The Red Right Hand
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THE DARK KNIGHT
Why So Serious?

Director
Christopher Nolan

Starring
Christian Bale
Heath Ledger
Aaron Eckhart
Maggie Gyllenhaal

**Just a forewarning, a few spoilers have been littered throughout this review but they are clearly marked at the end of paragraphs - hence, easily avoidable if you so wish**
Really? Another Dark Knight review? Do we really need another beaming account of this feature? I'm afraid so. Western culture is so flooded by comic books that everyone has an idea of who/what Batman is; so, you'll forgive me if I don't go into detail on that.

The film opens in Chicago (the newly adopted home of Gotham), detailing a treacherously bloody bank robbery, led by the Joker [Ledger]. Master director, Christopher Nolan has wisely decided not to outline the origin of this villain, so in the first five minutes we are introduced to our main antagonist with absolutely no idea of who he is, where he came from or what he is capable of - a fact that is beautifully carried throughout the entire feature. I also noticed the Joker didn't really have his own theme in the score, just a slowly drawn out, strained cello note; a completely eerie element, perfectly befitting the character. Like most superheroes, no audience wants to see him happy, we want him to be in pain because that attaches a humanity to a character that is, in truth, stupidly difficult to identify with. So despite Batman's (sort of) popularity with the citizens of Gotham, their true white knight is the incorruptible, newly appointed district attorney, Harvey Dent [Eckhart]. With Lieutenant Gordon [Oldman], Batman [Bale] and Dent going after criminals like never before, the mob panic and 'turn to a man they didn't fully understand.' Unlike them, the Joker's motives do not focus on personal gain and heavily root themselves in chaos, intent on upsetting the natural order just for the sake of it. Very soon, the Joker takes control of all crime in Gotham with his schizophrenic non-agenda. Amidst the struggle to rid the city of crime, the three guardians are singled-out and targeted in an attempt to show the everyday citizens that do-gooders cause as much pain and suffering for those around them as the villains themselves.

The Dark Knight. Believe it or not, the title is incredibly important. This is the first Batman film without the word Batman in the title, symbolising a proper departure from its comic book origins. The Dark Knight Returns is also the name of a legendary 1986 comic by Frank Miller, illustrating the return of Batman, twenty years into an alternate future, in which Bruce Wayne pays to rehabilitate his friend, Harvey Dent, only to watch him slip back into a life of crime. In addition, there's the quote that the dark of night is the bleakest time of existence, just before everything improves and finally, with Dent as the publicly supported, pioneering legal official and Batman as the masked vigilante, the caped crusader is the eponymous undesirable, almost unwanted, hero. Whatever the title would have been, thankfully it doesn't make the mistake most sequels do of rehashing the first film. This isn't a remake of Batman Begins, it's a bold continuation of a story and the characters steeped within that has no fear or concern for their safety or star priority - simply put, you could kill half the major cast and still come out with an exceptional piece; it's a risk most filmmakers and actors will not take.

I would very quickly like to address Heath Ledger. Writing a review about The Dark Knight is almost impossible without confronting this point. Heath Ledger was a tremendous actor that I greatly respected and appreciated. I didn't get as emotionally worked up about his death as most did simply because I believe film fanatics only get wound up over the death of one actor/actress and once that emotion is spent, you sort of move on. I'm not saying what happened wasn't a disgusting waste and a complete tragedy, I am simply not letting his death cloud my judgement of this role - feel free to email me all the flack you wish, I'll happily reply and possibly address it in my podcast. So, Ledger's Joker. Well, he's spellbinding and delivers one of the most immersed portrayals of an on-screen villain, similar to legends such as Max Schreck, Anthony Hopkins and Daniel Day-Lewis. It is also my firm belief that an artist only commits to a role to a certain degree, whilst still retaining their own personality and essence - the only way art can truly live is through the death of its creator. I could ramble on about this theory for ages, so I'll spare you. Unfortunately, the film was almost mired by the spotlight focus on Ledger's performance. I'm not claiming that it doesn't warrant praise and appreciation, I am simply trying to highlight the stupendously impressive fact that every single on-screen persona was beautifully acted out. As a strangely unnecessary tribute, I have a short list of the overlooked:
Cillian Murphy and Colin McFarlane - yes, they crop up for small cameos but the fact that their characters were brought back credits transitional brilliance.
Eric Roberts, Chin Han, Ritchie Coster, William Fichtner - small, yet important roles, enthrallingly played out.
Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhaal - typically expected splendour from two veterans and one of the only negative points about Batman Begins (Katie Holmes' stroppy teenager performance) happily rectified by Ms. Gyllenhaal.
Gary Oldman and Christian Bale - magnanimously detailed and gripping portrayals, as expected from such finely crafted actors.
Aaron Eckhart - see my highlighted character below.

