upon layer within this sequel, each subtly building upon itself to create a rich and textured thriller that transcends the pulsing action that runs throughout the film. There is not a moment of pause, even in the transitional scenes, and this can be credited to the cast and the writers above all. Every minute feels important to the story, every detail necessary to understand, so that somewhere after the halfway point it was clear that this story had only just begun. That moment actually jolted me from one movie experience to an entirely different one. With a shock I realized that I was no longer watching an action-packed fantasy but instead had all the time been viewing a true character drama. And that change in tone pulled me into a spiral of amazement and introspection. I can’t think of any other comic book film that has accomplished such a feat.
The focus of the media has, of course, rested fully on Heath Ledger. It is true that his portrayal of the Joker is phenomenal, so the attention is valid. But it would be a great injustice to overlook Christian Bale’s performance. Ninety percent of the film features Bale as Batman, fully covered in black armour with only his jaw signaling the man beneath the suit. Even his eyes, the most obvious tool of expression, are blackened beneath the cowl. And yet, with only this much of the man visible, Bale manages a performance that is so nuanced and powerful one can’t begin to look away. He spends much of the film reactive, but he’s still the entire soul of it. I was reminded again, just as I was in The Prestige and The New World and so many others, what a remarkable talent Bale brings to every project. Had any other actor played the Dark Knight in Nolan’s films, the result would be underwhelming. It is Bale who elevates this film to high drama.
As for Ledger, I have always valued his talent and his ability to delve into the depths of any character. Despite my intolerance for Brokeback Mountain, Ledger has always impressed me with his ability to continually show his range and his fearlessness in the midst of an industry so consumed with image. Naturally, much of the media has used this as a platform for his performance in The Dark Knight. As with Bale, it is the subtleties of Ledger’s characterization that reveal his greatness as the Joker. Though he is overtly psychotic, the Joker is no fool. Ledger manages to display focused purpose even in the throes of maniacal behavior and joyful anarchy. This is the beauty of his performance and the reason so many are using the phrase “Oscar-worthy”. Ledger’s is a riveting performance. What I never expected, however, was the sudden sinking sadness that enveloped me during the final quarter of the film. I read a review recently that mentioned how compelling it was to watch Ledger in this film and how easy it was to forget that we would never be privileged to see that talent again, until that realization hits you on the walk to the car. I reached that point right there in the darkened theater. When Ledger’s performance revealed an even thread of cunning and wile underneath the Joker’s antics, I was suddenly reminded of the loss. Suddenly reminded that this was the final act. And I felt it tangibly, as if inside a cloud. From that point to the end of the film, despite the fun and the laughter surrounding me, I stayed on the brink of tears. It was a bittersweetness that I never expected and won’t soon forget.
There is much to love in The Dark Knight. And the audience around me was extremely appreciative of every moment. I could tell by the moments some chose to laugh whether they were truly seeing the depth of the film or if this was simply another great popcorn flick. Based on the raucous laughter at each and every moment of Joker screentime, I estimated at least half fell into the latter category. Either way, this film is a crowd-pleaser. A third of us were still sitting in our seats until the last of the end titles disappeared, and many were already deep in conversation about what they had just seen. No one went away disappointed. And the Bat toys, of course, are truly spectacular! In fact, there is a particular shot of a Bat Pod stunt that I cannot wait to run in slow-mo on the DVD. It was the coolest thing I’ve seen all year and the moment I remembered what a huge fangirl I can be! Call me a geek. I don’t care at all. This film can make a geek of anyone. But the ending… well, the ending will make you start counting the days until the Dark Knight returns.
image from Rotten Tomatoes