Before getting onto the only negative point I could find, I would like to clarify something. This is not a comic book film, it's a graphic novel adaptation. I wouldn't expect most people to know the difference between the two. Iron Man is a comic book movie, V For Vendetta is a graphic novel movie. Long-time readers will know I profoundly respect and enjoy both films but for different reasons. Iron Man was clever, funny and great fun, these things burn at the core of comic book action but V For Vendetta was driven by a darker premise, dealt with in an extremely mature way and at times you forget you are watching a film about a man dressed as Guy Fawkes. Thanks to these films, the genre has evolved, this is the turning point - we've moved on from camp remarks and spandex suits and now expect emotional speeches and credible battle armour. What audiences want to see is something they can adore, believe in and be completely swept away by.

One of the important factors that made Batman Begins so successful and aids this piece is the amount of realism injected into such a ridiculous premise. The detail that has gone into making Gotham a real city is overwhelming. I didn't see Chicago, I saw Gotham. All the banks were Gotham banks, the police belonged to the GCPD, even the bloody licence plates were cloned Illinois plates that said Gotham in the same italic font! It is with this in mind that I must highlight the downside, (no, it's not the excessive running time - that was more than necessary and wholly understandable). The bat sonar gadget thing - where does he get those wonderful toys? Yeah, the gadgets went a little too far... actually, pluralising 'gadget' may be a little extreme because the bat-bike-thing was perfectly plausible and had a reasonable function rather than the series' usual reason for additional vehicles, which is to sell more toys. Anyone who has seen the film will know that the phone sonar was an intelligent and feasible device but broadening the frequency to cover an entire city? Well, sorry, that's just a little stupid. Oh! And Bale's Batman voice, I don't know why he puts on that gruff voice to be Batman, it's not intimidating, it's embarrassing; sort it out, Bale!

Finally, a note of warning. Having seen a film that I have been eagerly awaiting since the final moments of Batman Begins, I am extremely pleased but more worryingly, apprehensive. You see, this film is going to be a roaring success, more than that it's going to be one of the highest grossing movies to date. So how can that be met or topped? All I need say is Godfather: Part III for you to understand and share my apprehension.

Release Date:
25th July 2008

The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoilers **
Three for you (one for each hour) - you couldn't expect to settle on just one, could you?
The first is the death of Rachel Dawes [Gyllenhaal]. I can usually map out most scripts and where the film wants to go but that twist was completely unprecedented and gloriously executed. Everything about it had a poetic brilliance. Dawes sits in a darkened room, cheeks highlighted with tears as she tries to say goodbye to Dent, knowing Batman will come for her and Dent may die, only to have her speech interrupted by an unexpected mass explosion. The choice to kill off Ms. Dawes was a bold and ultimately necessary one that forwarded the plot and gave birth to Dent's madness - I wanted to use "Harvey, it's alright, it's ok" as my highlighted quote but alas it would have been too cryptic.
Second, we have the first confrontation between the Joker and Two Face. Threatening to destroy Gotham General Hospital, the Joker sneaks in using a hilarious (and typically Joker-esque) disguise so that he can help Dent become a revenge-driven monster. The whole scene is a glowing tribute to both actors, the make-up department and the CGI involved; simply sublime.
Finally, working his way through a list of those responsible for Rachel's death, Dent starts executing on the outcome of a coin-toss, claiming it is what's fair. Having intercepted Salvatore Maroni (Eric Roberts doing an amazing job, as the mob boss taking over from Tom Wilkinson's Carmine Falcone), Dent tosses the coin and in fairness lets him live, on tossing it again he fastens his seatbelt and shoots the driver. Twisted, maniacal and driven, everything the original character required.

Notable Characters:
**Spoilers **
Harvey Dent. Yep, let the stoning begin. How could I not highlight Heath Ledger, you may ask. Well, as stated, Ledger's performance was entrancing and exceptional but it was, as the character demanded, a gleeful cry of, "Look at me! I'm acting!" I'm not holding that against Ledger or the Joker, I am simply giving due credit to another fine actor. I think Aaron Eckhart's a great actor, always have. He finds himself in a lot of bum rolls (hopefully not anymore) but he is a real talent. The reason I have highlighted him is to draw attention to both character and actor. Eckhart doesn’t have the luxury of Ledger's eccentricities afforded to him by his character; Dent is just a crusader who loses what is most important to him and flips out. This requires a more subtle tone, which Eckhart perfectly delivers. Now for the big spoiler, initially I was angry they killed off Two Face. For those that don't know, Harvey Dent suffers a rather grisly accident that leaves the left side of his face hideously scarred, resurrecting the nickname he earned while working for Internal Affairs, Two Face. The transition is one audiences believe and understand but I felt a little frustrated that we only saw Two Face for what seemed like ten minutes before he was killed off - almost like Venom in Spiderman III. In fairness, this couldn't be farther from the truth. We witnessed Harvey Dent/Two Face throughout the entire film - the rise and the fall. His scarring was only dealt with towards the end of the film for obvious and necessary reasons and in all realism he probably wouldn't have lived very long with the amount of flesh missing from his face.

Highlighted Quote:
"It's not about what I want! It's about what's fair! You thought we could be decent men in an indecent time! But you were wrong. The world is cruel and the only morality in an cruel world is chance. Unbiased, unprejudiced, fair"

In A Few Words:
"Simply moving - who would have thought a film about a man dressed as a rubber bat could deliver so very much?"

Total Score:
10/10


Matthew Stogdon